Interpreting a dream about ghosts of illness past
Dreams bring to light subconscious information. Something important that escapes your attention is highlighted in bright color, figuratively, in your dreams. That information can be critically important.
In my book Dreams 1-2-3 I recount the dream of a mother with a small child. She dreams there’s a small white pill beneath her couch, and her first thought is about the safety of her toddler who liked to crawl on the carpet. In the morning she checks beneath her couch and finds a white pill, a powerful sedative. It might have killed her child if ingested.
Fortunately, she found the pill first, something critically important that could have escaped her attention if not for the dream. My guess is she saw the pill from the corner of her eye the previous day but it didn’t register consciously, so her dream made sure she got the message. We only process a small amount of what registers on our senses, but everything registers subconsciously.
The dream we’re about to discuss is another example of subconscious information brought to light. The dreamer describes it as the weirdest, scariest dream he ever had. It’s a story about when he caught typhoid fever and almost died, an event which occurred many years before the dream. Keep that in mind as we delve in.
Interpreting a dream like this one requires being intimately familiar with the person’s personal history. Otherwise, an outsider will have great difficulty connecting the details to the dreamer’s life. Some dreams can be interpreted simply by looking at the details and taking guesses at what the symbolism means. They are relatively easy to interpret because the meaning is in your face once you know what to look for. Not with this dream. Though as you will see, the meaning is in plain sight when you know about the life-threatening incident behind the dream.
The dreamer is a male adult. Here’s the opening scene, titled Dream about Ghosts. [Link to OP]. This version is edited for brevity.
I’m living in my childhood home with my parents. It’s a rainy night and I’m on a bed, half asleep. Suddenly, a noise catches my attention, similar to the sound made by the pages of a book when they are flipped quickly. I get up and flip the light switch but it’s not working. I shout and my parents come and tell me that the rain caused a power failure, but they leave a candle to help me see in the dark.
I go back to sleep and the noise starts again. I take the candle and start searching for the source of the noise. Then I notice that it comes from a wall that has a lot of pictures of saints. Something is ripping the pictures, one by one. I get scared and run to my parents’ room.
All I could gather from this scene is the dreamer is scared by something. We explored possibilities for meaning in that scene and nothing rang a bell with him. However, the scene makes sense now that I know that it references when he caught typhoid as a child under similar conditions, after a heavy rain that caused a power failure and his parents put candles in his room, where he lay sick. The noise that scares him is the sound of death approaching.
The pictures of saints ripping appears to be another detail based on his memory of the incident. Pictures of saints adorned their Catholic home. Also, saints are prayed to when a person is ill, and he said that as the typhoid kicked in and his life hung in the balance, his parents prayed for him. The pictures of the saints ripping might symbolize the perception that the prayers did little good. Or that he heard those prayers as death came knocking. The ripping of the pictures creates the sound.
The next scene is filled with more details from the experience with typhoid.
I hear kids’ voices and laughter coming from outside. Mom says, “Don’t worry. They are just playing outside, just let them be. They won’t bother us anymore if they are distracted.” But I am angry, and shout, “Well, I’m pissed off! Why can’t they just realize that this is not their world anymore!? Those parasites, they are worse than ticks! I wish I had a flamethrower so I could go outside right now and start shooting flames until they shut the hell up!”
The laughter stops. But some minutes later, the room starts to get very cold. Then, I see the silhouette of a woman coming near me. She gets into my bed and covers herself with the sheet. I start shouting, and my mother tells me to make the Sign of the Cross to make her vanish, but my hands are paralyzed. Then the ghost woman says, “Don’t bother me! I am very, very cold! Don’t you see I have just managed to get out of the river?”
This scene is quite mysterious until you see how it connects to the dreamer’s childhood battle with typhoid. Begin with the reference to parasites. Typhoid is caused by a bacteria, symbolized in the dream as parasites. After the dreamer was diagnosed with typhoid, the doctors told his parents to burn everything: bedding, clothes, toys. That explains the reference to a flamethrower. The laughing children references how the dreamer caught typhoid while playing in a river, having fun like a kid, and swallowiong some water. That explains the ghost woman’s statement that she had just managed to get out of the river and the children’s laughter. It also explains why she’s so cold. She symbolizes typhoid, or a main symptom of it.
Two days later, the dreamer caught a high fever. He was extremely cold as he lay shivering in bed. His parents took him to the hospital, and he was put on antibiotics. However, his condition worsened and the doctors said there was nothing else they could do. A priest was called to deliver Last Rites. That explains the reference to making the Sign of the Cross and the paralysis of his hands. The ghost woman that gets into the dreamer’s bed is Death.
Notice how the story of the dream unfolds chronologically with the story about battling typhoid.
This is how the dream ends:
My mom pulls me out of the bed, and the woman disappears. My parents tell me to calm myself, but I am too scared. Some minutes later, I hear the noise of a coming train. As this house is near a railroad, this isn’t something out of the ordinary, but I am curious, so I get near the window to watch it. Then I notice that the engine is a very old model, one that couldn’t possibly be in use. A black steam locomotive, and there isn’t any steam coming out of its chimney! After it, there are wagons made of wood with people inside of them, shouting.
Then, another train appears, this time a modern one. To me, it seems that this one is real, not a ghost train like the previous one. The train gets off the tracks and moves towards me. I try to shout, but my throat is blocked. Then I wake up!
Ghosts are associated with death, and the dreamer nearly died, so that explains the ghost train. When his parents realized he was seriously ill, they pulled him out of bed and started to drive to the hospital. But along the way they were blocked by a train. I can picture the scene, his parents panicking and shouting as they wait and wait for the train pass. That explains the presence of the trains in the dream and the shouting of the people. The depiction of the first train as being old-fashioned could be a way of saying the incident with the illness happened long ago.
The wooden box cars with people inside? Yeah, coffins. Typhoids takes a lot of lives worldwide.
Another way of viewing the symbolism of the trains is it shows a contrast between old and modern medicine. There he is dying and his parents use old-fashioned prayer before seeking out modern medical treatment. And still another way of viewing it is the dreamer is reflecting back on what happened long ago in his life from a modern perspective. He survived and he knows it.
But you wouldn’t know it unless you were there. Since I wasn’t there, I struggled. Nothing I suggested led us to the meaning of the dream.
I finally said, focus on the fear aspect and think back on the day before the dream. Search your memory for anything that caused him fear. Sometimes, you can figure out the source of a dream by pulling out a dominant feeling and reflecting on your recent life.
With that in mind he remembers a visitor to his home, the day before the dream. He smelled something foul on the visitor’s breath — the distinct smell of typhoid, which his mother smelled on his breath once upon a time and didn’t recognize — but wrote it off and didn’t make a connection. However, it did spark fear in him. The next day, the visitor was supposed to return, but instead called to say he had woken up with a high fever and went to see a doctor. He was diagnosed with typhoid!
Now the big picture comes together: the fear, the ghost, the power outage, the reference to a river, the parasites, the flamethrower, the Sign of the Cross, the trains, the saints. All the details tie in with the typhoid incident. Rather than just recount the incident verbatim, the dream turns it all into symbolism. Smelling typhoid on his visitor’s breath sparks it all — a smell he subconsciously recognized but failed to make the connection.
It is one of the most extraordinary dreams I’ve interpreted. And it makes me wonder how many other dreams elude me because I didn’t know enough about the dreamer to interpret them.