Folklore of Dreams

Folklore of Dreams


Our culture has, like many others, an informal set of beliefs about dreams that can be referred to as dream folklore. Most are empty of empirical content, such as the following common myths:

  • If you dream you are falling and hit the ground before you wake up, you will die. This is an interesting bit of folklore that many of us have heard—and may even have repeated—since childhood. Dreamers usually wake up right before hitting the ground, and some have even been known to land safely. Ultimately, who has ever actually known somebody who has related such a dream after they passed away?
  • Sleepwalkers should not be awakened. It is said that awakening sleepwalkers in the act will induce a heart attack or insanity. Both ideas are incorrect. It is also thought that sleepwalkers will do nothing to hurt themselves. This is also incorrect, as sleepwalkers have been known to walk through glass doors and to fall down stairways. It may be difficult to awaken sleepwalkers, so a more effective course of action is to guide them back to bed.
  • Some people don’t dream. Research has shown that everybody dreams, though some people don’t recall their dreams. (See nondreamers.)
  • Some people dream only in black and white. Everyone dreams in color, although, unless we are specifically paying attention to colors, they may be deemphasized so that we think we dream in black and white.

Some dream folklore can be traced back for generations and tend to cross cultural boundaries. Such beliefs, passed down through time, eventually lose their original meaning and become mere habit. Some familiar dream beliefs are:

  • You will dream of your future mate if you sleep with a piece of wedding cake under your pillow. This is a romantic bit of folklore that may have evolved from ancient times as wedding cake has featured prominently in nuptial feasts for centuries. It is a symbol of fertility and good luck.
  • Placing a knife under the foot of the bed will ward off nightmares. Such a notion could be tied to the original definition of nightmares, which were said to be menacing female spirits who attacked victims in their sleep. Tradition held that witches and evil spirits are easily discouraged by steel; hence, a knife under your bed will protect you from nightmares.

Other dream beliefs actually have some basis in empirical observation. It has been said, for example, that eating spicy food before going to bed induces nightmares. This is untrue, although if the food induces indigestion, it may disturb sleep.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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