Unveiling Dreams: A Mythical, Psychological and Scientific Approach
You feel a little pain in your gums, you try to suppress it but you fail and slowly and painfully you feel your tooth coming off and despite your efforts to prevent the fall, the tooth falls off and is followed by a few or more teeth. You wake up, all shocked, only to realize that it was all a dream. Dreaming of losing your teeth is a very common dream, and according to tarot master J. M. Theriault, it could either be because of actual toothache or it could stem from the lack of stability in life, losing your friends, feeling that life is passing you by and/or some life changing event. Sounds familiar? Or does it sound like an astrology-like hack? All of us have wondered at some point in our life if there is a deeper meaning to our dreams and by all of us I mean, all the humans from the ancient civilizations to the tiktokers. Let us look at some of the ways dreams have been interpreted over the course of human quest for knowledge.
Let’s start with ancient wisdom from the west and the east.
First a very brief look at the Greeks, for this we will conveniently ignore all the philosophers and turn to a poet. Homer was a blind dude who composed the epic poem Iliad and probably did not exist. In this poem, dreams are a medium of communication between the supernatural and humans, an example could be the dream that Zeus sent to Agamemnon. These dreams could be prophetic, or deceptive or, as with Achilles, could be your dead friend asking you to hold a funeral for him so he can enter the underworld. Now that we have paid the formalities to the Greeks, let's return to India.
According to Vedic Feed, the Hindu interpretation of the losing of teeth dream is somewhat closer to the previous one. On the surface, it means that you are insecure about your appearance but on a deeper level, it means you are losing control in your life. Loss of control can also make you dream of being abducted if you are being manipulated by someone in real life. There is a striking overlap when it comes to dreams of being chased, both the Tarot master and Vedic feed agree that it means we are avoiding some problem in our real life, and we must face it.
Sure all of this is cool but looking at certain scenarios and symbols to give an interpretation seems to be ignorant of personal (and cultural) differences, besides one symbol can have a host of meanings. Consider seeing a snake, for example.
What does a “snake” mean? Your ex, haha, very funny. But really, what does a snake mean? It, of course, means betrayal......by your ex. Just kidding. It could potentially mean venom, harm, and death. Snakes sure are creepy animals but in Egyptian iconography, there is something called an ouroboros. It usually depicts a snake eating its own tail (kinky). It represents the cycle of birth and death, sometimes even eternity and immortality.
Similar meaning is found in other eastern cultures which connote snakes with regeneration because of ecdysis - or shedding of the skin. So, if you dream of a snake, would it mean regeneration or dhoka? Surely dreams should be treated individually, right? Let’s then look at a more personalized approach.
Sigmund Freud was one crazy dude, if you know you know. It would be a sin to ignore Freudian wisdom when it comes to anything that is even vaguely related to the mind. According to this creepy yet genius old man, dreams are how we fulfill repressed wishes. If you take a time machine and ask Freud himself to interpret a dream for you, he would ask you to narrate the dream without much conscious effort and will ask questions relating to highly specific elements of your dream. He will then use your inputs to interpret the dreams only to call you incestuous or something.
An interesting example of Freudian interpretation is that of naked-in-public dream. According to him, if the people around the naked dreamer are not laughing at them but are acting natural, then the person wants to return to the state of childhood when being naked was not a huge deal. It is also the state when the mother's love is focused on the child. So, perhaps, what the dream uncovers is not some deep insecurity but a deep desire for the mother. This, like the dreams about losing teeth, is a general reading but Freud also gives a lot of highly specific interpretations which are very contextual.
Freud often went to great details about his patients’ personal lives to prove that dreams are an indirect fulfillment of wishes. Carl Jung, on the other hand, believed that dreams were not deceptive but expressive. They told us things about ourselves that we do not consciously know.
Let us look at Jung’s own example: A woman dreamt that she was crossing a river from the shallow end because there was no bridge, but before she could cross, a big crab which was previously hidden grabs her leg and does not let her go. In Jung’s interpretation of this dream, the river symbolized the unconscious, and the crab represented Jung himself. The foot, which the crab grabbed, represented the aspects of her self that the patient had repressed. So, Jung was pulling her down to her unconscious to confront herself. There were of course more nuances to Jung’s reading which require a thorough understanding of Jungian theories.
Freud and Jung are great analysts but they are not as scientific as we would like them to be. A scientific approach blows the mystical mist that surrounds the phenomenon. To simplify, the brain goes through the stuff it experienced during the waking hours and sometimes that stuff combines to make a dream. This is not all though, brains probably dream to get some extra hours of mental work in, for example, did you know Madeleev invented his periodic table and Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstien in a dream?
This goes with the observation that people who take a nap before solving a problem are more likely to solve it. We are not done yet, dreams, according to a study published by , work as overnight therapy for people going through PTSD. They help remove the edge from the day’s experience and help with healing.
There are anecdotes of people having eerily accurate prophetic dreams. Then there are many people who claim to have dreamt of their loved ones before their death. Science doesn’t have much to say about this, neither does Freud or Jung. There have even been claims that the existence of dreams is evidence for the existence of a soul. Clearly, dreaming is a very complicated and multidimensional phenomenon and there is a lot that we don’t know about them. Perhaps progress in the Sciences and Psychology will make things better but for now a total understanding of the phenomenon is beyond our wildest dreams.