Visitation dreams: symbolic or spiritual contact?
A dream featuring visitation from a deceased loved one such as a parent is likely to be symbolic. Dreaming about someone close to you who died helps you process grief, deal with loss, and remember them. It’s not actual spiritual contact or “real” in the strictest sense.
However, in my experience and that of other dream interpreters such as the psychic Edgar Cayce, spiritual contact via dreams happens. Actual visitation dreams just are not nearly as common as symbolic ones. Further in this post I offer a checklist for differentiating a spiritual visitation dream from a symbolic dream and give examples of both types.
Belief in spiritual contact via dreams is widespread, but before making conclusions or assumptions it’s wise to first analyze the dream to see if the person acts like a dream character. The spiritual consciousness of a person does not present itself as a dream character that plays a role like an actor in a story. Here’s a dream that illustrates what I mean:
My father passed away in 2010 and twice since then he has been in my dreams. Once was a dream set at a memorial service for him where everyone seemed happy. He gives a going away speech, and when I try to hug him he doesn’t see me, hear me, or even know I exist. We were very close as father and son and this upset me. In the second dream, I see him at work. I chase after him trying to get his attention, but again it seems like he can’t hear me.LINK: help interpreting dream about father who passed away
These two dreams are not spiritual contact with a deceased loved one, and I can tell because the father acts like a dream character, not a loving spiritual presence come to visit his son in a dream. Instead, the dreams use the image of the father to tell a story about the son dealing with the loss. His father is not around anymore to hear him, which explains why the son can’t get his father’s attention in the dreams. That detail is symbolic of the son wishing his father was around for comfort, conversation, and company. He’s on his own now.
But are we truly on our own after the loss of a close loved one? I’m convinced that some visitation dreams are real, but it took convincing, and I’ll share with you where it began:
The book Edgar Cayce: On Dreams documents a fascinating case that opened my eyes. A woman has a series of dreams featuring her mother, following her mother’s death. The initial dreams focus on adjusting to life without mom around. She’s processing the loss and working through the grief. Then the dreams transition to clearing roadblocks in her attitudes and feelings (she didn’t believe spiritual visitation was possible) and learning some important life lessons. The dreams culminate with actual spiritual contact with her mother.
From then on, the dreamer and her mother communicate regularly. Mom passes on inside knowledge about a relative who’s contemplating suicide, and gives medical advice that gets the dreamer through a difficult pregnancy. Cayce’s interpretations of the daughter’s dreams clearly differentiate the symbolic dreams from the actual visitation dreams.
Cayce is a trusted source for me because of his track record, and the book that details the above case is written by Harmon Bro, who attended Harvard and the U. of Chicago and was an ordained minister. Later in this post I’ll address the subject of “proof” that visitation dreams can be real.
Distinguishing between spiritual visitation and symbolic dreams
Dreams about spiritual contact have a distinct ring to them:
- The messages are always positive, though sometimes pointed. No guilt trips or anything like that.
- The messages frequently convey information about the health and welfare of the dreamer or family members.
- The dreams are often more straightforward than symbolic (though some dream symbolism can come into play), the messages communicated clearly and lovingly.
- The strength of the contact seems to depend on the telepathic abilities of the dreamer and the deceased and the emotional state of the dreamer.
- A message nearly universal to dreams of spiritual contact is the deceased convey that they are all right, even happy in the next life, not in distress. It’s the living they’re concerned about!
- Another key feature of spiritual contact is the person in the dream talks and acts like a real person — like the person you know. You can look them in the eyes and see intelligence and personality. They respond like you would expect a person to respond, not like a dream character that’s acting out a story.
- The communication is mind to mind, aka “telepathic.” Mouths don’t need to move, and words aren’t as important as thoughts and feelings.
- The loved one who comes to you in a dream has an agenda. Rarely do they drop by just to chit-chat (though it’s possible, especially after previous visits establish a foundation for continuing contact). My understanding is that reaching through from the afterlife to contact people in this reality requires energy and skill that a minority of people (alive or not) possess. For this reason, contact tends to be brief.
- And finally and most importantly, the dreams are exceptionally vivid and realistic. They stand out from ordinary dreams.
Her deceased godson came to her in a dream
Here is a powerful account of a dream following the death of a loved one, similar to dozens of others I’ve researched:
“My godson passed away last year. He was 9, he passed after a car accident. While he was on life support in the hospital, I would visit him every day. One day I came home emotionally exhausted and just wanted to sleep and not think about anything. I was putting a couple of things on my bookshelf when something fell and landed on my arm. I picked it up, and it was a birthday card from 4 months earlier from his mom, but he had signed it. He passed away a day or 2 later, and I think he was saying goodbye.
“[I’ve been really depressed lately, and two days ago] I dreamt about my godson. He ran up to me and wrapped his arms around me; no one else could see him in my dream except me. I kissed him on his forehead and told him I miss him. He told me he misses me too, and told me not to be sad, that he was happy and would keep visiting us. I woke up sad that my dream was over, but happy that he came to see me. I miss him every day, and can’t wait to see him in my dreams again.“
This dream experience checks off a few boxes on the list of the qualities of spiritual visitation dreams:
- The messages are positive.
- Concern is shown for the living.
- The godson is happy in the afterlife.
- He has a reason for visiting his grandma in her dream.
I followed up with the dreamer and she added this:
It felt so real. It was different than a normal dream, somehow.
I asked her to describe how it was different:
It’s hard to explain. It felt more real, it was more vivid. I could hear the birds and insects (we were outside) and the chatter of people in the background. I knew he wasn’t supposed to be there, I knew no one could see him, but I didn’t know it was a dream. I felt everything, smelled everything, heard everything. It was like I was really standing in front of him. Dreams are different, there isn’t background noise, you can’t feel everything. And his voice was inside my head, he was speaking out loud but also speaking inside my head, if that makes any sense.
With that info, we can check off two more boxes:
- The vividness and sense of realness.
- Telepathic communication.
I’m comfortable suggesting to this person that the experience is actual spiritual contact with her godson. The last thing I want to do is give her false hope, and if I’m wise I’ll always add the caveat that I can’t say for sure. What’s more important is what it means to her. The dream gave her peace.
Now consider the following example:
The night after my father’s funeral, my grandfather, step-mother and me all had the exact same dream with the exact same message: My father said to us, “Everything will be fine. Don’t worry about me. Got it all figured out. I love you.”LINK: deceased father in shared dream
I take this dream at face value. It’s a common experience. The dreams of all three people are identical in content. But it could be symbolic and extraordinarily coincidental. I wouldn’t be surprised if three related people all dreamed in the same night about a recently departed family member — they just experienced a tremendous loss, and their dreams are going to reflect it. I think this is a real visitation dream, though.
Some branches of dream psychology vehemently insist that dreams about contact with the deceased are wish-fulfillment and nothing more, even going so far to say it is primitive and counterproductive to suggest otherwise. Assume though that the above report is accurate and three family members experienced the same dream on the same night after the funeral of their loved one. What do you think it means?
Emotional balance is a prerequisite
My understanding is that family members who are too grief-stricken to handle contact with a recently departed family member won’t get it. The first rule of spiritual contact is ‘do no harm.’ Nothing can be forced. You have to be emotionally and personally ready to make contact. This fact can be vexing for people who wait and wait for contact with a deceased loved one and it doesn’t happen.
A son who recently lost his father dreams about balancing the water temperature in a fish tank. When he achieves that balance his father appears next to him and they converse. The dream is incredibly vivid and the son has a strong sense of the presence of his father. His father tells him about life in the next world and says that he wishes to visit other family members (especially the dreamer’s mother) but they are too grief-stricken at the moment.
Balancing the water in the fish tank symbolizes balancing the dreamer’s emotions, and the father appearing after that happens is a clear indicator that spiritual contact with the father requires that the son be emotionally ready.
More examples of visitation dreams
I can’t tell you if the next example is actual contact or wishful thinking, but it’s fairly typical for dreams about deceased loved ones. Read — son meets deceased father in a dream — and I’ll pick up with the discussion next.
The part that strikes me is the father is alive and well in the dream. It can be a way of saying that the son has processed the fact that his father died long ago before he really knew him and is OK with that fact. But it also can be a way of saying that consciousness survives death and people live on in another state of being. They can be happy. They can love. They can communicate with the living through dreams. They might even be alive right beside us in another dimension.
Here is another dream where the dead communicate with the living. A grandfather visits a very young grandson — a grandfather who died long before the grandson was born — and gives him some solid advice about life. The boy then recognizes his grandfather in a picture as the same person in his dream.
Again, it’s very possible there is a symbolic explanation for the dream. The boy’s unconscious mind could invent the grandfather as a story character to deliver the message, so in this sense the image of the grandfather is a “mask” for a part of the dreamer that provides sagely advice. Grandfathers are known for giving sagely advice, right? It’s a perfect choice of character to play the role in the dream-story.
Then again, the person is three years old when he dreams about adult subjects that few children that age are even aware of, and he recognized a picture of his grandfather based on what he remembers from the dream. It’s not scientific proof, but I think it’s a stretch to write off this experience as something other than spiritual visitation via a dream.
Proof that deceased loved ones visit in dreams?
I think there are good reasons for why we don’t have hard scientific evidence for spiritual contact or life after death — not the least of which is we don’t have the scientific tools for studying such phenomena because the scientific method is designed for the study of matter, not spirit, psyche, or soul. However, there are countless accounts of deceased loved ones visiting in a dream and passing information that’s unknown to the dreamer. The case study of the dreams Edgar Cayce interpreted is remarkable for the accuracy of the information given by the deceased mom and the hidden information she reveals.
Read about a dream where the spirit of a father warns about a leaky roof.
I remember an amazing account of the spirit of a relative warning that a snake was in the shower… and the next morning a snake is actually found in the shower! What are the odds of it being coincidence?
Proof is in the preponderance of evidence. It’s not proof in the absolute sense, but it’s the best you’re going to get unless you are visited, too.
For further exploration, check out these dreams featuring communication between the living and their loved ones:
My Dead Grandmother Contacted Me – This appears to be spiritual contact via the dream.
I Keep Dreaming of My Stepfather. Started the Night He Died. – This dream uses the deceased person as a character in a story. It’s symbolism.
Looking my Grandma in the Eyes – Note what the dreamer says about the eyes.
Reddit Discussion About Contact with Deceased Loved Ones – Note the many accounts of visitations in dreams.
Visitation Dreams: Conclusion
Dreams about deceased loved ones are interpreted various ways, as you see from what we cover here, but they all share something in common: All are opportunities to heal, to cherish memories, to say goodbye or even to say hello. The images from the dreams are vivid and can be used to create daydreams that promote healing and growth, a process pioneered by Carl Jung called active imagination technique. Whether or not the dreams are actual contact with people in the afterlife, they are only meant for the good of the people who experience them.
Dr. Camille Wortman, an expert on grief and loss, says whether a visitation dream is real or imaginary, it’s viewed as beneficial and part of the healing process.
Also, I like what Erin Pavlina has to say about the subject. Here is an excerpt from her blog post about contacting deceased loved ones:
The most common way spirits try to communicate with their loved ones is through dreams. If you have a dream that your loved one comes to you and gives you a message, it often feels very real, very clear, and like you really were talking to them. I believe 100% that these are real communications. Dreams are the one time and place where your ego and objective mind are relaxed and you believe anything is possible. Your vibration is high and you’re open for anything. Spirits can more easily reach your subconscious mind than the clutter of your conscious mind. So be on the lookout for “those” dreams. Not all dreams of deceased loved ones are communication, however. Sometimes your own subconscious mind simply conjures their essence into a dream. The difference is how it feels and what happens in the dream. When there is real communication, usually the deceased spirit offers a message of love, reassurance, and connection. Sometimes they tell you what’s coming up in your life, so pay attention.