During spiritual experiences and visions, one comes into contact with forces and beings in various planes of the Universe. These contacts are translated and rendered by the mind in terms of symbols of daily life(i.e. waking consciousness). Here is an explanation by Sri Aurobindo of the various symbols one might see in spiritual visions.
Interpreting the universe by soul signs
He read from within the text of the without:
The riddle grew plain and lost its catch obscure.
A larger lustre lit the mighty page.
(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto V)
Sri Aurobindo discusses symbols in a letter to a disciple
A symbol, as I understand it, is the form on one plane that represents a truth of another. For instance, a flag is the symbol of a nation…. But generally all forms are symbols. This body of ours is a symbol of our real being and everything is a symbol of some higher reality. There are, however, different kinds of symbols:
l. Conventional symbols: such as the Vedic Rishis formed with objects taken from their surroundings. The cow stood for light because the same word `go’ meant both ray and cow, and because the cow was their most precious possession which maintained their life and was constantly in danger of being robbed and concealed. But once created, such a symbol becomes alive. The Rishis vitalised it and it became a part of their realisation. It appeared in their visions as an image of spiritual light. The horse also was one of their favourite symbols, and a more easily adaptable one, since its force and energy were quite evident.
2. Life-symbols: such as are not artificially chosen or mentally interpreted in a conscious deliberate way, but derive naturally from our day-to-day life and grow out of the surroundings which condition our normal path of living. To the ancients the mountain was a symbol of the path of yoga, level above level, peak upon peak. A journey, involving the crossing of rivers and the facing of lurking enemies, both animal and human, conveyed a similar idea. Nowadays I dare say we would liken yoga to a motor-ride or a railway-trip.
3. Symbols that have an inherent appositeness and power of their own. Akasha(sky) or etheric space is a symbol of the infinite all-pervading eternal Brahman. In any nationality it would convey the same meaning. Also, the Sun stands universally for the supramental Light, the divine Gnosis.
4. Mental symbols: instances of which are numbers or alphabets. Once they are accepted, they too become active and may be useful. Thus geometrical figures have been variously interpreted. In my experience the square symbolises the supermind. I cannot say how it came to do so. Somebody or some force may have built it before it came to my mind. Of the triangle, too, there are different explanations. In one position it can symbolise the three lower planes, in another the symbol is of the three higher ones: so both can be combined together in a single sign. The ancients liked to indulge in similar speculations concerning numbers, but their systems were mostly mental. It is no doubt true that supramental realities exist which we translate into mental formulas such as Karma, Psychic evolution, etc. But they are, so to speak, infinite realities which cannot be limited by these symbolic forms, though they may be somewhat expressed by them; they might be expressed as well by other symbols, and the same symbol may also express many different ideas.
[Letters on Yoga, Visions and Symbols]
Examples of some symbols
In general, one has a wide variety of dreams on the spiritual path but there are some commonalities since all people are part of the same human consciousness. It takes discernment to interpret the dream. Sometimes it takes years to understand the significance of a particular dream.
This is a table of some significant symbols seen in dreams which were explained in letters that Sri Aurobindo wrote to various disciples. It is summarized from the three-volume set “Letters on Yoga” in the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo.
Note: This is NOT a complete list. Your mileage may vary!
Update: See more extensive compilation of symbols at Sri Aurobindo – Yoga site.
|Bird||Signifies the human soul|
|Buffalo||Coarse vital energy.|
|Car, Train, Airplane||A journey in any of these signifies rapid progress in some part of the consciousness.|
|Chakra/Disc||Energy in action|
|Child||Psychic transformation is in progress within the heart.|
|Color||Beginning of inner vision (sūkşmadŗşţi). Afterwards this vision opens and one begins to see figures and scenes and people.|
|Dawn||Beginning of a new creation within the consciousness|
|Dog||One’s fidelity to the Divine|
|Fire||Purification which one is undergoing.|
|Fish in the ocean||Experience of Sachchidananda. Quote from Ramakrishna Paramahansa: “Then I jumped into the ocean and became a fish. I saw that I was swimming joyfully in the ocean of Sat-chit-ananda.”(Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section IX, Chapter 1)|
|Flower||psychic activity, blossoming in the consciousness|
|Flower, lotus||Opening in the consciousness.|
|Horse||Power; force acting for progress|
|Moon||Spiritual Ananda, spirituality in the mind|
|Mountain||Ascending hill of existence with the Divine to be reached on the summits.|
|Peacock||Spiritual victory. Quote from Ramakrishna Paramahansa “Before I met Keshab Sen, I saw him in a vision. While in the state of samadhi, I saw him and his group. There was a room full of people sitting in front of me. I saw Keshab – like a peacock with its tail spread out. The tail meant his group. And I saw a red jewel on Keshab’s forehead. This is a sign of rajas. ” (Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section XXIV, Chap 3)|
|Rain||Descent of Divine Grace|
|Sea||Indicates the vital plane or some expanse of consciousness.|
|Sky||Mental or overmental consciousness|
|Snake||Hostile or evil force of the vital plane.|
|Snake with open hood||Indicates the victorious or successful activity of the Kundalini.|
|Square||A new creation is being established within our consciousness.|
|Star||Promise of the Light to come.|
|Sun||Power of the inner or higher Truth. There are different Suns in the different planes each with its own colour.|
|Teeth falling||Indicates that one’s physical habits are changing or being relinquished. This happens due to a purification of consciousness.|
|Tiger||Depends on the attitude of the tiger. If fierce and hostile, it may be a form of an adverse force, otherwise it is simply a power of vital nature which may be friendly.|