(1) Does the dream contain a dead person you actually knew? If so, the dream may mean you should take notice of what he or she said or did, or of what happened to him or her. The dead person is ‘coming back1, not to haunt but to advise and help you.
There’s really nothing ‘spooky1 about meeting dead people in dreams. Such encounters may help you to fulfil a long-desired deep relationship, or to put something right. For example, you may learn to forgive the person and as a consequence get peace and healing for yourself.
(2) If a deceased partner or parent appears in dreams, (1) above may apply. Bear in mind also that the dead do live on - inside us; and that it is important to realize when this is a healthy and life-enhancing thing and when it is purely negative, stunting our own personal development.
If it is the latter, resolve to have it out with the person the next time he or she appears in a dream.
(3) If the dead person in the dream is actually a living person - and especially if that person is your partner or parent or sibling - the dream may be expressing unconscious resentment towards that person, or a desire to be independent. Feelings towards someone close are often ambivalent: love or respect mixed with fear or hatred or resentment or jealousy.
The usual conscious response to such a dream will be anxiety, and you may even feel anxiety in the dream itself. However, Freud was convinced that in such cases anxiety was a cloak for unconscious - because repressed - hostility’. (On the Oedipus complex) See also Murder.
(4) The dead person may be you (and could stand for you even if in the dream he is distinct from the dream ego). In that case, consider the following possibilities:
(a) What is being expressed in the dream may be your own anxiety’ about dying. Death is inevitable, and facing up to that fact may bring great rewards: self-acceptance; new values; a broadening of one’s personality’, compensating for past omissions or lopsidedness and utilizing hitherto neglected personal resources. This would be specially applicable if vou were in the second half of life.
(b) The message may be that y’our old self needs to be left behind. This mav mean that you must stop carrying around with yrou the crippling burden of vour past (irrational guilt-feelings and martyrdom complex, or any other negative self-programming); and, instead, you must open yourself to what the present moment is offering. Alternatively, the ‘old self5 may be old attachments, habits, ambitions, values, goals; in which case the dream is telling you that the only way forward for you lies through giving these up and looking deeper within yourself for better values, etc. (where ‘better5 means more in tune with your real self).
(Primitive rites of passage, which mark transitional stages in a person’s life - birth, initiation into adulthood, marriage, death - all contain death-and-rebirth symbolism and express a recognition that the dissolving - ‘death5 - of past attitudes is a necessary prelude to the development of new attitudes more appropriate to one’s new stage in life. The symbolic death of the initiate in these rites may also be seen as a descent of the conscious ego into the unconscious: it is the unconscious that provides the means for new growth - ‘rebirth5.
See also Sacrifice.)
(c) It is just possible that, if your own death features repeatedly in dreams, it is an expression of an unconscious wish for death. Freud speculated in Beyond the Pleasure Principle that there might be, in everyone, just two contending basic drives: one towards life and love and pleasure (‘Eros’), the other towards death (Thanatos5). This is highly controversial, but it is indisputable that many people display a strong masochistic tendency.
Are you compelled to repeat a painful experience? Do you tend to interpret what other people say as a criticism of yourself? If so, you may be suffering from repressed guilt-feelings and an unconscious urge to punish yourself - which may sometimes take the form of a fate-neurosis and / or a wish (unconscious) to see yourself dead.
If you feel this applies to you, talk to a friend about it or consult a psychotherapist.
See also Suicide.
A wish for death may be a retreat from life’s problems and pains, or a response to (a sense of) failure.
If this applies to you, bear in mind, first, that a very sensitive person may also be burdened with an over-severe conscience (the product, perhaps, of having a stem father or a sin-and- guilt religious upbringing). In that case, see the previous paragraph. Secondly, what makes a thing a problem is usually one’s attitude towards it. For example, suppose you have been made redundant.
If your reaction is to see this as a punishment, see the previous paragraph.
If you see it as failure, try to change your attitude or perspective by asking what creative purpose may be being served bv your redundancy: perhaps, for instance, the demolishing of an inadequate or false self- image in order to make way for the construction of one that corresponds more closely to your individual ground-plan or ‘destiny’.
(5) If the gender of the dead person is stressed, the meaning may be that your masculinitv / femininity or your animus / anima needs reviving.
(6) A dead animal in a dream almost certainly refers to some part of you - an instinctive force, perhaps - and the dream will be telling you either that this part of you (e.g. guilt-feelings or inferiority complex) ought to die, because its effects are wholly negative; or that it is a valuable but repressed part of yourself that you must now bring to life, to rectify an imbalance in vour personality.