Six Interpretations of Water as a Dream Symbol

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What Water Means in Dreams

Water is a frequent symbolic guest star in our dreams. Deciphering its meaning is predicated not only on the how the water appears, but what form it takes.

Is the water a lake, an ocean, or a puddle?

Is the water cloudy or crystalline?

What activities are going on in tandem with the water? For example, is there a car crashing into a lake? Or, is there nothing but smooth sailing on friendly seas happening in the dream?

We’ll look at water symbolism involving:

  1. Emotions and the unconscious
  2. Oceans
  3. Rivers
  4. Tsunamis
  5. Storms
  6. Waterfalls

We will also have a look at how the clarity of water affects its meaning.

As always, remember that no guide substitutes for your own experience and lived mythology when interpret any symbol—not even this one!


Ireland’s “Cliffs of Moher” are known by a completely different moniker in a beloved film. Keep reading to find out their onscreen name.

1. Emotions and the Unconscious

While there are myriad forms waking water takes (e.g., snow, ice, rain, salt, fresh, stormy, mist, fog), dream water basically boils down to two symbolic forms: the emotions and the unconscious.

Both the emotions and the unconscious are often submerged within ourselves. Dreams are there to bring to light that which is buried in the deep.

When interpreting water it’s important to look not only at the water itself but it’s condition. Is it cloudy or clear? What is its form? Is it snow or mist? Is the water a lake, an ocean, or is it falling down in wild, stormy sheets?

Another important factor your interaction with the water.

Are you in a boat on the river with nothing but clear sailing ahead or are you in a tiny ship being tossed in rough weather? Are you swimming, sinking, or drowning?

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Take a hard look at what’s going on with the water and especially what you’re doing with it. After all, these are all your emotions. This is your unconscious. Certainly, there is the collective unconscious in the human experience just as there are emotions common to humanity such as happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

But just as everyone dreams, every one—every single soul—has dreams singular to that soul’s personal experience. Dreams are letters from you to you. It’s not enough to see the letter in the mailbox. We have to open the envelope and read the message for it to be anything other than junk.

Even this storm will pass.

Even this storm will pass.

2. Ocean

It’s no secret that tides are linked with the moon. In fact, to really get at the heart of water dreams, it is helping to learn about moon dream symbolism because it’s also no secret that the moon and ocean are linked with one another on a symbolic plane.

Just like the moon in dreams might symbolize cycles coming into or moving out of our lives, oceans can also symbolize waxing or waning life cycles.

Just as the moon, with its sun-lent glow symbolizes the unconscious and the intuitive sense hidden beneath the conscious mind, so to can the ocean’s endless deep symbolize emotions and the unconscious held in check in our hearts.

To get a better idea if precisely what is going on emotionally or with the intuitive sense, look to the action of the seas.

Violent churning seas might mean emotional upset. They might also mean the unconscious is waking, stirring the soul in ways that can be uncomfortable, but may yield results as deep and wide as the ocean itself!

If your dreams seas are calm and you feel a sense of serenity, enjoy this time! It is the reward for doing some very serious work on a deep soul level.

Ready to Get Swept Off Your Feet?

3. Rivers

Because rivers flow from and back into larger bodies of water they often symbolize journeys and/or transitions. These transitions and journeys may be pleasant and wanted or they may be rough and feel dangerous.

To get a better feel for what kind of ride you might be in store for have a look at the river itself and ask as many questions about it as you can.

For example, is the river:

  • Flowing gently or does it resemble a level 6 whitewater rapid?
  • Filled with muddy water or clear enough to see to the bottom?
  • Near an identifiable water source? Is that source salt or freshwater?
  • Filled with obstructions? What are they?

Determine where you are in relation to the river. Are you in the water or sitting on the riverbank? How do you feel where you are? Are you in a craft or swimming?

Generally, the smoother and more gently the river is flowing, the more gentle and easy the transition or at least the dreamer’s has ease with the ability necessary to navigate the course. Rushing rivers filled with obstacles, especially rocks, mean almost exactly that: a rocky ride through events and emotions coming at the dreamer at a pace that feels insurmountable.

Remember though our feelings are just that: feelings. The only thing complete and 100% true about our feelings is that they are there and we are feeling them!

4. Tsunamis

While earthquakes are typically the cause of tsunamis, any violent impact that rocks the seabed can produce tsunamis.

These events include:

  • Meteor impacts
  • Lava pouring into the ocean
  • Seamount collapse (an underwater mountain formed by an earthquake

Tsunamis, while natural disasters themselves, are not produced in a vacuum. Tsunamis are the wake that follows another catastrophic event.

Why is the above important to know when interpreting tsunamis in dreams?

A tsunami is an event when the sea itself rises. If sailing a boat far out at sea, one might not notice much at all. But as the sea continues moving toward the shore and the water becomes more shallow, the capacity to accommodate the rising sea becomes inadequate. Once a tsunami reaches the shore itself, it will take everything in its path back out to sea when the wave recedes.

This is important to know because our initial idea when interpreting a tsunami dream might be to simply the water and the intensity as a simple sign that we feel emotionally overwhelmed. And that may be a very accurate assessment.

However, if we see the tsunami not as the source of our feelings but rather as a symptom of a greater issue, we have a better shot at not just managing our overwhelming emotions, but discovering the unseen source of them. We might need to dive deep into our psyches to discover that source because it could be as far away as a dying star is from the tsunami its fall to earth triggers.

Boxing Day Tsunami

5. Storms

Stormy water and storms, like waterfalls, again aren’t really cloaked in symbolic mystery. In general, they mean exactly what we’d imagine: an unconscious in uproar, unexpected and turbulent emotions rising from the endless deep, or fear that destruction is lurking in the waves assaulting the shore.

In the Tarot, few cards are almost universally interpreted as overwhelmingly negative as the Tower card. Unlike the Death card which typically symbolizes change and total transformation of a gentle, natural level (and rarely, if ever, indicates literal, physical death), the Tower symbolizes drastic, complete sudden change that comes from nowhere.

In the Tower we see a strong tower which looks built with nothing but security and safety in mind. But that secure and safe tower buckles and cracks from the force of a lightning strike. Two people are falling from the failing tower.

Because the card is typically seen as symbolic of abject, sudden destruction, it is easy to see why it is feared and interpreted in a negative light.

However, many times we do not respond to gentle coaxing or intuitive, spiritual direction. Instead of using our time to gently transform, we root ourselves to a spot where we begin to become like death itself. We waste and rot and life begins looking for another place to live!

In times like these, it may take a lightening bolt to uproot us. It may be that only a fully formed storm smashing to bits all we refuse to leave behind and cleanse us of the deathlike state we’ve starting embodying.

Dream storms definitely indicate a need to take inventory of our lives, careers, emotions, and relationships and rid ourselves of that which no longer serves our souls in order to clean our lives up before it is cleaned up for us by powerful forces beyond our control.

If we’ve failed to heed warnings and find ourselves in a storm’s path, we can look forward to the one solid thing all storms have in common: the storm will pass.

Cave-side view of Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.

Cave-side view of Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.

6. Waterfalls

Waterfalls are a symbol that comes close to not even bothering to cloak itself in symbolism. Water falls from above, part of a greater source above us that we can’t see, washing and purify those beneath the rushing, cleansing flow. The comparisons with baptism and initiation are difficult to miss.

Waterfalls are almost universally positive (unless, of course, that assessment contradicts your own person experience and/or personal life mythology) and represent rebirth, new life, restoration. They symbolize the end of a long period of trial and the opportunity to revel in a fresh start where it feels fortune and plenty are flowing freely in our lives.

Consider the Clarity of the Water

The form of water in dreams is important but just as important is the clarity of the water no matter what the form.

Muddy water can mean muddled emotions, blocked intuition, or a cloudy view of what is happening to us in the unconscious.

If the water in our dreams is filled with algae, we may not only feel stagnant in our lives, we may in fact, feel as though something is sucking the life from us. Harmful algae blooms create dead zones where not only is the oxygen removed from a body of water, but the sun is unable to penetrate to the underwater life needs light to live.

Alternatively, clear water means clarity in the emotional and intuitive life. It’s fine to be underwater as long as we can breathe and connect with the light on the surface.

Dig Deeper

Aillte an Mhothair (Cliffs of Moher): The Princess Bride’s Cliffs of Insanity

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Róisín Aisling Ireland

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