Dreaming of Ants


By Vexen Crabtree 2001

Occurred: Sometime between 1984 and 1987

I'm walking alone, I am walking on dirt. Cracked dirt... very dry dirt during a hot summer. I realize that I'm walking over a large black ants nest... there are exit points for the ants all over the ground. Black ants, normal ones. More numerous than normal, so I guess I'm walking right over their nest.

The ground moves under my feet. And the ground opens up, and I fall in. I freefall, the crumbling dirt giving way under me so I fall down several feet of dirt, mud and ants.

There are some hollow areas... small hollow areas the size of footballs contain very dense quantities of ants. But as I fall in, I realize it's not *that* bad.

But I can't crawl out... I try. Trying to crawl out causes me to fall further, and the ground to crumble under my arms and legs. I fall further.

I fall into red dirt... the same scenario but all the dirt is red. Same insects. But by now I'm panicked and scared. The ants have been on me too long.

The ants start entering my body by going under my nails, in my skin and burrowing into hair roots. They don't, however, go into my face or ears. Then I woke up.

My notes from 2002

This one actually scared me. As a child, I wanted to stop thinking it, but it'd keep coming back, and I kept running the imagery through my head. I used to methodically kill a lot of ants as a kid... I would sometimes dig up ants nests, pour boiling water on them and steal their eggs. Also I'd collect and trap black ants, and put them on red ant's nests to see them fight. This dream resulted from a guilt complex!

That scenario... falling through dirt into large multi-storey nest scared me all the time. I'd think it whilst walking anywhere on dry mud after that dream. There was one summer in particular... I went through a period when I hated going out, I was scared and probably depressed, although I didn't feel depressed. The "outdoors" scared me, and the ant dream was a symptom of that. And perhaps guilt over my own obsession with killing them.

Related to this is probably a death fantasy I used to daydream as a kid, when alone in the house. I'd dream, on a quite dark night, that the house would start filling up with insects. Specifically, every insect I'd ever killed was returning. I would die by choking, panicking, suffocating and being bitten and stung.

The Symbolism of The Ant

"Teach Yourself Dream Interpretation" by Leila Bright (1999)1 says that ants symbolize hard work and a positive team spirit, or, alternately, social repression. As I was young, it was more likely to be the second interpretation than the first, although it feels though I'm trying to make the definition fit, rather than finding it a useful "interpretation" tool! Looking through seven different "meanings" for ants, most of which contradict each other, the above one I "like", along with another two:

Dreaming of ants indicates an earthly covetous mind; and as they are subterranean creatures, it also shows the dreamer will not be long-lived.

Graham Kitchen quoting Dreams and Moles 2

Common ants are good for they signify fertility [...] unless they run across the body of the patient then it nears death, since they are the daughters of the earth and are cold and black.

Graham Kitchen quoting Artemidorus (2nd century CE)

The "earthly" associations continue in "Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil" by Trevor Ling (1997)2, where Ling describes how ants are spoken of as the kinsfolk of the Asura demons who "sometimes appear to be inhabitants of the earth; they are connected particularly with subterranean activities"3.

Ants do not exist in our minds as symbols disconnected from our experience of our world. So, it is no good consulting "dream interpretation" books to find out what they mean. Ants in different cultures come to have different emotional attachments. Our experience of ants in our life will obviously affect how we think about them subconsciously. Therefore, the appearance of ants in dreams will have a varying meaning depending on the individual's psyche. Although sometimes, certain animals have a symbolism that is practically universal. For reasons that are plain enough, ants and bees (which are related evolutionarily too) often symbolize productivity. Dream interpretation guides attempt to use common memes associated with certain objects, and explain what our subconscious might be thinking. Sometimes abstract thought can lead itself down strange roads, leading as it does to the richness of religious and cultural phenomenon.

Sympathetic magic was a fundamental basis for many primitive cures. It was believed that the power of symbolism could be used to change a patients' psychological outlook. A curious example in North Africa was the feeding of ants to listless people in the belief that the insect's restless activity would transfer itself to their metabolism.

"1001 Symbols" by Jack Tresidder (2003)4 Item 197

For more, see: "A Realistic Guide to Dream Interpretation" by Vexen Crabtree (2005).