The biblical symbolism of north, south, east, west, up and down in dreams – plus real dream examples.
Have you ever dreamed of traveling north, or rising higher?
Have you ever considered that the direction in your dream could be significant?
In this article we will unpack some meanings of the four main compass directions, plus up and down. We will explore what they could mean from a biblical perspective, with some real dream examples.
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.
The symbolic nature of dreams
Firstly, if you have just come across this post and are new to dream interpretation, it is worth mentioning that dreams are symbolic in nature. You might find it helpful to read the following articles: Understand your dreams: A bible-based introduction to dream language and Beginner’s guide to biblical dream interpretation.
Secondly, remember that dreams are personal, so the meanings that I suggest may not apply to your specific dream. But please feel free to use my ideas as a springboard to thinking and praying about dreams yourself. Don’t take my ideas as gospel, but rather let them help you start to think metaphorically.
Introduction to directions in dreams
Directions are a difficult subject to address in dreams – because much of their personal meaning to you as a dreamer depends on where in the world you are! Directions in the Northern Hemisphere are going to have a different significance to those in the Southern Hemisphere or those near the equator.
The meaning of directions in dreams is often personal, and related to the geographical location of the dreamer.
For example, here in the UK, north would represent cold weather. South suggests holidays and the warmer climates of the Mediterranean. However, in your country those directions may have totally different connotations!
- Job 37:9, NASB From the south comes the storm, And from the north wind the cold.
Many of the bible references to north, south, east, and west relate to the geographical areas and nations that surrounded Israel. These are not particularly relevant to our dream life. But we can learn from the principles – and apply those to the meanings specific to our location!
The four points of the compass
It is worth mentioning that the four compass directions (when mentioned together) are used in the bible to represent the four corners of the world. In other words, they represent everything – in all directions! Here are a couple of examples:
- Genesis 28:14, NASB Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, and to the north and to the south.
- Luke 13:29, NASB And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.
In dreams, the number four (representing the four directions) is often used in the same way, to represent the natural world (as opposed to the heavenly places).
The directions have different meanings when they are use individually. There are, however, some universal biblical associations with each one, and with up and down. It is these that we will explore in this article.
Tip: Watch out for wordplays of directions in dreams, e.g., Northampton, Southampton, Upminster, Downlands, Westminster.
Dream Symbols: North and south
There are many references to north and south in the bible. In symbolic language, north is generally associated with being the place where the throne of God resides, in the heavens.
- Psalm 48:2, NASB Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King.
So, in dreams, this means that:
- Heading north usually means getting closer to God, or the heavenly realms.
- Heading south can indicate moving away from God, or towards natural things (earthly rather than heavenly).
Personally, I have found this to be the way north and south are mostly commonly used in my dreams.
On our modern maps, north is often associate with ‘up’, and south is ‘down’. we sometimes use those words interchangeably (see up and down below).
Something coming from the north
In the bible, the north is sometimes associated with a powerful armies or kings. This is specific to Israel, but ties in with north representing God’s dwelling place, as He is the One True King. Things coming from the north would then be things coming from heaven like blessings or judgment.
- Job 37:22, NASB From the north comes golden splendor; Around God is awesome majesty.
So in a dream, something coming from the north might mean the following:
- In a positive or neutral dream context, it would normally represent things being released from God in heaven, such as glory and blessings, or heavenly judgment.
- In a negative dream context, this might potentially represent enemy activity or disaster, i.e., things coming from a ‘false king’, as in Isaiah 14:13:
Isaiah 14:13, NASB But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north.
Tip: Heavenly judgment always works for our good (Romans 8:28) – especially now that we are judged righteous in Christ (Romans 8:1). Things released from heaven are always in our best interest ultimately – even of they don’t seem like it at the time!
Other biblical meanings of south
In the Northern Hemisphere (like in Israel) going south often represented warmer climates or desert heat. In the following location, south was associated with the refreshing streams in that area. In a positive dream context, this could relate to peace, rest or restoration.
- Psalm 126:4, NASB Restore our fortunes, Lord, As the streams in the South.
A hot/uncomfortable desert wind was also compared to a time of testing/refining, or things ‘hotting up’, which is to increase in intensity or pace.
- Luke 12:55, NASB And whenever you feel a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way.
This might be different in your geographical location. Flip/adjust the symbolism according to what that direction means to you, and consider the symbolism of the climate/weather in that direction.
Real dream examples: North and south
|I dreamed I was travelling on the M1 north towards Canada with some others from church. Various things happened en route, and we made good progess even though it was snowy.||This dream was about things that would happen in our church’s spiritual journey over the next few years, to encourage me to press on through difficult times.||For me, Canada always represents ‘the true north strong and free’ and is about the heavenly realms; so this was about our spiritual journey with God.|
|I was trying find the airport to meet someone, and went the normal way – but ended up at the south coast by mistake. I decided to start driving north and wait for their ping to get directions.||This dream was about the next few years, where I would initially do what I normally did, but it would not get me where I needed to be! When that happened I should seek God, and listen for His guidance.||The sea can represent the world (rather than God) which links with south. Driving north was seeking spiritual direction. The ping would be hearing from God.|
|I dreamed I was staying with some South Africans. I said I liked it there, apart from how they kept adding sugar to everything.||This dream was about the church, where I often speak. I shouldn’t try and ‘sweeten’ the things I teach, but rather be real and encourage others to do the same.||Look for wordplays in place names. This was nothing to do with the country SA, but rather a wordplay on south, which represented natural thinking rather than heavenly thinking.|
Dream symbols: East and west
The meaning of east and west in dreams most commonly relates to east being the direction of the rising sun, which can symbolise God’s glory (light coming) and new things in general. West is the place of darkness and the setting sun.
- Numbers 2:3, NASB Now those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the flag of the camp of Judah.
- Psalm 104:19-20, NASB The sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night,
So, in dreams, this means that:
- East represents the morning and new things coming. It carries the sense of hope; of difficult times coming to an end, and God’s light and joy breaking through. It can also be new seasons or new things starting.
- West represents the setting sun. This could be something coming to its natural end. Or it could be signaling a coming night season, which is a difficult time when God feels silent or far away. These times always have a purpose, and don’t last forever.
Thankfully, this meaning is the same worldwide (except for the unlikely event that you are at one of the poles)!
- Psalm 30:5,NASB Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
Real dream examples: East and west
|I dreamed I was planning a trip, looking on a map at an area to the east. I spent ages brushing my teeth.||I would need to go through a period of adjusting my thinking, ready for a new thing that was coming.||Brushing teeth is usually about adjusting thinking. The east represented the new thing that would be coming.|
|I dreamed my husband and I landed at East Midlands airport (not our main airport); the landing was a bit bumpy. We started walking north.||We were being called to do something new, not done before, and not the norm. This was to encourage me: It would be difficult at first, but God was in it.||The airport name was a wordplay on east; north indicated that this was our God-given path. This dream did pan out that way in real life.|
|I dreamed I was going on my own to a wedding at Westminster Abbey. Everyone there was wearing casual clothes except me in a white dress. I felt out of place.||This dream was encouraging me to be patient – because people around me were not yet ready to embrace the new thing God was doing.||This was a wordplay on west, indicating an old season coming to an end, but other people not being ready to move on yet (still in casual clothes).|
Dream symbols: Up and down
The meaning of up, upwards, or higher
The meaning of up in dreams relates to moving to a higher spiritual position, or getting closer to God. This could be by going up steps, flying up in a plane, or going up in a elevator for example.
Up usually symbolises moving to a higher spiritual position, or getting closer to God and the heavenly realms.
This meaning is mainly because the sky is up – and usually represents the heavenly realms (see the colour blue for more on that subject).
Another link is that, in the bible, Jerusalem is always referred to as ‘up’. That is because it was on a hill, so they always had to go ‘up to Jerusalem’! The temple and the presence of God were at Jerusalem, so going there was like approaching God. In addition, they often encountered and worshipped God in high places (like up mountains).
- Luke 19:28, NASB He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
- 1 Kings 3:2, NASB The people were still sacrificing on the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days…
Being higher can also represent having a higher (heavenly) perspective – if you are above something or looking down on a situation. Linked with this, is the ability to rise above a situation or take a more mature/higher approach.
Up can mean a better position in general. In English we say ‘things are looking up’ to mean that things are improving, or looking better.
On modern maps, up is usually north, again linking to the concept of a higher spiritual position, or an improved situation.
Up in a negative context
Up is nearly always positive. But, if it does appear in a negative context in a dream, it could be pride, trying to Lord it over others, or trying to get to a higher place by our own effort.
In a negative context, up could represent pride; uphill could be difficult progress.
Consider the image of the tower of Babel, which was when people tried to reach the heavenly places through their own strength. False gods were also worshipped on high places – suggesting idolatry.
- Genesis 11:4, NASB And they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let’s make a name for ourselves…”
- Numbers 33:52, NASB You shall… destroy all their idolatrous sculptures, destroy all their cast metal images, and eliminate all their high places;
In English, we talk about things being an ‘uphill struggle’, which means that progress is difficult. The dream context (e.g. if we were struggling to climb up something) would indicate whether that was the meaning. It might be that we need to seek God’s help rather than doing things in our own strength.
Meaning of down, downwards, or lower
Down, as a direction, is the opposite of all the above!
It could be backsliding, or losing that higher spiritual perspective. It suggests having a more natural/earthly position rather than a heavenly one. In that respect it is similar to south.
It usually suggests things getting worse. We even talk about things ‘going south’ or ‘going downhill’, which means that things are taking a turn for the worse.
Going down usually suggests things getting worse!
Down in a positive context
However, being lower, or going down, can have a positive meaning if it appears in a positive context.
It could mean humility, or being aware of our humanity. See the colour brown for a more detailed explanation of this subject.
In a positive context, down can mean humility; dowhill could be quick/easy progress.
I have also dreamed of making myself lower (e.g. ducking my head or climbing under something) in the sense of ‘becoming like little children’. Sometimes we have to lower our position (thoughts/attitudes) in order to relate to others – or to receive what God has for us.
As always, check the context of the dream. For example, if you are whizzing downhill on skis, loving every minute, that will have a different, positive meaning for you. In that scenario, it would be suggestive of easy/quick progress.
Real dream example: Up and down
|I dreamed I was up above a situation with my husband, watching what was going on below. Then I went down to help.||This dream was God, giving me His view of a situation, and what I could do to help. (I did put this advice into practice in real life).||My husband was Jesus, and up was a higher (heavenly) perspective.|
|I dreamed I was struggling to get down some steps, because I was carrying lots of things.||This dream was advising me that I needed to let go of some ideas in order to recieve the new ones, and it would be a struggle!||Sometimes we have to go down before we can go up! Here, down was letting go of the old things, and humbling myself before God.|
We have seen that in the bible these different directions are generally associated with the presence of God and our spiritual position in relation to that.
- North usually represents moving towards God and heavenly things, whereas south represents moving further away towards earthly/natural things.
- East usually represents hope, new things coming, and God’s light and joy breaking through. West represents things coming to an end, or a coming night season when God feels far away.
- Up usually represents moving higher in our relationship with God and spiritual things, or things improving. Down is the opposite, or can be humility.
Directions also have other meanings depending on the context. Always check the dream setting, and whether the symbol is being used in a positive or negative context.
There can be personal or cultural meanings – and ones which relate to your geographical location and the people group/nation/climate in that direction.
And finally… remember that God always brings hope for change and a positive future. So even dreams that initially seem negative (like going down) are there to explain what season we are in and why things are happening to us – and to help us make course corrections if necessary.
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The purpose of this blog is to provide biblical foundations for interpreting dreams and encourage others to make their own dream journey. I am primarily a writer and bible teacher – who loves dreams, and I hope you will be inspired to learn to interpret your own dreams.
It is not currently my aim to routinely engage in dream interpretations or provide training, except through writing blog posts. You can read my most up to date position on interpreting dreams here: Requests for dream interpretations.
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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Jennifer Needham disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.
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2 thoughts on “Dream symbols: North, south, east, west, up, down – and what they mean”
Going down a hill in a dream for me seems to mean relapsing into old bad habits.
Or someone becoming ill.
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Interesting, thanks for sharing. I suppose becoming ill is health deteriorating. If it was a green hill, that would tie in with green representing health.
Regarding backsliding, the most important thing to remember, is that these dreams are always there to bring hope. God, in His kindness, alerts us before we go too far down that unhelpful path, so we can adjust!
Great feedback, thank you!
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