Probably the first association with elephants that comes to many people’s minds is the phrase “An elephant never forgets.” The long memory of elephants shows up in dreams when we are invited to recall something we may have put away in some corner of our minds. Or to show us how the problem we’re dealing with now is connected to a memory.
We also talk about “the elephant in the room,” meaning a problem or situation that is big and obvious but that people are ignoring out of a reluctance to deal with the problem. So if an elephant shows up in a room in a dream, I’d be curious what problem the dreamer is trying to ignore.
Elephants are highly intelligent, self-aware, and exhibit a full range of emotions. Depending on the context of the dream, elephants remind us that we are not the only sensate beings on the planet. Because of their size, elephants remind us that we too have great capacity for the full spectrum of qualities they have.
The elephant-headed god Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. It’s easy to see how elephant energy would be associated with removing obstacles, as the size and strength of the animals makes it easy for them to clear a path for themselves if necessary. So if a dream shows just an elephant’s head, this association would be particularly strong.
A white elephant has come to mean an unwanted gift, after the tradition of kings giving white elephants to courtiers who offended them. The animal was too rare and prized to be anything but an expensive pet, and the recipient would have to spend a lot of wealth on its upkeep. Metaphorically, this could be a talent that is unused, thereby costing the dreamer too much energy to keep it idle, or it could be an unwanted responsibility wrapped in the guise of an honor.
Then of course, there is the metaphor expressed in the story of the six blind men and the elephant, in which each man takes hold of a different part of the elephant and concludes that the entire elephant is just as its part. (I’ll post the poem that tells this most succinctly on Friday.) The metaphor here is that the elephant is to the blind men as God is to humans. We only glimpse one small part at best, and make our assumptions about the rest.
The elephants in my dreams are often figurines, rather than live animals, and so invite me to examine in what ways the qualities of the elephant are trivialized and used only for decoration in my life.

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5 thoughts on “Elephant as a metaphor”

  1. I loved all your associations. As you know, I used the fable of the blind men and the elephant as a metaphor many, many years ago when I was first exploring my own religions. I even called myself an “Elephist”. But now I’m not so wound up about and just think of myself as a UU.

    I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about elephants. My dreams seem to be stuck in a rut, recycling a rather small set of images. That’s why it was so easy several years ago to write a guided meditation based on my dreamscape, but it’s pretty self-contained.

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