One of the greatest fixations regarding dream interpretation is undoubtedly the idea that dreams offer a glimpse into the future – or that they can outright predict it.
As every day but still fantastic experiences, dreams have inspired people to foresee the future with their help, sometimes treating them as visions. Many famous psychiatrists, including Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Froyd, believed in the ability of some dreams to tell us of future events.
However, other schools of thought related to modern-day psychology tend to see dreams in a simplified light – a collection of experiences, unconscious fears, and desires that our brain processes at night. These experts, usually coming from the medical field, tend to dismiss any particular relation of dreams with the future, except that we may dream about the logical consequences of something going on at present.
So what’s the truth? Are we our own seers, or do we simply dream about random things that sometimes make sense and sometimes not?
Let’s try to find the answer to this challenging but rewarding question.
Are dream premonitions scientifically proven?
As hinted in my introduction, modern neuroscience is highly skeptical of the possibility that dreams can predict the future. There were a few curious cases of researchers trying to prove that there is some truth to dream premonitions.
Reasonable explanations for the dream premonitions
Our ability to “tell the future” in our dreams can come from efficient information processes while we sleep. I say “exquisitely efficient” because dreams tend to pull out the information we like to suppress from our consciousness. Also, some other real-life details might get noticed by our brain but fail to reach our consciousness – rather than being actively suppressed, it simmers inside of you, waiting for the opportunity to emerge. However, instead of our consciousness, it may pop up in our dreams instead.
I know that this may be a bit difficult to understand at first, so let’s go with the example.
If a person close to you is living an unhealthy and stressful lifestyle, you may try to avoid worrying too much. However, since unconscious fears tend to play out in dreams, you could dream about what you’re actually dreading – that this person will get sick. Also, your brain may notice physical changes about that person – e.g., noticeable weight gain or weight loss – that you’ve failed to process consciously.
Now, if that person really gets sick after your dream, it might be seen as a “premonition.” However, we can’t deny that somebody with an unhealthy and some noticeable red flag physical changes was essentially destined to get sick at some point. In this case, the premonition might be just a very good subconscious analysis of a real-life situation (which doesn’t make premonition any less valuable).
Still, some dream premonitions seem to come out of the blue and are incredibly symbolic. Shortly, we’re going to look at some historical examples of such dreams.
Famous historic premonitory dreams
Throughout history, there are many recorded examples of dream premonitions.
Let’s look at some of them
One of the first written mentions of premonitory dreams comes from ancient Mesopotamia. Tables dating back to 2000 BC tell of the dream of the hero Gilgamesh, in which the Gods told him that he would die.
The Pharaoh’s Dream of Cows
The Book of Genesis has another historical example. Joseph, son of Jacob, allegedly had a gift for dream interpretation.
When he ended up enslaved and imprisoned in Egypt, he was summoned by the Pharaoh, who had heard of his talent, and was asked to interpret his dream of 7 fat cows and seven lean cows. Joseph told the Pharaoh that Egypt would experience seven years of abundance and then seven years of hunger – and he was right.
The legend has it that Abraham Lincoln, the famous American president assassinated in a theatre by the actor John Wilkes Booth in 1865, had a premonitory dream ten days before his death. Allegedly, he dreamed of people mourning a dead president in the White House.
Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung, as Swiss psychiatrist and one of the fathers of analytic psychology and dream interpretation, has written about his waking hour and dream premonitions about World War I. During his waking hours, he experienced several visions of flooded valleys with dead bodies and blood all over the landscape and Swiss mountains growing even bigger to protect people. In his dreams, he saw the entire European landscape as frozen and lifeless. First, he connected the dreams to his conflicts with Sigmund Froyd and feared that he was succumbing to a psychosis.
However, unbeknownst to Jung, The Great War was already looming. When the war began and turned bloody quickly, he had connected the dots.
Although the evidence on premonitory dreams is mostly individual and anecdotal, there were several attempts to thoroughly document dream premonitions in cases of severe accidents and catastrophes.
In the village of Aberfan, Wales, in October of 1966, a grave accident occurred. A great coal heap landslide buried the Pantglas Junior School under many feet of coal, killing 144 people – 116 of whom were children. John Barker, a British psychiatrist with interest in a link between mental conditions and the paranormal, went out in the field and collected a number of testimonials about premonitions. As for dream premonitions, most notably, a 10-year-old girl Eryl Mai Jones, who sadly died in the accident, told her mother about the dream she had a day before the disaster: “I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it!”
How do I know if I’ve had a premonitory dream?
So, after having a strange dream, how do you know whether it’s premonitory or not?
In my opinion and experience, the feeling you get after the dream is really important. Premonitory dreams just feel different.
For example, you may fearfully snap out of a dream which was seemingly not very disturbing (e.g., someone walking away from you); however, as things go their way, you may find that this dream was announcing somebody’s sudden departure, temporary or permanent.
A note on premonitory dreams and nightmares
Sometimes, we all experience the anxiety that “our worst fears will come true.” While we would like for our positive dreams to come true, more often, we would give everything for our bad dreams not to become a reality.
That is the reason why many people, and even some interpreters, have a fixation on premonitory nightmares, especially if they are recurring.
However, the emotion of fear is strong – sometimes, it is our worst enemy. That is why our brain will sometimes replay terrible scenarios in our dreams, out of best intention – to prepare us for the possibility of a disaster that may strike at any moment and sort of dull this fear. Also, replaying bad things that have once happened to us is the brain’s way of trying to process and integrate trauma.
Because of the strength of the emotions, nightmares can often produce “fake premonitory dreams” – the ones that leave a lasting impression on you and fill you with anticipation. However, people have nightmares nearly weekly (at least!), and yet, most of them are still among us and doing just fine.
So, what do we do about this issue?
Speaking to an experienced analytical psychologist or a dream interpreter can surely help. However, you can help yourself too. Meditation and mindfulness techniques, when done with devotion, can help us tell the difference between fearful dreams and true premonitions.
Premonitory dreams, folk interpretation, and superstition
There are many folk interpretations of dreams, and most of these are looking for their premonitory message. Like many areas of human thinking that occurred before science was developed, these tend to view things in a simplified light and lack real analysis. That is why these “interpretations” are much more superstition than a real, rich dream interpretation.
For example, in some European cultures, dreaming of having your tooth fall out or being pulled out is a certain sign of a grave mishap, foreseeing misfortune, or even death.
However, these interpretations don’t really pay attention to the context of the dream or other details which may change the core meaning.
Also, modern developments changed the way our brain perceives a certain event. For example, a few hundred years ago, no one could connect a dream of teeth falling out with the anxiety of going to the dentist – as there were none!
That is why, in my opinion, you shouldn’t pay much attention to old dream dictionaries or new ones based solely on these traditional perceptions. Of course, some ancient dream images are certainly truthful, but these have usually been confirmed and put into a broader context of a human psyche landscape by analytical psychologists and psychoanalysts.
Calling the final word on whether dreams can truly be premonitory is not easy. In fact, it might be the most challenging aspect of dream interpretation, not only because of the need to weigh in whether a dream is premonitory or not but because of the responsibility that comes with it.
Let me put it this way: I believe that most dreams that seem foreboding can be logically explained. However, we should leave room for rare esoteric dream meanings, the ones that can really show us a glimpse into a future in elegant, metaphoric, and unexpected ways.
There is one more important thing we should never forget. Things happen because they were meant to happen – and not because we’ve dreamed of them. You shouldn’t feel guilty about having a negative dream come true.
However, mastering the skill of understanding and identifying premonitory dreams can help you avoid the pitfalls of life before it’s too late. Remember that dreams work for us (even when they’re scary)!
Did you ever have a premonitory dream? How did you respond to it, and did it impact your real-life decision-making at the time? Drop a comment below!