What does it mean to dream of elephants? These amazing creatures have lived with humans for centuries, and have a complex relationship with us. On the one hand, they are revered as deities such as Ganesh, on the other they have been used to carry humans into war, they are used as work animals to move logs and plow fields, and they are hunted ruthlessly for their ivory tusks.
Elephants can have equally complex symbolic meaning in dreams.
The first and most noticable aspect of elephants is their physical size. Elephants can symbolise something important and vast, or even obvious. The phrase “the elephant in the room” can lead us to consider if there something really significant and obvious going on our lives that we haven’t addressed. Is there something everyone else is aware of but you are trying to ignore?
Traditionally in Western language, a “white elephant” was a burden, one that is expensive to keep but even harder to get rid of. Yet in other cultures, white elephants are symbols of good luck, and in some cases even considered holy.
More than simply being large, elephants are of course strong: they are capable of moving trees, logs and many other types of large objects. In Hindu belief, the god Ganesh, depicted with the head of an elephant, is known as (amongst other things) “the remover of obstacles,” while four elephants are believed to hold up the world. Elephants then can appear in dreams when we are drawing on great inner reserves of strength. It may be that we feel there are significant challenges to overcome, or a heavy burden to bear. Ganesh, however, with his strange elephant head, forces us to look beyond the mere physical, and realise the spiritual nature of things. This is a more profound approach to the removal of obstacles that our dreams may be indicating we should consider.
Elephants, though strong, are also inherently social creatures, and usually not given to violent outbursts unless provoked or protecting their family. They are often attributed with great wisdom due to their combination of strength with gentle natures, their long lives and complex social structures. Dreaming of elephants may be a reflection of strong family bonds, a need to protect and nurture those close to us. Elephants may arise in dreams when we are challenged, but they may also make an appearance when are going through family changes, when children are born, or when we feel a growth in our responsibility, and even in our wisdom. These can be stabilising, reassuring and inherently positive dreams. Elephants in dreams can symbolise commitment, personal growth and the attainment of a certain wisdom that comes with maturity. They can also reflect learning to lead by inclusion, of balancing strength with gentleness, of understanding the importance of communication and patience.
The memory of elephants is also legendary. They live a long time and are able to remember other elephants and even humans from their earliest years. In dreams, this could be a sign that there are some significant memories worth revisiting, a reminder that there are valuable things we should not forget.
Ultimately, our perception of elephant dreams will reflect our other perceptions of life. Like the Buddhist parable of the three blind monks who felt a different part of the elephant’s body – one felt the leg and assumed he was touching a tree, another his trunk and thought he held a snake and the third felt the elephants side and believed it be a wall – to really understand the dream we need to look at it in it’s entirety, and not judge it simply by one part.
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Image above: Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) , Eléphant du triomphe