Electric Dreams

Dream Meaning 101

  Linda Lane Magallón 

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2004 December). Dream Meaning 101. Electric Dreams 11(12).

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 and matter.

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 for.

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 mean.

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 emperor.
  • 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 space.

  • 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 will follow.

  • If a man has wings and flies hither and thither, and, on descending, is unable to fly up again, his foundation with be unstable.
  • 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 be cured.

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 clientele.

  • To ride an eagle portends death for kings, rich men, and noblemen.
  • Flying with the birds is inauspicious for criminals since it signifies punishment for wrong doers and frequently even crucifixion.
  • 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 away.

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 be controlled.

  • 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 Oracles.

  • It is good to fly, for it is the sign of an honorable deed.
  • 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.

Central Africa

  • Flying dreams mean long life and good health.

Nepal - Yomo Sherpa

  • Dreaming of an airplane indicates that one will soon fall ill.

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 not enough.


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  • Traditional Dream Interpretation Search CD (Original Books, Inc., 1999).
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  • 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.

(Dream Flights)