In our contemporary society, when analysts and dream “experts” take dreams seriously, they usually approach them from just one perspective, as sets of symbols to be decoded.
Certainly our dream life is rich in symbols. Etymologically, a symbol is something that “brings things together” (what is “diabolical”, by contrast, is what divides and separates). Symbols help bring together our workaday mind and the workings of a deeper multidimensional reality. We need symbols to take us beyond the little we know, or think we know, to a richer and deeper understanding of everything.
So we dream in symbols. But we also experience dreams that need to be taken literally rather than symbolically, because they give us a clear perception of events that are unfolding or will unfold in physical reality or in another order of reality that is no less “real”. They are experiences that take place within two further broad bands of dreaming that should not be confused with symbolic dreaming.
One of those broad bands involves the ESP that works naturally during dreaming, and is part of our human survival kit. In dreams, our intuitive radar sometimes functions better than it does amid the clutter of waking life; we scout across time and space and glimpse events at a distance. To borrow language from the East, these are “clear” dreams or “dreams of clarity” (although on waking, we may struggle to retain clear and complete information from them). In the Hawaiian language, they are called “straight-up” dreams. They don’t need to be translated according to some symbolic system. Their information about what is happening or will happen in the external world needs to be recognized and acted upon.
The third broad band of dreaming involves experiences of a separate reality. For active dreamers, this is the richest treasury of dreaming. We travel, consciously or not, to the realm that a great Sufi philosopher (Ibn ‘Arabi) called “the isthmus [barzakh] of imagination”, which lies between the realm of the senses and the realm of the eternal. We have adventures in many other locales in the mutiverse, including parallel worlds, bardo zones, far-flung galaxies, and places where gods, demons and faeries are at home.
So, when you ponder a dream, ask what what band you were dreaming on: symbolic, literal or separate reality. Then remember that dreams may have many layers, so it’s not necessarily a case of either/or. The dream may operate on all three levels. You dream a future event, for example, and then what happens in ordinary reality turns out to be richly symbolic. You have a dream in which you are moving among people in a parallel reality. They are clearly transpersonal figures, and yet they can also be viewed as aspects of yourself. There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in any approach that tries to box in the plenitude of experience in the multiverse.