What is a Visitation Dream?

The phenomenon of the dead appearing in dreams has been recorded throughout human history. Homer uses this sort of dream as a literary device in The Iliad, Lucretius mentions them (if only to dismiss them) in Book Four of On The Nature of Things (written in about 50 B.C.E.), and, Virgil, Apuleius, and Ovid all use such dreams in their tales, as well. Such dreams were also well known in ancient Egypt, and in just about every other culture on the planet. Eventually, I will write more extensively about this.

But what is a Visitation Dream? While many dream researchers tend to categorize and sub-categorize these dreams a number of different ways, my own preference is to use a deliberately broad definition. For the purposes of this website, a Visitation Dream is defined as “any dream involving the deceased, where the dreamer has felt that the deceased was actually present in the dream with them.” This feeling can occur during the dream, and/or upon waking. Additionally, it is possible that the dreamer may not even know that the deceased person is, in fact, deceased, until later.

Why the broad definition? Let’s take a look at a few attempts to sub-classify these dreams:

In an article published in the journal Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying, dream researcher Deirdre Barrett (1992) listed four types of these dreams:

  • Deceased describing the state of death.
  • Deceased delivering messages to the living.
  • Deceased giving seeking to change the circumstances of their death.
  • Deceased giving loved ones a chance to say goodbye (p. 97).

Barrett also stresses that these categories “are not intended to be so definitive that the dreams can not be sorted usefully among other dimensions” (p. 106).

Patricia Garfield (1996), in a piece that appears in the anthology Trauma and Dreams (coincidentally) edited by Barrett, lists 11 “types” of Visitation Dreams:

  • Alive-Again Dreams (deceased appears and the survivor may or may not realize the person is actually dead).
  • Dying-Again Dreams (deceased is once more suffering symptoms that caused death).
  • Saying-Goodbye Dreams (deceased appears and bids farewell to the survivor)
  • Taking-a-Journey Dreams (deceased is usually traveling in some sort of vehicle)
  • Telephone-Call Dreams (deceased telephones the survivor).
  • Young-Well-Again Dreams (deceased appears young and healthy)
  • Approval-Disapproval Dreams (deceased severely criticizes of strongly approves of the survivor).
  • Advice-Comfort-Gift Dreams (deceased offers advice and/or comforts the survivor).
  • Passionate-Encounter Dreams (romantic or sexual).
  • Deadly-Invitation-Dreams (deceased appears to encourage the survivor to join them in death).
  • Daily-Activity-Dreams (deceased is going about daily routines, may simply just be present) (pp.188-203).

Stanley Krippner and Laura Faith (2001) describe Visitation Dreams as dreams in which “the deceased person or an entity from another reality…provide counsel or direction that the dreamer found of comfort or value” (p. 76).

Finally, T.J. Wray and Ann Back Price, in their book Grief Dreams: How They Help Us After the Death of a Loved One (2005), opt to go with four types:

  • Visitation Dreams (dreamer merely spends time with the deceased).
  • Message Dreams (dreamer receives important information from the deceased).
  • Reassurance Dreams (dreamer is comforted by the deceased).
  • Trauma Dreams (often troubling, the dreamer flashes back to the death of the deceased) (pp. 3-5).

I would like to state that none of these types is inherently counter to my own definition. In fact, I would suggest, that they’re rather contingent on it. All of these types of dreams are dependent on the deceased appearing in the dream in the first place. It is because of this that I am going deliberately broad. Additionally, I wish to remove any language suggesting that these dreams are “always” or “inherently” comforting. In most instances, they are. However, in many cultures, these dreams are not welcome.

The categorizations listed above are useful, and can provide a number of signposts to look out for (telephone calls from the dead, for instance, are actually pretty common in these dreams). I will revisit these subtypes of Visitation Dreams in future posts, and show how they turn up in various dream reports that have crossed my path over the years.

In the meantime, I welcome your feedback, and your dreams.



  • Barrett, D. (1992). Through a Glass Darkly: Images of the Dead in Dreams. Omega 24(2), 97-108.
  • Garfield, P. (1996). Dreams in Bereavement. In Barrett, D. (Ed.), Trauma and Dreams (pp. 186-211). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Krippner, S. and Faith, L. (2001). Exotic Dreams: A Cross-Cultural Study. Dreaming 11(2): 73-82.
  • Wray, T.J. and Price, A.B. (2005). Grief Dreams: How They Help Us After the Death of a Loved One. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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