Dreams are like letters from the unconscious mind. If only they were written in the same language we use in waking reality.
Fortunately, we do have the ability to study our dreams and interpret the common dream symbols they contain.
Although there is no hard-and-fast rulebook of universal definitions, the following dream meanings offer a sound starting point for most people to create their own personal dream meanings.
30 Common Dream Symbols
Animals often represent the part of your psyche that feels connected to nature and survival. Being chased by a predator suggests you're holding back repressed emotions like fear or aggression.
Babies can symbolize a literal desire to produce offspring, or your own vulnerability or need to feel loved. They can also signify a new start.
Being chased is one of the most common dream symbols in all cultures. It means you're feeling threatened, so reflect on who's chasing you (they may be symbolic) and why they're a possible threat in real life.
Clothes make a statement about how we want people to perceive us. If your dream symbol is shabby clothing, you may feel unattractive or worn out. Changing what you wear may reflect a lifestyle change.
Crosses are interpreted subjectively depending on your religious beliefs. Some see it as symbolizing balance, death, or an end to a particular phase of life. The specific circumstances will help define them.
Exams can signify self-evaluation, with the content of the exam reflecting the part of your personality or life under inspection.
Death of a friend or loved one represents change (endings and new beginnings) and is not a psychic prediction of any kind. If you are recently bereaved, it may be an attempt to come to terms with the event.
Falling is a common dream symbol that relates to our anxieties about letting go, losing control, or somehow failing after a success.
Faulty machinery in dreams is caused by the language center being shut down while asleep, making it difficult to dial a phone, read the time, or search the internet. It can also represent performance anxiety.
Food is said to symbolize knowledge, because it nourishes the body just as information nourishes the brain. However, it could just be food.
Demons are sneaky evil entities which signify repressed emotions. You may secretly feel the need to change your behaviors for the better.
Hair has significant ties with sexuality, according to Freud. Abundant hair may symbolize virility, while cutting hair off in a dream shows a loss of libido. Hair loss may also express a literal fear of going bald.
Hands are always present in dreams but when they are tied up it may represent feelings of futility. Washing your hands may express guilt. Looking closely at your hands in a dream is a good way to become lucid.
Houses can host many common dream symbols, but the building as a whole represents your inner psyche. Each room or floor can symbolize different emotions, memories and interpretations of meaningful events.
Killing in your dreams does not make you a closet murderer; it represents your desire to "kill" part of your own personality. It can also symbolize hostility towards a particular person.
Marriage may be a literal desire to wed or a merging of the feminine and masculine parts of your psyche.
Missing a flight or any other kind of transport is another common dream, revealing frustration over missing important opportunities in life. It's most common when you're struggling to make a big decision.
Money can symbolize self worth. If you dream of exchanging money, it may show that you're anticipating some changes in your life.
Mountains are obstacles, so to dream of successfully climbing a mountain can reveal a true feeling of achievement. Viewing a landscape from atop a mountain can symbolize a life under review without conscious prejudice.
Nudity is one of the most common dream symbols, revealing your true self to others. You may feel vulnerable and exposed to others. Showing off your nudity may suggest sexual urges or a desire for recognition.
People (other dream characters) are reflections of your own psyche, and may demonstrate specific aspects of your own personality.
Radios and TVs can symbolize communication channels between the conscious and unconscious minds. When lucid, ask them a question.
Roads, aside from being literal manifestations, convey your direction in life. This may be time to question your current "life path".
Schools are common dream symbols in children and teenagers but what about dreaming of school in adulthood? It may display a need to know and understand yourself, fueled by life's own lessons.
Sex dreams can symbolize intimacy and a literal desire for sex. Or they may demonstrate the unification of unconscious emotions with conscious recognition, showing a new awareness and personal growth.
Teachers, aside from being literal manifestations of people, can represent authority figures with the power to enlighten you.
Teeth are common dream symbols. Dreaming of losing your teeth may mark a fear of getting old and being unattractive to others.
Being trapped (physically) is a common nightmare theme, reflecting your real life inability to escape or make the right choice.
Vehicles may reflect how much control you feel you have over your life - for instance is the car out of control, or is someone else driving you?
Water comes in many forms, symbolizing the unconscious mind. Calm pools of water reflect inner peace while a choppy ocean can suggest unease.
When Does a Dream Symbol Have Meaning?
Not every single element of your dream has an unconscious meaning. Sometimes, it's just background noise.
To identify the important symbols in your dreams, keep a dream journal. Write in the present tense as if you're re-living the dream, and underline any unusual or poignant aspects which are central to the story, or which instinctively attract your attention.
Next, refer these dream symbols to the list above. If they're not on the list, you can find more definitions in a dream dictionary such as Cloud Nine: A Dreamer's Dictionary.
Remember, even these definitions require your interpretation - within the context of your dream, your personal psychological attachments to the symbols, and your current life circumstances.
For instance, if you often dream of flying, you can mentally attach this dream symbol to a reality check (a measure of self awareness which enables you to recognize when you're dreaming). With practice, you'll soon perform a reality check while dreaming of flying and gain immediate lucidity.