A Guide to Dream Interpretation
How to Interpret! 


         Language translator at bottom and in the footer.


         Communication with the unconscious


  "Is all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream?"

—Edgar Allen Poe

To follow the dream interpretation process link to:


The sons of Hypnos, the god of sleep and Pasathea, high priestess of relaxation and hallucinations.(Click to enlarge)

Do you dream?

Dreams are a natural part of how the brain deals with all the information that is thrown at us on a day-to-day basis. Basically it happens during the 2nd of three stages in our sleep cycle called REM sleep and takes up 20-25% of our sleep time.

(Above) A fMRI blood flow activation map of brain activity difference between the awake state (on left) and the dreaming state (stage 2). Many more areas light up in the dream state. It's like an iceberg that has most of its mass underwater in that more brain activity goes on in certain areas when we're asleep than when we're awake. (To enlarge, click here)

This infographic was

downloaded from Wikipedia (click here to enlarge)

Bottom line: Everyone dreams, all the time, whether you remember them or not. Dreams are a way to peer into what is going on in your body, life, deepest and most closely held self,and intuition. Through dreams, one can lift the veil that seems to shroud reality. They can help one see through life's illusions—those created by the individual as well as the collective. Thomas Moore calls dreams "the royal road to the soul" and claimed that "it is impossible to care for the soul and live at the same time in unconsciousness."[i] James Hillman thought of the dream as the psyche doing soul work.[ii]

Through dreams, one can learn what is necessary to create the world they envision. The answers are there, if one can only learn to read the signs and interpret the language.

The ancient Greeks used to send their sick to temples called Asclepieions to be cured. In these temples, dreams would be incubated and used as part of the healing process. These dreams were also used to predict the future. The idea that dreams could be used to predict the future was very much a part of both the Greek and Roman religion. To predict the future through dream interpretation is sometimes called oneiromancy (from the Greek word oneiros: to dream) and is a form of divination.

In ancient Egypt, the priests were dream interpreters, and these interpretations can still be seen in the hieroglyphics on some temple walls. The wizard Myrddin was not only a prophet but interpreted dreams as well. A story by a sixteenth-century writer tells how Myrddin interpreted the dreams of his sister, Gwenddydd.[iii]

In both the Old and New Testament, dreams were often referred to as a way in which mortals communicated with God or as omens. For example, in Genesis 37:5 of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Joseph dreamed an omen of his future success, and Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven where God spoke to him from the top (Genesis 28:12—17). In the New Testament, the Magi were warned to avoid King Herod (Matthew 2:12), and Paul was directed to travel to Macedonia (Acts 16:9—10) through a dream.

If you look carefully at your own dreams, you can see your own mythology and gather information about your emotional and spiritual development as well as gain insight into the events and people around you.

What are dreams?

There is experimental evidence that dreams are how the mind integrates the waking day's events into the overall experience of the brain—for example, it solidifies what is learned.

However, I also see dreams as revealing patterns within one's life that are unconscious to the waking mind. Because the mind has so much input during the waking hours that it needs to respond to just to survive, it has little time to observe objectively what is going on. Dreams provide this insight. Dreams can be the conscious mind's communication with the unconscious.

There is also some evidence that dreams may create some of our experiences in the waking world by making patterns appear to us in the waking world.

There is evidence that excessive dreaming, or more specifically, excessive REM sleep can actually cause disorders such as depression. Why? We're not sure, but if you think of dreaming as part of the brain's regulatory system, continuous ruminations about negative material and intense emotions on behalf of the waking person can overload the conscious minds ability to deal. If the "housekeeping" aspect of the dream becomes overloaded as well, then it too has too much to deal with. This may result in anywhere from 3 to 4 times as much REM sleep in those who are suffering from depression and indeed some research has shown an increase in dreams from those who suffer depression. No wonder they wake up still tired.

Guided imagery, active imagining, cognitive behavior therapy and relaxation therapy have all been known to help.

For some patients with PTSD a prescription drug used to decrease nightmare activity has also proved useful. However acaution should be applied here that until we know more about the functions of dreams we should not attempt to end all dreaming as a means of "curing" the symptoms of too much dreaming!

Others claim that dreams have a problem-solving function. In the age of computers, some use the analogy that dreams are a "cleaning out of the software," sort of an offline dumping of what is useless. Still others suggest that dreams serve no function and are just "throw away" material. Consider the following perspectives about dreams:

  • The quote from Edgar Allen Poe at this chapter's beginning is not unlike the Australian Aborigine's belief in the Dreaming of creation. Are we dreaming ourselves into existence?
  • Chuang Tzu, a Taoist philosopher from the fourth century BC, suggested that one could realize that life is no more than a dream as well. In his "Butterfly" story, he seems to be making the same statement where he dreams of being a butterfly and upon awakening asks whether he was Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu[iv].
  • Philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872—1970) said, "I do not believe that I am now dreaming, but I cannot prove that I am not."
  • The Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud claimed that dreams were wish fulfilling, though this might not at first be evident. He also thought that dreams might be a projection of one's fears based on past conditioning. Is it possible that dreams can bring themselves into reality, that dream images, especially fearful images, can be brought into existence in the waking world?
  • Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and contemporary of Freud, believed that dreams have a self-regulatory aspect in that they maintained the individual's balance and harmony. He believed that dreams integrated the conscious with the unconscious.
  • James Hillman was against the traditional theory that dreams tell people what to do. He thought that they were more for telling us where we are and that the images of the dream should not be broken down and analyzed for what they may say about the waking world but for what they may say about the psyche. To Hillman, dream work was soul work. I think that Jung would agree.

So why interpret dreams?

Searchers who want to understand the why of the world beyond its mechanics—most of all, the why of themselves—have to look inward for the answers. As I have said before, I used dream interpretation to help develop a reliable psycho-emotional portrait of the children I worked with, and you can do this for yourself as well.

Getting started:

I've tried a number of techniques to both recall my dreams upon waking and then to interpret their meaning. Certain techniques seem to work for me more often than not, and I'll share them here in hopes that they will help you to get started.

First, it takes a real commitment to do this because recalling dreams doesn't usually start right away. You may not recall a dream for days or weeks, and then if you remember anything, it sometimes seems like just a fragment. But fragments are good; write them down—it reinforces the system. Besides, fragments can have meaning if taken in the right context.


Note: There are times when I have a devil of a time remembering my dreams. I know that I've dreamed, but the memory has just melted away before I can get a hold of it. This is when I have to get in touch with my intention to recall a dream. Sometimes a couple of days will pass, but eventually a snippet will remain and I'll grab a pen and jot it down. These snippets, or fragments, may go on for several days, but the stalled cycle has been broken and eventually I'll recall a full dream with all the bells and whistles. Dream work takes patience and that is something in short supply these days what with most of us being programmed to want everything right now (even our smart phones, tablets, faxes, internet contacts, social and news media reinforce (or reflect?) this. But that whisper of the spirit within can't be heard above the noise and bustle of the modern world unless you take the time to quiet both the outer and inner worlds in order to hear the wisdom. And hear it we must for it is our only reliable guide through the maze that is life.

There are also medicinal plants that can aid in dream incubation, nightmare control, and sleep induction as well. _____________

There is also what, for me, has been the arduous work of interpreting the dreams that I have written down. This difficulty has sometimes acted as a deterrent. Why are dreams so hard to interpret? Jeremy Taylor suggests in his book, Dream Work, that dreams have "multiple levels of meaning woven into a single metaphor of personal experience."[v] He goes on to say that dreams are modeled after verbal puns, though in a pun, one word can have multiple meanings and with dreams everything can have multiple meanings.

I have found that though multiple meanings can be discovered in my dreams, I can become obsessed with finding them. This can become quite tedious, and for me, it's discouraging over time. I have learned that I don't have to go looking for every possible meaning and can still get value.

Caution: One can stop too soon while interpreting meaning. This is called Premature Closure. It's when you stop considering other possibilities prematurely and is one of the two big sins in dream work e.g. Premature Closure and Excessive Judgment. One needs to be careful that they aren't closing off the most important aspect of a dream. One's preconceptions and expectations also add bias to an interpretation. In short, every day cognitive errors can limit meaning and is why I recommend working with others on dream meaning. I also go back at a later time to review some dreams so as to limit "situational bias" (re: my mood) in an interpretation.


Personality types (see below) can influence interpretation as well (see comments below) e.g. Are you the type that likes closure, certainty and abhors ambiguity, or you the type who likes to look at all sides and has difficulty settling on a single issue? Knowing your personality style can help you make more meaningful interpretations. There are all kinds of cognitive illusions that if you're unaware can lead you to see patterns where there are none, or significance where there isn't any. In short, greater self-awareness can come from dream work, but dream work requires greater self-awareness. They're mutually supportive.

Keeping a journal

I always keep a journal or even just a piece of paper with a pen or pencil beside the bed. Whatever I recall in the morning, I write down. In the beginning of this work, I found myself waking several times during the night to jot down things. This obsession [1] can upset sleep patterns. But don't worry; it will probably pass. If it doesn't, then stop reaching for the pen during the night. Reinforce only normal morning dream recall, and the obsessive behavior will extinguish itself.

When I start to settle in, I remind myself that I want to remember my dream. This seems to help program the system.

When you wake in the morning, don't move from your waking position because if you've awakened during the dream your position is connected to it and moving will make the recall more difficult. I've also found that taking vitamin B6 before going to sleep can be very beneficial to dream intensity and to dream recall. With your journal in hand try to remember the main emotion within the dream and jot it down ,this will help you interpret the meaning of the overall theme. Because dream symbols are nearly always cnonected to events of the previous day some analysts suggest keeping your dream journal imbedded in your regular journal. The results for interpreting everyday issues or ongoing issues is phenomenal. Because I don't normally journal my waking life (e.g. write a diary) I Typically write down what's going on in my waking life in the margins of my journal.

When you recall a fragment or full dream, write it exactly as you remember it. Don't worry about spelling or punctuation—the subconscious mind doesn't care. Don't judge it, edit it, or try to figure it out at this point. Just get it down on paper.

I usually assign a title for my dream to recall it or summarize its content. I've found that this can aid in the process of interpretation. I also write the date and where I am when I have the dream. You can see examples of this process on the dreams that I've written throughout the book.

If I have time, that is if I'm not pressed for work or some appointment, I begin the process of interpreting or analyzing. When interpreting, I always write down the salient points, themes, and symbols (e.g., animals, people, numbers, buildings, death, falling, etc.) in an outline.

Using this format seems to naturally separate the different parts and characters of the dream and allows me to interpret the pieces in isolation and then look for patterns when reviewing the whole. My first go at their meaning is usually some form of what they mean to me. I ask what thoughts about George or Betty do I have that may give me a clue as to what they represent in my dream.

Remember that one person's symbols are not necessarily the same as another's. In Derek and Julia Parker's book, Dreaming: Remembering, Interpreting and Benefitting,[vi] Carl Jung is quoted as saying, "No dream symbol can be separated from the individual who dreams it, and there is no definite or straightforward interpretation of any dream."

There are, however, certain themes, patterns, or concepts that seem to show up universally, so a good dream dictionary can be helpful. I've included a short version of one that includes the universal symbols and their meanings that I've found useful in my inner work through dreams. The clue as to whether any interpretation to a symbol or theme is accurate is whether it resonates with you. Do you feel the light turn on, that "Ah yes, that's it!"? If so, then you can use the assigned meaning.

I also look for the main action. What is the overall activity of the dream, such as running, flying, hiding, fighting, etc.? Who you are in the dream should be noted because it can speak to how you play your role in your waking life. I also note feelings and reasons for actions. For example, I might ask why I don't go into that dark room.

Another very important aspect to dream analysis for me has been to assume that everything pertains to me. "Yes, Virginia, it is all about me!" Every character is you, every being is you or your personality, behavior, wishes, or fears. A personality placed on some character in the dream from someone you know in the waking world is a personality trait that you recognize in yourself or a fear that you lack. You even have the traits that you don't like to some degree, whether you are conscious of them or not. This fact can be quite useful for those who wish to make changes in their lives but aren't sure where to start.

Actually, you can only see in others what is already in you, like it or not. It's amazing what things about yourself you can discover through dream work.

Whoa, back up a moment! I just said that you can only see what is already in you. This is a hard concept for those of us that are proud that we don't have certain traits in us. I find a sense of solace, peace, and pride in the fact that I wouldn't hurt a fly, as the saying goes. But I can see the murderous evil in some other people. Am I saying that is in me? Not exactly. Negatives that you see in others are usually traits that strongly conflict with a value in you that you admire. It's not that the negative trait isn't in the other person. It's the contrast that is being "projected" onto the other person.

You may have this trait also, but it may be that deep down, you fear that weakness or vulnerability that you judge to be in the other who does have the trait. There is also the possibility that you are not always true to your value; you may have a hidden trait that is in conflict with your value. When I succumb to my fear associated with wanton murder, my internal reaction is to want to destroy the threat, obliterate the perpetrator, grind them into dust, and spill the blood of their worthless being. This reaction scares me, and I want to purge it from me. I find myself making extreme statements about the other person. I am "projecting" my fear of my reaction away from me and onto them.

"What you meet in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution."

 –Ram Dass


This is where strong judgments in both the sleeping and waking dreams can help you become conscious of inner motivations. Awareness then allows action to be taken if you choose to do so. For me, the awareness of my dark side allows me some control over its expression. And instead of resisting it, which seems to only serve to strengthen it, I can now work on accepting its presence.


Whether or not you are able to see a theme or pattern may be affected by your individual personality traits. Whether you are perfectionistic, possessive, image conscious, self-absorbed, secretive, anxious, engaging, scattered, self-confident, willful, easy going, or self-effacing these traits are going to affect your interpretation of dream themes and patterns. The more you know about your traits, the more you can spot what the pallet you're using to create your dream picture looks like. Knowing something about your emotional makeup is also going to help in understanding your waking world behaviors as well as your dreams .

 There are several personality type indicators with each focusing on different foundational philosophies of personality and personality development. For the purpose of this website I'm highlighting two that I have the most experience with—The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram type indicator. Both will provide the user with rough, though usable information.

There are several personality type indicators with each focusing on different foundational philosophies of personality and personality development. For the purpose of this website I'm highlighting two that I have the most experience with—The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram type indicator. Both will provide the user with rough, though usable information.

I've taken the liberty of creating a link to three sites that I believe to be useful;


•Enneagram: http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

•You may also wish to explore the Wikipedia entry on Emotional Intelligence:


All three can be quite useful at an entry level to getting a handle on how you respond to the symbols, circumstances and events of your life and make the process and results of dream interpretation all that much richer and meaningful.

In The Dragon's Treasure I discuss in some depth some of the variables that affect our relationship to both the sleeping and waking consciousness.

Not only does your personality determine the symbols and the interpretation of those symbols, so does the extent to which you have immersed yourself in the beliefs of a religion and the values of a culture. The Quran, the Christian and Jewish bible, the Vedas and other books of religion are used to interpret one's life and to attempt the understanding of God, so why would they not influence your dreams? The danger in this is that rigidly narrow interpretations can sometimes only give you information about what you know and not what you don't know. I'm not sure that the 'self' of the unconscious adheres to any religion, though it may use your belief as a way of communicating to you. This may add yet another layer of complexity to be unpeeled before getting at the small kernal of truth hidden within.

Why is it all so difficult? In the book The Dragon's Treasure I talk about what causes this difficulty and why and explore some options for dealing with the problem.

Dream Work


Dream interpretation: an interaction between analyst and dreamer


When you share a dream with another person you are taking on the responsibility of sharing something quite personal. Clarity is most important so be prepared to be asked questions by the person analyzing the dream. What will ensue is a dialog that eventually inserts a little of both people into the meaning of the dream. Dreams reflect current concerns, when shared a relational meaning can be developed between the analyst and the dreamer. Both can lend their individual experiences toward the meaning. Ultimately, however, "meaning" is the Dreamer's responsibility. The analyst can help point toward perhaps an unrealized meaning, but the dreamer has to go with what "resonates", or seems right.

Jung thought that dream work was essentially a theater in which the dreamer is the scene, actor, producer, author, and audience.[vii]

I have also found it useful to become part of a dream group from time to time. The points of view from others regarding your dreams can be quite enlightening, as can listening to and interpreting the dreams of others.

There is a caution here in that this kind of gestalt dream work, though useful for enhancing individual insight, can give the dreamer permission to not go deeper into material that they may be in resistance to. I found that sometimes if the group skirted around a certain embarrassing issue that I was dealing with through a dream, I would let it stay hidden. This, in effect, kept the issue unresolved.

Other forms of dream work might include Dream Poetry (Russo, R. Dreaming, Vol. 13, No.1, March 2003), Hypnosis to aid in recall and/or symbol amplification (e.g. ask the symbol,"Why are you in my dream?"), Active Imagination (dialoguing with the dream elements of the unconscious–see below under the Intuitive Interactive section), or Gestalt Dream Work (becoming part of the dream, taking on different characters within the dream to take on a different perspective.) All can be done alone, but I recommend that you do it in the company of others especially those who have experience with the techniques. You may wish to look into these a little deeper so I have provided links.

Sharing my dreams with family or trusted friends has been very useful in that it helps to formulate my ideas, and their feedback has been frequently useful. More formal groups can be found online or through formal class work or workshops being presented by various local dream instructors and gurus. It takes a little personal experience and persistence to find a group that feels right, a group where you share similar temperaments and interests, though I have also found groups where I felt totally out of my element yet the group turned out to be quite uplifting though uncomfortable. Perhaps if I had stayed with the discomfort longer I might have discovered something valuable.

The technique of Active Imagining can also prove most enlightening with regard to unlocking the mystery of the unconscious material hidden within a dream.

When I interpret my dreams, I always do so in the context of the rest of my life, especially in what's happening in the here and now. It helps to write a short explanation about what's happening in the margins so if you don't get back to the dream for a few days, you can remember context.

Sometimes I'll also go back and rework a dream when other ideas come up and any notes about what was happening in the waking world are always helpful.

In this book (The Dragon's Treasure), I have included a bibliography of books about dreams and dream analysis that have facilitated some of my growth over the years.

As I suggested earlier, I began titling my dreams upon waking to help me remember them. I started doing this sometime during the early '90s. Titling also helped me in the interpretive phase. As I looked through old dreams to use in this book, I was struck by the variety of titles and how often they told a story all their own. Though just fragments, they seem to have their own poetry.


Other forms of Dream Work include Active Imagining, Dream Tending, Gestalt dream work, Intuitive Interactive (see below), and a technique of my own that works specifically on Recurring Dream work (though it can be adapted to other types of dreams such as nightmares).

Intuitive interactive approach

One can also use the intuitive interactive approach to dream interpretation. I don’t always have the time to do this, but if the dream is powerful enough, or it is a recurrent theme, or nightmare I’ll take the extra time.

1) after having written the dream down in your journal recall your dream by closing your eyes and replaying the entire scene. Notice such things as feelings and jot them down, don’t edit anything and keep writing until you sense there’s nothing more to write. Note any clues to meaning that may have been revealed during this process.

2) bring a prominent symbol, or character into your consciousness using the process described in the Active Imagining and Dream Tending sections on this site. By tapping into the same source as the dream these characters can reveal a great deal of meaning and lead to waking life application.

3) drawings of the characters and symbols can also add substance to the overall dream material–try drawing a key character or symbol that stood out and notice what you get (feelings, thoughts) about their identity and/or messages they’re bringing that may be related to you. Drawing how you were feeling at any stage of the dream that you are depicting is also quite useful.

4) draw a timeline, or order sequence for your dream–add anything to this diagram associated with the events and characters that may come up for you.

5) find someone to share and discuss your dream. Be open to any additional info that they may offer. One of the best ways I’ve found to add meaning to another persons dream is to preface your input with, “If this were my dream…” In this way they aren’t making you wrong for your interpretation, just adding another perspective. Feel free to send me the dream as well via the Contact section of this website (because of the size of the queue, it usually takes me anywhere from 7 to 12 days to respond).

As with any dream interpretation it has to resonate with you in order to be of use to you. When I am interpreting the dreams of others I always add this caveat: 

Please note that the interpretation(s) that I provide are not the ultimate meaning of the dream. Every interpretation is but a hypothesis and an attempt to read what is often an enigmatic narrative. You the dreamer will know what meaning(s) would be your own truth by what you feel in your heart. If it resonates as true, then go with it; otherwise discard it in part, or in its entirety. I can only offer what the dream would mean for me if it were mine.

In short, listen to the thoughts of others, but only use what touches you.

Carl Jung, the famous dream analyst, had this to say about interpretation:

"Every interpretation is a hypothesis, an attempt to read an unknown text. An obscure dream, taken in isolation, can hardly ever be interpreted with any certainty."  

He also went on to say that no one dream can really do justice to ones story, 

"For this reason I attach little importance to the interpretation of single dreams. A relative degree of certainty is reached only in the interpretation of a series of dreams, where the later dreams correct the mistakes we have made in handling those that went before. Also, the basic ideas and themes can be recognized much better in a dream-series."

"The Practical Use of Dream Analysis" (1934). In CW 16: The Practice of Psychotherapy. pg. 322


[1] Note that "obsession" is a theme in my life, especially when I take on anything new. There is always the danger that I will overwork something, burn out, and then drop the thing altogether. "Everything in moderation," my grandmother used to say.

To purchase a copy of the guide:

[i]Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life,(New York: Harper Collins, 1992), page 291.

[ii]James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld, (New

York: Harper & Row, 1979).

[iii]Elis Gruffudd, The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd,

National Library of Wales MS 5276D. Edited and translated by Thomas Jones in Etude Celtique, 1947.

[iv]Watson,Burton (translator). (1968). The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press, Pg 49

[v]Jeremy Taylor, Dream Work: Techniques for discovering the creative power in dreams

(New York: Paulist Press, 1983).Page 26

[vi] Derek and Julia

Parker, Dreaming: Remembering, Interpreting. (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1985).Page 28

[vii]Carl Jung,et al., Jung Extracts: Dreams, Vol. 20, (Princeton

University Press, 1974),Page 46