Dreams about rats can be somewhat difficult to interpret because we humans tend to project a lot of negativity onto them. To say, categorically, that rats in dreams indicate greed, mistrust, and thievery is too reductive. Rats in dreams can also embody positive traits. For example, they are brilliant little creatures who can learn faster than some humans. Rats are also extremely empathic animals. When given a choice between their favorite treat or helping a fellow-rat out of distress, the rat will choose helping his friend. In addition, rats also symbolize persistence, resistance, and willful determination, as well extraordinary adaptability to virtually any life circumstance.
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Dreams About Rats: Setting Up Your Dream Interpretation
As I said, rats in dreams are not categorically negative symbols. Whenever we are doing dream analysis and interpretation, we need a well-rounded look at every dream symbol.
In order to discover the meaning of your dreams about rats, you have to consider all of the characteristics of rats. This includes not only looking at a rat’s biology, but also looking at the rat’s place in mythology and culture.
Next, take into account your personal associations to rats. Do they disgust you? If so, why? Maybe you like rats. This associative element is KEY to analyzing and interpreting dreams about rats. Rats in dreams will different meanings for different people.
As a last word before we begin to look more closely at rats in dreams, please try to let go of your moralistic judgments about rats. Just take note of how you feel about each of the rat’s traits. Keep your mind open to discovering new meaning about rat dreams. Even if rats in dreams are pointing to some less-than savory side about yourself, it is an opportunity to consciously face some shadow aspect of yourself.
Always keep in mind that the rat dreams are images of yourself. Remember, the idea is to let the rat dream expand your awareness – even if you are faced with something which you find disgusting.
Dreams About Rats: What is the set and setting of the dream?
The set and setting of your dream is an important part of the rat dream analysis. Where are you and what is going on in the dream? The initial setting makes a statement about the aspect of your psyche to which the dream refers. For example, if you are in your home in the dream, then the dream is making a statement about your entire approach to life: your attitude, your relationships, or your current way of life.
If you are at your job and you see rats in your dream, then the dream is making a statement about how you work or your place in the collective or society.
People can even dream of rats in their cars. In that case, then the rat would have something to do with the driving forces in your life, something we looked at in the post on Dreams About Cars.
Dreams About Rats: A Rat Dream Example
This post was actually inspired by a question I received from a Quora member. Let’s use that dream imagery as our starting point for discussing dreams about rats. This short dream is packed with rich symbolism.
This is brutal imagery, but the dream really makes a good point about rats – and it’s probably something we already know about them: RATS ARE STEADFAST SURVIVORS!
Here’s what I consider to be the most important images in this rat dream:
- The rat’s resistance to being killed
- The transformation of the rat into a baby
- The rat’s association with the baby, which connects the rat to new beginnings
This transformation from the rat to the baby at the end of the dream is highly significant. If you have read the post on Dreams About Babies, then you know that babies are associate with new beginnings. It could be a new phase in life, the realization of a project or long-held dream, or a spiritual transformation.
That this child emerges from the rat is an indication that something in the woman needs to be redeemed. By redeemed, I mean that she must bring something from a state of unconsciousness into consciousness. It is some part of herself that she has lost, rejected, or despised, something which is implied in her initial reaction of fear and disgust to the rat.
Why does her dream ego initially try to kill this part of herself? Every choice we make at the expense of another, in some sense, kills a part of who we could have become.
Sometimes we make choices in life that are not based on what we want, but rather on what we think we should do. Every time we do that, we lose a part of ourselves. We push our desires down – beat them down even – until we are nothing but a shell of what we could become.
The beating we see in this dream is an image for what we do to ourselves. But her dream self realizes it, suddenly feels guilty, and then she stops. It is as if the dream ego has accepted something about herself.
This woman’s work will be to find out what that rat is for her. Only then will that rat energy transform into something human, symbolized by the baby.
However, before that transformation can occur, she must integrate rat energy. So, let’s have a look at how we can integrate the energy of rats in dreams.
The Symbolism of Rats in Dreams: The Biology of Rats
Persistence and Determination of Rats
If you have ever dealt with a full-on rat invasion in your home, then surely you know about their incredible survivability. Rats are persistent almost beyond endurance. You really have to take extreme measures to get them out of your house.
Rats can squeeze themselves through the tiniest of openings. What they can’t squeeze themselves through, they will chew through. Their incisal power is beyond compare when it comes to their relative size. A rat can chew through wood, plastic, PVC, brick, concrete, and even lead!
We can look at these traits in two ways. The first is the most natural response to rats: they can be an almost unbearable nuisance for us humans. And the second way to look at rats is in terms of their virtual indomitability. We’ll explore those two ways of looking at rats throughout this post.
If you have dreams about rats, you can ask yourself some questions:
Whenever you have an aim in your life, how persistent are you?
Do you give up too easily?
You’ll have to reflect on whatever is happening in your life at the time of the dream. This aim could be anything from your personal transformation to simply cleaning out your garage.
Whenever we avoid or resist the things that we know we should be doing in our lives, the rats in our heads will not let us rest. We are constantly pestered by nagging thoughts, vague feelings of guilt, or some other obsessive thought form which penetrates every possible psychic opening.
The Extraordinary Adaptability of Rats
Rats can adapt to virtually any environment. By adapt I mean biological adaptation. Biological adaptation is related to survival of the fittest. Adaptation is the process by which an animal or plant species becomes fitted to its environment.
What can you learn from a rat’s extraordinary adaptability?
When we translate that into psychological terms, it looks something like this: How well do you adapt to life’s sudden changes? Think psychologically here.
There are so many facets to the rat’s survivability, but here are just a few of their survival skills:
Dreams About Rats: the Psychological Meaning
In one hand, rats can symbolize all of those unseen psychic forces that invade our conscious life: anxiety, fear, worry, or obsessions. As I wrote in an article on Anxiety and Depression, these are symptoms of an underlying problem and not the problems themselves. And on the other hand, rats can symbolize the very energy we need in order to overcome those unseen forces that slip into our minds. That is the paradox of symbolism: at the core of every symptom is its healing opposite.
Now, what we need to do is consider rat traits symbolically and then explore what those traits might mean psychologically. That’s how we analyze and interpret our dreams about rats. After that, we’ll look at how different cultures see rats. Rats are not unconditionally despised, for example both China and India have profound respect for rats.
Dreams about Rats: The Enduring Resistance of the RatLet’s start by looking at our rat dream example above. This woman could not kill the rat in her dream. If we take that as a literal characteristic of the rat, it’s the absolute truth. Rats are incredibly resistant to anything that wants to kill them.
I once watched my large cat go up against a miniature rat. It was like the proverbial Mexican Standoff between those two, each one staring the other down.
That little rat actually made the first move. It jumped onto my cat’s face, bit down, and hung on for dear life. My cat freaked out and started running around like crazy, all the time with that rat hanging from his face. When the rat finally let go of him, my cat ran away from it.
My point is that part of their resistance comes from their sheer willingness to take on whatever comes at them – no matter how big it is.
So, if you have dreams about rats, take this kind of courage into consideration. Perhaps you need to embody some of this rat courage in your life.
Dreams about Rats: Resistance to Poison and Rat Traps
Resistance is the ability to withstand the attack of pathogens. Pathogens are disease-causing agents, which includes something such as poison.
Now, there are a lot of stories out there about super-rats, ginormous rats who have developed a genetic mutation to poison, but that’s not what I mean here.
Rats have another way of being “poison resistant”. A rat will actually test out any food before consuming the whole thing. If it makes them feel sick, then they won’t finish it.
So, here the question for you is:
Can you recognize psychological poison when it enters your system? How often do you get yourself into toxic relationships? How quickly will you pull out of a toxic situation once you recognize that it is bad for you?
The resistance also goes for trapping rats. If one rat gets trapped, it will send out stress signals to its mischief (a group of rats), who then know to avoid the trap.
Again, ask yourself a similar a question:
Do you recognize a psychological trap when you see it? Sometimes we entrap ourselves by getting caught up in negative thought or emotional patterns. The spinning round in our heads of obsessive thoughts or the replaying of painful narratives – those are the psychological rat traps that keep us down.
In this kind of obsessive pattern, perhaps we see the negative quality of the rat, with its uncanny power to penetrate even the most rat-proofed openings. Rats scurrying above your head or in the walls – especially in the middle of the night – can drive you crazy! And, so too can all of those thoughts and emotions that I just mentioned.
Rats in Dreams: The Symbolism of Rats in Different Cultures
Stay with me on this cross-cultural examination of rats because you’ll see some interesting connections to our rat dream example.
The Rat in Chinese Culture: New Beginnings
If you have ever been to a Chinese restaurant, then you probably know your Chinese zodiac animal. The rat is the first of all of the Chinese zodiac animals. According to one story, the Jade Emperor – a representation of the first Chinese god – said that the order of the zodiac would be arranged according to the order in which the animals arrived at his party.
The rat tricked the ox into giving him a ride and just as they arrived, the rat jumped off the ox and landed before him. People born in the year of the Rat are described as clever, quick-thinking, and successful. However, we can’t simply take this description at face-value, for the shadow side of these traits would be using them to be deceitful.
In relation to Yin and Yang (feminine/dark and masculine/light), the rat’s energy is Yang and represents the beginning of a new day. Now, think of this association in relation to our dream example: new day, baby, new beginnings.
In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. So, not everyone sees rats as greedy thieves. As I said before, your dreams about rats are speaking to something specific in your life.
Because rats are so prolific, in China married couples prayed to rats for children.
In terms of their personality traits, people born in the year of the rat are:
Optimistic and energetic, people born in the Rat year are likable by all. They are sensitive to other’s emotions but are stubborn with your opinion. Their personality is kind, but due to weak communication skills, their words may seem impolite and rude.
On the financial side, they like saving and can be stingy. However, their love for hoarding will sometimes cause them to waste money on unnecessary things.
Men born in the Rat year are clever and adapt quickly to new environments. They are creative great at taking advantage of opportunities. However, they sometimes lack the courage to do so. Although they have great ideas, they might not be suitable for leadership positions.
Women born in the Rat year are the traditional women. They love keeping things organized and place great value on the family. Everything is taken care of by them and there is no need for their husband to worry. Outside of home, they’re also someone with a sense of responsibility and ability.
The Sacred Rats of India
I know of at least two sacred rats in the mythology and symbolism of India: the sacred rats of the goddess Karni Mata and the rat companion, Mūṣakavāhana, of the elephant god Ganesha.
First the brief story of Karni Mata. Karni Mata was an incarnation of the goddess Durga, who rid the world of a terrible buffalo demon named Mahishasura. In Indian mythology, the demons who take over the world are symbols of our own ignorance, which we experience as various forms of suffering.
Read symbolically, Durga symbolizes the power to overcome the earth-bound forces of ignorance and the chaos that it causes. In psychological terms, Durga is an archetypal mother figure who can empower us to transcend our darkest fears – real fears that come to us in the night, such as hopelessness, self-doubt, self-loathing, guilt and shame.
Karni Mata was one of Durga’s forms on earth. One day her son died in a drowning accident. When the Lord of Death, Yama, refused her request to bring him back to life, she became the goddess Durga and did the job herself. As Durga, she also gave her clan the gift of eternal life, but through the curious method of transforming from human to rat and rat to human.
Now, this story may seem out of place to some readers, but can anyone see the relationship between this story and our example dream? The rat in this story becomes a human, just like the one in our dream.
Who would imagine that a lowly rat could symbolize something as profound as transformation and rebirth?
This whole concept of rebirth and reincarnation is related to our own ability to become reborn in this life: it is symbolic of our ability rise out of lowly states into higher forms of consciousness. I went deep into this symbolism in the post on the symbolism of the snake and serpent.
The Symbolism of the Rat as a Remover of Obstacles
One of the most famous rats in Indian mythology is Mūṣakavāhana, the companion-vehicle of the great elephant god, Ganesha. Ganesha is known as the Remover of Obstacles, Bestower of Boons, and Vanquisher of Illusion and Confusion, to name only a few of his powers.
The vehicle-companions of the gods always embody the same attributes as the god. In terms of removing obstacles, we’ve already talked about the rat’s ability to break through any barrier. But the rat has other talents as well, as Heinrich Zimmer points out in his book, The Art of Indian Asia:
[T]he rat is no less marvelous than the elephant as a finder and maker of the way. It has a peculiar talent for entering buildings — homes, larders, and granaries— and is wonderfully successful in overcoming whatever defenses men can put in its path.
Ganesa, therefore, as the Lord of Obstacles, combines the animal features of the elephant and the rat. His irresistible force, progressing toward and attaining the goal. The rat goes ahead like an elephant through jungle or like a rat into the most carefully protected larder.
The two represent the power of this god to vanquish every obstacle of the Way.
Again, we meet with this idea of the rat’s incredible ability to attain the goal. But, as I said earlier, if we resist taking action, then the rat will steal our life force.
The Symbolism of the Rat as a Thief
Mūṣakavāhana is a Sanskrit word, so to get at its meaning we have to unpack the word. It comes from the root word mūṣ, which means stealing or robbing. So, even in India we come across this seemingly negative projection onto the rat.
Again, I ask you to think in symbolic terms. Whenever we suffer from anxiety or depression, we can say the rat has stolen our energy. In my experience, anxiety and depression are symptoms of our inability to act.
Yes, in a sense the rat steals and robs from the food supplies. Translated psychologically, the rat steals our psychic energy. But keep in mind that rats are also hoarders, meaning that it also stashes that same energy. We only need to access it, first through consciousness and second through action.
Ultimately, if we get to the meaning of rats in dreams, then we receive the boon-bestowing qualities of the elephant-rat duo.
Dreams About Rats: Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. I hope you picked up something new about rats in dreams, and maybe, even about rats in general. Always remember that your dreams want to show something that you don’t know. Keep an open mind. Research your dream symbols. Keep a dream journal.
Do you have any dreams about rats that you’d to share? I’d love to hear about them!
Rats in Dreams: Learn More About the Genius of Rats
Want to learn more about working with dreams or Jungian Psychology?
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