Electric Dreams

Dolphins, Whales, and Dreamtime

Trisha Lamb (Feuerstein)

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Feuerstein, Trisha Lamb (1996 May). Dolphins, Whales, and Dreamtime. Electric Dreams 3(4).

As part of my research for a book on the psychological, spiritual, and cultural significance of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) as evinced in classical and New Age myth, art, dreams, various genres of fiction, and human-cetacean encounters, I've collected and analyzed the themes in several dozen dreams in which dolphins and/or whales played a significant role.

Before examining the major themes in these dreams, however, I will briefly discuss the broader association of cetaceans with dreams and the dreamtime, followed by an overview of the meanings assigned to cetaceans in dream and symbol encyclopedias from the turn of the century to the present.

If you ask a person who has had a waking encounter with a dolphin or whale what it was like, one of the most common answers you will receive is, "It was just like a dream." I personally distinctly recall having this feeling the second time I swam with wild dolphins. The thought, "Am I dreaming?" kept repeating itself in my mind.

Also, if you survey book, audiotape, and videotape titles about dolphins and whales, you will find several containing the word "dream,", such as Dolphin Dream, Dolphin Dreaming, Dolphin Dreamtime, Journey into Dolphin Dreamtime, and Deepwater Dreams. The group Enigma has a song entitled "The Dream of the Dolphin," and the last intriguing line states, "Man is the dream of the dolphin."

Associations with dreams are also common in mythological and fictional works with cetacean characters, where you will find they communicate with, or influence, humans in the dreamtime. I'm reading two books right now, one science fiction, the other based on Maori mythology, and in each the dolphins and whales contact humans, or transport them from place to place, in the dreamtime. Dreamtime connections between cetaceans and humans are also present in other native people's lore, including that of Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, and others.

Why would humans have this response in the presence of dolphins and whales, or write about them in relation to the dreamtime?

On the simplest level, unlike us terrestrial humans, cetaceans exist in the water realm, the realm of ceaseless movement and formlessness, a realm with a timeless, dreamlike quality. It is also interesting to note that since they are conscious breathers, dolphins and whales never sleep as we do, as they must remain at least partially vigilant to avoid drowning. What they seem to do is rest one half of their brain at a time, while the other half remains alert enough to breathe and monitor their environment. There is also some controversy among scientists about whether or not cetaceans themselves dream, with the consensus being that they do not, although at least one scientist claims to have observed brief periods of REM in a captive dolphin.

What does this imply? To posit an answer to this question, one has to leave the realm of science and enter the realm of speculation. Some surmise that since cetaceans do not sleep in the sense that we do, and because of the state an aqueous environment tends to induce, they may be in a kind of perpetual state of lucid or wakeful dreaming, and perhaps that is one of the reasons we tend to experience the sensation of dreaming, or altered perception, when in their presence. It is interesting to consider that some humans work for years to be able to enter at will a state of wakeful dreaming, seeing it as a doorway to the higher realms, to the dreamtime of the aborigines, and so on, and yet this, or something akin to it, may be the constant state of dolphins and whales.

In another vein, sometimes the initial or only contact people ever have with cetaceans is in their dreams, and it can be life- changing. Rebecca Fitzgerald, who facilitates wild dolphin and whale swim expeditions through her company Dolphinswim, was working as a psychotherapist when she began to dream of "spotted" dolphins (which she didn't know existed) in very clear water. The dreams recurred for ten nights, first with only a couple of dolphins, and then each night more appeared until there were uncountable many. The dreams suggested to her she would be working with these dolphins and taking people out to interact with them. The dreams became very intense and insistent, so much so that she asked for them to stop. After they ceased, she went to the library to look up "spotted" dolphins and found there was, in fact, such a species. About four years later, she read an article in a Jungian magazine by a psychologist doing dolphin therapy with autistic children, and observed how dolphins place no expectations on us, whereas human therapists inevitably do. She knew immediately that taking people out to spend time with dolphins was what she wanted to do, quit her psychotherapy job, and has been taking people out to swim with the same pods of Atlantic spotted dolphins in the clear waters of the Bahamas for the past several years.

With that introduction, let's now take a look at what dream and symbol encyclopedias over the past century have said about the significance of dolphins and whales in dreams. It is interesting to note that in the early part of this century, when we knew little about dolphins and whales, other than the dangers and difficulty of harpooning them from small wooden boats in an unforgiving ocean, they were viewed as bad omens in dreams, whereas now, given our perception of them as primarily gentle, playful, curious, intelligent, cooperative beings, they are viewed as very positive, even spiritual signs, symbolizing divine or pure qualities, good fortune, and transformation.

Some examples:

c. 1900

A dolphin in a dream may symbolize the liability to come under a new government, said in the encyclopedia to be "not a very good dream"[7].

A whale in a dream may symbolize a misunderstanding to be cleared up in time, or a delayed wedding[13].

c. 1935

A dolphin in a dream may symbolize loss of a sweetheart[5, 9], death of some near relation or friend, or pursuits not to one's advantage[9]. If about to travel, it means great danger[14]. If a single man or woman sees a dolphin from the deck of a boat, he or she should guard against the wiles of designing members of the opposite sex[12].

A whale in a dream may symbolize the threat of a loss of property if it approaches or attacks your ship, and/or it may throw you into a whirlpool of disasters[11]. If you catch a whale on a line, there may be an improvement in your relations[12].

c. 1970 - present

A dolphin may symbolize advancement through your own mental
vigor[10]; encouragement to grow without fear; speed and prudence[2]; joy and ecstasy; great intelligence[6]; god-like qualities or divine light; resurrection and salvation of Christ or oneself[2, 6].

In mythology, the dolphin is a psychopomp, one who guides souls to the afterworld, and is also associated with Dionysus, the god of liquids and dissolution. Thus, a dolphin in a dream may signal some kind of transformation.

A whale can symbolize the world, the body, and the grave, and is an essential symbol of containing and concealing[2]. From this flows the dream significance of the whale as an omen of protection[11]. If you see the tail flukes, it signifies that freedom from worry may soon be yours[10].

Also related to containment is the Jonah symbology. Being swallowed by a whale in a dream signifies a dark period in the bowels of nature or a terrifying inversion in which you see under the waters of the unconscious, but also find the power of the inner world and are born anew[1, 3], or transformed.

This theme of transformation is apparent in native people's cetacean myths and in cetacean art as well, so it is not surprising that it would be present in dreams.

The whale may also signify the realm of the feminine in dreams, whether the unconscious or the Mother[1, 4], because of its enormous cavities[11], and is also the symbolic equivalent of the mystic mandorla, or area of intersection of the circles of heaven and earth, comprising and embracing the opposites of existence[2]. (The most significant dream I've ever had occurred over two decades ago and contained two orcas tossing a big, soft, vinyl-covered ball back and forth between them in perfect harmony, and the vinyl covering was in the form of the yin-yang symbol. I knew little about the yin-yang symbol at the time, but, like Rebecca above, went to the library to learn more about it after the dream. It is interesting to note that in the course of my recent research I've come across more than thirty examples of dolphins and/or whales overlayed on, or otherwise associated with, the yin-yang symbol. This relates to the primary theme I've found associated with them across all categories--that of harmony and balance.)

The whale may also signify a pleasing achievement in social or business life, despite much opposition[11].

And, finally, the whale may signify spiritual magnanimity. It appears in a dream as a form of recognition from higher sources[4]. Now, toward the close of the twentieth century, it is an honor for a whale or a dolphin to appear in one's dreams.

Having taken a brief look at some of the symbolic significance attributed to cetaceans in dream and symbol encyclopedias, let's turn to the themes one finds in actual dreams of dolphins and

The most prominent theme in the dreams I've collected is that of the dolphin or whale helping the dreamer to overcome fear, especially fear of the water/death. Often in these dreams, a dolphin or whale will take the dreamer either gently or forcefully down into the water, which can be frightening, even terrifying, at first. The dreamers then find, however, that the dolphin or whale protects them, or that they can breathe underwater, and that the underwater realm, or the realm of the unconscious or emotions, is safe. This newfound ability to breathe underwater also relates to the earlier discussed symbology of transformation or growth.

A related theme found is that the dolphins or whales communicate they'll always be there to protect the dreamer. One person always tends to dream of dolphins and whales when she is going through a crisis and finds they soothe and calm her.

Many dreamers say they experience a kind of deep/wordless/telepathic/profound/reassuring/anciently wise communication from dolphins and whales in their dreams, and that this communication seems to put them in touch with their (the dreamers') deep spiritual nature. They awaken from these and other dolphin and whale dreams feeling--the most commonly used words are "serene" and "peaceful"--but also happy, energized, or blissful. Some dreamers are shifted from a gray or depressed state to a lighter, happier mood, which many also claim happens when meeting a dolphin or whale in the waking state.

Often there is physical contact by the dolphin or whale in a dream, usually somewhere at the head, sometimes at chakras, which in every dream I've collected thus far results in bliss, heart- opening, etc.

In some of the dreams, the dreamers become a dolphin or a whale and feel what it is like to have a dolphin or whale body, but not usually dolphin or whale consciousness. They are accepted as a member of the dolphin or whale social group and invited to return.

In one dream, a dolphin was a profound sign of healing and fertility, the dreamer becoming pregnant shortly thereafter, after many years of infertility.

Dreamers also tend to receive messages from cetaceans in their dreams, or other humans in their dreams give them messages about cetaceans. Some examples of messages from dolphins or whales include:

"We come to warn you--about the end of the world."

"Tell the children this: Tell the children there will be a world for them to grow up in. Tell the children this: Man is not the only species to determine the fate of the earth."

"Movement is the key to interspecies communication."

Some examples of messages from humans include:

"I am going to tell you something very important: You must listen to the dolphins." (This fourteen-year-old dreamer said this dream, which contained more than this statement, was one of the most important he had ever had, that his way of thinking completely changed after having it, making him kinder and better able to comprehend the unity of all species.)

"Writing data dolphins requires a little metaphor." (This was recently said to me by another human in one of my dreams.)

A final prominent theme in the dreams I've collected is the beating and/or slaughter of dolphins and whales. This image, and those dream messages above about the state of the world, all tie in with one strong symbolic aspect of cetaceans as found in science fiction and New Age mythology--that of dolphins and whales as environmental messengers, calling us to take heed of the consequences of our actions by observing what it has done and continues to do to them, and ultimately to us.

In summary, dolphins and whales in the dreams I've gathered seem primarily to call us to transcend our fear, falling out of our mind and into our feeling and reconnecting with peace, joy, bliss, and serenity. They also, however, call us to take heed of our destructive actions and thus mend our relationship with them, ourselves, and the planet.



1. Chetwynd, Tom. How to Interpret Your Own Dreams (In One Minute or Less). New York: Bell Publishing Co., 1980.

2. Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.

3. Crisp, Tony. Do You Dream?. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1972.

4. Dee, Nerys. The Dreamer's Workbook. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: The Aquarian press, 1989.

5. Frank, Edward Allen. The Complete Book of Dreams. New York: Warner Books, 1938, 1966.

6. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Dreams. New York: Crossroad, 1994.

7. Miller, Gustavus Hindman. 10,000 Dreams Interpreted or What's in a Dream. New York: Rand McNally & Co., 1985. (Reprint of an
earlier work).

8. Rain, Mary Summer. Earthway. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.

9. Raphael, Edwin. The Complete Book of Dreams. London: Foulsham, 1992.

10. Robinson, Stearn, and Tom Corbett. The Dreamer's Dictionary. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1974.

11. Waring, Philippa. Omens from Your Dreams. Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1993.

12. No author. Dreams: Hidden Meanings and Secrets. London: Tophi Books, 1987. (Reprint of an earlier work.)

13. No author. Mystic Dream Book: 2500 Dreams Explained. London: Foulsham & Co., n.d.

14. No author. The Universal Dream Book. London: Foulsham, 1958.