Dream Meanings: Should You Use a Dream Dictionary?


This blog is about dream meanings. Whenever someone remembers a vivid, sometimes even terrifying dream they only want to know one thing: what does this dream mean?


dream meanings
Cartoon: Nate Fakes


Most people who remember a dream start looking up symbols from that dream in (online) dream dictionaries.

One of the easiest ways to determine dream meanings. But a lot of people who work professionally with dreams are dead set against dream dictionaries to help you discover dream meanings.


dream meanings
Cartoon: Mark Anderson


I will let you in on a little secret: Sometimes I use dream dictionaries! Among psychologist and other people who work on a professional level with dreams there is a lot of animosity against dream dictionaries.

So you can decide if you are going to use it. It is your dream, you are the only one who is able to attach meaning to it. Sometimes, a little help of a dictionary can bring new unexpected depth to a dream.

Do you use a dream dictionary? Let me know in the comments.

Dream Meanings: Shaman as Dictionary

In ancient civilizations people lived in tribes. Every tribe had a wise man/woman who used his/her dreams to guide the tribe. Towards food, away from threads. To help diagnose illnesses. Dreams were told to him/her and interpreted.

The Shaman was a walking dream dictionary. Everybody agreed on the interpretation. The Shaman had this connection with the divine world that was not open for debate.

dream meanings
Galba, the last Tuvan Shaman
Poto: David Baxendale


Dreams in those societies were seen as a message from another world. The Shaman was a catalyst who could intercept those sacred vibes and translate them into words. Understanding which plants to use, which rites to perform to give the tribe the chances to prosper.

Around 3500 BC there is evidence of written knowledge (source Wikipedia). This allowed for knowledge to become detached from ancestors and Shamans. It also allowed for agriculture to take root among the Homo Sapiens. People began to settle down.

When science came about (astrology was one of the first scientific calculating systems to help tribes deal with crops see here).

Dream Meanings: Artemidoros

One of the oldest dream dictionary we know of today is that of Artemidoros. Where the Shaman considered a dream to be a divine intervention, Artemidoros believed that dreams had to do with predicting the future.


dream meanings
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As Charles Stewart explains in his book Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece, when Freud published The Interpretations of Dreams, he put this ancient legacy on its head. Dreams did not predict the future. Dreams where whispers, no even sometimes screams from the past.

dream meanings


Dream Meanings: Future, Past & Present

I am positive that you, my dear Mindfunda reader, will assume, just like I do, that dreams say something about the past, about the present and about the future all at once.

In my Mindfunda Mutual research (click the link for a free download), I manipulated the variable time. I had 15 couples, who had to meet each other in a dream. One was assigned the role as “giver” the other the role of “receiver”.

I had a couple who lived on different parts of the world. It would almost be impossible to connect on a dream, because their dream time did not overlap.

dream meanings

Yes you guessed correctly: this couple was successful. The dream report of the receiver clearly stated the “gift” the sender had to give this dreamer.

What is your opinion about time in dreams? Do you think dreams predict the future? Or are dreams the voices of your past?

Dream Meanings: Collective Symbols

As I have gained more knowledge on the subject of dreams the last decades, I have come to the conclusion that there truly is a collective layer of meaning that all human beings seem to be able to “tap” into at night.


dream meanings
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One of the best resources for this knowledge is -in my eyes- the dictionary created by Ad and Arthur de Vries.

But I know what you are going to think now. Not every dream is archetypical. 
And yes, you are right. Not every dream you remember is a life-changing earth-shaking dream.

I would love to hear your opinion about the use of dream dictionaries. i know a lot of people working on a professional level with dreams like I do are dead set against it. What do you think?

Dream experts

When I discussed this on the Facebook page of the International Dream Association, most of the dream experts indicated that in their view using a dream dictionary is a sign of inexperience with symbols.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to become a walking around symbol dictionary. Just be blunt and use them if you ever want to be inspired outside of your own comfort zone.


What is Mindfunda about?

My name is Susanne van Doorn, I am a Dutch psychologist, blogger and author. I have been working with psychology, dreams and mythology ever since I finished my study in psychology at Tilburg University. I made this independant site to share insights, and recent scientific articles about the brain, dreams, and mythology for use in your personal life.

This posting is categorised as Dreamfunda:  
Everything you need to know about dreams. Practical How to’s, the latest scientific research, the most commonly used ways to attach meaning to dreams. This and more is given to you for your everyday use in this part of Mindfunda

Read more about Mindfunda here, or visit our Courses Page.

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    8 thoughts on “Dream Meanings: Should You Use a Dream Dictionary?”

    1. Dream dictionaries can be good starting points as long as they make clear it’s only a starting point, a way of getting ideas, and what’s more important about a dream is the story that emerges from the symbolism. And time…yes, I have an example of a shared dream that occurred spontaneously and at different times, so that one person was awake and the others (four family members) were asleep and dreaming. It strongly suggests that dreams — some dreams, at least — exist outside of normal spacetime.

      1. Hi Radowl, thanks for dropping by! Always love rewriting a dream story in terms of the dream symbolism. But there are also dreamers who have an incredibly difficult time associating. You ask them about the meaning of certain symbols and their mind goes blanc. A good dream dictionary can help, and the one I suggested in the blog is by far the best I have come across up till now. That is until yours will be published of course, in June 😉

    2. Lovely post Susanne, thank you. I have a few – The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, and the one mentioned by Deborah Gregory above (Taschen)… I love amplifying on themes and dreams and sometimes just read them for the sheer pleasure and can get an orgasmic recognition – sometimes.

      I love the Dali image and of Freud with his cigar – which sometimes is exactly that – a cigar as he was keen to say (I think it was he who said that?)

    3. Hi Deborah, thanks for your suggestion, I will certainly find out more about the Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism). I am always eager to learn more about symbolism in any kind of communication: dreams, art, advertising, films and myth.
      I am very glad you were born in this century, where it is capable to spread your wisdom online!

    4. Hi Susanne, Every so often I use dream dictionaries, especially when I want to amplify a certain image with its associations further. However, what I don’t do is use internet dream websites because their meanings are too generic and often conflict with my own analysis.

      One of my favourite dream books is ‘Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism)’ published by Taschen. It’s a large, well-written and beautifully illustrated book. Thanks, I’ll look up the other dream books you reference.

      You clearly know your subject well, so thank you for writing another great article. It was wonderful to read about Shamans, and I love how you describe them as walking dream dictionaries. At times I feel I’ve been born in the wrong century! Blessings always, Deborah.

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