Dreams About Death
Dreams about death can be extremely disturbing. If you’ve ever had a dream where you suddenly die, you know how scary it can be. The same holds true when your dream is about a loved one dying, like a parent, child, sibling or grandparent.
Talk about intense!
Some people have dreams about a celebrity dying, like an actor, musician or famous public figure. These types of dreams can be disturbing, too.
Finally, there are haunting dreams where a dead family member suddenly “shows up” out of the blue. Have you ever had one of those? It’s enough to freak anyone out.
Meaning of Death Dreams
In my work as a counselor, I’ve worked with dozens of clients who have shared their personal dream experiences. In some cases, patients were moved to tears. In others, the dreamers were traumatized.
The biggest question people have after sharing their story is: What does it mean?
Because I know many people are interested in learning more about these topics, I decided to write this piece.
Four Types of Death DreamsFour types of death dreams and what they may mean psychologically, symbolically and spiritually
Fear of dying
|Family member dies||Fear of loss|
Loss of control
|Bridge to past|
|Celebrity dies||Unrequited love|
Reaching for unattainable
|Family member visits||Unfinished business|
Before we dive too far in, you have a right to know about the person authoring this piece. I hold a Ph. D. in psychology and am a licensed psychotherapist.
Additionally, I’m a board certified clinical hypnotherapist.
Apart from my work as a counselor, I also teach college courses in psychology that touch upon dream content and symbolism.
While I primarily identify myself as a cognitive behavioral therapist, I do believe the subconscious mind reveals material to us that’s insightful.
Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve studied the meaning of dreams. What I’ve learned is that nocturnal imagery is usually symbolic of something deeper. Moreover, the content often serves as an emotional metaphor.
In this article, you will learn:
- Dreams about death through the lens of history
- Four common types of dreams about death
- How grief and loss impact dream material
- Psycho-spiritual interpretations of dreams
- Why dead people appear in dreams
- How emotions shape dream content
- The role of medication and drugs in dreams
- Death and dead people symbolism
- Q and A about morbid dreams
- Dream interpretation resources
Dreams about death and the interpretation of thier meaning have been going on since recorded history. The ancients believed when you dreamed about your own death, it was a sign of good fortune.
For example, Hellenistic era Greeks suggested dreams about the loss of a loved one were symbolic of prosperity, bestowed upon the dreamer by the Gods (Shushan, 2006).
The Egyptians believed that when a person dreamed of coffins, the casket itself represented rebirth. Specifically, the sacrophagus was the womb that nurtured and transformed the deceased into something new (Mark, 2017).
But not all death focused dreams were considered positive.
During the Medieval ages, some philosophers thought morbid dream content was a prophecy of bad things to come.
Oral traditions dating back to the 476 AD tell us when a person dreamed of their own death (or the loss of a loved one), it was a literal sign of a reality that would soon unfold.
As the story goes, Lincoln had a strange dream where he saw a coffin sitting in the center of the White House East Room.
Surrounding it were Lincoln’s family members and several soldiers. When the sixteenth president asked a mourner “Who died?”, a solider replied “The president. He was killed by an assassin.” (History Channel, 2012).
Lincoln apparently shared this dream with a close friend just days before he was shot on on April 14, 1865.
I’m mentioning this because there have been recorded cases where people have experienced predictive dreams. The veracity of their claims, like the one involving Mr. Lincoln, is for you to decide.
Now that we have a basis to work from, let’s look at deadly dreams through the lens of psychology.
Psychology of Dying Dreams
I’ll level with you. There are more viewpoints about what dreams mean than I can shake a stick at. Moreover, the theories are largely shaped by the analyst’s theoretical framework.
Example: If someone is classically trained in Freudian psychoanalysis, they will likely look for hidden meanings that go back to early childhood.
If it’s a Jungian therapist, the interpretation will mostly draw upon symbolism and employ aspects of the active imagination. That’s a ten-dollar term used to describe how the mind bridges conscious and subconscious material.
Using Jung’s construct and other’s who believed like him, spiritual and even supernatural elements can be part of the dynamic.
Native Indians, for example, believe that each of us have spirit animal guides that visit people while sleeping. These guides are sent to us as teachers. Morever, we do not choose these creatures but instead, they choose us.
I’ve always taken an integrative approach to exploring dream material. It just makes sense to draw upon the various schools of thought, including ones that come to us from the ancients. This helps to provide a more rounded view, which in terms empowers a deeper understanding.
Common Themes in Death Dreams
When it comes to subconscious content involving death, there are four primary manifestations that show up in dream content:
1. Dreamer envisions their own death
2. Dreamer envisions death of someone close
3. Dreamer envisions someone famous dying
4. Dreamer is visited by a dead family member
The four areas mentioned above are linked because all involve some type of loss.
What follows are several dream examples involving death using the typologies mentioned above. When you read these, look for symbolism as part of the dynamic.
For each, I’ve paraphrased actual client experiences. After each case, I’ve offered an interpretation.
1. You die in a dream
“I was walking through a misty forest all alone. Suddenly, I felt the presence of someone behind me. When I turned around, it was a knight wielding a sword.
Afraid, I tried to run but my feet wouldn’t move. As he drew closer, I became paralyzed.
The knight raised his sword and swung it with a mighty force. In a blur, I could see my head being chopped off and then rolling on the forest floor. When it came to a stop, I could see my mouth moving and my eyes blinking.” – Nate (35)
What Does this Dream Mean?
There are several meanings that can be derived here. While there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s important to focus on the symbolism.
To begin with, Nate was walking in a forest. Symbolically, wooded areas represent the mystical and mysterious.
Second, a person of authority (a knight) appeared. This suggests a possible power and control dynamic whereby the aggressor is thought to be the acting in an alpha role.
Swords in dreams can represent safety concerns; used as a tool of protection or to inflict harm.
Freudians might suggest the sword itself is symbolic of something phallic.
Finally, decapitation in dreams suggests an abrupt ending with an obvious violent overtone.
In Nate’s case, he could be holding internal fears about a battle he is having deep inside. That he was paralyzed in his dream is an indication of how “stuck” he feels.
The decapitation could mean he wishes to be separated from this problem. Some interpreters believe that seeing a head severed from the body with eyes blinking indicates new found clarity.
A philosopher from Hellenistic Greece might tell the tale of Perseus and Medusa to symbolize a desire to chop off evil.
Other symbolic meanings:
When you experience a dream where you die, possible meanings can include:
- Personal transformation
- Deep wish to end a painful experience
- An inner need to separate from reality
- Some aspect of yourself you wish to “cut off”
- A fear of death (thantaphobia)
2. Person you love dies in a dream
“I was driving down the highway with my baby in the backseat. Out of nowhere, this 18-wheeler hit my car head on. I remember we violently flipped and rolled for a while before coming to a stop.
Weirdly enough, I was OK. Moreover, the car itself seemed to be completely intact.
When I turned around to check on my baby, I couldn’t find her. As I began frantically looking for her, I noticed a coffin from my rear view mirror.
Desperately, I tried to open my passenger side door but it was locked. I tried the other doors and got the same result.
Suddenly, this man materialized in the passenger side seat. He looked at me with bright, jade green eyes and said, “That’s your baby in the casket.” – Kim (31)
What does this dream mean?
Dreams about children or other loved ones dying are the stuff of nightmares. They also happen to be very common.
In this case, the car accident could symbolize worries about losing control. In psychological terms, it also could speak to a deeply held fear about not being able to care for a baby.
Notice in the dream the mother never actually saw the deceased child. Instead, she saw a symbol of death, meaning the casket.
Finally, the man who suddenly appeared next to her with green eyes was a messenger. In dreams, it is thought that people with jade color eyes are angelic.
While nobody can be sure, this dream could very well symbolize a deeply held fear of losing the baby. Additionally, there could be an unconscious vibe that’s linked to parenting skills and causing harm.
Other symbolic meanings:
- Feelings of betrayal
- Fear of loss
- Worries about being responsible
- Guilt about something unresolved
- Bad karma and negativity
3. You dream someone famous died
“A few of my friends were hanging out at my house and watching television. Suddenly, the program we were watching got interrupted by a special report.
The newscaster appeared and shared that a royal family member had died. As we kept watching, I could see Princee Harry’s face!
I’ve always had a crush on him. When I woke up, I remember being super upset. Then I realized it was a dream.” – Debbie (25)
What does this dream mean?
To begin with, dreams about a crush or someone you like can mean lots of different things. Usually, celebrity focused dreams speak to wish fulfillment; an ideal that is often not attainable.
Some analysts might interpret this dream as symbolic of feeling permanently rejected by a love object. Others, particularly Freudian types, may see something sexual.
A more integrative approach that includes Jungian dream analysis suggests Prince Harry is symbolic of unrequited love that has been permanently cut off.
Fears of intimacy, manifested through concerns about getting hurt, are also possible.
Other symbolic meanings:
- Feelings of inadequacy
- New possibilities
- An aspect of that can’t be accessed
- Feeling something will never be obtainable
- Transformation and change
4. You dream a dead family member visits you
“My mom died 10 years ago. I’ve never dreamed of her before but for some reason, she’s started showing up when I go to sleep.
It’s weird because I’m not afraid or anything. She never says a word. I just see her in my kitchen, making breakfast.
When I wake up, I have mixed feelings. Part of me misses her. The other part of me wonders why is she showing up now?” – Dexter (45)
What does this dream mean?
It’s not uncommon for dead family members to materialize in dreams. Moreover, they usually remain silent but their presence is none the less felt.
The reason dead family members sometimes pop up in dreams years after they died can speak to psychological trauma. In other words, the memory of that person is so painful to recall that the mind prohibits us from consciously conjuring up their face.
The psychological construct of confabulation also be part of the dynamic. In other words, your brain fills in the blanks for missing details.
Some analysts believe dreams about loved ones that have passed speak to unresolved grief. Others think they symbolize comfort through familiarity.
Spiritual healers think it’s possible that the dead person is communicating to us through an inter-dimensional portal. Others feel the deceased person’s presence represents a joining of spirits.
Emotional State and Death Dreams
One thing to keep in mind is that dreams are often a reflection of our inner mood. Specifically, if we are feeling sad or depressed, it makes sense that some dream content will take on a darker meaning.
Should a person have a diagnosis of clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, death related material in the subconscious may occur more frequently.
If you’ve recently lost someone, such as a parent, child, spouse or close friend, the sadness you feel may show up in your mind’s mental projector while sleeping.
Finally, if you have some form of thantophobia, you are more likely to experience dreams that are about death.
FYI: Thantophobia is a ten-dollar term used to describe a person who holds an extreme fear of dying because they are unsure what happens in the afterlife.
Medications and Dreams
When exploring your own dreams about death and dying, it’s critical to know certain medications can cause nightmares (NCBI, 1999).
Some examples include:
- SSRI’s (antidepressants)
- ACE inhibitors
- Sedative hypnotics
If you are having reoccurring death dreams or nightmares and are taking medications, it might be a good idea to speak with your physician. Certain substances can also can spark deadly dreams.
Alcohol, marijuana, MDMA and psychedelic drugs are all known to have mind altering effects.
Urban Legends and Dying Dreams
There is no way in this post that I can list all the myths and urban legends associated with death themed dreams. What I’ve tried to do is share some of the biggies.
Bear in mind these are just myths.
- If you die in a dream, you never wake up
- Dreaming about your own death is always predictive
- Coffins in dreams are a symbol bad things to come
- Amber eyes in dreams suggests evil spirits
- Dreams involving dead loves ones are ghosts
- Dreams about a parent dying means it will soon happen
- We access the spirit world when we dream
- Pisces men are gifted dream readers
Death Dreams Q and A
Because I want to be helpful to people searching for answers on the meaning of their dreams, I’ve listed several Q and A’s below.
Can I learn anything about myself from death dreams?
Yes. Think of them as internal portals to the subconscious. Dreams can reflect our innermost fears, worries or concerns.
If a dead family member appears in a dream, what does it mean?
There are lots of possibilities. They can range from unfinished business to the subconscious production of imagery that relates to the familiar.
When someone dreams about a loved one that has long passed, it can also be an extension of the grief process that’s still working through.
Finally, dreams involving the dead could be symbolic of something else. Example: If you were close to your mother and she passed away, her appearance in your dream could be your mind’s way of encouraging emotional healing.
There are some who believe that the dead can speak to us through the active imagination. I am not qualified to say if this true or not true.
Do we enter a different dimension when sleeping?
I cannot 100% definitively tell you the answer is no. In fact, nobody can. The truth is we know very little about why certain imagery appears in dream content.
The ancients theorized that when a person dreams, they enter an alternative reality.
Do dreams predict the future?
Anyone who suggests they know the answer to this question isn’t being honest. In truth, we have no scientific way of knowing either way.
I will say that in most all cases, dreams about another person dying (or our own death) usually speak to fears of loss.
Because spiritual beliefs are an important part of dream symbolism and content, we can’t dismiss their meaning.
Several years ago, a Native Indian girl I knew shared with me a dream about waking up next to her boyfriend. When she went to say good morning to him, she realized he was dead.
It was her strong belief this was a premonition of bad things to come.
Three weeks later, her boyfriend died in a car crash. No joke.
So no, I’m not going to sit here and tell people it’s untrue. I will say it’s highly unlikely.
Dream Symbolism Book
If you are interested in learning more about the meaning of dreams, including themes about dying, one resource I highly recommend is The Complete Dream Book by Holloway.
What’s great about this read are the symbolic meanings linked to dream objects. Very easy to understand and helpful with bringing meaning to your own dreams.
I personally own a copy of this book and find myself returning to it time and again.
Summing Things Up
Dreams about death and dying are a common phenomenon. When viewed through the lens of self-insight, they can help us to understand what’s going on deep inside.
For those who subscribe to Jung’s active imagination, dreams may also take on a spiritual or inter-dimensional aspect.
You’ll have to use your own cultural background, life experiences and personal beliefs to decipher your dream’s meaning.
Thanks for stopping by Men’s Culture!
Chodorow, J. C. (1997). Jung on Active Imagination. Retrieved from Philpapers: https://philpapers.org/rec/CHOJOA-2
History Channel. (2012, October 31). Ask history. Retrieved from History Channel: http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-abraham-lincoln-predict-his-own-death
Mark, J. T. (2017, May). The Coffin Texts. Retrieved from Ancient History Encyclopedia : http://www.ancient.eu/article/1021/
NCBI. (1999, Jan). Drug Induced Nightmares. Retrieved from U.S. Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9972389
Shushan, G. (2006). Greek and Egyptian dreams in two Ptolemaic archives: Individual and cultural layers of meaning. Dreaming, 129-142.