Eng Wah Teo / EyeEm
It’s happened to all of us at some point or another. You wake up from a particularly vivid dream, and in those fleeting seconds where the details are still clear, before they become muddled or vanish from your mind entirely, you think: What the hell was
Whether you believe in the idea of dream interpretation or not, there are some common images or symbols that crop up over and over again in many people’s dreams; it’s become popular wisdom, for instance, that a dream about your teeth and hair falling out could mean you’re worried about a loss of money or control. One particularly prevalent image that tends to appear in dreams—at least according to the volume of Google searches on the matter—is the snake.
“One of the things that dreams seem to do, at least cognitive scientists believe this to be the case, is they’re a kind of thinking,” says psychotherapist Matthew Bowes. “They tend to use imagery derived from metaphors we use in our ordinary speech, to describe abstract ideas or experiences that are hard to articulate in straightforward language. And you kind of dream the movie of that metaphor.”
So what does it mean when we dream about snakes? According to Bowes, there are a number of possible interpretations, with the most common readings drawing on the attributes that we have projected onto these creatures in our culture. For instance, one of the metaphorical images frequently associated with snakes is the idea of shedding one’s skin—so the dream could possibly signal that you are going through a period of transition or transformation.
There are other cultural connotations too, Bowes explains. “A classical Freudian thing, of course, is that a snake could mean a penis,” he says. “These days, because of coronavirus, the snake might be in our awareness because it is used in the symbol of medical establishments; the rod of Aeschylus.”
“But then you need the individual nuance,” he continues. “What’s the snake doing, what’s the context, who else is in the dream. You cant make a clear and specific interpretation of a dream based just on the image of a snake, you have to know the context. Was it a boa constrictor or a poisonous snake? What could that mean symbolically? If you’re dreaming of something constricting, is there an area of your life where you might feel that way? If you dream of a poisonous snake, you might relate it to a toxic friendship or relationship. Sometimes we describe
as snakes when they’re deceitful.”
While exploring the meanings of our dreams can be fascinating, these aren’t necessarily things we need to dwell on or put too much stock in. Sometimes a dream is just a dream, and what we see are simply images from our daily lives being recycled. If the dream becomes recurring, however, Bowes believes this might be something to pay attention to.
“It’s very interesting when that happens, to watch what might change in the dream,” he says. “Is the snake doing something different, or are you interacting with it a different way? It can be an interesting experiment in self-awareness.”
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