Dream Glossary

November 1, 2016 in Glossary of Dream Terms

Press the button on the right to access this Dream Glossary. It is a collection of several of the more common terms and names relevant to dreaming and dream analysis.  Feel free to copy and paste this glossary into your word processor and use as a basis for building your own collection of dream buzzwords. I have used bold text for those words that you stumble across in books and in blogs, but are not quite certain of the meaning, like “NREM” and “Gestalt” and “Cayce”. And you will meet many more on your own, highly personal journey through the world of dreams and their meanings.

Archetypes: Dream archetypes are those images and characters that appear again and again in various dream situations, over a period of time – just think of the same characters appearing in many different plays and movies. When analysed, each archetype can be interpreted as a facet of your own personality.

Analysis (Dreams): Many methods of dream analysis are in use, for example, the hypnosis techniques of Sigmund Freud and Edgar Cayce, the shamanic method of Carl Jung, the Gestalt technique, or simply by identifying archetypes and placing them in context.  

Aristotle believed that disturbance during sleep, for example, a draft or a faint noise, could trigger off a dream without waking up the subject. Free of the judgement of conscious hours, the sleeper accepts uncritically all of his fantastical experiences, and waking up brings that familiar jolt of surprise. Aristotle’s theory is not a million miles removed from where our dream theory is now.

This was in contrast to his fellow Greeks, who were very superstitious. In addition to devotion to their gods, they believed in ghosts and portent through the Delphic and other temple oracles, and through dreamtime experiences. Plato’s adherence to divination and belief in esoteric worlds reflected this, but his pupil rejected all notions of the supernatural and fortune telling in relation to dreaming.

Cayce, Edgar: Cayce was a pioneer of dream analysis who developed his career as a hypnotist and healer following illness of his own. His method was to go into a trance and “find” an answer for the patient’s problem. Because of this, Cayce was able to heal patients through correspondence rather than direct personal contact. Later on, he began lecturing on philosophy and experimenting with therapies like exposure to ultraviolet light, massage and diet, and healing with the help of gemstones.

Today, many of these therapies are valid, with light therapy on offer to patients suffering from seasonal adjustment disorder or SAD. He knew that tapping the unconscious mind was a more certain channel to self-knowledge than the conscious, logical mind.

Consciousness: is the objective state of being awake and aware of what is happening in the environment, the flipside of being unconscious. However, researchers have identified varying levels of awareness within waking consciousness.

Daydreaming: Psychologists have written much on the nature of this subject. The majority of them agree that while daydreaming, the subject is in a state between waking and sleeping. One difference between the dreams of day and those of the night is that the conscious subject is in control of the imagery her or she perceives, is able to drive it and is in possession of potential for great creativity. Yet, the daydreaming state puts the subject in touch with his or her subconscious. Detached from the automotive mode of consciousness, it is the ideal place for thoughts to flow. Even when a daydream does not result in a great and wonderful idea – most often, it does not – experts agree (and daydreaming subjects affirm) that a short period of detachment from the fully conscious state is akin to taking a quick nap. The subject returns to consciousness once more , capable of tackling whatever task is in hand.

Dream capture: Effective dream analysis is possible only for the routine recorder of dreams, and the most efficient method is to record every dream upon awakening. This is a task that requires discipline, persistence and dedication, but it is worth the effort. Many dreamers like to record their imagery in a hardcover notebook, with the date of each dream overhead, a good and useful way to do it. Typing dream notes onto electronic media adds another dimension, allowing you to identify recurring themes and archetypes using the word search facility, and adding insights months or even years beyond the original dream. The worst mistake the dream hunter can make is to record only those dreams that sing in the memory long after they have taken place. Extravagant dreams are important, but concentration only on these will leave gaps in the total picture of your psyche. Big dreams are like blockbuster movies, filled with memorable characters and riveting events that everyone talks about for years afterwards, but just think of what life would be like if we got our information only from blockbuster movies? The “little” dreams of fragmented images, whispered sounds and half-glimpsed words that are tied together by feelings rather than events are more likely to reveal the information that we are seeking.

Freud, Sigmund: It was the lateral thinking of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud that opened the way for the therapeutic interpretation of dreams. Freud’s therapy involved hypnotising a patient until he or she could talk openly about everything, including intimate matters that were taboo in repressive, late nineteenth-century Vienna. He reasoned that if the intimate musings of a patient were symptomatic of his or her state of mind, the same must apply to the dream imagery that stems from the patient’s unconscious. This pathology is equivalent to blood analysis for detecting physical disease. It was this engagement with the random juxtaposition of everyday objects – the crux of dreaming – that gave rise to the creative movement called surrealism. 

Gestalt: During the 1890’s, the Berlin School of Experimental Psychology became the centre for the practice of Gestalt or Gestaltism, its chief advocate being psychologist Kurt Koffka. His quotation: “the whole is other than the sum of its parts” has gone into history. Put simply, our conscious brains have a tendency to “compensate” for what we think is missing from a series of images or sounds.

Graphic designers and advertising executives use this phenomenon to great effect, nudging our brains into recognising brand names and associating consumables with our favourite sounds from the hit parade. In the real world, constant mental compensation can lead to a deficit of “true” knowledge, misperception and ultimately misunderstanding. Gestalt therapists bring their patients through various exercises, helping them see the total picture of a situation or even their own personalities, the raison d’etre of dream analysis.

Hypnagogic/hypnocampic: you are now in a deep sleep, says the hypnotherapist to his patient, in many a television thriller. What he actually does is put the patient into a stage between the waking and sleeping state, thus making him or her susceptible to suggestions like “you are now filled with confidence” or “you will find smoking a cigarette horrible”. The theory is that the suggestion sinks into the subconscious of the patient and that he carries the effects of the session into everyday life. The word “hypnos” is Greek in origin, derived from Hypnus, the mythological personification of sleep, with Sonmnus being the Roman equivalent. This etymology has given rise to interesting word variants. When you are falling asleep, your brain is in a hypnogogic state and when you are emerging from dreaming sleep into wakefulness, your brain is in a hypnopompic state. In the hypnogogic state, your brain is highly open to suggestion, which is the basis of hypnosis.  

Jung, Carl: Early in his life, Carl Jung saw a luminous figure coming from his mother’s room. The head was detached from the neck and floated in the air in front of the body. The response of the Jung family was to send her for treatment in a psychiatric hospital but this experience had a profound effect upon Carl. While yet a boy, he created his own private world in which he believed that he communicated with a mannequin carved out of wood.

Years later, he learned about tribal practices like belief in totems, that mirrored his own actions, a step to his forming theories about the collective unconscious. Jung entered the University of Basel in 1895 to study medicine. His colleague, Eugen Bleuler, whom he met in the Burgholzi psychiatric hospital in Zurich, introduced him to Sigmund Freud. Initially, the two psychologists were in friendly, professional collaboration, but their theories began to diverge. Jung believed that dream images stemmed from the collective unconscious, a pool of ideas and visions that were possibly ancestral memories – hearkening back to the supernatural experience he shared with his mother. Freud stayed with the notion that all dream imagery stemmed from the repressed desires of the dreamer. In 1912, Jung published his book, The Psychology of the Unconscious, which led to his final break-up with Freud.

He recorded everything he heard and felt in his red notebook. For the remainder of his life, he travelled and lectured, forming friendships with priests and shamans. He recognised that particular tropes were common to certain cultures and wondered why, in the west, many people described a ghost they might have seen a “grey lady”? The UFO phenomenon that erupted during the 1950s captured his attention and made him wonder about “flying saucers” and “little green men”. Jung also wrote much about individuation, that is, healing the person by balancing the personality with underdeveloped traits.  

Kekule, August: The creative world is awash with tales of artists who dreamed and turned their downtime phantasms into daytime reality. Paul McCartney reputedly dreamed the lyrics of the hit song, Yesterday. Elias Howe found the solution to perfecting his invention, the sewing machine, when he dreamed of a fierce, spear-throwing tribe – and the spears all had holes close to the arrowheads.

The world of chemistry still charts how August Kekule’s dream of an ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake swallowing its tail, enabled him to establish the structure of the benzene molecule. For years, he and other chemists had puzzled over it, and Kekule solved the mystery when he realised that it might be circular rather than linear. Interestingly, Kekule received this information in a daydream, a state of consciousness in between normal wakefulness and lucid awareness.

Individuation: This is a process whereby we develop powers and personality traits that our conscious mind has hitherto ignored or rejected, traits that our subconscious mind often reveals to us in dreams. Carl Jung developed this process for the better functioning of the self, redefining psychoanalysis as not just a treatment for the mentally ill, but an exercise whereby “normal” people discover new routes to living fuller and more rewarding lives.  

Levels of Awareness: Author Colin Wilson defined various levels of consciousness. State 1 is deep sleep or the non-rapid eye movement state or NREM. State 2 is both the hypnagogic (moving into sleep from wakefulness) and the hypnocampic (waking up after sleep), which are both rapid eye movement or REM states.  State 3 is that groggy impaired awareness after just having woken up, but with dream imagery just vanished. State 4 is normal wakeful awareness and state 5 is lucid awareness, which Wilson defined as faculty X. This is a state of “superconsciousness”, in which the subject experiences a kind of heightened reality, the kind of consciousness that inspires artists, writers and other creative people. Researchers using electroencephalographs have established the objective existence of these states. Dream experts believe that everyone has the potential to reach all of them, even faculty X, since we experience “normal” awareness, and dreaming and dreamless sleep without even trying to.

Lucid Awareness: see Levels of Awareness, above.

Nightmares: ‘You are nothing but a bad dream,’ I said, on encountering a dark humanoid figure alongside my bed – and I woke up. The room was empty and I was unafraid. One accepted way of dealing with recurring nightmares is to not run away from whatever oneiric phantasm is bothering you, but to engage with and face it, to resist it, whatever strength of mind it takes. Doing this will rob the images of their power and they will go away.

The “defiance” method will work for the majority of us, since the very act of trying to speak is usually enough to shock the body fully awake, and thus vanquish the phantasm. However, if your are afflicted with frequent, frightening dreams that you cannot deal with, seek clinical help.

Night terrors: the majority of subjects that suffer from night terrors are young children. Seeing the subject sit up in bed with widened eyes as if in dread or terror of something, often with limbs trashing about, is the chief symptom. You cannot waken the subject, who usually falls asleep again. Later on, he or she has no recollection of the incident. Researchers have found that night terror victims are in the NREM or non-dreaming state of sleep. Children usually grow out of this affliction but adults who suffer night terrors require clinical attention, since the condition is closely related to sleepwalking 

Oneiric: the scientific term for dream-related experiences.

Prophetic dreams: numerous accounts exist of subjects experiencing dream imagery of events in advance of their occurrence. Many psychologists have dismissed the notion of prophecy in dreaming, theorizing that we are all dreaming all of the time about everything and that the events foretold by the seemingly prophetic dream would have happened anyway. There is no doubt a grain of truth in this; a stopped clock is right twice a day, they say. Keeping a dream diary is one way to discover if dreamtime brings on your prophetic powers, to establish if the subconscious mind has channels to knowledge that your normal, waking consciousness has not.  

REM/NREM: During the 1950s, scientists used EEG equipment to establish the various wave frequencies given off by the mammalian brain throughout different states of consciousness, including sleep. Subsequent research in sleep clinics established that this REM or rapid-eye-movement phase of sleep is when the subject is most likely to experience bouts of vivid dreaming. Initially, we shut our eyes and fall into a deep sleep that lasts between 60 and 80 minutes, a phase known as NREM or nonsynchronized sleep. For the next 10 to 20 minutes, the brain stem gives off pulses of electrical activity. Presently, these pulses move until they finally shift to the occipital lobe, the area of the brain that controls the eyes. It is at this phase of sleep that the eyes of the subject begin to move rapidly underneath the lids. Incidentally, the REM phase is not a function of vision, since babies, foetuses and people without sight, experience it.

When the REM phase is over, the subject enters another 90-minute sleep cycle, that is, about 80 minutes of NREM sleep, followed by 10 or so minutes of REM. Clinical trials have established that on awakening, the majority of subjects are experiencing dreams during this time, with few dreams during the NREM phase. The healthy sleeper takes between six and eight hours sleep per night, and so experiences four to eight sleep cycles. As the night advances, the amount of NREM or deep sleep within a cycle decreases, with a correlated increase in the amount of REM or dreaming sleep. This explains why we experience our most vivid dreams towards morning.  

Shaman: Every ancient culture has its version of the shaman, from Native American and Aboriginal tribes, to the Inuit of Alaska and the Sami of Lapland. The role of the shaman varies from culture to culture but generally, he can heal illness and envision the future, evoke memories and interpret dreams. If you have a problem or if you see trouble ahead, the shaman can help you take action to circumvent it. In the same way, shamanic interpretation of dreams can point you in the direction of opportunities. The shaman believes that during a dream, your soul goes to the dreamtime where everything about your past, future and present is known. What you learn there can enable you to have a say in your own future. The parallels with getting in touch with your subconscious are fairly apparent.  

Sleepwalking: Many myths and theories exist around this condition, which is also know as somnambulism, Like night terrors, bouts of sleepwalking occur during the NREM stage of sleep, and the subject has no recollection of his or her activity when fully awakened. The difference is that the sleepwalker gets out of bed, moves around and in rarer cases, and engages in daytime activity like getting dressed or even enacting a hobby. Like night terrors, the majority of afflicted subjects are children who usually grow out of it. But adults who are chronic sleepwalkers require clinical attention, since certain activities can place themselves, and others, in danger.  

Sleep paralysis: Experts believe that a condition called muscular atonia or weakness, causes sleep paralysis. This is a phenomenon that the majority of us experience, if we do at all, few episodes in our lifetimes. The subject awakens and finds him or herself unable to move or speak. He may also experience a sensation of suffocation and a strong feeling that someone else is in the room. A number of subjects actually see their nocturnal companion, and this hallucination can be grotesque and terrifying. The phenomenon has given rise to many creative works, from the incubus and succubus of folklore, to Henri Fuseli’s painting, The Nightmare. The clinical explanation is that the mind of the subject half awakens but because of muscular atonia, the body is not yet in tandem. Because the mind is in the hypnocampic, the still-dreaming stage of waking up, the sensation of body paralysis leads him to believe that he or she is the victim of assault, and it creates a narrative to explain his or her condition. Sleep paralysis can also occur when the mind is in the falling asleep or hypnagogic state. Bouts can last from between a few minutes to an hour or more.

Generally, it is not a problem but for a minority, it is a serious condition that requires clinical help. Most people respond to therapy that involves relaxation techniques, and taking control when an episode occurs. Over time, the patient grows calmer, more relaxed and less likely to engender the kind of anxiety that causes him or her to hallucinate.  

Subconscious: it is difficult to describe an entity that has no objective existence. But it may be helpful to liken the subconscious to a repository of dreams and memories that we keep in store, like placing objects in a cupboard for occasional use. Keeping them constantly in our conscious brain will only weigh us heavily and slow down our immediate mode of thinking. When we dream, we draw upon this repository of memories and impressions to construct the archetypes that act out our nocturnal dramas. Just as a total stranger can look into your closet and build a credible biography from the possessions that are important to you, continual scrutiny of your archetypes can reveal your state of mind – to you. 

Surrealism: In the wake of Andre Breton writing the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, the surrealist artists and poets emerged, their dream imagery becoming part of popular culture, for example, the paintings of Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst. The artist Man Ray referred to a line in a poem “Maldoror”: beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella. This word image provokes that queasy sensation as experienced in a dream when we encounter an unusual, unlikely or even unsettling juxtaposition of people and events, for example, seeing our best friend’s mum in a compromising situation with a male relative of our own.   

Unconscious: unlike the subjective subconscious, the unconscious state is an objective one, the NREM or deepest level of the sleeping brain in which the subject is responsive to neither sensation or dream imagery. Less common than we imagine, since most of our sleep time is spent in the REM state, experts believe that we need bouts of unconsciousness for the body to become proactive in repairing bodily tissues and simply resting the brain in preparation for the rigours of the waking hours.