How to Interpret Alligators and Crocodiles as Dream Symbols
In dreams alligators and crocodile typically symbolize what you might expect:
- Hidden danger
But to get to the bottom of your alligator dream, we'll also look at alligator mythology, folktales, and also consider how word play might affect the meaning of the alligator taking a bite out of your dream.
Let's get chomping!
Alligators and crocodiles are notorious for their stalking abilities. They lurk near the water's surface, their visible eyes constantly surveying the environment for prey and when prey is in sight, they pounce and drag their meal down beneath the water's surface to its watery death.
Alligators and crocodiles are known for their sudden striking ability. The large, lumbering creature that one second appeared almost unable to move its largesse suddenly, the next second, spring up and out of the water as a dangerous, deadly threat.
In dreams, alligators and crocodiles can symbolize similar hidden dangers in waking life. These dangers can take the form of treacherous enemies or "friends" crying crocodile tears to gain the dreamer's sympathy all the while plotting her demise behind her back.
Similarly, these reptiles can indicate Machiavellian co-workers lurking in the shadows, plotting a career coup.
When dreaming of alligators and crocodiles the dreamer would do well to take a hard look at relationships in the waking world to determine if they are all as they appear or if they a possible sources of hidden danger to the dreamer's peace of mind.
However, as disconcerting as it may sound, alligators and crocodiles in dreams can symbolize the very dangers that one simply cannot see--those events that are completely unforeseeable, the events that spring up seemingly out of nowhere, but which have been present all the time hiding in plain sight.
Fun Facts: Alligators and Crocodiles, What's the Difference
While in the waking world there are distinct differences between alligators and crocodiles, such as:
- Snouts: alligators have broad, U-shaped ones whereas the crocodile's is more of a thinner V-shape.
- Teeth: a least one tooth on each side of the crocodile's mouth is always visible and even more in some varieties, even when the mouth is closed. Alligator teeth are completely covered when the mouth is closed.
- Habitat: Crocs can be found throughout the world. Alligators can only be found in the United States, specifically the southeastern section, and in places in China.
- Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Both species can process saltwater, but the ability is not as well-developed in the alligator. Alligators therefore tend to live mainly in freshwater areas.
- Aggression: Alligators tend to flee from humans whereas crocodiles can be more aggressive and pose a real threat to human populations living near them.
Despite these differences, people are prone to lumping the alligator and crocodile into the same category or they call the animals by the name most readily given to them by the local populace.
Similarly, unless one is an alligator aficionado or a crocodile crackerjack, when one of these reptiles appear in dreams, they are likely to be used interchangeably and the symbolism may be just as applied to either species.
What Do Crocodiles Have to Say in Dreams?
Alligators as Symbols of Generalized Anxiety and Fear
Similar to the alligator's and crocodile's interpretation as a hidden danger is their possible meaning as symbols of generalized anxiety.
Alligators and crocodiles live in water based environments and water in inextricably linked symbolically to the emotions.
Therefore, alligator and crocodile dreams can indicate that there is a dangerous emotional construct the dreamer is repressing or that the dreamer feels as though there is something in the waking world with danger as potentially deadly as the effects of an alligator's action.
Anxiety is a powerful emotion and it is often expressed symbolically in dreams.
It is completely normal to experience dreams known as "anxiety dreams" when going through a life-changing event. Expectant parents experience pregnancy related dreams. Couples soon to wed experience nuptial nightmares. College students in finals dream of the failed exam.
But one can experience anxiety even during regular daily life. This anxiety can sometimes be overwhelming, prompting some people to experience devastating panic attacks.
Anxiety can cause major disruption to one's daily activities. It can become so overwhelming that it begins dictating how one interacts with the outer world.
In dreams, alligators and crocodiles are perfect symbols for the unconscious to express hidden generalized anxiety. They stand in for feelings that there is some unknown something hidden, lurking, waiting to pounce and utterly destroy the dreamer.
The way to determine the difference between alligator and crocodile dreams as warnings of a potential, actual threat and expressions of anxiety is via honest self-examination. The dreamer should ask himself if he constantly has unnameable fears or if he normally goes about daily life unconcerned with such dread.
If one is constantly plagued with terrible fear and anxiety, the best step to take is to seek professional treatment. Generalized anxiety is not an uncommon malady and there are many places to seek help and ease suffering.
Ancient Egyptian Rendering of Sobek (Sebek)
Since crocodiles are found throughout the world, their stories and legends are more ancient as they come from parts of the world long inhabited by both humans and reptiles.
Crocodile mythologies are a part of Australian Aborigines's culture, where the Crocodile was the selfish keeper of fire until the Rainbow Bird stole it from him while his back was turned.
The are also a part of several African myths where they typically appear either as kings or gods themselves or where they symbolize kingship and the regal.
The reason crocodiles were viewed in such high regard is due to their ability to both walk on land and swim in the water--abilities which make them appear to be creatures belonging to two realms, not one. Kings were similarly regarding as it was thought they came to the people via divine right, making them inhabitant of two worlds as well.
Perhaps the most widely known of the crocodile gods is Sobek, the ancient Egyptian god who had the head of a crocodile.
Crocodiles were worshipped in ancient Egypt partly for their power and partly to appease them in the hopes that the ones they encountered on the Nile would not eat them alive.
Sobek is also associated with various Egyptian creation myths--some of which credit him with climbing out of primordial chaos and laying the eggs from which the world sprang.
Again, what is to be made of these mythologies and how do they assist the dreamer in interpreting her croc dream?
The overall themes in ancient mythologies of crocodiles involve power, the ability to exist in two realms, royalty, and creation.
If the dreamer is a person who relates positively to crocodiles or finds them fascinating, when they appear in dreams, especially in dreams wherein the dreamer is either in control of them or able to be amongst them unharmed, they can appear as personal power symbols.
Given that crocodiles are also associated with the Shadow archetype, if the dreamer is able to get along with his dream crocodiles, this may indicate that he is making progress integrating his own Shadow.
Alligator Folk Tales
The purpose to learning about a symbol's mythological and folk tales constructs is to get a better understanding of how that symbol has imprinted itself on the collective unconscious. It is particularly helpful to do study a symbol in this manner when one has no firsthand experience with the symbol in question.
When one thinks of alligator and crocodile mythology, the ancient Egyptians may spring to mind. And rightfully so because that culture produced some of the more prominent myths, but their stories are specifically related to the crocodile.
Alligators also have their own stories but are mainly the subject of folktales and legends.
For instance, Southern United States legend claims that Rabbit is responsible for Alligator's dried and craggy skin as Rabbit once tricked Alligator to leave the water and go into a field, which Rabbit then promptly set ablaze, permanently damaging Alligator's previously baby-smooth skin.
Another Southern folktales involves getting alligators to line up snout to tail and then hopping across their backs in order to cross swamps. In fact, in one version of the tale, Alligator gets revenge on Rabbit as the last alligator in the line that Rabbit used to cross the swamp bit Rabbit's tail off.
Native Americans have a tale involving a hunter, who after saving and alligator is taught the proper way to hunt, the way to make him the greatest hunter of his people. The method basically involves leaving the does alone in favor of waiting for large bucks who are not caring for young or birthing--a process similarly observer by hunters to this day.
The Bolivian equivalent to Charon, the Greek ferryman to the Otherworld, takes the form of an alligator as he delivers passengers from this world into the next.
What can be learned from these tales to help decipher one's alligator dream?
There is a theme here of taking that which is dangerous and either outwitting it or putting it to personal practical use. There is also a theme of learning valuable lessons from something dangerous so long as one never, not even for a second, forgets that danger that one is dealing with.
For example, in the hunter story, the hunter carries the alligator to safety but binds it first, since he recognizes that he is, after all, dealing with a beast with a deadly reputation.
There is also a theme in these stories that reveals that dealing with that which is dangerous is not without a price--the rabbit hopping carefree over the backs of the alligators he has so cleverly conned discovers the price of his hubris is the loss of his tail.
If one dreams of alligators that one is employing in some manner, it might do the dreamer well to examine the waking world to see if there are lessons one might learn from a similarly dangerous experience--learn it and leave it alone.
Can Humans and Crocs Be Friends?
Clues to interpreting alligators and crocodiles in dreams can also be found in some of the phrases and sayings used to describe alligators and crocodile tears.
Churchill said that feeding a crocodile was simply a way of appeasing it in hopes the one doing the feeding would be the last one eaten.
If crocodiles are in one's dreams, one might consider looking to the waking world to see if there are areas of life or people in that life that one is appeasing when action must be taken.
The point to Churchill's comment is not that appeasement works; rather, appeasement, that is feeding the croc only puts off the inevitable destruction that failure to confront it surely brings.
Another well know turn of phrase is the one known as "crying crocodile tears."
It was erroneously believed that crocodiles lacked tears ducts making them unable to cry.
However, crocs do, in fact, possess ducts that can and do produce fluid, but the fluid is produced in response to dry eyes that result when a crocodile is out of the water. Crocodiles do not cry as an emotional response.
The saying then simply means that simply that the ability to rainwater from the eyes is not a sure sign of grief or remorse.
In fact, the opposite may be true--crocodile tears may be shed to deviously manipulate another's emotions, to gain sympathy or goodwill all for the purpose of taking advantage of that charity later on down the road.
- Types of Alligators
Learn about the two known living alligator species that exist today: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator.
- Introduction to Myth
- Native American Indian Alligator Legends
Collection of Native American alligator stories from various tribes.
- Alligators and Crocodiles in Mayan Mythology
- Monster Crocs: How Large Can Crocodiles Grow?
This article points out how big crocodiles can get and the danger they can pose to people unlucky enough to encounter them.
- Symbolic Alligator Meaning and Crocodile Meaning
Check out this page for totem information and symbolic meanings for these fascinating creatures.
Alligator Dreams: Based on Actual Experience?
Do you have personal experience with alligators or crocodiles other than seeing them on TV or in zoos?
With so many possible meanings, one might have the impression that alligators and crocodiles in dreams symbolize practically anything.
This is not true. Alligators and crocodiles are just like any other dream symbol: they have myriad meanings but the meaning they hold in the dreamer's dream is just as unique as she is.
Alligators and crocodiles have a very definite meaning for the person to whom they appear. A good place to start figuring out what that meaning is by reading articles like this to get ideas flowing and then looking more specifically at one's own life.
Albino Alligator at the the National Aquarium in DC
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 8: Structure & Dynamics of the Psyche by C. G. Jung.
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation by C. G. Jung.
Primitive Mythology: Masks of God, Vol. 1 by Joseph Campbell.
Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor As Myth and As Religion by Joseph Campbell.
© 2012 Aisling Ireland