Categories of Dreams

Calvin Hall and Robert van de Castle did a lot of work on dream categories. (See Content Analysis.) These studies have been used a great deal as a definitive way of understanding dream content and the difference between male and female dreamers. Unfortunately most of the data used was from college students and so does not give a proper spectrum of information. For instance there is seen to be greater aggression in the male dreams, and more negative feelings generally throughout the dreams than there is positive feelings.

However, the categories Hall and Castle defined are interesting and useful. They have defined some basic categories such as Characters – Social Interactions – Activities – Successes and Failures – Misfortunes and Good Fortunes – Emotions – Settings – Objects – Descriptive Modifiers – Elements from the Past – Food and Eating.

Taking these in turn –

Character is defined a separate and distinguishable person, animal or mythical figure. For instance your dream description might say, ‘I went to see my mother in hospital’ – or – ‘My friend Alice and I were walking through a wood.’

There can also be a group of characters made up of two or more people. Hall and Castle therefore called a crowd a ‘character’. The character is heard or seen in the dream and communicated with even if they are not physically present, as when talking on the telephone, or appearing as a ghostly but unseen presence.

Characters have ‘number’ – ‘gender’ – ‘identity’ – and ‘age’.

Social Interactions are listed as including ‘friendly interactions’ – ‘aggressive interactions’ – ‘sexual interactions’. Although Hall and Castle do not list it in this section, one of the possible social interactions is to do with communication of ideas in the giving of instructions, information or insights. Such a dream might say, ‘The hare spoke to me and said, “Go back, and carry on with your accustomed tasks. Do not wildly seek the Kingdom of Heaven, for you already have what you seek within you. Your seeking only hides it.”

Activities include all manner of actions such as walking, building, swimming, talking, smiling, changing position, watching, thinking, falling, flying, crying, laughing, speaking, going to the toilet, giving birth, and so on.

Successes and Failure include expending energy or effort to perform a task or complete something undertaken, and so arriving at feelings of satisfaction or completion. The success might be in getting away from a pursuer or attacker, or finishing an exam.

Failure is also linked with the expenditure of energy or effort in pursuing a goal, but not succeeding at it. Personal limitations or inability to overcome difficulties or emotions such as fear or pain constitute failure. But failure can be overcome by a change such as good fortune.

Misfortune and Good Fortune are illness, misfortune, accident or harm that occurs to a character while engaging in the events of the dream, over which the character has no apparent control. Misfortune is such an event that appears to occur through no fault of the character.

Good fortune is the opposite and is when something positive, healing, helpful or of advantage that does not arise because of the character’s efforts or striving, but from unwilled circumstances. This is generally called ‘good luck’. Emotions are described as having the general fields of Anger – Apprehension – Sadness – Confusion – Happiness.

The thousands of terms describing the various feeling states are fitted into these categories.

Anger includes feelings such as irritation, mad, furious and other similar emotions.

Apprehension includes such conditions such as terrified, anxious, fearful and frightened.

Disappointment, distress, hurt, depressed, lonely, lost, misery, hopelessness, crushed, and heartbroken would be listed under Sadness.

Confusion would include inability to decide, conflict, mystified, puzzled, perplexed, strange, bewildered, and doubtful.

Happiness would mean feelings such as contented, pleased, relieved, amused, cheerful, glad, relaxed, gratified, gay, wonderful, elated, joyful, and exhilarated.

Settings are the surrounding and environments in which the dream characters interact and meet experiences. Hall and Castle realised there were so many factors in this category they collapsed them all into two grouping – indoors and outdoors.

Indoors includes buildings such as a hospital, church, house, workplace, large ship or school. Then the many parts of such buildings are included, such as stairs, kitchen, hall, cellar, attic, office, assembly line, etc. Under this indoors grouping they also included such things as fire escape, balcony, roof, and any part of the building, even if outside.

Outdoors includes places such as a forest, a beach, natural surroundings, the sea, city street, the garden of a house, a park, mountain or space. They considered being in a plane, boat, car or train as being outdoors. Being in a cave or tunnel is also seen as being outdoors.

Objects include sub categories because the subject is so inclusive. These are Architecture – Household – Food – Implements – Travel – Streets – Regions – Nature – Body Parts – Clothing – Communication – Money – Miscellaneous.

There is some doubling between environments and objects because already named things such as streets and buildings are included in objects, along with escalators or rooms.

The communication sub-category refers to objects by which we communicate such as telephone, books, letters, magazines, adverts, artwork, and objects used to produce communication such as pens, cameras, microphone, computer, etc.

Descriptive Modifiers refers to the way we describe and relate to the physical surroundings and characters of dreams. So something might be hot, high, wide, enormous, etc. This category is broken down into several sub-categories. These are Color – Size Age – Density – Thermal (i.e. hot, warm, cold) – Velocity – Linearity (i.e. straight, curly, bent, warped, etc) – Intensity (i.e. strong, weak, loud, quiet, hard, soft, light, dark, etc) – Evaluation (i.e. good, bad, beautiful, ugly, dirty, clean, helpful, right, wrong, etc). There is also a temporal scale referring to what time of day, or to do with past, present or future; and a negative scale referring to ‘it was not’ statements and including words such as unsure, never, none, unaware, improper, nonessential, illegal, etc.

Hall and Castle give a coding to each of these categories, enabling dreams to be evaluated easily by a computer. Examples of this can be seen at where a huge collection of coded dreams is available.

Such coding enabled a scientific evaluation of a massive database of dreams. What this means is that such things as what subjects to males or females dream about, and how often could easily be defined.

However, despite clear indications that dreams express particular functions as seen in spontaneous dream insight during in-depth psychotherapy or LSD psychotherapy, those working with the Hall-Castle approach tend to arrive at a rather intellectual view of dreams. Van de Castle himself moved far beyond this approach, as can be seen in his book Our Dreaming Mind.

For the lay dreamer it is more useful to put dreams into much broader categories such as: Psychological – ESP – Body – Sexual – Spiritual and Problem Solving. But one of the easiest approaches to gaining insight into your dream is to use the key-word approach or using Acting on your dream.

See: healing and therapeutic action of dreams; individuation; the dream as meeting place; sex in dreams; spiritual life in dreams; themes in dreams.

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