Deciphering Dreams


Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.

Genesis 40:8

Early in my lucid dreaming practice, I found myself comparing the visual language of dreams with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“Hieroglyphs are pictures used as signs in writing. Many depict living creatures or objects (and) some signs represent the object they depict… However, very few words are written in this way. Instead, hieroglyphic picture-signs are used to convey the sound (and meaning) of the ancient Egyptian language.”i

Like hieroglyphs, dreams present us with the vivid, colorful, precise and beautiful language of our soul. The Rosetta stone—an ancient Egyptian stele inscribed with a decree written in three scripts one above the other, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Demotic and ancient Greek—provided the key to our understanding of hieroglyphs. Before its discovery, the fascinated but frustrated curiosity archaeologists felt when studying ancient Egypt is comparable to how many people feel about their dreams—that they will never really be able to fully understand them because they don’t quite know how to read this pictorial language of their dreaming mind. The first step is to stop taking all dreams literally, for then they make no more sense than a hieroglyphic texts does if we try to read it assuming each image stands only for what it literally represents.

One can wonder exactly why the ancient Egyptians chose particular creatures, objects and shapes to represent the sounds and meaning of their language. For example, a picture of a plow = mr which, when combined with the hieroglyph for mouth, and the determinative of a seated man with his hand raised to his mouth, spells the word “love.” Now consider why the ancient Egyptians chose these pictures to mean “love” just as we might ponder the meaning of dream images…

A plow makes a path through the earth in which seeds are planted, seeds that grow into food we take in through our mouth to nourish us. We want, we need, food. We cannot live without food. By choosing these images to represent the sound used to write the word “love” the ancient Egyptian scribes who first developed the hieroglyphic language may have been emulating the eloquence of our dreaming minds to express the belief that love, like food, keeps us alive, that love is life. When two feathers are written after the sign for plow it spells mry, “beloved.”

The ancient Egyptians may have been inspired to assign certain sounds and meanings to their hieroglyphs by the way dreams combine images to convey meaning. In dreams as in hieroglyphs, images can represent the object depicted while also forming part of a symbolic language.

Carl Jung believed that in dreams each one of us participates directly in the collective unconscious or the objective psyche—a world of spiritual reality. “Jung’s contention is that in dreams and visions we do have direct participation in non-physical reality and that dreams demonstrate this fact if one will observe them carefully… In the fifth century of our era, Synesius of Cyrene, for one, had anticipated many of Jung’s twentieth-century conclusions, and his views have been the basis of Eastern Orthodox interest in dreams ever since… With slight changes in terminology, it would appear that Jung and the Church Fathers are talking about the same reality.”i

Morton T. Kelsey – God, Dreams, and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams

When we fall asleep, the poet within us emerges, and metaphors flower around us in sometimes crazy ways, but when viewed in the Light of Truth, sense and meaning emerges in the language of our soul, would we but take the time to try reading it when we wake up.

The definition of metaphor: A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract. Armed with this knowledge, all we really need is to be interested in the messages we receive at night. Most of us have dreams that stand out, that disturb us, or fill us with hope, dreams that speak to us in magical hieroglyphs. These are worth taking the time to think about.

The Internet is a dream come true for working with our dreams. We can quickly find passages in Scripture, look up the meanings of words and phrases, pull up images of objects and locations, check breaking news, etc. What I don’t recommend doing as a general rule is looking up the symbolic meaning of every dream image online, because the answers we receive can vary as dramatically as the world views of the authors.

I strongly suggest investing in a reputable reference. My go-to source remains An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols by J.C. Cooper. It contains nearly 1500 entries that begin with the overall meaning of each symbol before discussing how different cultures and religions have perceived it from prehistory to the present. Also excellent is The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Of course, no dream symbol is written in stone. The dreamer’s unique heart, mind soul and life experience.contributes to any symbol’s meaning.

Dreams reveal our innate creativity as children of God, and although symbol books can help, dreams also encourage us to think for ourselves. Our memorable dreams are created especially for us, a mysterious collaboration between our soul and God. The keys to their meanings are best revealed by the feelings they arouse in us, for example fear, hope, longing, curiosity; what thoughts they bring to mind; what questions they inspire, or force us to ask ourselves. The Holy Spirit will help us, especially if we ask for help in understanding them. Never underestimate the power of a heartfelt prayer. Christ said, “Ask and it will be given to you” Matthew 7:7. He said, “Ask.”

i How to Read Egyptian by Mark Collier, Bill Manley

i How to Read Egyptian by Mark Collier, Bill Manley