What Are the Universal Dreams?
We've all had them--those alarming dreams of being chased by something grisly, a loved one getting hurt or dying, driving a car without brakes, not knowing the answers to a test, falling fearfully through the air, appearing naked or half-dressed in public, or racing for the train that has just departed. These and other bad dreams that everyone experiences at some point in their lives are too familiar.
What most of us don't realize is that these very same dreams are universal. They have existed from before the beginning of recorded literature, and will occur tonight in every country of our planet. They cross different cultures and classes. They endure over time.
I have labeled this set of dreams that transcend time and cultures "the Universal Dreams." Like a hearty stew that is rich with local produce, the universal dreams differ among different peoples, but they are all nourishing variants of the same wholesome meal. They are as old as humanity and as widespread as our globe. Possibly further.
In my presidential address to the Association for the Study of Dreams, in Oahu, Hawaii in 1998, I asked the audience of more than 200 professional dreamworkers to participate in a brief test to demonstrate the universality of these dreams. Six dreams were read. The audience was asked to guess in which century the dream took place, and the dreamer's nationality, gender and age.
Despite knowing a great deal about dreams, very few people recognized Gilgamesh's earthquake dream as being 4000 years old! Fewer still identified the dreamer of the lost gloves as living in China.
I propose that there are 12 basic dreams, each of which have positive as well as negative versions. By understanding more about these 12 bad dreams, and their mirror opposites, how these basic themes vary, and what the motifs they contain usually mean, we'll be able to share our knowledge about dreams in a clearer, more specific, theory-free form.
. . .
My analysis of the universal dreams is based upon a worldwide collection of thousands of dreams, a synthesis of the professional literature on dream content, and my own 50-year-long dream diary. I have also drawn upon the system to classify folktales devised by folklorist Kaarle Krone, and developed by his follower Antti Aarne, both in Finland, as well as the catalogues compiled by folklorist Stith Thompson in the United States. This method, that has been used to classify all the folktales in the world, can be adjusted to classify dreams because of the strong resemblance between dreams and folktales.
Each dreamer has something valuable to contribute to the international project. Like diagraming the human DNA (human genome project), or mapping the starry skies, many keen observers are needed to chart the vastness of our dreams.
Below is an bare-bones version of the twelve universal dreams (I've omitted comments on incidence, the usual meanings of each theme, and suggestions for coping. For fuller descriptions, please refer to The Universal Dream Key: The 12 Most Common Dream Themes Around the World, HarperCollins, 2001).
Since the negative, or nightmare form, of the dream is more frequent, it appears first (e.g., 1.0-1.49); then the positive, or uplifting, form follows (e.g., 1.50-1.99). The numbers in front of each definition refer to the classification of that universal dream.
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