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.
For example, 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 child. In the morning she checks beneath her couch and finds a white pill, a powerful sedative that could have severely harmed or killed her child if ingested. Luckily, she found the pill before her child did. My guess is she saw the pill from the corner of her eye the day before the dream but it didn’t register consciously, so her dream made sure she got the message.
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 as a child and almost died. The event 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. Not with this dream, though as you will see, the meaning is in plain sight once you know the details of the incident the dream illustrates.
The dream opens with a scene that sparks fear in the dreamer. Fear is an important detail. The dreamer used it to figure out the dream by focusing on what made him afraid, and he remembered an important incident from the day before the dream, explained later. The dreamer is an adult male. Here’s the opening scene, titled Dream about Ghosts. (That link is to the original post at Reddit Dreams. 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.
As I considered this scene all I could gather from it is the dreamer is scared by something. However, the dream references the incident when the dreamer caught typhoid as a child. It happened after a heavy rain that caused a power failure. His parents lit candles at night. The childhood home depicted in the dream is near where he caught typhoid and is the same house where the dreamer first showed symptoms of the illness.
The pictures of saints ripping could be another detail from his life. His parents were Catholic and might have had pictures of saints around the house. 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 next scene is filled with more details from the experience with typhoid.
I hear kids’ voices and laughter coming from outside. My 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. He was playing in a river, having fun like a kid, and swallowed 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.
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. The ghost woman that gets into the dreamer’s bed is Death.
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. 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, everyone starting to panic 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-style could be a way of saying the incident with the illness happened long ago.
I struggled to interpret this dream and made suggestions to the dreamer about the symbolism that didn’t ring a bell with him. I told him to focus on the fear aspect and think back on the day before the dream, searching his memory for anything that caused him fear. Oftentimes, you can figure out the source of a dream by pulling out a major detail or dominant feeling and reflecting on your recent life.
With that in mind he remembers a visitor at his house, 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 day after the dream 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 dream makes sense: the fear, the ghost, the power outage, the reference to a river, the parasites, the flamethrower, the Sign of the Cross, the train, 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 sparked 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 I haven’t been able to decipher because I didn’t know enough about the dreamer.