The Universal Dream Key

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The Universal Dream Key: The 12 Most Common Dream Themes Around the World
by Patricia Garfield, Ph.D.    (Illustrated)

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REVIEW by Shelby Meizlik

Every night, you tell yourself stories.

You may think these stories—your dreams—are far more rich, complex and detailed to be pared down, scientifically studied and classified into a dozen categories. But Patricia Garfield’s compressive and eye-opening research proves otherwise.

Extending far beyond a mere re-tread of the professional literature on dreams, Garfield’s The Universal Dream Key: The Twelve Most Common Dream Themes around the World equips readers with the skills to become their own dream analysts. Garfield starts us on our journey by identifying our most common dreams, then invites us to look deeper for answers.

They are questions that we’ve all wondered about: What does it mean if I die in my own dream? What does it mean if I dream about being with a man or woman other than my spouse?  Is there anything I can do to keep a disturbing dream from recurring each night? Garfield helps you figure out the answers, whether by keeping a personal dream journal, which allows you to link together different dream themes and monitor when they occur, or by sharpening your dream recall skills.

To assemble this remarkable volume, the author of the classic bestseller Creative Dreaming examined dreams collected from thousands of diverse subjects during her 35-year career. Many were culled from Garfield’s website (, which is full of contributions from men and women from America to Urdu and nearly every country in between.

What emerged from Garfield’s research—despite all of the cultural, biological and personal differences among the dreamers—were a dozen highly common, clearly defined dream themes. “Whether you live in Poland or Malta, New Zealand or Argentina,” explains Garfield, “you are likely to have experienced one or more of the Universal Dreams.”

Each Universal Dream is enhanced by a motif, or the specific situation in your particular dream (i.e.: “being chased” is a Universal Dream, whereas “being chased by a man with long golden hair wielding a sword” is a dream motif). The Universal Dream and dream motifs crystallize into The Universal Dream Key, an enlightening, easy-to-use chart that can help you discover the real meaning behind the 12 most common negative dreams (and their positive counterparts):

1) Being Chased or Attacked (versus Being Embraced or Loved)  

2) Being Injured, Ill or Dying (Versus Being Healed, Born or Reborn)

3) Vehicular Trouble (versus Vehicular Pleasure)

4) Property Loss or Damage (versus Improvement)

5) Poor Test or Other Performance (versus Fine Performance)

6) Falling or Drowning (versus Flying, Swimming or Dancing Joyfully)

7) Being Naked in Public or Inappropriately Dressed (versus Being Well-Dressed)

8) Missing the Boat or Other Transport (versus Pleasant Travel)

9) Machine or Telephone Malfunction (versus Smooth Operation)

10) Natural or Manmade Disasters (versus Natural Beauty, Miracles or Rituals)

11) Being Lost or Trapped (versus Discovering New Spaces)

12) Being Menaced by a Spirit (versus Being Guided by a Spirit)

Garfield does more than just explain these common dreams. She walks us through the process of using the Universal Dream Key to unlock the secrets that are hidden within our sleep stories, messages that can influence our waking lives. She explores how cultural, subcultural and personal factors influence the content of our dreams, tells us the key questions to ask ourselves to cope with and understand our dreams, and shares the firsthand experiences of her many dream subjects.

Garfield blows away the ordinary, surface explanations for most dreams. Your chase dream signifies more than the fact that you feel threatened: what are the details of your chase dream? Who or what is chasing you? What color is predominant in the dream? Does your dream contain teeth, beaks or weapons?

Finally, with helpful drawings and user-friendly instructions, Garfield shows us how to unlock the meaning of any dream image. The Universal Dream Key is a guide for everyone, from the experienced dreamer who already has a dream journal and wishes to interpret to the newcomer who is just beginning to discover the benefits of dream analysis. Can a dream alert you to danger on the horizon? Reveal how you really feel about a person or situation? Become references for a creative or artistic pursuit? Yes.
Listen to your dreams. They’re talking to you.


How to Unlock a Dream Image:

1)    Write or draw the dream image you want to explore in the center of the target

2)    In the second circle, write your personal associations to the image

3)    In the third circle, write any of your relevant cultural or subcultural associations

4)    Let your eyes wander back and forth between the filled-in target circles

5)    Find the element that predominates in your associations to the central image

6)    Put this core meaning into a short phrase or sentence that summarizes it

7)    Decide how you want to behave in light of the message in your dream


Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., the co-founder of the Association for the Study of Dreams, is one of the world’s leading dream experts. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and has written six books on dreams, including the bestseller Creative Dreaming. She lives in Tiburon, CA.