Dream Symbolism | The Rosetta Stone for Translating Dreams

Dream SymbolismDream Symbolism

Here is the key to unlocking your dreams, the Rosetta Stone for translating their messages and meaning. Symbolism.

Symbolism is the language dreams use to communicate. It is a language of analogies, comparisons, metaphors, puns, and word plays.

Dreams use symbolism to create stories containing personal meaning to you, communicating through stories rather than lectures. People engage more with stories and understand a point better when they have to think about it. The stories tie in with yourself and your life.

Symbolism is a shorthand way of expressing an idea, using settings, characters, objects, and actions to represent something else.

Two good rules of thumb are, everything in dreams is symbolism, and all the details weave together to tell a story–even in dreams that seem disjointed and random, presuming they are meaningful.

Some dreams are not meaningful. Meaningful dreams engage you. They impact your emotions and feelings. They burn into your memory. Dreams that are not meaningful tend to fade into the background.

Telling the difference between meaningful and non-meaningful dreams is a subject for another blog post. Right now my intent is to give you the Rosetta Stone for translating dreams.

Your Dreaming Mind: a Universal Translator

Think of your dreaming mind as a translator that takes any input and spits out symbolism. Input includes physical stimuli, thoughts, memories, and emotions. So for example, a book falls and slaps the floor nearby as you are dreaming, and your mind produces imagery of a gun firing. Go to bed thinking about a test scheduled for tomorrow, and your dreams are full of schools and books. Have an argument with a friend during the day, and dream about fighting a dog that night.

Why a dog? Because dogs are “man’s best friend.” You only have to know about the association between dogs and friendship for your dreams to use it as symbolism.

Symbolism is created by your associations. People who associate dogs with friendship are more likely to dream about them in relation to friendship. But let’s say that the dog in your dream is your neighbor’s, and you argue with that neighbor over it crapping in your yard. Perhaps the symbolism ties in with the situation with the neighbor.

Symbolism of Driving

Driving is a theme that pops up frequently in dreams, and no wonder. It offers many possibilities for symbolism. Driving is used in all sorts of comparisons, metaphors, and figures of speech. It’s ready-made for your dreams to tell stories about your life. Three quick examples:

  1. Drive in reverse.
  2. Spin your wheels.
  3. Brakes don’t work.

When your life goes the wrong direction or takes a setback, your dreams can tell the story as driving in reverse.

When your efforts get you nowhere, your dreams can tell the story as spinning your wheels.

When your life is super busy and you can’t slow down, your dreams can tell the story as brakes failing.

Identifying Dream Symbolism

I said earlier that everything in dreams is symbolism, generally. By identifying it you have a place to begin interpreting your dreams. Symbolism…

  1. Stands out, draws attention to itself, especially absurd dream imagery. The more absurd the imagery, the more likely it is wickedly clever symbolism.
  2. Stirs you. Sometimes your reactions in a dream appear totally out of place within the larger context of the story. However, subconsciously you already know what the symbolism means and react based on that knowledge, not to the overt story.
  3. Makes sense at the time. So when you dream about riding in a hot air balloon with Snoop Dogg and landing in a village of oompa loompas, you go along with it. It makes sense when understood as symbolism.

dream symbolismLet’s get into some examples drawn from dreams I interpreted as a moderator at Reddit Dreams. I learn best through example, and I bet you do, too. I use this example to illustrate symbolism that appears absurd and meaningless but actually tells a story about a situation in the dreamer’s life. The description is paraphrased:

I dream I am walking down the street alongside a giant banana with legs. A man yells, “Are you sure you want to go that way?” I answer no, turn around and walk the other direction.

You have to admit, walking down the street with a giant banana is pretty absurd. It would be easy to write off the imagery as meaningless, but with the help of the dreamer’s association we pieced together the message.

The dreamer is a young American man with many Asian friends. The possibility of romance has come up with some of the Asian girls in that circle, but the dreamer is hesitant to go for it because he knows the high expectations his Asian friends have for behavior and conduct in dating relationships. That is what the man in the dream means when he asks, “Are you sure you want to go that way?” What is really being asked is, “Are you sure you want to date an Asian girl?” His reaction gives the answer.

Now consider the walking banana. Bananas are yellow, typically. A stereotype about Asians is they have yellow-toned skin. Some do, some don’t. Point is, it is a common association of which the dreamer is aware, and that association what the dream uses to create the banana symbolism.

Find a more in-depth discussion of this dream here.

Now consider the dreamer’s reaction in the next example:

I dream that I find a dead rat in my bed and it leaves a stain on my mattress. I scream at my parents.

Why scream at the parents? Because the dreamer subconsciously knows what the rat symbolizes. A definition of rat is “someone who betrays.” The dreamer feels betrayed by something his parents did–he wouldn’t tell me what, but he latched onto that idea when I mentioned it. The stain on the mattress symbolizes a strain on their relationship. He doesn’t trust them anymore.

His reaction to the dead rat sticks out. To me it screams “symbolism!”

We can go on for days about this subject, and if you want to know more, check out a thorough exploration of dream symbolism at my website, dreams123.com.

We will have plenty more opportunities to discuss symbolism at this blog. In the meantime, take note of the symbolism in your dreams. Think expansively and creatively about what it could mean. Approach it like learning a foreign language. With practice and exposure you are sure to get better at translation. And as you do, the meaning of your dreams will be unlocked.


I'm the author of "Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams," and "The Dream Interpretation Dictionary: Symbols, Sign and Meanings." At reddit.com I'm known as RadOwl. I began studying dreams in the early 1990s and delved into all major schools of thought, especially the writings of Carl Jung.

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