Any object or symbol appearing in your dreams is a creation of your own subconscious mind and is very personal to you. To
understand the symbol, you must explore your associations to it and attempt to experience it in all its aspects. This goes for any
object in your dream, whether animate or inanimate, alive or not. If you and I both dream of a black dog, my black dog will have
a totally different character and meaning to your black dog. Such a dog may have bitten me when I was a child, but you may
have had him as a favourite family pet. This is why commercial dream dictionaries aren't of much value.
However, it can be helpful to understand the deeper, archetypal significance of the animals in your dreams as the genre of
different species tend to carry within them certain attributes that all humans recognise. For instance, if people are asked what
words or feelings spring to mind when they think of "dog", they will often use words like pet, man's best friend, loyal and faithful.
In the same way, a fox will be associated with cunning and guile, and a tortoise associated with carrying its house on its back
and moving very slowly. So, in dreams involving animals it's important to ascertain whether your dream animal has been pulled
from a past experience or if it is there as an archetypal motif. It may actually be there for both reasons.
It's advisable to first explore your own personal associations to the dream animal before investigating its mythical and archetypal qualities. For
instance, if you dream of your pet rabbit you may want to ask yourself why you dreamed of him and not your pet guinea pig. Or if you dreamed
you were on Safari, why did you see giraffes and not zebras? If you do decide to explore the archetypal associations I would recommend that
you seek information from a Shamanic source. A Google search of the World Wide Web will reveal many such sites with free downloadable
information. Dream animals often carry important messages with the things that they show us or their behaviour. If we take note and act on their
message, it can lead to powerful transformation in our lives. Shamanic practitioners refer to these animals, and indeed all animals, as Power
Animals or Animal Totems.
In the Shamanic tradition, animals embody the energy of their species. This energy is very specific and can be tapped into and drawn into your
life by experiencing and identifying with the animal. So, for instance, if I need more energy I may dream about a Horse (horsepower), and
contemplation of the energy displayed by horses will help to draw Horse energy into my sphere of being from the universal or divine source of
all energy. If I need to slow down and retreat into my own space for a while to take stock of things, I may dream of Tortoise. Tortoise speaks of
self-reliance and self-determination with slow, considered action. Tortoise may take his time but he always gets there in the end. Again,
imagining myself to be my Dream Tortoise and experiencing its nature on a deep level, I will inevitably find myself acting more like him in my
everyday life. Quite often we fail to understand, on a conscious level, what certain animals mean to us and it's only when we investigate the
Shamanic associations that we suddenly realise how appropriate this animal is to our present situation. This is part of the magic that weaves
its way into dream work.
In my book, "Working the Nightshift, How To Understand Your Dreams," I talk about how Bear appeared in a Dream re-entry to give me the
help and the courage I needed to go ahead with a major life transition that involved a new career and a move to a another part of the country.
The attributes of Bear are strength, introspection and knowledge. Bear teaches us how to go within and find the resources necessary for our
personal survival and how to make choices from a position of power. Because female bears are very protective of their off-spring, Bear energy
can encourage introspection in quiet isolation in order to decide on the right course of action for the family unit. At the time I was not only
concerned with how to approach the job interview and, hopefully, find financial security, but also how this could affect my children.
Another time, Squirrel made an appearance in my dreams. Un-prompted by a "real" event, this suggested to me that I should start
preparing for another change - not just storing things up (probably money) but also getting rid of things that no longer serve me
so that, when the time comes, I can move quickly. Try and recall some of your own dreams in which animals have made an
appearance. What do you think were the messages that those animals gave? If you've managed to interpret the dream, and
understand what life situation it was about, additional investigation will most certainly lead to further enlightenment and also,
perhaps, suggest positive action associated with the energy of that particular animal.
One of the common motifs in the dreams of people who are suffering some emotional pain, is of a wounded animal;
usually a pet dog or cat. In my case, I have always loved cats and have always had at least one cat as a family pet.
Consequently cats often play centre stage in my dreamtime and experience has taught me that my dream cats always
reflect how I'm feeling on an emotional or physical level. Thus, I always pay very close attention to their state of health.
A wounded dream cat alerts me immediately to the fact that I may be in crisis. If, in my everyday reality, I should come
across a wounded cat I would do everything in my power to help and heal it. It's likely, therefore, that my wounded
dream cats are the part of me that is crying out for sympathy, support and help. Sometimes we pretend, even to
ourselves, that we are very strong and can cope with all life throws at us. I know that if my dream cats are in poor
health then I'd better pay attention to my own welfare and cosset myself for a while. Of course, wounded animals in
dreams don't have to be our pets; they can be any animal. A wounded horse, for instance, may alert us to the fact that
our energy levels are suffering depletion or we are feeling powerless.
Dreaming of young animals that are wounded or even dying will often indicate that we are feeling helpless in a particular situation in our life.
Perhaps we feel dependent on someone who is not giving us the care and affection we feel we deserve, or perhaps the dream animal is
symbolising the part of us that is still living as a hurt and disempowered child. Close examination of the dream will almost always reveal what
area of life the dream is about. Failure to act on these dreams or to resolve the issue that is the subject of the dream, can result in a physical
illness or a prolonged period of depression. Remember, your dreams are a reflection of how you are experiencing the world. If you
subconsciously feel like a wounded animal, that feeling will ultimately manifest into your waking reality, resulting in conscious thoughts of
hopelessness and helplessness. When this happens, you may find yourself unable to think positively about your future and this will draw even
more negative energy into your field of being. In such cases, focusing your thoughts on healing your dream animal whilst recognising that this
animal is an aspect of yourself, can be an extremely powerful pathway to self-healing and self-love.
Animals that frighten us
Have you ever dreamed of a shark, circling round you in the water, biding its time, waiting, threatening to strike? Have you ever encountered a
crocodile lurking in muddy water, pretending to be a log, his beady eyes watching you all the while? What about snakes (in the grass) or
lizards, with their forked tongues? Or scorpions with their curly tails, loaded with venom. Have blood-sucking bats ever threatened to feed on
you, or have you been chased across a field by a fiercesome bull? Perhaps you've encountered lions and tigers that will tear you limb from limb
if they ever get their claws into you? Animals that threaten us in our dreams are the embodiment of our fears. They are connected to an energy
centre of fear that already exists and has its roots in some traumatic or fearful experience in our personal history or in the history of our
species. The fear may have its root in an aspect of our character (often instinctual in nature) that we may be repressing. It may even be some
aspect of our character that is threatening to get out of control. What would you conclude if you were being threatened by a tiger in a dream?
How would you feel?
The energy of Tiger is predatory and is linked to passion and power. You
may wish to examine your life and ask if you are either ignoring your natural,
sexual instincts or, alternately, whether you are allowing your sexual
passions to rule your life and your behaviour. Only you will know what the
If you find yourself running away from such fiercesome creatures, be aware that all you are doing is running away from a
problem. Is this a good idea do you think? When we run away from things, we give away some of our power to them and this
makes them stronger, and ultimately even harder to overcome. A hostile, fearsome tiger is powerful enough without us giving
him even more power over us.
In the last section, I suggested that we can heal ourselves by experiencing a wounded animal as an embodiment of our own
hurt. Similarly, we can heal our fears by experiencing them as wild animals whose nature we simply need to understand.
Imagine a world where these fearsome animals have a voice. Where they can talk to you and answer any questions you ask of
them. You could ask why they are in your dream. Why are they chasing you? What will they do if they catch you? What are they
embodying? Do you know that if you do what Dorothy did to the lion in the Wizard of Oz, you'll invariably get the same result!
So for instance, I may dream of being chased by a tiger that seems to have escaped from a zoo. He's growling and salivating
and is ready to pounce. I am terrified. But then I realise that actually this is a dream and I'm not in any physical danger.
Perhaps if I ask, "Tiger, why are you doing this?"
He might reply, "I'm powerful and I'm hungry and I want to eat you."
So I say, "Why would you want to eat me? I've never done you any harm"
Tiger replies, "What's harm got to do with it? You'll taste good. I'll really enjoy you. I'm always hungry. I can't help it. It's nothing personal"
Perhaps I could try to find a solution to this threat, by asking, "What can I do to stop you eating me?"
Tiger might answer, "Give me some proper food; something that will satisfy my hunger, instead of me having to forage round for scraps. A bit
here and a bit there. It doesn't satisfy me."
May be you can then get down on your haunches and become the tiger. Feel the awesome power in your legs and arms, experience the
incredibly piercing vision in your yellow eyes, nothing is hidden, you've got a clear view of everything before you. You are strong, you are
powerful, you are ready to pounce. How do you feel? Pretty invincible I'll bet.
This scenario is actually taken from a real case. The woman who had the dream was in her late thirties and had got herself involved in a string
of dissatisfying, short-term, sexual relationships. The dream tiger allowed her to recognise and acknowledge that the sexual energy, suddenly
needing gratification after spending years in a marriage that had lacked passion and love, needed careful handling or it would likely consume
her. Unfortunately, we cannot always find the sort of relationships we want, and so, in this case, it was more appropriate for the woman to
re-channel her sexual energy into other pursuits. By experiencing Tiger energy, she was able to empower herself to make choices that
honoured and strengthened her power and sexuality rather than debasing it.
Things that Irritate us
The irritants we experience in our everyday life often crop up in our dreams as insects. The larger the irritant, the larger the insect tends to be.
Fleas are a damn nuisance in our life and are a damn nuisance in our dreams. They will not kill us but they can sometimes be very hard to get
rid of because they're so hard to see. If you dream of fleas, look for small niggles in your life, niggles that are a constant source of irritation to
And what about flies? We perceive flies as being dirty creatures. They feed on rotting food or manure and they carry disease. Your dream flies
may be warning you to clean up your act or suffer the consequences. Or perhaps you feel you are stagnating in some area of your life. In the
19th century, to say that "there are no flies on him" meant that the person was alert and active. However, when flies do land, they often do so in
massive numbers, so your little irritation could actually be getting quite overwhelming and you may be wasting a great deal of energy, trying to
swat them unsuccessfully!
And then there's maggots; creatures that feed on detritus and dead bodies. They wriggle and slither and most of us find them
quite disgusting. I once dreamed that I kissed my boyfriend only to find his mouth was full of maggots. The dream was indicating
that his feelings for me were dead and I'd be well advised to stop kissing him!
Cockroaches can be quite scary creatures, and will usually denote an irritant that may transform into a major problem that could
be hard to eradicate if not dealt with. After all, haven't we all heard that, in the event of a nuclear war or asteroid impact, roaches
will survive very well in their dark, sunless places. They're extremely resilient!
One of my dreams featured a cockroach crawling out of a bag of candy that I was devouring with relish. That made me realise
that the thing the candy represented was actually serving up the opposite to what I was expecting and that the negative aspect
portrayed by the roach had the potential to be very enduring. And what about the insects that lurk under your dream floorboards
or carpets? Isn't it about time you uncovered them and learned about Pest Control?
Animals that transform themselves
Dream animals that transform themselves into a different animal can sometimes indicate that we need to divert the energy we are expending in
one area, into another area of our life. They can also indicate that we are perhaps mistaken in believing that something is something that it is
To illustrate the magical process of animal transformation, let me tell you about a recent adventure of mine. I spent five days at a Shamanic
Retreat at Grimstone Manor in Devon and, on the second evening there, took part in a Sweat Lodge ceremony, which happened to be New
Years Eve and the evening of a New Moon. During the sweat Lodge, I had a dreamlike vision of a wolf coming towards me. It was a magnificent
creature that came so near to me that I felt I could reach out and touch it. But when I looked at it more closely, I saw that it wasn't a wolf at all; it
was a sheep! I found the experience very amusing and couldn't help laughing out loud. So, was this a wolf pretending to be a sheep, (wolf in
sheep's clothing) or a sheep pretending to be a wolf, (sheep in wolf's clothing)?
In Shamanic practice, Wolf is a teacher and a pathfinder. He lives in an ordered social structure and makes a
powerful ally. It is through wolf that we learn the greater lessons of life; he is the bringer of new ideas. So was it,
perhaps, Teacher Wolf giving me a lesson? Unlike Wolf, Sheep is a follower, going with the crowd, following the
direction of the shepherd. Sheep are compliant and easily led. They have a life that is relatively free of conflict,
stress, and competition. My expectation of the retreat was that I would learn many new things and have some
powerful experiences similar to what I had experienced before in my Shamanic work. When I evaluated my
experience at the end of my time at Grimstone, I summed it up by saying,
"I felt I have learned very little about Shamanic practice (as I had previously defined that), and yet I have learned a huge amount about the
importance of re-connecting to Earth energy, the healing power of embracing the physical challenges of the Sweat Lodge and the Trance
Dancing and how all this activity has focused my attention the entire time on living in the eternal now. It's been a very grounding experience
and a very powerful experience too, reminding me of the comfort and strength that can be gained from conformity and working with a group of
It was only many days later that I realised that perhaps this was what Wolf had wanted to teach me. That this was a time for me to be a
sheep; a time to immerse myself in a loving and supportive community; a time for me to let go of all responsibility and worry and just rest my
mind in the now.
Wow, what a powerful lesson!
So, did Wolf come from my own subconscious or was it a vision from outside of myself? Does it matter? I don't think it does. Providing we listen
to the lessons that present themselves to us, learn from them and perhaps make positive changes in our lives because of them, it really doesn't
matter where they come from. At the end of the day, it's simply a matter of belief.
A close friend told me the other week that she had dreamed of seahorses coming out of the sea and turning into black dogs, and
that she knew the dogs would die if they were not returned to the sea. She was at a loss to understand the dream on a personal
On an archetypal level, seahorses teach the art of energy management, embodying the energies of service and sacrifice, often
giving up its life for the sake of another.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the life of a sea horse is that the male becomes pregnant when a female deposits her
eggs into his pouch.The male provides everything for the growing young, transferring nutrients and oxygen and controlling the
pouch environment to ensure that the young are born healthy. This act by the male indicates a gentle strength combining both
feminine and masculine characteristics. Perhaps when the sea horse swims into our dreams, he asks us to examine and then
balance those components within ourselves or recognise those qualities in another.
My friend recognised immediately the close correspondence between her husband's life experiences and the seahorse and the
need to coax the seahorses back into the sea with the patience, loyalty and compassion of Dog.
Copyright JCHarthan (2006)