Childhood Nightmares – Scorpions & Mazes

In my previous blog, I put one of my own childhood nightmares under scrutiny of its themes and implications. I’d like to follow that note up on a childhood nightmare that a friend confided in me as I feel it may have some similar parallels to my own nightmare.

The Scorpion and the Maze

The description of this childhood nightmare is pretty straightforward.

My friend shared with me a recurring nightmare he had of being trapped in a labyrinth, a Greco-style maze. Though he didn’t necessarily possess the height or birds eye view to see that he was in a maze, he found himself met with many boundaries, many walls, and coincidently many choices. And because this maze felt like a classical labyrinth, it meant that danger could lurk around any corner (like the all famed Minotaur).

Frustrating and frightening as this scenario might already seem, there was another component that made it more perilous.

My friend knew that there was a giant scorpion chasing him as he traversed the maze. So not only did my friend feel the pressure of danger awaiting each turn in this labyrinth, but he felt pressure breathing down his back as this hideous creature followed him, forcing him to choose his paths rather than granting him any respite to relax or think through his decisions.

The scorpion for some time didn’t mean anything in particular to him that would be different to you and me: scorpions are regarded as venomous creatures and unseemly to look at. What I was struck by was how he shared with me a real incident he experienced many years later when he was traveling abroad and had been stung by a scorpion while putting on his shoe. In that country, the physicians said the venom was too weak to use any antidote for remedy, that the sting would not be fatal. They sent him off with a bag of ice to help the swelling. My friend said the pain of the sting was indescribable and lasted the entire day, and then some.

My friend has always had a rather benign regard for all animals, including insects (choosing to trap and let outside even spiders and cockroaches). But scorpions he’s always had a deep disdain for, likely due to the dream and his painful incident of being stung by one.

“Prophetic” & Therapeutic Power

I am almost tempted to say that there was something prophetic about the dream. 

My first question to my friend was if he had this dream AFTER having been stung by a scorpion, but he told me this dream plagued him in his early years, well before the incident with the real scorpion that stung him. Had this dream occurred after his sting, the obvious implication is that the trauma of the event has allowed his subconscious to assign scorpions as the symbolic representation of adversity, fear, pain, etc.

I don’t believe his childhood nightmare was a warning to him that he’d encounter a traumatic experience with a scorpion later on and end up hating them. That being said, the fear of the dream mingled with the trauma of the experience solidifies this symbol in his waking and subconscious mind. 

I believe God sometimes uses symbols that carry these tangible meanings to communicate something or challenge us to do something. What I often see occur in phobias is that God uses the symbol of that which we are afraid of to challenge us to grow bold in other areas of our life. 

An example of this is to take the fear of spiders, which is largely irrational (unless you’re encountering a spider that with one bite can kill you). Someone who has a fear of spiders can encounter a spider and conquer their fear of spiders through different means of exposure. When someone learns the techniques used to develop courage against this harmless fear, fear itself can be inoculated against. It’s like the spider is the harmless version of a virus put into our bodies, so that our mental antibodies (courage) can learn to take on a REAL threat.

Again, while I have suspicion of placing too much emphasis on prophetic power of dreams, I do wonder if God allowed this childhood nightmare and allowed the later scorpion sting to serve as a phobia for my friend to triumph over in the pursuit of courage.

Symbolism At Play

L0027293 The gyri of the thinker’s brain as a maze of choices in biom Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The gyri of the thinker’s brain as a maze of choices in biomedical ethics. Scraperboard drawing by Bill Sanderson, 1997. Drawing 1997 By: Bill SandersonPublished: [1997] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

A maze carries a rather obvious connotation of decision making and uncertainty. We cannot see beyond the walls of the maze and without having a bird’s eye view cannot discern which path leads to our exit or goal. While carving a path in a maze by foot, we can get overwhelmed not knowing if we’ve taken a previous path before, unsure if we are getting any closer to our destination. Things blur together, a sense of progress becomes amiss to us. 

The symbol of a maze is the dread we experience in life. Each of our futures are indiscernible as a maze. Just as we would traverse a maze with a sense of hopelessness, we too can go through life feeling like we have missed the correct turn, feeling a sense of impossibility of finding happiness or accomplishment typified by the end of the maze. The maze therefore communicates both an anxiety to make decisions and a lack of trust for the future.

We also see the symbol of the scorpion in this dream. In mediteranean/near eastern mythologies, scorpions seem to convey symbols of life and death simultaneously. This unusual connection to life that scorpions bear is predominantly due to the antidote that ancient civilizations were able to discern from scorpion venom. 

The symbol of death tied to scorpions can be elaborated on when we consider an indomitable nature of scorpions. Scorpions possess a great deal of features that make them apt fighters of things their size and greater: The armor of the scorpion, the features of its claws added with a stinging tail (an advantage over most animals that might only use jaws and claws for fighting), and their covert nature (not really making any noises as they move and hide). They are symbols of nature’s finest warriors in these terms, having many weapons, a strong defense, subtle movement, while also possessing a lone-wolf image as not being a hive-minded being (perhaps like wasps which might seem to be a strong counterpart). They are nature’s soldiers of death.

The idea of scorpions as antagonistic also fits in mythology as we consider that this was the creature sent to destroy the great hunter Orion. Though the stories of Orion’s fate differ, a common theme of hubris seems to play out in Orion’s life–believing he could hunt all creatures down or he was a better hunter than Artemis–always resulting in his death by the means of an enemy that could best him.

Scriptural Symbolism of Scorpions

The Bible happens to afford us a great depth of symbolic painting on many elements, and it’s interesting to see the different ways scorpions have been represented in Scripture. 

In various books of Scripture, scorpions seem to carry a theme of cruelty that can come from tyranny or admonishment. We see this when King Rehoboam (son and successor of wise Solomon) threatens a fractious group of Israelites to subdue the people not with whips but with scorpions, indicating a “piling on” of punishment (1 Kings 12). This story of tyrannical punishment is echoed in Luke 11:12 when Jesus compares the merciful Father to humanity’s penchant for cruelty or imagining cruelty on others, indicating that going to God in prayer should be like expecting an egg (to nourish us, a symbol of life) instead of expect a punishment, a scorpion. 

The theme of tribulation (especially a long period of testing) could also be related to scorpions when we consider how the Israelites are stung by scorpions in their journey to the promised land, or the scorpions in Revelation that we are told have a sting that lasts 5 months. Scorpions are threats of pain to be endured that precede paradise, for in Exodus/Deuteronomy we expect the Kingdom of God through Israelite rule, while in Revelation we expect God’s Heavenly Kingdom following the tribulations of the end times.

The last theme from Scripture I’d like to point out is not an overt reference to scorpions, though the language certainly paints the tail of a scorpion. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, St. Paul mocks death by saying “O death, where is your sting, o grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses pair powerfully when we look into the Gospel of Luke where Jesus speaks about giving over authority to the apostles to tread on scorpions (Luke 10:19). Here, again, we see scorpions as a representation of death (something ancient cultures already agreed upon in this image) and more than that it is a manifestation of the lethality of sin. While there’s evidence to support Jesus speaking literally in regards to treading on snakes and scorpions, we cannot overlook His symbolic speech of the apostles having an even greater victory: treading on & overpowering death & sin through Christ’s authority.

How To Traverse Our Own Mazes

The symbols of this dream convey a deep anguish we all feel when presented with big choices to be made in life. The childhood nightmare carries an insight that the future will be rife with big decisions, and not only that, but that there will be peril in this process of decision making. We all feel the same pain of not knowing our future, and thus choosing an option becomes a burden because our traversing of the maze of life will leave us with wondering if we choose the right path and if we are ever any closer to our goal (happiness, salvation, whatever manifestation the end of the labyrinth takes on).

What actually is liberating in the manifestation of the scorpion in this dream is that the dream wisely puts: you won’t have time to rationalize what’s the best option. The scorpion at our backs is death, and we cannot wait for death to catch up to us while we stand idle at the start of this maze. If scorpions truly are a manifestation of death, then the rich symbolism of this dream tells us that action is needed, that idleness is unbecoming for this seemingly indomitable foe at our backs.

Taken from a pagan or non-religious perspective–looking at Orion and Scorpio–we would view this threat to our backs as the punishment of hubris. There’s value in seeing the scorpion even as a manifestation of hubris’ punishment, as traversing a maze/labyrinth is often caught up in hubris, performed by a proud soul who believes they can discern the path with their own reasoning, without a bird’s eye view or any added perspective. The scorpion at our backs reminds us that hubris pushes us through the maze, and that it will be through hubris/pride that we fall and fail to meet our goal.

How can any of us discern our own paths and feel a sense of hope that we will reach the blessed end of the maze? How can we alleviate ourselves from regrets of a mistaken path? If we face a dead end, will we not turn to see the sting of the scorpion cornering us? What can guide us through the labyrinth of life that possess so many tough decisions? What can arm us to face this giant scorpion that pushes us through the maze?

Christ is the only one who promises an antidote to this venom. His antidote is life-giving, is resurrectional. His antidote is also humility, inoculating us from the sting of pride. Looking at a Scriptural interpretation of this dream, we can see the futility of human reason, and the need to place our every deed, action, and decision at the feet of the Lord, the Most High God, who possesses this bird’s eye view of our labrinth, of our life.

I can personally attest to how crippling, paralyzing (like the sting of the scorpion) making decisions in life can be. I faced this when discerning my vocation/occupation, when dating/courting before I was married. The only remedy to this anguish and sting of uncertainty was through casting my eyes above the walls of my labyrinth and asking God for His perspective, to lead me, and to crush my own understanding and hubris along the way. 

Safe journeys as you traverse through your own maze!

Childhood Nightmare-The Reaper

As a preface, I’ve been especially curious about childhood nightmares as I’ve discussed my own nightmares with others and listened to friends discuss theirs to me. There’ a strong case to be made why examination of childhood nightmares possesses a great utility for each of us. Namely, children begin to think in terms of symbols quite early, just after developing motor functions. Piaget’s stages of development underlines how ages 2-7 are marked by symbolic thinking, or using objects to represent themes, emotions, etc. This speaks to how children grow quickly in language at this age and how alive imagination is within these years. Whatever dreams we remember from these ages (and even a few years thereafter as we learn new ways of thinking) are sure to possess some deep and rich messages.

Throughout my writing on dream interpretation, I’ll be borrowing not only from my dreams but dreams that have been confided in me, disguising each name to protect the anonymity of the dreamer, calling all said instances “friends” even if they happen to be strangers, family members, coworkers, etc.

My hope in this endeavor is not merely to unpack the symbols of said dreams/nightmares to provide individual catharsis and direction, but to open the conversation of childhood nightmares to this audience that we may be curious as to the themes that our psyche is screaming at us to pay attention to.

The Grim Reaper

Somewhere around kindergarten and 1st grade, I’d experience a recurring nightmare that followed me even in late elementary school years. The dream itself occurred with less frequency as I grew older but eventually manifested in other ways in college.

The first time I experienced this dream, it was set somewhere in my home, in the late hours of the night. I was walking out from my bedroom towards our living room. The TV light was the only thing illuminating the room and I knew my parents were in the room. They gave the most minimal acknowledgement of seeing me.

And then, an inexplicable feeling of dread happened upon me, and unconsciously I felt a need to do two things: scream and fall to the floor. Both were automatic, almost compulsory.

The more I reflect on my scream, I think of it as an intention to either warn everyone of something I detected or meant to conjure whatever it was that I detected or anticipated, as though to “get it over with”. The scream was always marred with fear. 

After falling automatically flat, in a matter of seconds I’d feel something approach me from behind, scoop me up, and carry me off. I remember feeling or perhaps in my peripheral seeing this figure that scooped me away. It was reminiscent of the dementors of Harry Potter, of the Grim Reaper in its dark, hooded, faceless demeanor (mind you, Harry Potter hadn’t come out then, but when the dementors were described I felt they bore a chilling resemblance to the thing of my nightmare). 

What was always strange about this was knowing this grim figure would carry me off somewhere into the darkness while someone else would look on without any reaction, word, or protest. In the case of my first dream, the grim figure carried me in its arms in front of my parents in order to get to the basement door where we both vanished into the blackness.

Recurrence of the Dream

The dream would repeat itself sometimes in my home but in a different lighting, and sometimes the dream would manifest in other houses or locations. All seemed to be indoor settings. What was common of all these was how sudden and surprising the presence of the grim figure would be, and how an instinct of mine would always compel me to scream and then to drop dead. This nightmare continually caught me off guard though the pattern of screaming, falling, and being carried off all continued.

Later on, particularly in seminary, I found the dream resurface in different homes (the dream setting would be less familiar). The surprise of this grim figure altered from a hooded figure of death into a known presence of evil dwelling within the house or within a particular room. What also changed in the dream was my reaction. I didn’t feel more autonomy in the dream, but something seemed to flip as instead of acknowledging this evil force in a fearful scream, I raised my voice into an indignant shout. My shrill cry became angry barking of prayers almost as though I were exorcising the evil force I knew to be there. I’d finish the dream feeling a sense of victory, feeling the presence leave, feeling the house safe and quiet.

This dream repeated itself for years in my schooling. It was still a fearful dream that I felt could easily become a nightmare, and sometimes they did turn into just that. Overwhelmingly I felt the dream itself evolve, and I do see a kind of continuity between the grim reaper I would collapse before and the evil presence that I would stand to challenge.

Symbols & Interpretation

Photo by cottonbro on

The most obvious figure in this dream is this dreaded force, this grim reaper like character. I’d always given the figure the title of the grim reaper as this is what I saw as the personification of death growing up. There is a temptation here to lean heavily on the theme of death–especially considering that the prospect of death was a conversation I had with my mom in early elementary school and it was not one that filled me with much hope. But the theme of a hooded figure could also be a representation of the literal unknown, a fear of hiddenness, a despising of that which is covert. The figure was dark, hidden, and felt predatory as it came after me, and simply put, we could say my young mind decided to personify evil in this way–evil is shadowy, faceless, and filled with want. All very real possibilities and I’m sure there’s other symbols here one could extrapolate.

What’s also worth noting is that my primary fear was not of death–I actually suffered more nightmares about tornados when I was young, and growing up I had developed a great fear for tornados–and so I am inclined to place the focus of this dream interpretation not on the figure itself, but on the circumstances.

A common element of these dreams is that they all happened indoors, in a home setting. I’m tempted to ignore this detail–home is an easy base for any dream to begin within a atmosphere that is known and comfortable. That being said the home itself can represent safety and as we said “the known”. The implications of finding evil or death in a place I deem safe and knowable has some powerful connotations.

The other common element is the tendency towards screaming. I wouldn’t deem this detail as a natural reaction for a child, especially because the scream itself always seemed to trigger the force to come after me. Rather, I’ve thought of this reaction in tandem with the component of the dream that has to do with onlookers doing nothing as I’m carried off. Do I feel I am suffering alone and that my cries for help go unnoticed? Do I feel alone in my fear, pain, or peril? Or even more simply, do I feel a need to be acknowledged–the scream is meant to perhaps get attention, and the nightmare is made more eerie when nobody seems to react or budge seeing me in the arms of death.

The last notable element is the collapse, the complacency to pretend to be dead. I wouldn’t say this reaction comes from the grim reaper taking away my life force. Instead, I can discern a part of me felt like it was easier to lay down and die rather than to fight, to flee, or to stand my ground. It reminds me of a cat that goes limp in a leash harness–allegedly cats do this as a natural reaction to play dead when they feel they are in the jaws of a predator. This begs the question of whether this reaction of mine is innate and natural or if it speaks to how I deal with opposition or conflict: lay down, let the peril blow over, let it pass.

What To Do With The Dream

There’s a lot of symbols and material to dissect in this dream, though the most powerful reflections I have found helpful in my interpretation of this dream is the scream and the laying down, or rather what those represent: a fear of loneliness and neglect and fatalistic submission

Vainglory has been a passion I’ve struggled against for a long time, though gaining attention as an introvert isn’t so easy. I sometimes think of my days in theater as a manifestation of a safe means of gaining attention, of gaining the spotlight of an anonymous crowd as I myself don the mask of the part I am playing. If I say or do something on stage, it is the part I play that is judged or embraced, while I as a person can still gain the attention I secretly crave. This is just one such example which I think other actors might sympathize with.

The scream speaks to a need to learn how to reach out in a healthy/safe way that can be heard. As my dream demonstrates, there is an underlying fear that as I reach out or seek attention, others will merely stare on while I suffer in front of them. The scream speaks to a need to find healthy ways of being noticed, in ways that are appropriate and normal in relationships. Finally it communicates perhaps a need of feeling heard. However, in order to properly address this need of being heard one ought to also master how to hear/listen to others.

The “falling” in the dream couples well with the later manifestation of the dream. Succumbing to defeat and throwing my hands up when trouble comes my way is a personal struggle I’ve been able to identify in my life. In the past, I’ve given up on stories that become too difficult to write and my mind has a tendency to assume “the end” when a project or environment becomes too overwhelming. Fighting this force would assume a “disagreeable” disposition, would assume confidence to fight against a threat despite the stacked odds. Even fleeing (an alternative to falling in the dream) communicates a hope that one might escape the problem and find refuge elsewhere. In laying down, my psyche is communicating to me a tendency to be a walking mat for my problems and accept a disposition of submission.

Coupled with the other dream, the lying down and standing to exorcise against the evil threat is my psche telling me I have the capacity to grow bold, to assume a different posture. The latter dream communicates that confidence can be held, and that perhaps there is power in my voice. For example, in my nightmare I scream and it triggers something, in my other dream I shout and it subdues the threat. Perhaps my psche is telling me my physical posture and my mental posture is looking take an upright stance and challenge the threats of my life, telling me that my weapon in my fights is not force or cunning, but my own voice and words.

To conclude, this dream encourages me (and perhaps you’ll feel encouraged as well) to do the following:

  • Monitor my need for getting attention; seek out healthy relationships where being heard is valued and reciprocated
  • Assume an upright posture in the face of danger; keep practicing courage even when laying down (my posture, my eyes, my voice) comes easy
  • Use my voice and words to address fear and evil

What about you?

Did you suffer from childhood nightmares?

Is Dream Interpretation Ok?

My Connection To Dreams

Over the years I’ve held mixed feelings about dreaming, at times relishing it and at times detesting it.

When I think of dreams that I can still actively remember throughout my life, they tend to be negative or traumatic. Some are legitimate nightmares, others are rather despondent and disheartening.

Nonetheless, in much of my young life, I longed to dream. I wanted to dream every night, though the science would really say I wanted to remember them instead of having them (we often dream without recollection). This may seem odd as the dreams that stand out were never particularly inspiring or pleasant. Nonetheless, I was wishful for a pleasant escape from reality, a taste of surreal entertainment. I think in part I was also looking for something revelatory, something that might speak an important message of my world, myself, etc.

In my teenage and college years I began to develop some resentment towards dreams as they spurred me with false pleasantries and disturbing images. I’d grow frustrated either from what I’d wake up without or perturbed to have been subject to horrific nightmares that would haunt me throughout the day. My interest in remembering my dreams died out for a time.

Upon my approach to seminary, my interest peaked once more in dreams. I’ve tried taking their meaning with a grain of salt, though I couldn’t–and still can’t–help but wonder if there’s some utility in them. I’ve found it’s safer to consult others when it comes to our dreams as the messages can sometimes deceive us. We should be careful when attributing a source to our dreams lest we be mislead that God is telling us something that may not come from Him. Though I think there’s precedent to believe God can use and speak through our dreams, I would caution anyone who reads this to not self-assume the role of a prophet when examining their own dreams, but rather become curious as to what implications the dream has for the individual’s own soul and personal development.

Scriptural Precedent for Dream Interpretation

Scripture certainly affirms a utility in dream interpretation. That being said, the dream interpretation we see in the Old Testament have a lot more to do with prophecy than that of personal revelation.

Joseph and Daniel are the big figures of dream interpretation we see the in the Bible, and the circumstances of their dream interpretation follow closely together. Joseph and Daniel’s dream interpretation came with a risk should their interpretation prove wrong. Their interpretation was used on behalf of pagan tyrants, typically to warn of some gruesome fate that was to befall their empire. The dream interpretation seems to have led such leaders in a state of humility (temporarily at least). And most importantly, the dream interpretation of both these figures was done by consulting God in prayer.

We also read in the Book of Joel, echoed in the Acts of the Apostles, of prophecy being something to be expected of the elderly, that they will dream dreams (in addition to the youth prophecying). This detail seems to affirm a utility in dreams, that the old men will discern important themes and wisdom much like the youth on behalf of God’s glory.

Keeping in mind this Scriptural precedent, I find it important we use the aforementioned criteria in dream interpretation so that we become not misguided or deceived. Dream interpretation should always lead to the glory of God and its pursuit and end goal ought to be done with humility. 

How I see dream interpretation acting towards the glory of God is when we look into the themes of our dreams and how they might communicate growing edges of ourselves, or insight us to work on something, specifically to work towards something we are neglecting.

Secular Precedent and Application of Dream Interpretation

Dr. Jordan Peterson in his lectures talks at great length about dream analysis, and shared in one instance how dream analysis helped his client in a psychotherapy session confront a fear of death she had. Dreams may not always seem straightforward in what they are communicating to us to address, but in that instance it seems the dream was quite explicit about the need of the individual in conquering a fear. When we are awake, our body and mind are quite adverse to approaching things that we hold staunch phobias or trauma over. I believe that a wandering mind without inhibitions or distractions (ie, our minds in this dream state) boldly ventures to our fears, our shame, our concerns either through the explicit image of what we need to confront or by veiling it in a symbol of something we can more properly digest or encounter.

Peterson has also likened daydreaming and the act of thinking as the projection of an avatar, the imaginary insertion of ourselves into a circumstance that has not occurred that we nonetheless expect may happen or fear may happen. A concrete and positive example of this is thinking of hypothetical situations for emergencies, such as checklists and step-by-steps of fires, natural disaster, etc; though we don’t typically dream about such complicated issues, we nonetheless “daydream” or think out loud, and these become strategic dreams. Less useful instances of this is when we walk away from an argument and think up what we could have said or done differently. 

I mention these forms of “daydreaming” to show how our minds see a utility in reflecting on the past and thinking on the future. Our wakeful mind sees utility in these thoughts. Nevertheless we ought to be discerning of our thoughts, examine their source and intention, weighing whether or not they are for our betterment and God’s glory or if they will only lead to distress and sin. In the same way we see utility and potential for distress or distraction in daydreaming, we can see our dreams at night as both a utility but also as a hazard that should be handled with great care. But even the hazardous nightmares that unnerve our peace and cause us to fret can still tell us something important about our attention and concerns when we are awake.

Dream interpretation leans heavily on symbols, of interpreting what an image is standing in for. A father may not necessarily be your mind telling you about your actual dad, but using the facade of your dad to articulate something more complex. Abstract thought is not a feat we humans gain early according to Piaget’s theory of stages of development, and so it is not so obvious that our thoughts have to do with lists and math but rather deal in images that stand in the place for more complicated themes and ideas. But it is truly wondrous how quickly children pick up on symbols, doing so not merely in language but through their imagination and using toys, shapes, etc to manifest invisible themes and realities. 

Dream Interpretation For Self-Improvement

While we have mentioned that God has used dreams for His divine purposes, again, I believe we should take caution in assuming the dreams we have possess a prophetic purpose. It’s safer for us to be discerning and mistrustful of visions lest we be deceived by something spiritual that is counter to the divine (demonic). Included in this, I believe we also should be cautious of actively seeking out dreams and especially careful to avoid dream manipulation. Actively seeking out such experiences seems reminiscent to me of Adam & Eve’s desire to have secret knowledge they weren’t ready for, something ultimately distracting them from God’s revelation to us. It is better for us to seek out God’s revelation and ask for His protection at night, and what dreams may come let them be.

That being said, the themes of the dreams we have will undoubtedly tell us things about ourselves. Even in the Ladder of Divine Ascent a monk describes the dream of flight having to relate to the sin of pride we can suffer from. It is more likely that our dreams–both good dreams and bad dreams–will tell us something we need to work on rather than provide us some sense of intuition or privileged wisdom. We can think of it as a subtle friend who is talking about something indirectly as that we can digest the hard message they are trying to get across to us, that we need to be mindful of our attachments, of our neuroticisms, to pay attention to the passions and fears that we are absorbed by.

In all things, we ought to bless and hand over that which we engage in. If our intent is to look at our dreams as opportunities to lead us to sainthood, to perfecting our souls that we may have a more open relationship with God, then we have baptized the utility of the dream. The danger of dreams can be neutralized when we take a pulse of our ego that it may not inflate and when we ask God to bless our discernment. More importantly, should we pray before drifting off to sleep for protection we can hope for a night free of misleading dreams and to hand all our pursuit of wisdom into God’s hands.

Are Dream Symbols Universal?

There seems to be some suspicion of “dream interpretations” due to seemingly arbitrary “handbooks” on what specific images relate to specific concepts/themes. From what I’ve seen, a lot of online dream “handbooks” seem to borrow from Frued and Jung’s school of dream interpretation which also deals with objective themes and archetypes common to all humanity and culture. To those who have put forth the effort and study into the field, I think at least credence should be given to their input.

That being said, I’ve heard compelling arguments that some of these themes may be mere extrapolation, or that some images may represent different themes based on individual and 

cultural contexts; ie, dreaming of a cow in a Western farming context might have more to do with livelihood whereas dreaming of a cow in India may have something to do with the sacred, or dreaming of a father for most might be a symbol of tradition and order whereas someone with an abusive father may see said image as a symbol of tyranny or a looming threat.

Again, this is why dream interpretation is best paired with discernment and prayer that any possibility of subjectivity can be sorted out with true humility and wisdom.

That being said, I think a strong case can be made for universal symbols considering how certain images seem to mean the same thing to all of us regardless of culture and context. An egg, for example, always infers new life and snakes–even in cultures that have divine snakes–represent danger given the deep human fear built into us of snakes. Pyramids and Zigarauts across cultures are representations of humanity’s attempt to ascend and the divine nature we ascribe to mountains, and even within cultures that find their livelihood through the ocean still face the common threats of the ocean that we all see: storms, sea beasts, drawing.

I would argue symbols diverging in their meaning is more of an exception than a rule, that our minds and psyche are all inclined towards finding the same meaning in the symbols we see and dream of despite our culture and upbringing. 

My Intention of Dream Interpretation

My goal in this series is to place my own dreams under a public microscope. I’ll be writing out with as much detail as I am able some dreams that have stuck with me that I believe are significant to my own life. I plan to also include dreams others have shared with me, though safeguarding those individuals’ identities as I speak about them.

My hope is that some of these dreams resonate with you, that the symbols manifest within them have an application for my readers for everyone’s edification.

I also hope to example healthy dream interpretation, explore images and themes that might be common to others.

I am open to others commenting and sharing their dreams in this series. This is a public laboratory that I hope we all learn from one another on.

Again, all this I hope is done with utmost discernment and humility, and I hope through this series we can begin to see–especially for those of us who have developed a resentment for dreams–a utility that these dreams have, and what our souls may be begging us to address in our wakeful lives.

So let us humbly and carefully listen to our souls, all for God’s glory.

Genesis 19-The Bottomless Pit of The Mob

Genesis 19:1-22

19 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry[a] his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords,[b] please! 19 Your[c] servant has found favor in your[d] eyes, and you[e] have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.[f])

A preface with discretion

I suffered an awful night mare last night reminiscent to the horrific behavior displayed by the crowd from this chapter.

While I see value in penning the details of it down for the sake of properly conveying the intensity of unnerved I feel from it, I worry that sharing its details would only spread the trauma of the thing. Respectfully, for this time being, I shoulder the burden of this dream in my own psyche, and it has stolen my peace this day.

Only now am I writing my thoughts…

the abuse of the many

When the wonton appetite of an individual abuses and defiles a helpless individual, that is reprehensible, that is appalling. I don’t believe there’s a strong enough word to describe the feeling or wrongness when it is a group collectively enraptured in this appetite on an individual, feeding together on flesh like a wake of vultures.

The mob we hear of in this chapter, gathered together to unleash their sexual appetites on the two strangers in the story is like a horror story out of prison, of morally bankrupt individuals conspiring as a group, their shame and hunger not hidden but enkindled in the collective, to purge their appetite tension at the expense of a powerless soul.

In the past, I had struggled with this chapter, taken aback by the wrath of God. But after my nightmare and imagining the people in the mob coming after Lot and his household, I confess feeling more disturbed by the hypothetical incident that was to take place than the desolation itself. Perhaps I even feel a tiny bit relieved, knowing that the cities would never collectively abuse such souls again.

What I find hard to imagine in this story is how Sodom and Gomorrah got to this level. How did these cities come to the point where its citizens would gather at the sight of two strangers and openly tell Lot: we are going to have our way with your new friends, and we are all going to take part.

It is this question of “how” where I think our venture in the Human Condition ought to go.

First, we have to consider the element of the “other”. As we mentioned before, Lot chooses to dwell next to some wicked cities, but we get a sense that he lives in the outskirts, is not fully integrated just yet. This is even conveyed through the mob when they say, “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge!” (Genesis 19:9). Lot is a former foreigner, but a foreigner none the less–it’s a miracle he has not been prey of earlier. On top of this we receive absolutely no detail of the strangers’ actions or appearance that would provoke the cities to become so appetitive. From these details, we can be sure that “otherness” is a challenge all of us must surmount, to not debase the other for a utility purpose or treat one another as beasts or pieces of meat. The same way the city treats these strangers is the same way the perverse treat anonymous strippers, prostitutes, and adult actors and actresses.

Secondly, those who come to Lot’s door act not as individuals, but as a single entity, as a mob. The shameful desires of a single individual can be pragmatically curbed by social ostracizing for performing a taboo act. An individual can be arrested or publicly shamed for acting on their shameful desire. But what of a mob? If I throw a molotov cocktail in broad daylight, the public will see me as a menace and desire my arrest so I don’t harm them–more than this, I do so as an individual who can be profiled, identified, and caught. But what of a molotov or many molotov’s coming from a crowd? Any one person in the crowd that throws such a weapon is masked against the masses…so long as the masses approve of the offense. The one molotov becomes many, and then there is a wildfire of violence. The mob is a safe space of camouflage, like a herd of zebras; the zebra stripes don’t hide them from lions within the grassland, the zebra stripes hides the zebra against the herd of zebras, making it impossible for a lion to attack a single zebra.

Thirdly, depravity is born out of broken down boundaries. Any given passion burns out of control if there are not imprinted or explicit rules or boundaries. When we are disciplined, we learn where the line is, and our passion, or proclivity for selfish action, stops at the line. But if the line is observed to be blurry, if the line seemingly isn’t being watched by others, or if others can tell us that the line has moved, then we step over it. There were many little “yesses” that these two cities said along the way of their wickedness to get to the point that all the men would descend upon two strangers to purge their appetites. These people knew no rules to hold them back, perhaps they even understood that they were already wicked, powerful, capable of taking what they wanted without reproach. It is not unsimilar to the prisoners who gang up on a helpless inmate, and collectively abuse that one inmate.

Never apologize to the mob

Perhaps the most common sentiment that makes this chapter of Genesis so disliked is Lot’s response tot he men who come knocking on his door. Lot sees the appetite of the city, and he folds.

We cringe hearing how Lot would rather the city take his daughters instead, to have their way with them rather the two strangers. How could he do that to his own flesh and blood? How could he make victims of his own beloved girls?

There is reasoning behind Lot’s counteroffer, but we need not justify Lot’s counteroffer. It’s no coincidence that this chapter comes after the hospitality of Abraham, seeing how properly the visitors are treated in Abraham’s company, in Abraham’s land. While Lot also values this virtue of hospitality, we see the total opposite sentiment from the two cities. Abraham and Lot revere their visitors and consider hosting “the other” as a rich blessing, a privilege. The city, however, abandons this ancient precept of hospitality, desiring abuse, violence, and defilement.

Again, Lot’s sensitivity to hospitality does not defend the counteroffer he makes to the crowd. Lot examples faithlessness and cowardice in his words. After seeing all that God has done for him, he decides not to submit before the power of God, but to submit before the mob’s overpowering lust. Lot offers his daughters before he offers his own life, futile as his last stand might be.

Lot’s story is a sad one, marred by weakness. Not only does he attempt to weasel out of compromise at the cost of two innocent girls, later on, when he and his family escape the city, begs the angels to not make them go into the mountains but rather into another nearby city for refuge. Lot has seen these visitors strike the cruel men blind and has been promised safety, and he continues to falter, trusting not in his own faith or his power in others.

Lot’s story has two-fold importance. First, Lot shows us how important it is to example faith and courage in the face of adversity. His ancestor Noah had stood against a flood of wickedness from his fellow man and survived a flood that covered the earth, trusting in God’s power. We see Lot beholding marvels from God and despite that fold in his confidence, caving to the flood of the city rather than calling upon His God and seeking refuge for his beloved in an Ark. We must know what our Ark and refuge is, we must labor to build it up like Noah, and we must exercise our thoughts and heart on relying on it much like a child who always knows how to run back to its parent. We must brave the storm and call upon our God.

Secondly, we should never apologize to the mob. As we illustrated before, a mob mentality is the thing of abuse, of appetite, of tyranny, of destitute wickedness. Mobs are not entities of reason, but rather are forces of emotion empowered by a collection of bodies. A mob devours when it sees weakness. It does not hesitate when its opposition caves. Apologizing to the mob is impossible, for a true apology or request of forgiveness (which in Greek roughly translates to co-dwell) involves a devouring of the person, not a co-dwelling of peace.

It is better for us to call upon a higher power than the mob, to know the power behind our back is the creator of any collection of individuals, His Holiness greater than the tidal wave of any collective passion or sin. We are to know our God stands at our back, to put work into strengthening our Ark, establish our confidence in these, and be ready to remove ourselves and put ourselves into the mountain, a secluded place removed of need or wickedness, the symbolic manifestation of drawing nearer to God through a spiritual ascent of asceticism and prayer.

Today, consider the following:

  • What mob have you encountered? What did it want or what was fueling it? What did you do in response to it?
  • What mob have you (consciously or unconsciously) been part of? How did you become part of it? What did you want within that entity?
  • What is considered “other” to you? What challenges do you face when dealing with the other? How might these challenges be surmounted?
  • What boundaries do you find yourself pushing? What boundaries do you find others pushing on you?
  • When have you treated someone less than human? What factors contributed to this treatment?