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Interpreting Dreams, and Why I (Probably) Can’t Do It For You

Interpreting Dreams, and Why I (Probably) Can’t Do It For You February 23, 2021

As an author, blogger, and public Pagan, I get a lot of spiritual questions. I do my best to answer them, particularly if they’re brief and straightforward. Sometimes I get questions I covered years ago and can direct people to a existing blog post. Other times I use them as a writing prompt for a new blog post. And sometimes I direct the questioner to someone who has more expertise in the subject than I do.

But there’s one topic where I rarely have anything helpful to offer.

Dreams.

“This symbol showed up in my dream – what does it mean?”

“I dreamed about crows – does that mean the Morrigan is calling me?”

“What does it mean if you dream about rabbits?”

I don’t know. And I don’t trust anybody who tells you they do.

Let me start with the usual disclaimer: I’m a Druid and a priest, not a psychologist. My opinions are based largely on my personal experiences. Your experiences are different, so your dreams will be different, and your interpretations will be different.

And that’s the core of what I want to talk about in this post.

Most dreams are routine sorting and filing

The vast majority of my dreams have a simple explanation. I was thinking about something or concerned about something, and it showed up in a dream. Something triggered thoughts of a deep-seated fear or concern.

One of my recurring nightmares is being late for a flight. Those of you who know me in person – especially those who’ve traveled with me – are familiar with my preoccupation with time, and my fear of being late. It’s no surprise those fears find their way into my dreams from time to time.

Last week I dreamed about going back to work in a place I left 25 years ago. The day before was particularly stressful in my current job – is it any surprise my subconscious cooked up a scenario where I could go back to some place I was successful (until corporate headquarters closed the factory, that is…)?

Remembering these dreams and finding their source is helpful in understanding myself. But none of this has any prophetic or divinatory meaning.

I don’t trust dream dictionaries

A search for “dream dictionaries” on Amazon turns up seven pages of books, including The Dream Interpretation Dictionary: Symbols, Signs, and Meanings; 12,000 Dreams Interpreted: A New Edition for the 21st Century; and Illustrated Dictionary of Dream Symbols: A Biblical Guide to Your Dreams and Visions. That last title reminded me of Sunday School lessons about Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams about a coming famine.

I don’t trust any of them.

In fairness, that same Amazon search also includes The Interpretation of Dreams: The Complete and Definitive Text by Sigmund Freud. I freely admit that Freud knew a hell of a lot more about how dreams work than I do.

And I still don’t trust dream dictionaries.

Most dream dictionaries have their roots in Carl Jung’s ideas about archetypes and the collective unconscious. Those ideas are absolutely valid. But they’re far more complicated than “this is what it means if you dream about a squirrel.”

Further, symbols vary from culture to culture, sometimes subtly and sometimes widely. And they vary further from individual to individual. A squirrel isn’t going to mean the same thing to a person who knows them as game animals as it is to someone who knows them as cute inhabitants of a city park.

So while I know what dream symbols mean for me (most of the time, anyway) I don’t know what they mean for you, and I’m very reluctant to guess.

Some dreams are prophetic

About once a year (on average – they come with no regularity) I have a dream that is a lot more than routine sorting and filing.

When I wake from a prophetic dream I immediately know it’s prophetic. I can’t tell you how I know – I can’t tell me how I know. They’re rarely lucid, there are no common elements or structures, and there are rarely if ever any this-world connections that would stimulate them. They certainly don’t come when I want them, or when I feel like I need them.

For me, these dreams are usually messages I need to deliver. I wrote about one in 2018: The Otherworld in a Dream – 4 Things I Learned. I still don’t know who that message was intended for. It may have been several people. Other times the message is for me.

The stories of our ancestors tell of Gods and spirits talking to people in dreams as far back as we have stories. There’s no reason to think that kind of communication has stopped, and plenty of reasons to believe it continues in our time.

It just doesn’t happen often, and it certainly doesn’t happen every night.

Examining your dreams

Even though most dreams aren’t particularly significant, it can be helpful to review them.

Dreams are fleeting. The sooner you write them down after waking, the better chance you have of being able to remember them. Some people use their phone’s voice recorder to get them down even faster.

Once you’re no longer worried about forgetting, let your mind start to wander. The mind’s chain of associations is neither direct or obvious. By letting go in free association I can usually find that I was thinking about X which led to Y which turned up in a dream as Z.

Is X something really important? Is it something my subconscious is trying to get my conscious mind to deal with? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just what got pulled out of the hat that night.

If a dream feels important

Honestly, I give most of my dreams a casual inspection and then go about my business in the waking world. Most times what I learn from them is interesting, but not particularly valuable.

If a dream falls somewhere in between “sorting and filing” and “prophetic” – if its origin is uncertain but it still feels like it’s important – then it’s time for some more digging.

That usually starts with more free association. Maybe the dream started with thinking about X during the day, but I was thinking about that for a reason that may not be instantly obvious. Maybe it’s deeper… and maybe the source isn’t entirely inside my brain.

This is when divination comes into play. My most common response to “please interpret my dream for me” is “sorry, I can’t.” My second most common response is “try divination.” Tarot, runes, scrying… whatever your preferred method. To the extent that divination works via the subconscious, it can be very helpful in understanding ordinary dreams.

To the extent that divination helps us communicate with the Gods and other spiritual persons, it can be just as helpful in understanding non-ordinary dreams. If They’re trying to speak to you in one way, They may very well try another way too.

Can I divine for you?

I have occasionally read cards to help someone figure out a dream. Most times I had a push from Someone to do it.

If you want to pay for a reading I can do one for you. But that shouldn’t be your first option. Come to me – or to another diviner – after you’ve done enough ordinary analysis to convince yourself that this isn’t an ordinary dream.

Because most dreams are ordinary. Ordinary dreams can be insightful, or scary, or fun, or all of the above. They’re worth thinking about… but not worth obsessing over.

It is their ordinariness that makes extraordinary dreams the treasures they are.

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