Dream Archetypes & Symbols

Archetypes in Dreams

Have you ever had a dream during a time of upheaval or crisis that was different from your normal type of dream? Some theorists identify this type of dream as a level 3 dream, which is often accompanied by dream symbols or archetypes. These universal symbols often occur during times of great stress and change. Carl Jung said "the archetype is ... an inherited tendency of the human mind to form representations of mythological motifs - representations that vary a great deal without losing their basic pattern." Jung believed that these universal symbols were part of the collective unconscious. (Photo courtesy of Lori Cochrane)

Think of an archetype as a magnet. As you experience situations, your unconscious stores them and arranges them as to relevancy. When they reach a tipping point, the archetype will break through into your dreams. This alerts the dreamer to pay attention to the message the archetype is sending. Originally, Jung identified five archetypes, however many more have been identified.

Take a look at some classic archetypes below. Do you remember something similar in your dreams? If so, read the description to learn what some dream theorists offer as the possible meaning when this archetype appears. The theory of archetypes is just that, a theory. Always keep in mind that the true meaning of your dreams can only be discovered by unraveling your own personal dream language. No archetype or symbol in your dreams can be explained by a dream dictionary or book. The true meaning of your dreams can only be revealed by years of dream study on your own, or help from a professional who has studied dreams.


Old Wise Man and Great Mother
These archetypes often appear in our dreams when we are facing a difficult situation. They may appear respectively as a professor, father, monk, shaman, wizard, or in the case of the Great Mother, the Holy Virgin or witch, mother, or grandmother etc. The mother archetype represents fertility, nurturing and birth. Also, as the embodiment of feminine mystery and power, she can manifest as the caring, nurturing side of human nature, or conversely a dominated and devouring character. Jung associated the mother archetype with the collective unconscious, night, and the left side.

Questions to ask yourself: Who was the mother in your dream? Was she sheltering, nurturing, smothering, or abusive? If you were the mother in your dream, how did you feel? Is there something new in your life that you are giving life to? The Wise Man is a symbol of primal growth and vitality and can lead us to or away from higher levels of consciousness.


Left and Right

Left and Right
The left side of the brain which controls the right side of the body is associated with logic. The right side is associated with creativity and intuition. Some theorists state that the left side is associated with the past, while the right is the future. Furthermore, western culture equates the right with the sun, day, summer, consciousness, life heaven, and the masculine principal. In contrast, the left side has been associated with the moon, night, winter, the unconscious, death, and the underworld. However, in China, these symbolisms are reversed.

Questions to ask: Are you having to choose something from either the right or left side in your dream? Are you constantly turning, or looking right or left in your dream? Generally dreams of right-side emphasis will point to your logical, conscious and masculine side, while left-side importance will be drawing your attention to your intuitive, unconscious and feminine side.


Hero and Heroine

Hero and Heroine
Heroes and heroines represent the aspirations we hold for ourselves. Heroes are asked to accept challenges which are difficult, but with perseverance, courage, and strength, they can overcome any obstacle. As an archetype, the hero represents our quest for personal power, competence, efficacy, and identity.

Questions to ask: Who was the hero in the dream? Who did the hero remind you of? Did the hero succeed? What were the obstacles? Are you facing a challenge you are unsure of? Which characteristic of the hero is closely matched with your own? Which is one you want to develop? (Picture courtesy of Jan Erik Forss)



This archetype represents the energy we spend on our roles socially. Persona is derived for the Greek word "mask". We all have multiple roles in our lives - mother, father, student, employee, spouse, parent, friend. Dreams can indicate our investment in these roles, and the level to which the role has masked our authentic self.

How were you dressed in your dream? What role were you playing? How did you feel in that role? How did others in the dream react to you?



Jung described these as the archetypes of the soul and believed we each have within us both male and female qualities. Animas/anima are the personification of the opposite sexes qualities on our psyche. Animus represents the masculine side of a woman's personality, with anima representing the feminine side of a man's personality. Dreams can help us recognize the archetypal portrayal of the opposite sex within ourselves. We may project an excessively idealized image of the opposite sex without a careful consideration for reality (Van de Castle, 1994).

Did a person of the opposite sex appear in your dream? What role did they take? Who did the person remind you of? Did you react strongly to the actions or presence of the person? (Picture courtesy of Benedetta Stocchetti)



Jung believed the shadow represented the dark, primitive, animal-like instincts that we have inherited from our evolutionary development. The shadow often represents basic fears, or fears of revealing a repressed aspect of ourselves that we feel would be rejected by others. Jung believed the shadow in our dreams will appear always as the same sex as ourselves. The shadow often performs acts in dreams that consciously embarrass us, or that we find humiliating.

Questions to ask: How did the shadow appear? How did you feel about the shadow (repulsed, terrified, curious?). Is there a part of yourself that you are hiding that needs to be recognized or revealed?



In dreams the child usually appears as an infant or baby, sometimes as Mohammad, Jesus, Moses and Buddha. It is innocent and vulnerable and yet symbolizes our ability of regeneration and individuation. The appearance of the child might indicate a need to reevaluate where we are in our lives, and how far we have strayed from our basic self. Jung believed that the child archetype also embodies the idea of destiny.

Questions to ask: Are there new directions or projects in your life? Was the child helpless, demanding, innocent, curious or something else? Did the child remind you of someone in your life?


The Trickster

The Trickster
The trickster often shows up in the form or a clown, or buffoon, mocking himself. He is also a symbol of transformation and turns up when the ego is in peril in a situation of it's own making due to vanity, misjudgment, or over-ambition. The trickster cycle corresponds to the earliest and least developed period life. He can be cruel cynical, and unfeeling. (Man and His Symbols, Henderson 1964).

Questions to ask: What form did the Trickster take in your dream? What was his/her goal? Is there a part of yourself and your actions that resembles the trickster in your dream?



Symbols and Symbolic Language in Dreams

Dream Symbols

In dream literature the term dream symbols and dream archetypes are often used interchangeably. For our understanding here though, we will refer to universal symbols of the collective unconscious as archetypes, and reserve the term symbols to represent images that are very personal to the dreamer. From birth, our brains register images, sounds, scents, touch, and language and stores this information in our memory. As we dream, many of these personal memories are presented as symbols in our dreams. Our challenge is to dissect the symbols to understand our personal dream language. Many dreamers rely on a dream dictionary to look up a symbol. However, dream dictionaries are generic, and dream symbols are very personal. Let's look at a sample dream and see how this works:

I am walking up to a white house, open the wooden door, and cross the threshold. I look down a long carpeted hallway and notice a small wooden table on my left holding a vase of dahlias. Now, let's take one symbol from this dream and look it up in a dream dictionary. Let's go with dahlias.

One dictionary says if you dream of dahlias "this dream pertains to financial matters and is a harbinger of good news, especially if seen indoors in a vase." Other books say that dreaming of fresh flowers means you will soon be happier than ever before.

So the dreamer says to herself, "wow things are going to get better financially." But, what if that's not what the dream was communicating at all? The dreamer misses an opportunity to get the real message from her unconscious by accepting a book's generic interpretation based on nothing but a guess. Now let's really look at this dream symbol with the DreamsHelp method. Through a series of questions the dreamer might reveal the following about this symbol:

  • Dahlias were her grandmother's favorite flower. They were huge and were grown all over the yard in the summer.
  • The dreamer was very intimidated by this grandmother.
  • The dreamer was not allowed to touch the dahlias.
  • Once, at the age of 7, the dreamer smelled a dahlia and was stung by a bee.
So now, this flower starts to emerge as a symbol of something very different from what a dream dictionary says. Once the dreamer looks at the other symbols and her personal dream language the real meaning of her dream begins to unfold.

Symbols in dreams can be anything from the dreamer's experience that represents an emotion, a thought, a world view, definition of self, biases, etc. Symbols often have an emotional element, linked with a traumatic or life-changing event that affected the dreamer's view of self and world.

Symbolic Language

Language in dreams is often symbolic, and can take the form metaphors and similes. This symbolic language is often hidden in a visual image and is sometimes difficult to decipher. Take for instance this dream:

I am at work and a co-worker is helping me put a wool hat on. For some reason he keeps trying to tug it over my eyes, blocking my vision.

If the dreamer were to say the dream out loud "John kept trying to pull the wool hat down over my eyes", the metaphor becomes crystal clear - "pulling the wool over my eyes." Further exploration of this dream might lead the dreamer to think about something going on at work that people are keeping out of his vision.

Similes work the same way. Look at this dream:

I am in my office and a client walks in. I think I know this client, but she looks different. I suddenly realize her ears are very pointed and large, and her nose is long. She is wearing some type of thick parka lined with sheep's wool.

This is an obvious simile. "She looked like a fox in sheep's clothing." Another dream that asks the dreamer to take heed of something that on the surface may seem ok, but further investigation is needed.

Look for symbols in your dreams by logging them in the Dream Log. Over time you will see a definite pattern emerging in your dreams.


Home  |  About Dreamshelp  |  Contact  |  About Dreams  |  Remembering Your Dreams
Dream Archetypes & Symbols  |  Lucid Dreaming  |  Dream of the Month  |  Dreamsigns
Special Dreamshelp Topics  |  Dream Interpretation  |  Your Unique Dream Language  |  Dream Log

Copyright © 2010 - 2013 DreamsHelp, All Rights Reserved  ::  Web Development by Flytrap Productions