The Reverse Dream Dictionary
Copyright Dave Prince ©1997 - 2000
Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion
Books on dream interpretation - dream dictionaries - are two a penny if you visit the right book shops. (Some might call them the wrong book shops.) Dreams can be a useful, colourful, and entertaining way to advance plot lines (or mess up characters' mental stability - but don't tell anyone I said so.)
They can also be prompted, sometimes demanded, by the system - skills, spells, magical items, herbs, potions, talents or racial abilities may give players access to information otherwise unavailable to them. Possibly information the GM had a full session of investigation mapped out for the party to gain. "Er - okay. You cast the spell and have a dream. It was Michael in the library with a rod of lightning bolts." This doesn't really add to the atmosphere anywhere near as much as it could.
Most GMs (by definition) have good imaginations and could easily make up a whole stream of surreal events that could, if interpreted in just the right way, come to reveal a bit of the plot. The flip side is that most players have good memories (some even write things down!) and if dreams are going to be a recurring feature of a campaign then a certain amount of consistency and continuity is going to be expected. After all, the assertions implicit in the dream dictionaries you can buy off the shelf in this world is that a certain (type of) thing cropping up in dreams always has a certain (type of) meaning.
Most GMs also never get enough time to write plot - never mind translate it into dream terms. For the discerning GM seeking consistency from one session/dream to the next without a great deal of effort, a nice little reference manual of concepts would be invaluable. This is precisely what most dream dictionaries are not - they're user guides. This article is therefore in two parts: a Dream Dictionary listing dream concepts and their corresponding meanings, and a Reverse Dream Dictionary indexing the meanings back to their concepts.
A final word or two about this article. This was originally written for Mentalism Companion (Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell and Eran M Malloch 1998) but got squashed out of the final edition. (Fortunately, the page limit on the Guild Companion isn't quite as tight.) Thus it is oriented towards the magical fantasy genre. Secondly - please don't take this seriously ;). The only dreams in this world it has any chance of interpreting are mine, and anyone trying to get into my head will probably need psychoanalysis when (if) they get out. (I certainly will.)
Also, for the record: I don't believe in dream interpretation beyond a very basic level. Recurring nightmares probably mean it's time to change job, or start taking the medicine, or maybe stop taking tthe medicine. Freud might hav had something to say about dreams with lots of trains in them, but I suspect that my train dreams are telling me not to play Railroad Tycoon II past midnight.
From Symbols to Meanings
The element of air represents influences on the soul or will. See the entries on breath, breeze, flying, wind, storms etc. for detail.
Breath: cold, hot, gasping, humid, smell, (see Air)
To dream of breathing in hot air indicates evil / demonic forces are trying to influence you. Breathing out hot air means that they may have already done so.
Cold breath indicates a failure of interpersonal persuasion. Breathing out cold indicates your attempts to persuade are falling on deaf ears, possibly through some misconception you have about what their goals are. Breathing in cold indicates you may have misunderstood someone or not given them time to explain.
Breathing oppressively humid air means that you are falling into depression and failing to decide or act when needed.
Gasping for breath (but not drowning) indicates a loss of faith.
The smell of someone else's breath can give clues to their true personality.
Breeze (see Air)
A gentle breeze indicates a coming time for building, changing or enhancing personal relationships.
Walking (or otherwise slowly moving) with someone in a cool breeze indicates a platonic relationship in which mutual trust is deepening. A similar situation in a warm breeze reveals rising passion. Beware that hot and cold breezes, as opposed to warm and cool ones, have connotations similar to hot and cold breath.
To be alone in a pleasant breeze indicates that someone you are currently ignoring wants to start a relationship.
Dreams about earth or soil, particularly bare earth indicate that (more) careful planning, or something specific perhaps hinted at by other aspects of the dream, needs to be done in preparation for a new venture.
Fire ashes, burning, embers, flames
Fire is a primal source of energy, and whilst seeing something burning may appear disconcerting, it actually represents coming empowerment or activity likely to be beneficial. The nature of this depends upon what is seen burning. E.g. a burning crown or chain of office may represent political power or influence. Viewing the ashes or embers of a fire still implies benefits, although probably from an unexpected source. If you dream of fighting flames you may currently be involved in a well meaning endeavour that will actually cause you grief, loss or harm.
A hurricane portends a significant change of ideas, views or beliefs. Being caught up in one may mean a revelation is coming. Watching one sweep through a town, village or other habitation may mean that they will be persuaded into some unexpected action or belief. Paying attention to which buildings are most affected may indicate the nature of the change. For example, the church being blown away may indicate a religious conversion.
Ice represents threat to the flesh: sickness, disease, ill health and in the extreme, death. It usually corresponds to a part of the body. E.g. an iced up sword may indicate an incapacitated weapon arm. However, a dream of ice wherein one does not feel, or somehow banishes, the cold indicates the illness can be overcome. A dream about eating frozen food could signify a poisoning.
Light bright, dark, light source
The element of light is fundamentally connected to knowledge and reasoning.
To dream of a light coming from something is your subconscious trying to indicate the answer to a problem worrying you. Particular attention, not only to the source of the light, but what lies in shadow between you and it may be required to understand the answer. See also lightning.
Dreaming of a dimly lit environment indicates that you still do not have sufficient information. A bright, or blinding, light that hurts the eyes may mean you are focusing on a small or irrelevant piece of information.
Lightning has a similar meaning to light, but is more intense; imperative. To see lightning strike an object indicates that that object (or what it represents) is the solution to a puzzle in your waking life.
To be struck by lightning means that you already know the answer and you're just too stubborn or stupid to see it. To be woken up by a dream-lightning strike is lucky (since you can immediately remember the dream and try to work out its meaning.) To dream of being repeatedly struck by lightning but not waking up indicates that you really need some outside help - you should talk your problems over with someone.
Ocean see sea.
Dreaming of being caught out in a fresh, clear shower of rain means that you will gain sustained energy and vigour, that, if used to address your personal problems will produce excellent results. If the rain is cold and from murky clouds, old problems, unfinished business and old secrets may be coming back to haunt you.
A rainbow symbolises the passing of the element of water (selfishness) and the coming of air. It indicates that you may soon learn something of, or come to understand better, someone whom you currently regard as an acquaintance or servant. A deep and lasting relationship may follow.
A clear, smooth flowing river foretells of personal pleasures and prosperity. Muddy or disturbed waters indicate jealousy or conflict. Being stranded by the flood waters of a river means you will experience some embarrassment, but if the waters recede you will be able to avoid it turning into
a scandal. A dried up river is impending bad luck.
Sea boat, ship, vessel
There can be two aspects to dreams of the sea.
Firstly - emptiness indicates frustration and lack of carnal pleasures, other people in the same vessel indicate continued and stable companionship (the larger the vessel the better) whereas ships traveling together in convoy mean a heightened passion due to the imminent possibility of parting. The interpretation of two ships passing in the night is left as an exercise for the reader.
Secondly - the state of the sea indicates financial stability. A calm sea indicates stable finances, but not necessarily riches. A stormy sea reveals troubled times ahead - you'd better have a bit put aside for an emergency. See also tides.
Stream see river and water.
A storm foretells trouble in general, but especially misfortune that separates you from your friends or family.
A dream of swimming indicates a need for sustained personal effort in your relationships. While it may cost you time and money now, it will pay back later.
A flowing (incoming) tide augurs an upturn in finances, an ebbing tide, a downturn. Watching the tide go all the way out implies destitution.
To be caught up in a tornado indicates that well laid plans may fail due to an apparently minor detail being overlooked, or someone failing to play their part at the last minute.
Water in dreams is personal and selfish. It usually represents fulfillment, or lack thereof, sexually and financially. Flowing water indicates luck or unluck - events outside your control that will impinge on your personal wellbeing, the size of the watercourse indicating the severity of the impact. For various details see rain, river, sea, swimming and tide.
Wind (see Air)
A strong wind can represent views or goals, possibly from someone close to you that you respect, or from society in general. If you are battling against the wind those views are opposed to yours and your eventual success can be inferred from the headway you make. If you are being carried by the wind in the direction you wish to go you may soon receive, or already be receiving, help from unknown sources.
An alternative interpretation involves struggling into the wind with a group of companions. Their relative progresses may reveal their commitments to your current goals.
Colour, if predominant in a dream, indicates a mood, emotion or disposition. A coloured being tends to inform more of the emotional state of that being, whereas a coloured item or place can incline more towards the disposition or origin.
Complicated dreams may colour something in more than one shade. Sometimes flecks of one colour running through another appear. In these cases the more predominant colour has greater meaning. Other times certain portions may be coloured differently. For example a dream of a companion with a yellow breast and head, and red hands may indicate that he has treachery in his heart and will soon commit some violent act. In this case the fact that there is far more yellow than red does not mean that the violence of the act will be insignificant.
See the entry for each colour for details.
Black can be associated either with either evil, or with sadness or depression. It usually needs more context to determine which.
Blue signifies hope that things will turn out better, or perhaps plans to arrange that things will improve. A pale blue or turquoise, can sometimes just indicate curiosity.
Brown is related predominantly to honour, proper behaviour, or perhaps just law.
On the emotional side the phrase "green with envy" can often be taken literally in dreams, but a green origin or disposition could merely imply a natural origin or close association with nature. Dreams of rangers very rarely come out with them any colour other than green unless you've been chopping their trees down (see red.) Light green can indicate patience - a willingness to let things take their natural course and see what happens.
No surprises that purple means nobility and royalty, but beware that colouring associated with emotion may purple a dream being if, say they think that they are performing a "noble" sacrifice. So be careful to distinguish noble origin (blood etc.) from noble emotions.
Passion! Anger or sexual.
Goodness; Truth; Knowledge; Purity; Piety. White can mean lots of things, but whatever it is you're usually pretty safe with it (unless you're evil, of course.)
Yellow is interpreted as a polluted, or corrupted, white - the colour of deception. Something that wants to appear to be good but is not. E.g. cowardice, treachery, lies. The wrong might not be intentional though, a bright, clean or shiny yellow indicates some misdirection or other non malicious intent - e.g. a witness in a trial may be giving evidence he believes to be true because some nasty mentalist has been playing with his mind. A murky or dark yellow, though, does imply malice aforethought.
Animals (in general) birds, insects etc.
For this paragraph, treat 'animal' as any very low intelligence being. Very different meanings can result depending upon whether you dream of seeing, or interacting with an animal, or whether you dream of being that animal. At a very basic level dreaming of being an animal simply implies a wish for or acknowledgment of the common abilities associated with that animal. E.g. a thief may often dream of being a sleek, black, cat; a hunter of a tiger; and a sentry of a vicious guard dog. However some dream animals have more meaning when interacted with in a certain way. E.g. a dream of shooting an antelope indicates a fear of persecution. The converse is also true: a dream of being an antelope shot by someone says that they fear persecution by you. In most cases the second part of the description can be taken for granted and will not be explicitly stated.
Dream animals often speak, this is not at all unusual but before taking the animal's words for granted think whether the animal symbolises something or someone. Their words may mean something different in that context.
See separate entry, if one exists, for further details. Also see "birds in general."
Someone who dreams of watching ants will likely encounter many petty distractions the following day or spend a lot of time getting nowhere while others work productively around them.
Seeing antelope heralds financial gain; the more the better. Shooting an antelope indicates a fear of persecution. Being an antelope indicates athletic ability.
Being an ape foretells humiliation. Dreams of watching apes indicates voyeurism or spying.
A dream of swarming bees is a sign that your problems can be overcome, or goals achieved, but that they will require teamwork to complete.
Birds (in general)
To see a flock of birds flying past is an indication that the local environment will somehow become more friendly to the dreamer. If the birds are circling, going nowhere, the opposite is likely.
Seeing a single bird close up that has beautiful plumage indicates that your future partner is close by. A dull bird represents cruelty, but some of the corvids have separate meanings; see the entries for crow, raven or rook as appropriate. A dreamer who cannot tell the difference between the corvids should seek expert ornithological advice before trying to interpret the dream.
An injured bird foretells of sorrow.
Butterfly (see also caterpillar, transformation)
A butterfly often denotes a soul, but can also imply a carefree attitude.
Cat (small / domestic)
Being a cat denotes stealth, agility and luck. Most other things to do with cats are bad. Seeing a cat forebodes bad luck unless you drive it away before waking. If a cat scratches you, the fruits of a long planned success may be stolen or disallowed at a stroke. To hear cats yowling in the night indicates your enemies gather against you, maybe to perform a summoning, sending or some kind of ritual. Even nice, clean, friendly cats are bad news. They just imply an enemy has already deceived you and is in your confidence.
See also kittens.
Caterpillar (see also butterfly, transformation)
To dream of caterpillars means that there is little to be gained in the immediate future. To have caterpillars crawling upon you augurs that there are annoying people of low status in your future.
Dreams of being a caterpillar watching butterflies indicates that you are trying to be or do something that you are not yet capable of, but that given time the means to achieve what you want will come to you. If during the dream you change into a butterfly the means or abilities are close at hand. (See transformations first though.)
Being a cow indicates a fear of being stupid. Seeing cows foretells prosperity, though not huge wealth.
Seeing a crow bodes ill. Misfortune and grief are sure to follow. If associated with commerce it usually represents a bad deal. Seeing a murder of crows indicates severe misfortune - usually a group is plotting to harm or kill you.
Dog (not wolf)
Dogs, in general, represent loyalty, followers, obedience and servitude; with indications of martial ability depending upon the nature of the dog.
Many small dogs indicates satisfaction through small pleasures and also a lack of deep thought. Hearing many barking dogs foretells of bad news, a single baying dog indicates a long separation or the death of a friend. A rabid dog may mean that you are suffering from a fatal disease.
The symbol of peace and serenity. Dreams of trying to catch a dove indicate the wish for a quiet life.
The eagle is the most regal of birds. Virtually anything that you personally do to or with a dream eagle is a good omen. E.g. killing one shows that no problem is too great for you to overcome; speaking with one indicates respect from people in high places. However sharing the experience with someone else is indicative that you will not reach your full potential or goal, and just watching someone else interact with an eagle is much worse - opportunities may have been missed or other people will take the credit and reward for your actions.
Shoals of small fish often relate to the subconscious, and a larger fish, a specific thought or idea. Catching fish indicates that some inspiration is nigh.
Frog see transformation
The gerbil is a symbol of surreality. Dreams containing gerbils are often the most difficult to interpret, or simply contain no useful information at all. They are usually quite entertaining though.
The horse denotes freedom and most of the symbology of dream horses derives directly from this. E.g. riding a horse means controlling or taking someone else's freedom. Being a horse ridden by someone else alludes to a lack of control over one's destiny. Dreams of riding a bucking horse mean that you are striving to gain or set free powers that you cannot control (a common one for ritual magic users, this.)
To dream of seeing a kitten indicates that someone is toying with your affections. To play with kittens denotes you will be beset by a great many small and irritating problems.
The lion symbolises your own strong emotions, particularly as the driving force behind your actions. What happens to it is an omen of what will happen if you keep acting from the heart without thinking.
The screech of an owl indicates that death may be close, but normally only from carelessness or some freak chance event. Be careful for the next few days.
The peacock represents diversion and disguise. It is often associated with con men, or boasters whose money is not where their mouth is.
Pigs are closely related to business. The wellbeing and number of swine in a herd indicate the state of the business affairs of the swineherd and how they are may change. (see also sheep)
Poultry of most kinds denote extravagance and frivolity, and are usually associated with an unnecessary drain on expenses.
A dream of rabbits indicates that you will soon be more pleased with your situation than before (though not necessarily that your situation will get better.)
A raven indicates a change in fortunes - good to bad, or bad to good. An unkindness of ravens still implies a change but through some other person or group's doing.
The sight of a rook means good fortune is on its way. A parliament of rooks reveals that some organisation is about to move in your favour.
Sheep are closely related to business in a similar way to pigs but they predict the fortunes over a longer period - a season or a year or so.
A snake can sometimes represent sexual fears, but usually it is just plain evil.
A lot of people don't like spiders and tend to read nasty elements into their interpretations. This is somewhat unfair as all that the spider usually signifies is determination.
Being a swan is the epitome of grace. Seeing a swan tells of fine pleasures. A black swan is similar but the source may be illicit.
Tadpole (see also transformation)
See the descriptions under caterpillar and transformation for the parallel of dreams of being a tadpole watching or becoming a frog or toad. Seeing tadpoles in a dream represents immorality.
The tiger denotes someone who was stealthy and cunning, but who is now so rich or powerful that they no longer need to hide their presence. They are usually dangerous, but not necessarily evil.
Toad see frog, tadpole, transformation
Transformation (of animals etc.)
Dreams of tadpoles turning into frogs or toads and caterpillars changing into butterflies of themselves may be quite innocent, but beware a dream where the transformation reverses before the end. This has, from time to time, been linked with instances of lycanthropy.
A wolf in natural surroundings represents a hunter of some skill. A wolf in a built up area symbolises a thief. The howl of a wolf in the distance means that secret plots are being woven against you.
Materials in general
If a dream item is formed from a strange material, it can reveal something of the purpose, use or design of that thing.
A brass item indicates that the item was constructed for some skilled, professional use. Usually the kind of profession that forms a guild. It sometimes represents the guild itself.
Copper represents communication and knowledge. A copper ship in a dream would signify a courier. A copper door in a corridor of many doors may lead to a library.
Crystal (especially magical)
A dream item made of crystal, especially enchanted or naturally magical crystal, indicates some kind of deception or misconception. It may simply be an item to aid in disguise, or it could be indicative of hidden compartments in an object, or ulterior (or simply unknown) motives of a person or organisation.
Be careful not to confuse its meaning with that of quicksilver. Crystal is not inherently malicious - a group of friends and acquaintances appearing in dream-crystal may just be planning a surprise birthday party.
Items of glass usually have no other purpose than adornment or decoration. E.g. in a dream of a guard who stopped you and interrogated you in the street; if the sword at his side was glass it would reveal that he would not or could not use it in a real fight - perhaps he was an imposter.
Gold denotes value. Sheer monetary wealth. A dream of being invested with a gold chain of office indicates that the title of that office comes well paid with many perks, but very little actual power.
Unlike its real world namesake, dream iron is strongly associated with magic.
Lead is the metal of destruction, and sometimes sabotage.
Mercury (See Quicksilver)
Meteoric Iron is a powerful material and it denotes great strength and durability. Note that unlike real meteoric iron, the dream metal is not necessarily associated with magic.
Quicksilver is the opposite of steel. It is lies and falsehoods - strongly associated with malice.
Silver is the metal of speed. A dream of a silver weapon could indicate the need to take the initiative, or it could just imply that the weapon is so well made as to be quick to wield in combat. A silver road in a journey would indicate a need to complete that journey quickly.
Steel denotes accuracy and precision; correctness and truth.
Stone reveals that an item has a purely martial purpose. Cold, unfeeling and, until it is shattered, unbending. War for war's sake. Stone does not negotiate.
True Steel (magical)
This noble metal does not reflect its highly magical status in the waking world. It denotes authority, and the powers, duties and responsibilities that come with it.
An item made of wood indicates some use in healing or the protection or maintenance of life.
The shoreline is a place of rest and recuperation, but if the weather or the sea dominate the dream your time off may be interrupted by whatever they signify.
Canyon see gorge.
Castle (not tower)
A castle often signifies the mind. You should be able to feel whose mind it represents, if not it could indicate an identity crisis.
The desert is a place of despair and ruin. If you dream of combat in a desert it signifies that even if one can eventually call himself the winner, both will have lost much in the fight.
The forest is a good omen for those who know what they're doing; but a bad one for those who don't. The crucial knowledge need not be that of a woodsman. For example, to dream of playing a game that you are good at in a forest (shortly before a real life tournament) and winning is a good omen for that tournament, however if you lose in the dream it could indicate that they may be using slightly different rules of which you are unaware. (See also tree and woods.)
To dream of walking down a deep gorge or canyon bodes ill of a coming combat that will be difficult to avoid.
Being in a mountainous region is indicative of tests or challenges. They could be official competitions or duels etc. or may be just events that you must endure or overcome. Dreaming of visiting a mountain church could mean a test of faith is coming. The higher up the mountain, the greater the challenge, and the reward.
Shore see beach
Tower (not castle)
A tower, usually a single lone tower, has strong ties to magic. Its presence in a dream usually indicates that some magic is the cause of the events symbolised in the dream.
A particular tree can often denote someone's spirit, the health and nature of the tree indicating the state of their spirit. You must often look for obscure characteristics of the tree to determine whose spirit it represents.
To be chopping down trees foretells of a combat; felling a whole glade, a coming battle. (See also forest and woods.)
To be in a wooded grove denotes a coming change in fortunes, the direction of which is denoted by the season. (See also forest and tree.)
From Meanings to Symbols
accuracy - steel
act (failure to) - breath
activity - fire
adornment - glass
affections (toying with) - kitten
agility - cat
anger - red
annoying people - caterpillar
answer - light
authority - true steel
battle - tree
behaviour - brown
beliefs (change) - hurricane
business (long term) - sheep
business (short term) - pig
carefree - butterfly
challenges - mountains
combat - gorge
combat - tree
commitments - wind
communication - copper
companionship - sea
competitions - mountains
conflict - river
correctness - steel
cowardice - yellow
cruelty - birds
curiosity - blue
deal (bad) - crow
death (carelessness) - owl
death - ice
deception - crystal
deception - yellow
decide (failure to) - breath
decoration - glass
demonic - breath
depression - black
depression - breath
despair - desert
destitution - tide
destruction - lead
determination - spider
disease - dog
disease - ice
disguise - peacock
disposition - colours
distractions - ants
diversion - peacock
duels - mountains
durability - meteoric iron
duty - true steel
effort - swimming
embarrassment - river
emotion - colours
emotions (strong/driving) - lion
empowerment - fire
enemies - cat
energy (personal) - rain
energy - fire
environment (change) - birds
envy - green
evil - black
evil - breath
evil - snake
extravagance - poultry
falsehood - quicksilver
fears (sexual) - snake
finances - tide
financial gain - antelope
financial stability - sea
followers - dog
fortune (changes) - raven
fortune (good) - rook
fortune - eagle
fortunes (change) - woods
freedom - horse
frivolity - poultry
frustration (sexual) - sea
fulfillment - water
goals (conflicting) - wind
goodness - white
grace - swan
grief - crow
guild - brass
healing - beach
healing - wood
help from unknown sources - wind
honour - brown
hope - blue
humiliation - ape
hunter - wolf
idea - fish
ideas (change) - hurricane
illness - ice
immorality - tadpole
influence - breath
influences - air
information (irrelevant) - light
information - light
initiative - silver
inspiration - fish
interpersonal - breath
irritation - kitten
jealousy - river
knowledge (appropriate) - forest
knowledge - copper
knowledge - light
knowledge - white
law - brown
lies - yellow
lies - quicksilver
life - wood
loss of faith - breath
loyalty - dog
luck (bad) - river
luck - cat
luck - water
lycanthropy - transformation
magic - iron
magic - tower
malice - quicksilver
martial - stone
mind - castle
misconception - crystal
misfortune - crow
mood - colours
natural - green
news (bad) - dog
nobility - purple
obedience - dog
partner (future) - birds
passion - red
passion - sea
patience - green
peace - dove
persecution - antelope
personality - breath
persuasion (failed) - breath
persuasion (mass) - hurricane
piety - white
planning - earth
plans (failing) - tornado
plans - blue
platonic relationship - breeze
pleasures (fine) - swan
pleasures (small) - dog
pleasures - river
plots (secret) - wolf
poisoning - ice
power - true steel
precision - steel
problems (overcome) - bees
professional - brass
prosperity - cow
prosperity - river
purity - white
puzzle - lightning
reasoning - light
recuperation - beach
relationships - breeze
relationships - rainbow
relationships - swimming
responsibility - true steel
rest - beach
revelation - hurricane
ritual - cat
royalty - purple
ruin - desert
sabotage - lead
sadness - black
secrets - rain
selfish - water
sending - cat
separation - storm
serenity - dove
servitude - dog
sickness - ice
sorrow - birds
soul - air
soul - butterfly
speed - silver
spirit - tree
spying - ape
stealth - cat
strength - meteoric iron
stupid - cow
subconscious - fish
summoning - cat
surreality - gerbil
teamwork - bees
tests - mountains
thief - wolf
treachery - yellow
trouble - storm
trust - breeze
truth - steel
truth - white
unfinished business - rain
value - gold
views (change) - hurricane
views (conflicting) - wind
vigour - rain
voyeurism - ape
war - stone
wealth - gold
will - air