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Water, and Houses, and Stairways, Oh My!

Are dream dictionaries of any use to us in understanding our dreams?

I'm not a great fan of dream dictionaries, although I do feel they have a place in helping us “unpack” our dreams; they can stimulate our imagination and "jump-start" our understanding of dreams. You may find some of my comments below useful in doing just that. Over many decades of working with thousands of dreams I have found some common associations to various dream images. If my ideas don't resonate for you, then don't try to convince yourself of their truth - allow your mind to associate to what does feel right for you.


Water in dreams embodies & suggests the waters of life, the waters of flowing emotion, and the "still waters that run deep", the waters of the unconscious, not-yet-speech-ripe energies of the psyche itself. A natural pool suggests these energies in the setting of a calm, self-examined life. Water in a swimming pool, (or any other man-made setting), suggests personal emotional energies, unique to the dreamer's unique circumstances. Water flowing in natural settings suggests the archetypal "river of life", and waters of lakes - & particularly the ocean - point to the great, deep waters of the collective, community of all life.


The house is a primary symbol of the self. All imagery & experience in a dream is self-reflective, & the house tends to be particularly reflective of the individual dreamer. (If there are things wrong or amiss in a dream house, for example, it is always worth asking what the analogous physical health issues might be...)


One of the most basic archetypal symbols is the association of the direction up with light, consciousness, (the "light of consciousness"), & goodness. This symbolism is inextricably paired with "down", which is archetypal associated with darkness, (& hence unconscious, not-yet-speech-ripe material), & anxiety (eliding all way to unalloyed terror & "evil"). The "upper room(s), where stairways usually lead, are often associated with the intellect, and with spiritual striving. Stairways - particularly curving stairs - are also often images that carry specific physical health information about the spine & particular vertebrae.


Children in dreams always evoke our own childhoods, (as do the images of our own children when they appear). Beyond, and deeply connected with this first association, dream children also tend to symbolize the as-yet-undeveloped-and-unrevealed future. Multiple children in dreams often imply a set of different future lives the dreamer might have depending on what particular decision is made in the present.


All animals in the dream world tend to be symbols of instinctual life energy at work & at play in the dreamer's psyche. "Dogs" in particular (elide to your words...)


We fly in the dream world in direct symbolic reflection of how we express & experience our creative energy in waking life. It is as though "gravity" were a symbol of conventionality, holding everyone (except the original, creative, gifted dreamer) to a single, unquestioned level of possibility - & the dreamer flies in direct symbolic reflection of how he/she expresses creativity & brings it forth in the waking world.


Film & television in the dream world are often associated with the experience of dreaming itself, (particularly for dream workers - and just by reading this book, you are in an important sense a dream worker!) Telephones bring us disembodied voices in our ears that other people cannot hear. As such, they are quite likely to refer to communications with important, mostly unconscious sub-personalities. Computers often refer to habit patterns, and to the processes of unconscious thought that lie beneath & provide the unseen foundation for seemingly fully conscious thoughts, feelings, ideas, and actions. "Smoke signals" have been symbols of prayer & other efforts to communicate with the divine since humans first tamed fire and found this natural image that carries thoughts and desires upward into the realm of the sky divinities.


"Vehicles" in the dream world, like ALL dream images, have many layers of implication. At one level, they tend to be metaphors of the physical body. At another level, they tend to signify ego and social status. (in California, for example, the joke is: "You are what you drive!" - & only the truth is funny!) Even more importantly, vehicles in dreams also tend to symbolize patterns of relationship in the dreamer's life. It's also important to remember that while mistaken literalism is the greatest stumbling block in understanding & appreciating dreams at a deeper level, if you dream that you are racing down the archetypal winding mountain road & your brakes fail - it is always a very good idea to take your waking life car in to see your waking life mechanic & get your brakes checked[!], & even if the dream IS an early warning about waking life brake failure, it's always important to look further and ask what other symbolic "failure to steer my relationship[s] with conscious care" might be leading in the direction of a similar, symbolic "crash"?


Light casts shadows. The "shadowy" dream is always a great potential gift, (just as ALL dreams are!) - often giving symbolic hints to what is at the edge of the dreamer's awareness that he/she is not yet quite aware of.

©2011 Jeremy Taylor

About the Author
Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, is the author of The Wisdom of Your Dreams.

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