42 Common Symbols in Dreams and What They Mean

Our dreams mean more than we realize, and can point to things we need to pay attention to in our waking life.

Updated September 15, 2022
Woman with eyes closed relaxing at home

Have you ever had a dream that was so strange or unique that you thought no one else could ever have possibly dreamt it? That's because dreams are deeply personal. However, it may be surprising to discover just how many common dream symbols there are.

Carl Jung and other pioneers of dream interpretation believed dreams were filled with symbols and archetypes. Members of this movement thought these symbols arose from the collective unconscious, and that they shared similar meanings whenever they appeared in dreams, regardless of who the dreamer was. Today, many believe dream symbolism can vary based on personal experience, spiritual beliefs, and cultural background, but people still look to the shared meanings of these symbols in order to gain a greater understanding.

10 Common Symbols in Dreams

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.

Although dreams are personalized, there are some themes that are widely shared. In these 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

Many people have dreams about unintentionally being nude in public. Sometimes these dreams involve someone being fully naked, and other times someone might be in their underwear.

For example, you're giving a speech and look down just to realize that you're in your underwear. Or, you have to give a presentation in front of the class and you stand up to discover that you don't have any clothes on. These dreams about nudity or overexposure in public places are associated with feeling vulnerable and exposed. They may also indicate that you are feeling ashamed of something.

2. Driving or Riding in a Vehicle

women singing while driving a car on road trip

Have you ever had a dream about driving a car or being a passenger in a vehicle? Maybe it felt like you were going on a fun adventure or like you were headed out on a quest? These kinds of dreams may be about your journey through life. Where you are headed in your dream might be a sign that you want to explore that area in your waking life, and can help you better understand what you want and set goals to get there.

There are many variations of driving dreams. Think about the details of your specific dream and how they relate to the context of your life in order to discover their greater meaning. Some common driving dreams and what they are associated with include:

  • If you're the driver, you may 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 might be 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 might feel like you're headed into imminent disaster unless you change course.

3. At School, Can't Find Classes

Many people have dreams about being lost at school or not being able to find the right classroom on the day of an important event. And, people of all ages have these dreams, whether they have recently been in school or not.

For example, you might be at school walking down an endless hallway searching for a specific number. Or, it might be finals week and you don't know where to go in order to take your big test. Dreams like this might occur when you're feeling anxious about things in your waking life such as you're getting a promotion or managing a packed schedule.

4. Flying

Flying dreams are often associated with positive emotions. For example, you might be soaring through the air like Superman himself. Or, you might be a bird flying in a V formation with others.

Flying dreams can make people feel free, adventurous, and like they are on top of the world, literally. It is often believed that these dreams are about reaching for goals or seeing things from a new perspective.

5. Technology Malfunctions

Have you ever had a dream where you were talking to someone on the phone, and right when you get to the good part, the line starts to break up? Maybe you didn't get the chance to tell the person on the other end what you really wanted to say, or maybe you weren't able to hear what they were trying to share?

It is often believed that dreams about technology malfunctions dreams are about communication. For example, you may feel you are unable to express your feelings to someone or that you're unable to understand what someone else is trying to tell you.

6. Pregnancy

Many people have dreams where they are pregnant and have rounded bellies or dreams about finding out that they will be having a child. Pregnancy dreams may be about new beginnings, life changes, or personal development.

Your waking life and the context of the dream are also important in understanding its deeper meaning. For example, if you have a pregnancy dream and are hoping for a baby in your life, the dream may represent what you want most. Or, if you dream you're pregnant, but are not hoping to conceive, it may represent a fear of change and new responsibilities.

7. Falling

Dreams about falling can be intense, and many people often wake up from them with a start. For example, you might be standing on the edge of a diving board and then falling head-first into a pool. Or, you might be walking down the street and trip into a deep hole. These falling dreams that leave you on-edge may be about feeling out of control or symbolize that you're feeling anxious in some aspect of your waking life.

However, some people also have falling dreams where they don't feel frightened. In these instances, the dream might mean that you have overcome adversity and are confident in your abilities to overcome challenges.

8. Lost or Stolen Vehicle

While some people dream about driving in cars, others have dreams where their cars end up lost or stolen. You might be running late to work in your dream and discover that your ride is no longer parked in the garage like you last remembered it. Or, you might leave the coffee shop to find that your parking space is empty. If you can't find your car or your car is stolen in a dream, it might be a sign that you are feeling as if you've lost your way in life, or like you have lost part of your sense of identity.

9. Finding Treasure

If you have ever dreamed about finding a box filled with precious items in a garage or about finding a key that unlocks a secret compartment, then you may have experienced a dream about finding treasure. This dream might be a sign that there is something inside of you worth discovering.

For example, there might be a new trait or skill that you will soon discover about yourself in your waking life. It may boost your feelings of self-worth or lead you to uncover what you find truly valuable in life.

10. Death

Dreams involving death can be scary, and they can be filled with many nuances. For example, you might have a dream where you die or attend your own funeral, or where you experience the death of a loved one. These different aspects of the dream can relate to different meanings.

For example, if you dream about the death of a loved one, it might symbolize that you are missing a quality that that person brought into your life or that your relationship with them has changed and that they aren't a part of your life anymore. However, if you dream about your own death, it may symbolize a period of transformation, change, and potential new beginnings. Death dreams often are about transitions and closing one part of your life so something new can be born.

The Meaning of 10 Common Dream Settings

Where did your dream take place? The dream's setting will also tell you something about what the dream truly means. You'll also need to look to other symbols in the dream, such as specific colors or numbers, to collect more details and understand more about the meaning. There are many common settings people experience when they dream.

1. Hospital or Doctor's Office

Dreams about visiting a hospital or doctor's office are often about your health. How have you been feeling physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? It might be a good idea to check in with yourself and your needs. Look to other symbols in the dream to tell you what aspect of your health the dream is about.

2. School

teacher walking with one of her students down the hallway

School dreams are often about life's lessons. When you dream you are in any type of school, it might be telling you that life is trying to teach you something or you have something you need to learn in your waking life. In addition, this might be a sign that there are unresolved insecurities from your younger years that you might need to dive deeper into.

3. House

Houses in dreams mainly represent yourself. It can symbolize your body, mindset, or life. Pay attention to the room you're in to determine which aspect of yourself the dream is about. Some common areas of the house and their associations in dreams include:

  • Bedroom is linked to romance or sexuality.
  • Dining room is often about prosperity.
  • Kitchen is connected to health and nourishment.
  • Bathroom might be about cleansing and purification.
  • Living room is associated with family and sociability.
  • Hallway is often linked to transitions.

4. Elevator

Elevator dreams are often about aspirations and the direction of your life. For example, it can represent a rise in status or obligations or suggest that you are grounded whenever you are at. Look to the direction of the elevator will tell you more:

  • Going up - You may be aspiring to something higher.
  • Going down - Your aspirations might be below your abilities.
  • Stuck on a floor - You may feel stuck in your life.
  • Won't take you where you want to go - You might 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 are linked to how you navigate your emotions. The state and color of the water are important aspects of the dream to pay attention to in order to uncover a greater understanding. Some common water details to look out for and their associations include:

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

6. Darkness

If your dream takes place in the darkness or in a dark environment, such as a basement, it might be a sign that you have a fear of the unknown. Is there anything going on in your waking life at present that you wish you had more information about? You might feel like you are being kept in the dark about some aspects of your life, and these thoughts and emotions may have seeped into your unconscious.

7. Church or a Spiritual Location

Interior of old church

Some dreams may also be linked to your connection with spirituality. For example, if you dream about a church, a monastery, or even some place in nature, your dream might be about needing spiritual nourishment or pointing you in the direction of your core values. You might be seeking enlightenment or looking for redemption in one aspect of your life or another.

8. Work

Dreams that take place at work can simply be you processing your day while you sleep. Alternatively, work dreams may be bringing your attention to a project or work environment that is causing you stress. Or, you might feel as though you haven't been putting in enough effort at your job and are worried about work piling up. It may also be linked to your sense of job security, as well as if the job is a good fit for you.

9. Court

If you dream about being in court, it might signify that you fear judgment in your waking life. In addition, you might feel as though you have been wrongly accused of something that is causing you stress, or like you have to constantly defend yourself in your waking life.

10. Hotel

Dreams that take place in hotels may be telling you it's time to take a break or vacation. In addition, they may be about transitions in your life. Look to your waking life to see if you are at a point of transition or if it may be time to consider heading down a different path.

6 People in Dreams and What They Symbolize

Many people find that they, themselves, are at the center of their own dreams. However, it's also common to experience run-ins with others. 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, which is similar to The Fool archetype in a tarot deck. It represents one who is innocent, at the start of a new beginning, or is open to new experiences. It can suggest that you have pure intentions, or that you are in a vulnerable state where you might have to rely on others for help.

2. Shadowy Figure

Anyone in a dream that appears shadowy or dark in some way, might represent aspects of yourself that you have not faced yet. There may be aspects of yourself that you want to keep hidden from yourself or others. Some dark or shadowy features that a character in your dream might have are dark eyes or hair, a shadowy presence, or dark energy. In addition, they might be wearing sunglasses, or hiding their features in some way such as behind a hood.

3. Motherly Mentor

When a motherly figure, such as your mom, aunt, grandmother, or a different female mentor, appears in your dreams, it may represents the Divine Mother. These dreams are often about receiving nurture, support, and love. Oftentimes, the dream may help you feel like you're not alone and that others care about you.

4. Wise Leader

Senior woman and adult daughter laughing on porch

A wise person can be represented in dreams by a teacher, mentor, spiritual leader, or someone else you look up to. When this type of person appears in your dream, it is believed to represent the Wise One archetype. This may indicate that you are being guided.

5. Someone in Disguise

Someone in a costume, mask, or some other type of disguise may represent the Jungian archetype of the Persona. This is the self you present to the public, which is often different from your true self that you may only show to select people, or even keep to yourself. It may signify that you are trying to hide something from others, or even from yourself in your waking life.

6. Trickster

When a person appears in your dream who is silly or funny, 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

Not all visitors in dreams are human. In fact, animals of all types, such as spiders or snakes, frequently occur in dreams. Here's what they might mean.

1. Dolphins and Whales

Dolphins and whales represent Akashic truth, also known as the truth of all of your incarnations and the knowledge of your soul. They can also represent intuition or latent psychic abilities. In addition, they might symbolize a sense of guidance and trust in your waking life.

2. Butterflies

Butterfly On Hand

If you see a butterfly in a dream it can signify transitions, growth, and change. It might be a sign that you are feeling more creative or at the start of a new beginning.

3. Birds

Dreams about birds often represent ambition and goals. It might also create a sense of freedom and make you feel like you are really in control of your life.

4. Bugs

When you dream about bugs, it might be a sign that something is seriously bugging you. For example, something in your waking life might be causing you fear or anxiety, or you might feel like there is a weight on your shoulders.

5. Dogs

Dogs in dreams can represent protection or loyalty. 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 often represents the concept of yin - reflectiveness, darkness, and secrecy. It might symbolize your independent spirit, creativity, or even sexuality. Depending on the color of the cat and what it does in your dream, it can also symbolize deceit or bad luck ahead.

10 Objects in Dreams and What They Mean

Just about every aspect of a dream can have hidden meanings, including the objects that appear in them. Additional aspects, such as the color of the object, as well as the number of objects, will provide deeper clues about their meaning.

1. Clothing

Your clothing represents how you present yourself to the world. It can act as your protective outer shell that hides your innermost feelings. By analyzing the meanings of the colors of your clothes as well as the style of clothing you are wearing, 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

Woman in the sea splashing water

Water is often thought to represent your emotions and the state of your life energy. For example, boiling water might indicate anger or danger, while clear, calm water may represent peace. It may also mean that feelings that you have buried are rising to the surface in your subconscious.

4. Dirt

Dirt (and mud) in dreams often represents the belief you have behaved in a dishonorable manner, and that you are in some way "dirty." This may be because you have been unkind, engaged in unethical behavior, or something similar in your waking life. 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 may represent secrets that are being kept or are on the verge of being unlocked. Seeing a key in your dream may mean that you are trying to gain control of whatever secrets you have been keeping in your waking life, or signify that you are trying to uncover a secret that you believe someone else is keeping from you.

6. Monsters

Monsters of all kinds might signify certain fears you have in your waking life. These might be fears about who you are as a person, or about some other aspect of your life that may be making you anxious.

7. Phones and Computers

Dreaming of phones, computers, and similar technology is associated with communication. It might represent how well you feel you are communicating with others, or if you feel they are being transparent with you. It may also signify that there is an important conversation you need to have with someone.

8. Money

Money in dreams often represents the same thing it does in waking life-personal wealth and prosperity. However, it doesn't necessarily mean material wealth (although it can). It can also represent that you are prospering in certain aspects of your life, such as health, friendship, love, joy, and more.

9. Aliens and UFOs

Aliens and UFOs in dreams are often associated with discovering something new. This may mean that you are on the verge of uncovering something new about yourself. In addition, these types of dreams are often associated with feelings of alienation and being disconnected from your current surroundings.

10. Rain

Happy smiling boy in the rain

If you experience rain in a dream, it might be a sign of purification or renewal. In addition, raindrops may also represent tears and sadness.

Deciphering the Meaning of Symbols in Dreams

Nothing is as it seems in a dream. The symbolism throughout dreams is what can make them be so difficult to decipher. Pay close attention to as many details of your dreams as you can if you are trying to uncover their hidden meanings. Anything you notice within them can be significant and take you one step closer to uncovering the mystery.

Try and note the color of objects, the number of objects, the dream's plot, and the people inside the dream. And, also dedicate some time to understanding how the dream made you feel while you were in it, as well as afterward. 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