Ah, dream dictionaries! How very popular they are. Short,
quick mind bites, easy to digest. Don't bother your brain too
much; keep you in your comfort zone. Faster than a cup of
coffee. But more powerful than a locomotive? I doubt it.
They're not very lasting or nutritious, that's for sure. How
quickly we forget what we've just read. Now, do you really
want an instant answer, a quick and dirty interpretation?
Okay, here's one.
Flying means Freedom
That, and 50 cents, won't buy you a mug of Java. It's an
off-the-cuff response that doesn't answer a whole host of
questions, like, what do you mean by freedom? Freedom from
what? Freedom for what? If I see a flying cow in my dream,
does that mean free milk? Good, I like Latte.
Here's the most important question. Does this
interpretation of flying have anything to do with my
dream? The dream I had last night? If "freedom" were the
only possible answer, then I'd say sure, of course. But it's
not. Even the simplest of dream dictionaries present other
possibilities: ambition, the desire to avoid responsibility,
the capacity to make changes, a wish for magical solutions,
free love, perverse sexuality, haughtiness, a union of spirit
In other words, you order it, we got it to go. That's but a
few of the latest ideas on the fast food menu. I hunger for
something more substantial.
Symbolic Meanings From the Past
I'd like to be able to tell you that, to comprehend the
complexities of dream meaning, all you need do is surf the
Internet. Unfortunately, much of the web is still enchanted
with the instant answer. For a deeper understanding, we must
go off-line and back to books. When I began to research
dreams, I went to my alma mater and asked if I could use their
library. They said, sure, for a nice fat fee. I declined the
offer and returned to my public branch. Interlibrary loan
costs a lot less, and I still get the copies I'm looking
I was fortunate to become friends with Jill Gregory, whose
passion for dream books led her to create the Dream Library
and Archive. By the time it closed its doors in 2003, it had
upwards of 1200 volumes, plus innumerable papers, magazines,
videos, audio tapes, scientific journals and a few master's
theses. Jill and I would go book shopping in the used book
stores, since so many out-of-print dream books can be found
there. I revived the dream and psi sections in my local used
book shop, gathering books that were scattered about into one
place. Even in a well-organized store, dream books can be
found in other than the dream section. Science, fine art and
literature will have non-fiction tomes. Out-of-body
experiences are likely to be in another part of the store,
probably near psychic phenomena.
If you're serious about doing a search for answers about
dreams, I'd keep fictional accounts to a minimum. I found sci
fi, fantasy, myths and folk tales to be fascinating reading,
but, unfortunately, their descriptions of dreams, OBEs and psi
contribute to a very common Kryptonite Factor. If your
experience doesn't match what you've read, you might ignore
and devalue it, or consider yourself a failure for not
achieving the promised goal. Fictional and physical experience
are not the same. Fiction's driving force is to tell a story
-- something that will grab your attention and hold it.
Everything is smoothed down to make a swiftly flowing tale.
Wouldn't it be nice if life and sleeping dreams really worked
that way? But they tend to be multibranched and churn up
eddies at their edges.
I discovered that flying dreams have been around for a very
long time. As soon as humans learned to scribble, they were
writing about dreams, on wood, clay and papyrus. This was the
genesis of the dream book and the dream dictionary. Meanings
became as fixed as the glyphs on a tablet or the letters on a
page. From these sources we know for sure. Even at the dawn of
history, people were having flying dreams.
During Egypt's XIIIth dynasty (1786-1633 B. C.), priests of
the god Horus inscribed a discourse about dreams on papyri.
Some fragments of it still survive. One of them, the Chester
Beatty Papyrus, contains records of 200 dreams and their
interpretations. It characterizes dreams with only two simple
choices. They are either "good" or "bad."
- Falling is good. It means prosperity.
- Folding wings about yourself is bad. It means you are
not found innocent with your "lower level god."
These early Egyptian examples used a prevailing technique
called "explanation by opposites." For most people, falling is
bad and flying feels good. Thus, the interpretations are the
reverse of what one might normally think the dream would
Much later, Achmet of Byzantium (900 A. D.) wrote that both
Egyptians and Persians thought flying indicated a superior
political position. Flying like a bird meant high admiration,
rank and honor. Such dreams were interpreted like omens. They
were considered to be prophetic of future events.
- When a simple man dreams that an eagle carries him on
its back while flying skyward, he will surely become
- When an emperor dreams he flies among the stars, he will
exceed other rulers.
A 9th century A. D. Chinese manuscript found at Tun Huang
describes the dream book of the Duke of Chou (1200 B. C.). An
excerpt on "heavenly bodies and phenomena" has a meaning very
similar to the Egyptian and Persian.
- Ascending to the sky means the birth of a noble child.
For common folk, the book has been nicknamed "Old Mr.
Chou's Book of Lucky and Unlucky Dreams." Fortunately, flight
is on the positive side of the good-or-bad ledger.
- Flying to heaven indicates good luck.
The Atharva Veda (1400-900 B. C.) has a "Treatise on
Dreams" which again separates dreams into favorable and
unfavorable categories. In the 68th Parachista, sexual
symbolism is emphasized.
- Birds taking to flight foretell the conquest of a woman.
The Hindus were the first to place dreams into an
astrological context and link their content to human
personality types. At the time they recognized only three
temperaments: bilious, or fire signs; phlegmatic, or water
signs; and sanguine, or aerial signs. (Medieval alchemists
added melancholy, or earth signs, to form the Western four).
According to the 6th Parachista of the "Treatise," men of
sanguine temperament dream of clouds, wind and the flocks of
migrant birds. What women and children dream of, we don't
know. Early books were often written for men, only.
Achmet of Byzantium described another sort of Indian
system, that linked dreams with the measurement of time and
- To fly straight up indicates damages and quick end.
Flying through heaven means you will die soon.
- Flying from place to place means traveling and making
money. The distance of the flight corresponds to the
distance of travel. The money is in proportion to the height
at which you are flying.
Akkadian cuneiform tablets taken from the Royal Archives of
Assurbanipal (668-627 B. C.) contain a long series of dream
ideas from an even earlier period of Mesopotamian history. The
Akkadians made succinct use of "explanation by opposites."
- If a man ascends to heaven and the gods bless him, this
man will die.
- If a man ascends to heaven and the gods curse him, this
man will live long.
The Akkadians were well aware that dreams could occur again
and again. They interpreted those repeating dreams, too.
- If a man takes wing on several occasions, he will lose
everything he possesses.
These dream omens read like the Akkadian law codes: if such
and such happens or is observed, then a certain consequence
- If a man has wings and flies hither and thither, and, on
descending, is unable to fly up again, his foundation with
- If a man flies hither and thither, then disappears but
appears again, distress.
- If a man leaps and takes wing once: for an important
person, happiness. For the serf, the end of his misfortunes.
If he is imprisoned, he will be freed. If he is ill, he will
Any bad luck portended was not inevitable, though. A
variety of purification rituals, as well as other means of
averting unwelcome predictions, existed.
Artemidorus of Daldianus, (150-200 A. D.) was a dream
interpreter who lived in Roman Asia, now Turkey. Given the
variety of people he mentions in his Oneirocritica (The
Discernment of Dreams), Artemidorus must have had quite a wide
- To ride an eagle portends death for kings, rich men, and
- Flying with the birds is inauspicious for criminals
since it signifies punishment for wrong doers and frequently
- If a slave dreams that he is flying in the house of his
master, it means good luck, for he will surpass many in his
house. But if he is flying outside the house, he will leave
the house as a dead man after days of health and happiness,
if he has gone out through the courtyard. If he has gone
through the gate-house, he will be sold. If he has gone
through a window, he will leave the house by running
Several of Artemidorus's explanations comment on the
position of the dreamt body during flight. For instance, he
believed that the dream in which one sees oneself flying head
downwards was to be feared.
- Flying while one is seated on a sedan chair, a seat, a
couch, or anything similar signifies that one will be
stricken with a grave illness, be paralyzed or no longer
have the use of one's legs.
- A sick man will die in whatever position he dreams that
he is flying.
Artemidorus didn't just state the symbolic interpretation,
like his less loquacious forefathers. He tried to provide some
explanation behind it.
- Flying indicates that those who wish to hide and conceal
themselves will be discovered. For everything in the sky is
clear and easily visible to everyone.
- The dream signifies that those who ply a sedentary trade
will abandon their occupation so that they may move about
more easily and, since they are flying, they will no longer
remain at their benches.
- Flying with wings is auspicious for all men alike, the
dream signifies freedom for slaves, since all birds that fly
are without a master and have no one above them, it means
that the poor will acquire a great deal of money, for just
as money raises men up, wings raise birds up. It signifies
offices for the rich and very influential, for just as the
creatures of the air are above those that crawl upon the
earth rulers are above private citizens.
Artemidorus advised the dreamer that, after high flights,
he should return to the ground easily and wake up immediately
after landing. It seems he realized that flying dreams could
- It is unlucky to wish to be able to fly but not to be
able to do so. But it is best of all to fly at will (wishing
to soar above) and to stop at will. For it foretells great
ease and skill in one's business affairs.
Astrampsychus, another dream interpreter from the Roman
period, returned to the good-or-bad dichotomy in his
- It is good to fly, for it is the sign of an honorable
- Falling from a precipice is an evil omen.
During the 9th century, the canonical works of Tibetan
Buddhism were compiled in two large collections, the Kangyur
and the Tangyur. The volumes of the Kangyur, or Ratnakuuta
Sutra, contain teachings that have been ascribed to the
historical Buddha. The text lists 108 auspicious dream images
that appear to one who is pursuing the Bodhisattva path.
Again, we have "explanations by opposites."
- Falling from a precipice is auspicious.
One ritual from the Tangyur is entitled Milam Tagpa, or The
Examination of Dreams. It is a set of procedures for obtaining
two kinds of dreams: one that will generate thoughts of
enlightenment and another that will bestow empowerments.
- Going in the sky and floating there and using the sun
and moon as ornaments predicts becoming one who is worthy of
offerings by all.
Across The Globe
As we have seen, flying dreams been found down through
history. They've also been discovered around the world. Here's
just a few examples from native peoples.
Sierra Leone - Kuranko
- Flying like a bird signifies happiness and prosperity.
American Southwest - Tachini Navaho
- If you dream you are flying, you are "under the
sickness" that will be helped by the Star Chant.
- Flying dreams mean long life and good health.
Nepal - Yomo Sherpa
- Dreaming of an airplane indicates that one will soon
Pacifica - Coastal Solomon Islanders
- Dreams of flying mean success.
A Summary of Findings
According to some of the interpretations, both historical
and world-wide, flying implies problems, injuries, even
fatality. But are they true? True for us? And how could we
find out? Unfortunately, we can't interview the interpreters
or the dreamers to get further information. Most of them are
long dead. Comparisons among the choices can be made, though.
Some of these meanings clearly contradict one another. It's
obvious that there has been no universal consensus on what
flying means. The facts just don't support it.
How many meanings of flying dreams did I discover in my
research? Hundreds. And this is just for one symbol! I haven't
yet mentioned the popular theories of the past two centuries.
Think of the many different sorts of dreams we can have, each
with their multitude of interpretation possibilities. It's an
information glut. How can we make any sense of it all? One
common suggestion is to select what you like and forget the
rest. If I were to use that standard, I'd pick, as my
favorite, this Japanese proverb.
- "Dreams and falcons are what you make of them."
Or course, that puts us right back where we started: in the
reach of the instant answer. For extraordinary dreams, that's
- Allen, Edward Frank. The Complete Dream Book.
New York: Paperback Library, 1967.
- Coxhead, David & Susan Hiller. Dreams: Visions
of the Night. NY: Avon Books, 1975.
- de Becker, Raymond. The Understanding of
Dreams. New York: Hawthorn, 1968.
- Delaney, Gale. Living Your Dreams. San
Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981.
- Dentan, Robert Knox & Laura J. McClusky. "Pity the
Bones by Wandering River Which Still in Lovers' Dreams
Appear as Men." In The Functions of Dreaming, Alan
Moffitt, Melton Kramer, Robert Hoffmann, eds. Albany, NY:
SUNY Press, 1993, 489 -548.
- Holzer, Hans. The Psychic Side of Dreams. St.
Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1992.
- Lincoln, Jackson Steward. The Dream In Primitive
Cultures. London: Cresset Press, 1935.
- Oates, Joan. Babylon. NY: Thames and Hudson
- Psychic Voyages. (Editors of Time-Life.)
Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1987.
- Roheim, Giza. The Gates of the Dream. New York:
International Universities Press, 1952.
- Tedlock, Barbara. "The New Anthropology of Dreaming",
Dreaming, 1/2 (1991), 161-169.
- Traditional Dream Interpretation Search CD
(Original Books, Inc., 1999).
- Van de Castle, Robert L. Our Dreaming Mind. New
York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
- Woods, R.L. & H.B. Greenhouse. The New World of
Dreams. New York: MacMillan, 1974.
- Young, Serinity. "Dream Practices in Medieval Tibet,"
Dreaming, 9/1, 1999, 23-42.