The meaning of the dream symbol: Eye

1. The eye may be a symbol of wisdom; knowledge, perceptiveness. If someone in your dream has a third eye, or just one eye, in the centre of the forehead, he or she may be taken as a guru figure representing an inner source of wisdom or (self-) knowledge.

2. It may represent the super-ego, an internal censor passing judgement on your thoughts and desires and actions. This understanding might be indicated if the eye in the dream seems to be the eye of Cod (but see 3 below).

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3. It may be the eye of Cod, not as censor, but as a symbol of your true self, the self that it is your destiny to attain or, rather, develop.

4. The eye may symbolize your way of looking at things, yourself and others. Is it a jaundiced eye, a sad eye, etc.? In this way your eyes represent yourself; in this sense all eyes are 'soul-ful' - through them you can see your inner self.

5. The shape of the eye may be a significant factor. Being shaped like a fish, the eye may carry some of the symbolism of the fish: for instance, fertility (i.e. potential for growth and new life); femininity; or the unconscious, especially with regard to the powers of renewal and creative change that reside there.

In the dream sense, Eyes symbolize being observed or analyzed and causing insecurity or fear. Consequently, they lose the humanity of the ‘head’ in which they function. As such, they become simple and focused embodiments of our paranoia. We may need to ‘stare down’ our Unconscious and perhaps volatile eye, to bring back the predominance of our own clear mind and faithful spirit. As such, we must question whether we can believe everything we see? In another avenue of interpretation, since eyes reveal a great deal about our emotions, what do the dream eyes tell us about our mood or the moods of others? Are the eyes red and tearing or are they small, crinkled and amused? Are we gazing at some aspect of ourselves? Eyes in a dream may represent the Unconscious vision itself, or the survey of God.

It is only natural that the eye, the organ of visual perception, should almost universally be taken as a symbol of intellectual perception. It is essential to study in succession the bodily eye, in its function as a recipient of light; the ‘third’ eye - set in Shiva’s forehead; and, lastly, the ‘eye of the heart’, recipient of spiritual enlightenment.

Eskimos call shamans and seers ‘the people with eyes’. In both the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, the two eyes are identified with those two luminaries, the Sun and the Moon. They are the two eyes of Vaishvanara. Similarly, in Taoism the Sun and Moon are the two eyes of P’an-ku or of Lao-kun and of Izanagi in Shinto. Traditionally the right eye (the Sun) corresponds to the active and the future while the left eye (the Moon) corresponds to the passive and the past. To resolve this duality requires the passage from a perception which distinguishes to a perception which unites and synthesizes. The Chinese ideogram ming (light) is the synthesis of the ideograms for the Sun and the Moon. The ritual of a secret society states ‘My eyes are images of the ideogram ming.’

A single, unlidded eye is in any case a symbol of the Divine Essence and of Divine Knowledge, and when depicted in this sense within a triangle it is both a Christian and a Masonic symbol; it is to be found in the Armenian trinacria. In Vietnam the Cao-Dai religion adopted it in some sort, making it ‘the stamp which sealed the heavenly investiture of the Elect’. The single eye of the Cyclops, on the other hand, is indicative of a subhuman condition, as is Argus’ multiplicity of a hundred eyes, scattered all over his body and never all closing together. This signifies a personal absorption in the external world and watchfulness permanently directed towards the outside.

When the human eye is regarded as a symbol of knowledge and of supernatural perception, it is sometimes endowed with surprising qualities. The inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego believed that it leaves the body, without separating from it, and of its own accord steers towards the object which it has perceived. The Taoist Immortals had square pupils to their eyes. ‘Opening the eyes’ was a rite of revealing knowledge and of initiation. In India holy images had their eyes ‘opened’ with the aim of bringing them to life. The eyes of masks were opened. In Vietnam a newly-built junk has its ‘lights opened’ when two large eyes are painted on its bows.

The Eye of God which beholds all things is represented by the Sun. It is ‘the eye of the world’, a title which corresponds to Agni and which is also applied to the Buddha. The eye of the world is also the opening at the top of a dome, the ‘Sun Gate’, which is God embracing the entire cosmos with one glance, as well as the obligatory way of release from the cosmos.

The correspondence between the eye and fire relates to the comtemplative role of Amitabha, his throne being supported by peacocks, their tail-feathers sprinkled with eyes.

It will be observed, too, that the eye is sometimes used as a symbol of the sum of external perception and not simply of sight.

In Ancient Egypt the ujat (painted eye) was a sacred symbol to be found on nearly every work of art. It was regarded as ‘the fount of a magic fluid, purifying eye-light’. The place of the falcon in Ancient Egyptian art and religious literature is also well-known; ‘the Ancient Egyptians had been struck by the strange mark to be found under the falcon’s eye, an eye which sees everything. Around the Eye of Horus developed a whole symbolism of universal fertility’.

The Sun-god, Ra, was endowed with a burning eye, a symbol of his fiery nature, and was represented by the uraeus, a cobra with staring eyes poised to strike.

Ancient Egyptian coffins are often decorated with a pair of eyes, which were believed to allow the dead person to ‘look at the outside world through the painted eyes without moving himself’.

Throughout Ancient Egyptian tradition, the eye retained its solar, fiery nature, as a source of light, knowledge and fertility. It is a concept which the third-century ad Alexandrian Neoplatonist philosopher, Plotinus, takes up and stands on its head. He maintained that the eye of the human intellect could not gaze into the light of the Sun (the Supreme Spirit) without sharing the nature of the Sun-Spirit.

In Muslim tradition the word ’ayn, meaning ‘eye’, may also be applied to a specific entity, a fountain or an essence. Mystics and theologians often use the term to indicate the universal nature of a particular thing. Mystics and philosophers, influenced by Neoplatonism, maintained that universal exist eternally in the Spirit of God, these eternal ideas corresponding to Plato’s Ideas or Archetypes and being like eyes.

Mystics regard the physical world as a dream, the real world and true reality reside in the One God. God is the only true and ultimate fountain from which all things flow. The word ’ayn (eye) is therefore used in its double meaning of ‘real’ and ‘fountain’ to convey the sense of the supra-existent and deepest Essence of God. Avicenna gives the word this meaning when he writes of those who made their way deep into the very ’ayn, the contemplation of the depths of the divine nature.

Lastly attention should be drawn to the term ’ayn ul-yaquin, one of the levels of knowledge and perhaps used in the sense of ‘intuition’ in both accepted meanings of the word: in its pre-rational sense of intuitive comprehension of the first principles of philosophy and in its post-rational sense of the intuitive comprehension of mystical truth beyond the powers of reasoning. Arabic and Persian elegiac poetry employs a multiplicity of metaphors to associate the eye with notions of magic, of danger and of intoxication. The ‘eye of beauty’ is said to be ‘drunk’, or ‘half-drunk, but not with wine’; it ‘hunts’ or ‘traps lions’; it is ‘thirsty for blood’ or ‘murderous’, but it is also ‘a chalice, a narcissus, a gazelle, a sea-shell’.

The term ‘evil eye’ is widespread in the Muslim world and symbolizes taking power over someone or something through envy or with evil intent. The evil eye is said to cause half the deaths among mankind and to empty houses and fill graves. Old women and young brides have especially dangerous eyes, while small children, women in child-bed, young wives, horses, dogs, milk and corn are especially susceptible to their effects.

The eyes of such creatures as vipers and geckos are to be feared. The evil eye can destroy livestock. T take refuge in the shadow of God against the harm which the envious can cause when possessed by envy.’ The Prophet said: ‘The ’ayn is a reality.’

There are means of defence against the evil eye such as veils, geometrical designs, objects which glitter, burning sweet scents, red-hot iron, salt, alum, horns, the crescent shape, and the Hand of Fatima. Horse-shoes are also preservatives against the evil eye, apparently because of their shape, material and use concentrating the magical powers of such various symbols as horn, crescent, hand as well of those of the horse, a domestic and once-sacred animal.

North European tradition tells of the one-eyed King of Connaught, Eochaid, who gave that eye to the evil druid, Aithime of Ulster. When he went to a spring to purify himself, God restored both his eyes as a reward for his generosity. The god Midir lost an eye in a brawl and his blindness disqualified him from further rule. Those responsible, Oenghus and his father the Dagda (apollo and jupiter) therefore summoned Dian Cecht (an aspect of Apollo the Healer) who restored to the sufferer the sight of his eye. By law Dian Cecht had the right to a reward and he claimed a chariot, a cloak, and the most beautiful maiden in Ireland, Etain (the embodiment of kingship). Oenghus’ mother, Boann, as a punishment for her adultery with the Dagda, lost an eye, an arm and a leg in the waters of the well of Segais to which she had gone to purify herself. In this context the eye may be regarded as a symbol of the rule of conscience. The sin, be it anger, violence or adultery, blinds its perpetrator and blindness debars from rule, while generosity or an admission of guilt make their authors clear-sighted.

In a different context, the eye is the symbolic equivalent of the Sun and the Irish sul, ‘eye’, corresponds to the Brythonic word for ‘Sun’. In Welsh the Sun is metaphorically termed ‘the eye of day’ (ilygad у dydd). Many Gaulish coins carry the head of a hero with an exaggeratedly large eye. A single Gallo-Roman inscription gives Apollo the surname Amarcolitanus, ‘Apollo of the long eye’, and the description ‘of the long eye’ (imlebur inachind) is often to be found in Irish literary sources. On the other hand, the solitary eye of the subhuman species of fomorians was malign. Balor’s eye could paralyse an entire army and needed a prop to lift its lid, as did the eye of the Welsh Ysbaddaden Penkawr. Queen Medb turned the sons of Caltin into wizards by counter-initiatory mutilation. She put out their left eyes (see one-eyed), and all the wizards to be met with in Celtic legend are blind in the left eye. Total blindness is a sign or symbol of clairvoyance, and druids and seers are sometimes blind.

Sight, for the Bambara, is the sense which epitomizes and replaces all the others. Of all the sense organs, sight is the only one which allows perception to partake of the nature of wholeness. The image which the eye perceives is real and the eye captures and preserves an actual duplicate of it. During sexual intercourse ‘the wife is joined to her husband through her eyes as well as through her sexual organs’. The Bambara say that ‘sight is desire; the eye is the wish’ and, lastly, that ‘a man’s world’ is ‘his eye’. Also, metaphorically, the eye is able to correspond to notions of beauty, of the world, of the universe or of life.

The importance given to the sense of sight in central Africa is emphasized by the frequent use made of animal or of human eyes by witchdoctors in the magical potions which they prepare for ordeals. In the Kasai region, Baluba and Lulua witch-doctors use the eyes and muzzle of the victim’s dog to track down the wizard responsible for a suspicious death. In Gabon the Panther-men make a point of tearing out their victims’ eyes.