What do death dreams mean?

What do death dreams mean? If I were to draw up a list of the top ten questions people ask me about dreams, this would be fairly near the top. Partly that’s because death dreams are very common, partly it’s because we tend to remember scary dreams, and partly it’s because people are more driven to seek me out and consult me when they fear that the death they have previewed in a dream is going to happen.

I haven’t counted, but I get the impression that more people ask me about death dreams at this time of year, January, which you might think is odd, at first glance, since January is the beginning of a new year, and, traditionally, we’re full of promise, hope, and good intentions for a fresh new start. We’ve done our end of year review, decided what to build on, what to let go, and what to lay to rest. Yes, every new beginning – every birth – requires a death of sorts, a letting go, a laying to rest, and many of our January death dreams reflect this process.

Death dreams, like all dreams, are generally metaphors for what’s going on in our lives, consciously and unconsciously.

Death dreams, like all dreams, paint creatively surreal pictures of what’s going on. Sometimes they might take a gentle approach, featuring perhaps a dying tree, a dead insect, or a walk through a cemetery. Mostly though they go for high drama and intense emotion because that’s how we experience the dilemmas and conflicts of change, if not consciously, unconsciously.

Right there, underneath your intention for change lays your fear of letting go, of putting an end to your old approach to life, an approach that must have had its advantages to have kept you in its thrall for so long. Change requires us to let go of what may be very dear and precious to us, and our dreams may picture this as seeing those we hold as dear and precious dying. If you reflect upon the qualities, values, and associations you connect with the person who is dying in the dream, you begin to see what they represent, within yourself, and why your dreaming mind perceives, feels, or fears, a symbolic death.

Some dreams capture the transition between death and birth, between letting go of the old way and stepping into the new. These might reflect the transition you are experiencing, or the preparation for the change. The gentler versions might include autumnal leaves falling from a tree and spring green leaves bursting through in their place, or old buildings being knocked down and new foundations being laid for more suitable modern edifices, or the glory of a sunrise kissing the sleeping beauty of the ocean awake after a long dark deathlike night. Scarier versions might include being killed and then stepping out of your dead body, alive and well, or killing someone and moving on in the dream to something refreshingly new.

It’s important to remember that dreams are symbolic, and not to get caught up in judgement of your dream actions.

Death dreams often carry emotional punch such as extreme grief, sadness, guilt, remorse, anger, fear, or utter loss. These are your emotions, conscious or unconscious, associated with the change you are experiencing, planning, or fearing.

Exploring your death dreams helps you to acknowledge your emotions, feel them, put them in perspective, and process them. Dream work helps you to know yourself deeply, to resolve inner conflicts, to heal, and to make good, life-enhancing decisions.

Sometimes we let go too early, or miss the opportunity to revitalise an ailing situation or energy in our lives.

Our death dreams, once interpreted, may help us to see when we are letting something go prematurely, when we are letting something die that we would be better to bring back to life, whether that’s a relationship, a career, an idea, a goal, a role, a commitment, or any number of things. Such dreams can alert us to both our conscious and unconscious beliefs and feelings around the situation, and help us to resolve inner conflicts and make healthy decisions.

Death dreams about people close to you who have passed may be helping you to process grief and come to terms with death. On the other hand, dream appearances can be deceiving, and what you regard as a dream of grief and loss for a person may be more about grief and loss in another area of your life.

“Ah but you haven’t mentioned my kind of death dream,” you might be thinking.

Every dream is unique and personal, and death dreams come in a range of guises, but if you have labelled it a death dream, it is likely to be exploring change, focussing on the first step: death of the old in preparation for birth of the new.

You can read more about death dreams and how to understand your unique death dream (as well as other dreams) in my book, The Dream Handbook, published by Hachette in Australia on 30 January 2018 and by Piatkus in the UK on 22 February 2018.

You can also learn the art and science of interpreting your unique dreams – including your death dreams – through my online course, How to interpret your dreams step-by-step.

May you flow forward into a wonderful new year.


Jane Teresa Anderson

Graduating with an Honours degree in Zoology specialising in neurophysiology from the University of Glasgow, dream analyst and dream therapist Jane Teresa Anderson has been researching dreams since 1992, and developing and teaching dream alchemy practices that shift perspective and reprogram unconscious limiting beliefs. Jane Teresa is a multi-published author, and appears frequently in the media on television, radio, and in print. She is also host of the long-running podcast, The Dream Show, and offers her online study and certificate courses through The Dream Academy.

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