08/21/2009 10:26 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Three Insights on Dream Symbols

A reader asked: "Can you tell me what a burning tree signifies in a dream?"

Dream interpretation can be interesting, tricky, multidimensional, revealing and difficult. When trying to interpret a dream, the most important thing to remember is that dream symbols can mean many things, all at the same time. In other words, each image you see in your dream has multiple interpretations - and all of them correct.

For instance, here are three of the ways I look at dream images.

1. Metaphorical or Archetypal

This is the type of recurring meaning that spans time and geography, although some archetypes can pertain only to your own culture. These are meanings we usually find in dream dictionaries. To dream of your mother, for instance, has a bigger meaning than a mom. The archetype of the mother is: Mother Earth, Gaia, pregnancy, fertility, nurturing, growing, care of the planet, people, animals and plants.

In a case like this, I looked up fire and looked up tree in some online dictionaries. Fire, as a metaphor or symbol can mean destruction, purification, energy, passion, ideas, transformation. Trees can symbolize growth, stability, protection, security, knowledge.

2. Literal

In this case, dream symbols may be just what they seem. Sometimes if you dream of your mother, it means your mother. The tree you dream about is an actual tree in your backyard and it needs watering (you know, it's on fire). If you have a precognitive dream, the images you see will be fairly literal.

3. Your Own Brain's Selection

This is highly individual. Dreaming is a multidimensional activity. Our poor brains struggle sometimes when we awake to put a three dimensional image on something experienced in the dream. So, often it will pick an image closest to the idea it can find. For instance, if you are dreaming of the mothering part of yourself, then your brain assigned an image of your mother to it. Or, you dream of a tree and it is a tree image you just saw the other day in a movie, for instance. In this case, the image is related to something you saw and thus can only be interpreted by you by remembering the experience. Sometimes, people get upset that they dreamed of an old girlfriend or and ex-husband, knowing that they do not have any interest in these folks anymore. But the images we get upon awakening simply are our brains best interpretation.

Interpretation and Your Individual Experience

Try to relive the feelings, ideas and impressions you got when you had the dream. It will help you understand what the meaning was from everything given here. In this case, a burning tree may have indicated a desire to transform your life, AND that the tree in the backyard needs watering AND you really liked that movie with the tree you saw the other day -- it struck a chord. These could all be true at the same time. That is one of the most fascinating things about dream interpretation.

To get a sense of what some of the more archetypal meanings of dream images, I consult a dream dictionary. In the old days, we used to have hard copies. Now, however, there are many excellent dream dictionaries online. This makes it simple to acquire a very good sense of meanings, very quickly. Here are some that I thought were helpful. Let me know if you find any others.

* Dream Moods
* Myths-Dreams-Symbols
* Uncle Sir Bobby
* Dream Visions

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