To many cultures (including the Western, Korean and Chinese), dreams are believed to be predictions about the future and there are many people and books that help interpret the meaning of dreams. However, given different cultural background, the same symbol in the dreams can mean different things to different cultures. In this blog post, I will talk about how Koreans interpret the symbols of their dreams. Moreover, to the Koreans, apart from selling heat (which takes place on the Jeongwol Daeboreum, i.e., Great Full Moon Festival, as mentioned in my blog post dated 2 March 2015), on a daily basis, you may also sell your good dream to the others – an interesting custom which is unique to the Koreans. So the first thing you need to know is what constitutes good and bad dreams to the Koreans.
Meaning of Symbols in the Dreams
Pig symbolizes wealth and good fortune (usually a big monetary windfall). Therefore, if you dream of pig(s) coming to you or into your house, it is a good dream. It is an even better omen if you are holding a pig in your arms or catching it. Usually, Koreans will buy lottery tickets after having such pig dreams. However, if you dream of pig(s) going away from you, then that is a bad dream.
Other lucky animal symbols are dragons, snakes, carp, tigers, bears, swallows and phoenixes – they are predictions of good fortune. For example, if you are undecided whether to pursue a project, these dreams are believed to be a “go” sign for it. Dreaming of a dragon flying high in the sky means huge success in your life.
A raging fire that sweeps into your house while you look helplessly at the fire in your dream means that your trouble and worries will soon go away. However, if it is the remaining ashes instead of the flames that appear in your dream, then it means your problems remaining or returning to you. Putting off the fire in the dream is even worse as it means killing off the good fortune yourself.
Clean and clear water rushing in your neighbourbood and swamping it in your dream means that good fortune will pour in. On the contrary, water rushing out and leaving the waterbed dry is a bad omen. Dreaming of muddy and murky waters is also a bad omen.
If you dream of yourself flying, it is a good omen meaning rising in status, work getting done and good development of relationship. Farming the land, climbing up the mountain and swimming in the ocean are good omens, too. On the contrary, dreaming of yourself falling or going down the mountain is a bad omen.
Other good omens are dreams about blood, urine and excrement – the more the better – as they mean expulsion of bad things from you. So, if you dream of pigs and a lot of excrement, that is really a very very good dream.
Losing teeth (or a tooth) in a dream is a bad omen which symbolizes the loss of something or someone important to you (e.g., family members or friends) and it can mean illness, job loss, departure or even death. For example, if you dream of losing a tooth, it means someone close to you (usually family member) will get ill or die – upper teeth symbolize an elder or someone of higher rank whereas lower teeth symbolize a junior or someone of lower rank. If an ailing tooth falls out in the dream, it means an ill acquaintance dying. Loss of multiple teeth in the dream means a lot of difficulties looming ahead. Loss of all the teeth in the dream means your plan will go completely awry and you will have to do it all over again.
Other bad omens include losing other parts of a body such as hair, nails and eyebrows, missing a car ride when you want to take one, mirror breaking and locked doors. A really bad omen is meeting the Grim Reaper(s) in your dream which is equivalent to a death warning to you or someone important to you.
Seeing dead person(s) (especially ancestors like grandparents or country leaders like president or king) who is in cheerful mood or gives you a precious gift or good advice in your dream is a good omen. However, if the dead person has a gloomy face or scolds you in the dream, it is a bad omen. If you see person(s) dying or hear the news of death of someone in the dream, it means difficulties lying ahead of you.
Although dolls are cute, dreaming of dolls, especially animated ones, is a bad omen which means dispute, conflict, disappointment and anger will circle around you. An exception is dreaming of yourself playing with and pulling the strings of a lifeless, doll-like marionette which means that you are in control of your life and surroundings.
Korean Customs Relating to Good Dreams
If you want to retain the good luck brought by the good dream, you have to keep it secret; otherwise, it will lose its effectiveness. However, if you do not need the luck, you can sell your good dream to another person in return for some money or other things valuable to you (e.g., jewellery, meals or drinks). For example, in episode 3 of the Korean drama, “Pinocchio” (피노키오), Dal-po dreamed of meeting his dead father and mother who were having breakfast happily together (which was a good dream) and sold this good dream for 5,000 won to In-ha who wished to reunite with her mother. However, in order to retain the dream’s effectiveness, usually the seller does not tell the buyer the details of the dream until the transaction is completed and the dream becomes the buyer’s “asset”. Since dreams are intangible and cannot be verified, the buyer needs to trust the seller that the seller has really had the good dream being sold – that’s why trades of dreams usually take place between family members and close friends.
On the other hand, if you are aware of someone having a good dream, you can offer to buy the dream from that person. For example, according to the legend, Kim Munhui of the Silla Dynasty bought a good dream from her sister after learning about it and later became the queen.
It is believed that if a married woman dreams of a sleek, shimmery snake slithering into her arms or herself receiving a big fresh peach from a stranger as a gift, she will soon become pregnant. Moreover, conception dreams can be made by a pregnant woman, her family members or her close friends and it is believed that such dreams can foretell the sex of the unborn babies. For example, omens which symbolize a baby boy are cow, tiger, snake, pig and dragon, huge creatures (e.g., a huge carp), symbols of nature (such as rain, sun or the ocean) and pepper (because of its shape). For example, the mother of the famous sports star, Park Ji-sung, claimed that she dreamed of a dragon in her conception dream. Omens which symbolize a baby girl are usually something small and beautiful like flowers, fruit and jewellery and small creatures like goldfish.
If there are other omens mentioned in this blog post appearing in the conception dream, they may also foretell the future of the unborn baby. For example, a flying dragon is a good omen for a huge success in the unborn baby boy’s life. It is told that Shin Saimdang (the artist and poet whose portrait appears on the 50,000 won banknote) gave birth to Yi Yulgok (a prominent Confucian scholar of the Joseon Dynasty) after she dreamed of a black dragon soaring from the ocean into her bedroom.
When compared to the regular dreams, conception dreams are usually more intense and more vivid in terms of colour and clarity so they are stuck in the memory for a longer period of time.
That’s all for the time being about Korean interpretation of dreams. My belief is that dreams are only dreams so if you have bad dreams, just forget them and hope for good ones. Especially if you are in South Korea, try to hope for more good dreams as you may perhaps get rich by selling your good dreams! Happy dreaming! 🙂
Reminder: The next post will be published on 19 March 2015. Watch this space!
Ahn Sung-mi, “Good dreams, bad dreams and baby omens“, The Korea Herald, 2015-03-13
Kim Hak-soo, “Dream interpretation in 19th-century Korea“, The Korea Times, 2014-07-14
Michelle Kang, “Dreams can have many meanings“, Korea JoongAng Daily, 2013-06-24
Stephen Redeker, “Behind the myth: Dreams“, Gwangju News Online, 2013-05-20
Suzy Chung, “Pig dreams, good dreams; tooth dreams, bad dreams“, The Korea Blog, 2012-03-13
이해영, 김은영, 신경선, 주은경, 이정란, 이현의, 《생활 속 한국 문화77》, 서울: 랭기지플러스<한글파크>, 2011, 158-159쪽