42 Common Symbols in Dreams and What They Mean

Karen Frazier
Woman standing among the clouds

Dreams are deeply personal, so it may be surprising to discover how many common dream symbols there are. Carl Jung and other pioneers of dream interpretation believed dreams were filled with symbols and archetypes arising from the collective unconscious, and that these symbols shared similar meanings regardless of who the dreamer was. While dream symbolism can vary based on personal experience, spiritual beliefs, and cultural background, in many cases dream symbols have common meanings shared among all who dream.

10 Common Dream Theme Symbols

You're walking down the hall in public when suddenly, you realize you're completely naked. Or perhaps you dream your teeth are falling out. Or maybe, you're flying. All of these are variations of some of the most common dream themes. Many people have similarly themed dreams. The exact details of the dream may vary from person to person, but the basic theme or plot of the dream is eerily similar no matter who the dreamer is.

1. Naked or in Underwear in Public

Dreams about unintentional nudity or overexposure in public are about feeling vulnerable and exposed. They may also indicate you are feeling ashamed of something.

2. Driving or Riding in a Vehicle

Dreams of driving or riding in a vehicle are about your journey through life.

Car and stars
  • If you're the driver, you feel in control of your life's path.
  • If it's difficult to steer or control the vehicle, you may be experiencing difficulty navigating your life's path.
  • If someone else is driving, you may feel like someone else is controlling your life.
  • If your drive is pleasant, you're feeling good about the direction you're going.
  • If your brakes fail, you may be feeling like you're veering out of control or about to crash.
  • If you have a car accident, you feel like you're headed into imminent disaster unless you change course.

3. At School, Can't Find Classes

There are many variations of this dream. For some, you're at school and you have no idea where your classrooms are. For others, it's finals week and you either haven't been to class or haven't studied for the test. This is a common anxiety dream about your current adult life. It often occurs when you're feeling anxious about things in your waking life such as your professional competence.

4. Flying

Flying dreams are fun and very common. Most people who have them view them as extremely positive dreams. These dreams are about reaching for goals or seeing things from a new perspective.

5. Technology Malfunctions

These dreams are about communication. You may feel you are unable to communicate effectively or that you're unable to understand what someone else is trying to tell you.

6. Pregnancy

Pregnancy dreams are about creativity and new beginnings. It may be foretelling of a new beginning, or you may be longing to be more creative in your waking life.

7. Falling

These dreams are about feeling out of control, or they are showing you that you're feeling anxious in some aspect of your waking life.

8. Lost or Stolen Vehicle

If you can't find your car or your car is stolen in a dream, you may be feeling as if you've lost your way in life.

9. Finding Treasure

This dream tells you that there is something inside of you worth discovering. It's encouraging you to find your own worth and value.

10. Death

Death dreams are scary, but they don't typically foretell of your death or someone else's demise. Rather, they are about transitions and closing one part of your life so something new can be born.

10 Common Dream Setting Meanings

The dream's setting will also tell you something of what the dream is about. You'll need to look to other symbols in the dream to understand more about the meaning, but the setting is a great place to start. There are many common settings people experience when they dream.

1. Hospital or Doctor's Office

These dreams are about your physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual health. Other symbols in the dream will tell you what aspect of your health the dream is about.

2. School

School dreams are about life's lessons. When you dream you are in any type of school, it is telling you that life is trying to teach you something or you have something you need to learn in your waking life.

Girls in school hallway

3. House

Houses in dreams represent you. Pay attention to the room you're in to determine which aspect of you the dream is about.

  • Bedroom is about romance or sexuality.
  • Dining room is about prosperity.
  • Kitchen is about health and nourishment.
  • Bathroom is about cleansing and purification.
  • Living room is about family and sociability.
  • Hallway is about transitions.

4. Elevator

Elevator dreams are about aspirations and the direction of your life. The direction of the elevator will tell you more:

  • Going up - You are aspiring to something higher.
  • Going down - Your aspirations are below your abilities.
  • Stuck on a floor - You feel stuck in your life.
  • Won't take you where you want to go - You feel like you have little control over what you receive in life versus what you want.
  • Moves sideways - It may be time to set new goals.

5. Boat

Boat dreams tell you how you navigate your emotions. Pay attention to the seas around your boat.

  • Smooth seas - You're navigating your emotions calmly and peacefully.
  • Rough seas - Your emotions feel tumultuous and difficult to navigate.
  • Clear seas - You see your emotions clearly.
  • Murky waters - You are having trouble tuning into your emotions.
  • Shark-infested waters - You don't feel safe sharing your emotions.
  • Seas overcoming your boat - You feel overwhelmed by your emotions.

6. Darkness

If your dream takes place in the darkness or in a dark place such as dungeon or basement, it's a dream about your shadow self. Your shadows are parts of yourself that you have pushed aside, disowned, or chosen to ignore because you dislike what they say about you.

7. Church or a Spiritual Location

If you're in a location that feels highly spiritual to you, such as a church, a monastery, or even some place in nature, this dream is telling you something about your current state of spirituality.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

8. Work

Dreams that take place at work can simply be you processing your day through your dreams. Alternatively, work dreams may be telling you something about anything you might be working at in your life, whether it's your career, your relationship, or something else.

9. Court

If your dream setting is a courtroom, the overall theme of the dream is about judgment. You may be feeling judged, or you may feel you are judging another.

10. Hotel

Dreams that take place in hotels may be telling you it's time to take a break or vacation, or they may be about transitions in your life. Look to your waking life to see if you are in transition or if it may be time to transition in some way to something new.

6 People in Dreams and What They Symbolize

Dreams are very self-centered. When other people appear in dreams, they typically symbolize some aspect of yourself. Carl Jung theorized that when people appeared in dreams, they represented common archetypal energies.

1. Baby or Toddler

A baby or toddler in a dream typically represents the archetypal energy of The Innocent. This is similar to The Fool archetype in a tarot deck; it represents one who is open to experience with no preconceived notion.

2. Shadowy Person

Anyone in a dream that appears shadowy or dark in some way, such as dark eyes, dark hair, a shadowy presence, emanating a dark energy, wearing sunglasses, or hiding their features in some way such as behind a hood, represents your shadows.

3. Motherly Figure

When a motherly figure, such as your mom, an aunt or grandmother, or a female mentor, appears in your dreams, it represents the Divine Mother. These dreams are about nurturing and loving support, and the dream tells you you're not alone; you are supported and loved.

4. Wise Person

A wise person can be represented in dreams by a teacher, a mentor, a spiritual leader, a sage, a guru, or someone you look up to. When this type of person appears in your dream, it represents the Wise One archetype, which indicates you are being guided.

Buddhist monk meditating

5. Someone in Disguise

Someone in a costume, mask, or some other type of disguise represents the Jungian archetype of the Persona. This is the self you present to the public, which is often different from your true self. If you appear as something other than yourself in a dream but still know it's you, this is also a manifestation of the Persona.

6. Silly or Strange Person

When a person appears in your dream who is silly, funny, or just seems off-kilter somehow, it's often a dream manifestation of the Trickster archetype. When the Trickster appears in dreams, it's showing you that not everything is as it seems, and you need to look beyond the surface to gain a deeper understanding of what's truly going on.

6 Animal Dream Symbol Meanings

Animals of all types, such as spiders or snakes, are frequent visitors in dreams. Here's what they might mean.

1. Dolphins and Whales

Dolphins and whales represent Akashic truth; that is, the truth of all of your incarnations and the knowledge of your soul. They can also represent intuition or latent psychic abilities.

2. Butterflies

Butterfly dreams are about transitions, growth, and change.

Flying with butterflies

3. Birds

Dreams about birds represent ambition and goals.

4. Bugs

Dreams about bugs suggest that something is bothering (bugging) you. Usually, these are things you're worried about or feeling anxious about.

5. Dogs

Dogs in dreams represent protection. You may be feeling self-protective, or you may feel you are in need of some type of protection.

6. Cats

When a cat appears in a dream, it represents the concept of yin - reflectiveness, darkness, and secrecy. A cat in a dream may indicate it is time to become more reflective or introspective or that you are going through a period of introspection.

10 Objects in Dreams and What They Mean

Even the objects that appear in dreams have some meaning. Other things such as the color and number of objects will provide deeper clues about their meaning.

1. Clothing

Your clothing represents how you present yourself to the world; it's your protective outer shell that hides your innermost feelings. By analyzing the meanings of the colors of your clothes, you'll better understand what your dream is telling you about how you present yourself.

2. Food

Food represents nourishment, but it doesn't necessarily mean nutritional nourishment (although it can). It can also represent emotional, creative, mental, and spiritual nourishment. Pay attention to the type and color of food as well as how enjoyable it is to help you better understand how nourished you are feeling in the various aspects of your life.

3. Water

Water represents your emotions. The state of the water tells you how you are feeling. For example, boiling water might indicate extreme anger, while clear, calm water represents peace.

Boat on calm, clear sea

4. Dirt

Dirt (and mud) in dreams represents the belief you are behaving in a way that you feel is in some way "dirty," whether it's through being unkind, engaging in unethical behavior, or something similar. When you dream of dirt or mud, ask yourself if you are behaving in a manner that is out of touch with your values and ethics.

5. Key

Keys can either represent secrets kept or the unlocking of unrealized potential.

Key and book

6. Monsters

Monsters of all kinds represent fears. When you dream of a monster, you are dreaming of your hidden fears or something that you are afraid of.

7. Phones and Computers

Dreaming of phones, computers, and similar technology is about communication and how well you feel you are communicating with others.

8. Money

Money in dreams represents the same thing it does in waking life--personal wealth and prosperity--but it doesn't necessarily mean material wealth (although it can). It can also represent abundance in all things in life such as health, friendship, love, joy, and more.

9. Aliens and UFOs

Aliens and UFOs in dreams represent the feeling of alienation or being an outsider. It may suggest you feel you have alienated another, or that you are feeling alienated.

10. Rain

Rain in dreams is about purification or renewal. You may desire renewal, or you may be in a period of cleansing and renewal.

Deciphering the Meaning of Dream Symbols

Nothing is as it seems in a dream. The symbolic nature of dreams is what can make them feel so strange and disjointed. Anything you notice in dreams is significant. Whether it is the color of objects, the number of objects (use numerology to determine the meanings), the dream's plot, the people, or even how you feel during the dream, your dream symbols have a lot to tell you about what's going on in your subconscious mind.

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42 Common Symbols in Dreams and What They Mean