The meaning of the dream symbol: Animals

1. Parents may appear in dreams in the guise of animals. The animal will then usually be a focus for the dreamer's ambivalent - love-hate - feelings towards the parent. For example, a spider or a cat may signify the threatening aspect of a mother from whose influence you need to liberate yourself.

Two of Freud's most famous patients had animal phobias, as did a patient of Sandor Ferenczi (a member of Freud’s inner circle). One dreamed of white wolves in the branches of a walnut tree outside his bedroom window and the other had strong ambivalent feelings (fear and attraction) towards horses; the third was obsessed with poultry. Freud concluded that in alt three cases the animals were father surrogates: in each case the person’s feelings for his father had been displaced on to animals.

2. Animals may represent other people, besides parents. What you associate with the particular animal - slyness or aggressiveness or whatever - may be a characteristic of the particular person; the way you react to the animal in the dream may express your (perhaps unconscious) feelings towards the person.

3. Animals in dreams may be symbolic of some primitive - 'animal', or even 'beastly' - part of your psyche: some instinctive urge, for example.

If the animal has a threatening appearance, it may be a symbol of the danger that threatens the peace of the psyche when some part of it is neglected and confined to the ‘cellar - the depths of the unconscious - and not allowed proper expression at the conscious level. This situation may also be symbolized by the figure of a caged or wounded animal: we sometimes control our instincts too tightly or even maltreat them, and, just as animals are never more fierce or dangerous than when wounded, so it is with our ‘wounded’ instincts.

A view well worth considering is that we cannot - without detriment to ourselves - dispense with our animal nature, any more than with our 'higher' or 'spiritual' nature. The way to achieve peace and happiness is to allow both these sides of our nature to develop and find fulfilment in and through each other, in a symbiosis in which body and spirit, instead of going their separate ways, cooperate with mutual respect, each supplying means for the other's fulfilment.

4. A threatening or ferocious animal may represent aggression or anger. If you think this may be so in your case (perhaps because you are prone to irrational, disproportionate outbursts of rage), look for the origins of the aggression. It may go back to early childhood: a child’s desire for a parent and its consequent jealousy and resentment towards the other parent may result in feelings of guilt, which in turn give rise to a desire to punish oneself. This aggressiveness directed against oneself (i.e. masochism) may then spill over into aggressiveness or rancour towards other people (i.e. sadism), especially loved ones or people closely related. Typically, an unresolved Oedipus complex (the ambivalent, love-hate feelings of an infant towards a parent) may display itself in later life in a similar ambivalence towards a spouse - an inability to love someone without simultaneously wanting to punish him or her.

Contradictory feelings towards others are a sign of inner conflict, usually a conflict between desire and conscience. And what we call conscience may be a morbid censoring and prohibiting mechanism set in motion by a childhood fear of punishment. This needs to be distinguished from a healthy conscience, which consists of all those moral guidelines we give ourselves by rational reflection. Some compromise between desires and the need to survive and succeed socially is almost inevitable; but a reasonably negotiated compromise is far preferable to the potentially dangerous inner tension that results from submitting to irrational phobias posing as the moral law.

5. A tamed animal, or the act of taming an animal, may symbolize (the need for) that kind of controlled expression of instinct that is appropriate for living as a part of civilized society or for feeling that you are 'king of the castle’ - that is, in control of your own actions.

6. The wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood story exemplifies another piece of animal symbolism. The wolf here represents for a sexually inexperienced woman the terrifying aspect of the male, the fear of sexual contact. In its earliest versions the story possibly served as a warning to young girls against socially premature sexual relations with men. Animals in dreams may certainly have a sexual meaning and the wolf is an obvious example of this, if only because the word "wolf" is itself commonly applied to men whose sexual lust is unbounded and purely "animal".

7. If in your dream you are being chased by an animal, the animal probably represents some (repressed) emotion or instinct. As long as you keep such things buried in your unconscious they will continue to plague and disturb you. Face up to whatever it is, and enter into receptive and patient dialogue with it.

8. The killing of an animal may symbolize either what has been described in 5 above (but now given exaggerated, dramatic expression) or the actual destruction of some essential, because natural, part of your psyche. The second alternative would indicate some fear of your own instinctive nature, some phobic undervaluing of the body, the senses, or sex. You would have to be very honest to work out which of these alternatives - an irrational slaughter (repression) of the natural self (a symbolic castration), or a rational taming of an instinct that is threatening the balance of the psyche - is applicable in your own case.

Photo Gallery of Animals: