Dream Dictionaries

Do you love your dream dictionary? Do you keep a dream journal? When I speak to groups about their dreams, the #1 question I get asked is,”What does it mean when you dream about…?” I guarantee that if you are thinking about your dreams, at some time you have wondered, “what the heck does that mean?” People are naturally curious about their dreams and in this age of instant information and Google, people imagine there is a quick answer to their questions about the symbols in their dreams as well. I don’t judge, but hey, I do have some strong opinions on the subject of dream dictionaries! In a moment, I’ll show you how your dream journal will help you never buy another dream dictionary again and I’ll give you a dream journal format to get you started on your journal. Yes, I love you that much!

The problem is that without a dream group, or the time and discipline to work with one’s own dreams, dreamers often turn to dream dictionaries. So let’s take a moment to look at that resource. Dream dictionaries have been in existence for as long as we have written history and probably longer. And even today, many dreamers will tell me, “my grandmother says that when you dream about [blank] it means [blank]”. Ancient dreamers were probably no different. The Chester Beatty Papyrus is believed to date from 1279-1213 B.C.E. in Egypt, although different scholars will suggest varying dates. Suffice it to say that it’s old! In this papyrus we find a list of dreams, judgment as to whether it is “good” or “bad”, followed by its interpretation. For example, “If a man sees himself in a dream with his bed catching fire, bad; it means driving away his wife”. [“Oh great dream interpreter, they asked, “Should I worry or not?”] The Chester Beatty Papyrus is only a fragment, but from the 2nd century Greek dream interpreter, Artemidorus, we have in existence all five of his books called “The Interpretation of Dreams” (www.britishmuseum.org). Artemidorus takes a very rational approach to the meaning of dreams, and some of his ideas seem to be reflected in many theories that are still with us today, including the notion that the meaning of any given symbol will vary according to the circumstances of the dreamer. Nevertheless, he too, tells his readers that, “this” means “that”. Thousands of years later, many of his definitions of symbols are still reproduced today in what might be referred to as “dime-store” dream dictionaries, although nothing costs a dime anymore!

Dream Dictionaries


So, short of joining a dream group, which is the most rewarding way to work with dreams but not always available, how can you use the resources that are commonly available without giving over your dreamer’s right to find your own meaning? The best dream dictionary, which calls itself a “New Kind of Dream Dictionary”, is Gayle Delaney’s book In Your Dreams. Published in 1997, it is still available and in print. (In Your Dreams) What makes Gayle’s book so useful is her format. She takes common dream themes like flying, being chased, naked in public and many more, then proceeds to help the dreamer write their own definition, finding meaning that is personal to them. She does this by citing common variations on the dream, what other dream experts have said, gives an example of a dream in that category, and shows you how to get at the meaning that is meaningful for you in her section called “What Do You Say?”

Because the truth is, if you dream about anything, from animals to food and everything in between, and you LOVE said symbol or object but I HATE them, the symbol and dream will have two different meanings for each of us. Dream dictionaries, part-truth, part-ancient beliefs, part-nonsense, suck us in and offer us quick answers in a time-shortage kind of world. Don’t get sucked in! Those definitions may have NOTHING to do with you or your life or your psyche! Here’s a wee little example for the symbol “back” from an on-line dictionary. It says in part,”…Traditionally, seeing a back in your dream forewarns that you should not lend money to anyone. In particular, lending money to friends will cause a rift in your relationship.” This is not something I would think of for that symbol. Would you? I might think of “back support”, going “back”, retreating, reviewing, doing over, needing a chiropractor for a misaligned back…You get the picture.

This is where your dream journal comes in. Without a record of your dreams, you have no way of seeing the bigger picture and any patterns that emerge. For example, I dream about hotels from time to time. Because I’ve been recording my dreams since 1980, I can go back and find any references to the symbol of “hotels”. When I do that, I begin to see their differences (big hotel, small motel, or luxury spa) and their commonalities. For me, they are aspects of my Self, but what they all have in common is that they are temporary shelter and places (or phases) that I pass through; places that give me temporary shelter. Voila, I have my first entry for my very own Patti’s Personal Dream Dictionary. If I wasn’t sure what they have in common, I would go fishing for my associations, asking myself, “What is a hotel? Why would a person use or stay in one?” until my associations become clear. You can do this too. To help you get started in organizing your dream journal, here are some suggestions.

  • Record the date. Don’t assume you will remember when you go through your journal at a later date.
  • Add the time, if you catch it. This is especially useful with precognitive dreams and in catching your dreaming patterns.
  • Day Notes. Write a few lines about your date before going to bed, including anything that had an emotional charge for you. Not only will this help you sleep as you empty your mind of the day’s events, but it will also give you a context to understand what was going on for you at the time of the dream.
  • Record or write down the dream, whether a full-blown narrative or a one word fragment. You may only remember colours or feelings. Write them down too.
  • Give the dream a title or number. Thinking of a title is a fun exercise that really helps you zero in on what has the most meaning for you. If you are the organized type, giving the dream a number is useful for tracking similar themes or recurring words or story lines. You can simply say “See dream # 37”!

It’s that simple and easy. For those who want to really jump in and record even more detail you can add the following:

  • Record all of the above, plus add any emotions in the dream and upon awakening.
  • Add any associations to the people, places and events in the dream.
  • Note any recurring themes. (“Another late for class dream!”)
  • Note any information about the locales. (“I’m back in my childhood home…..”) Add any drawings or doodles. Sometimes odd objects and events appear for which there are no words. Draw it. There are a lot of creative ways of working with your dreams that can start with a simple doodle.

Dream journals can be created online, in an app, in a simple doc in your Word or Pages program, in a beautiful journal or in a simple notebook. The best app will feature an ability to email the recorded dream to your inbox;  a useful feature. Some dreamers keep “vlogs” or other video journals or audio files on their phone. My only suggestion besides to do whatever is easiest first thing upon waking, is to make sure your online journal has a search function. It makes it easier to create your own dictionary of your dream world. For those recording dreams by hand- a very satisfying and creative exercise in itself- then after writing out the dream, simply go back and circle, underline or highlight symbols and objects, as well as any setting or action, that you will want to come back to for your dictionary.  If you are one who cannot get started on understanding your dream without looking its symbols up, then instead of an irrelevant and often ridiculous dictionary why not use an encyclopedia of symbols instead? These encyclopedia cover cultural, religious and historical connections to symbols (most have great illustrations) and will prime the pump of your own associations without giving you nonsense to work with. A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot is a classic, as is An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols by J. C. Cooper. I also love Denise Linn’s The Secret Language of Signs. You can also look up the list in my section called “Dream Library” and if you don’t see the symbol you want, write me and I’ll add it! Now that’s service!  In any case, wherever you look for help with a symbol, only accept the meanings  that resonate for you, give you an “aha” moment or a felt shift in your body and energy. You will know when it’s a good fit.

WHAT'S YOUR VOTE?Dream dictionaries? I vote “Leave them!” What’s your vote?