Desert Symbolism and Meaning (In Movies & Dreams)

Desert Symbolism and Meaning

The desert symbolizes survival, creativity, clarity, revelations, loneliness, and overcoming life’s greatest obstacles.

Deserts are vast, barren spaces that are easy to get lost in, and can be very difficult to traverse.

It should be no surprise then, that the desert has held significant symbolic meaning over centuries. They’ve been used symbolically in the Bible all the way through to modern-day literature.

What does the Desert Symbolize?

1. Survival


For man, the desert represents the challenge of existing and surviving in difficult environments. These spaces are largely devoid of life, including both animals, humans, and plant matter.

Deserts in film are often used as a post-apocalyptic space, perhaps most famously in the Mad Max cinematic universe, though there are plenty of other examples.

The desert is a perfect example of how desolate and dangerous the elements can be when the comforts of modern life and man-made amenities are stripped away.

It shows us that we are not far away from a reality where we must fight to survive.

Dreaming of deserts may indicate external anxieties or fears, that perhaps your life does not feel as stable as you would like.

It could also symbolize a looming challenge or obstacle that you feel is more intimidating than it really is.

2. Clarity and Revelations


Due to its vastness and lack of wildlife or human activity, the desert is often seen as a place that can provide great emotional and spiritual clarity, which can also lead to revelations and spiritual awakenings.

The desert has a significant place in the bible and is often emphasized as an ideal environment for “divine revelation”.

It is where God appeared before Moses, and where he sent his people to wander for 40 years. It is a place where one can find a higher power.

Due to the lack of human intervention and how much vaster and emptier a desert is than cities, it can seem like there is a sense of purity within the desert. This emptiness is believed to help people in obtaining perfect clarity of mind so they are able to make greater realizations about themselves and their place on earth.

In other words, the desert is seen to be a place where man can commune with God, without the distractions of the material plane.

But it can also be a place of great emotional and spiritual awakening. In film, this symbolism can be noted in the famous movie and stage play Priscilla Queen of the Desert, where the main characters travel through the desert on a journey of self-discovery.

On the journey, they gain enough clarity to accept themselves as they are, even when much of society outside of the desert doesn’t accept them.

3. Overcoming Obstacles


The desert is a particularly hostile environment to live in, and doing so is something that has only been achieved by certain cultures. For that reason, in Western culture, the desert is not seen so much as a place to live, but a place to travel through.

It is a means of getting from one place to another, and it can often be a difficult journey to do so.

But because the desert can be so perilous to move through with vast open spaces, a sore lack of signage or landmarks to help get you through, and oppressive heat, cold nights, and sandstorms, it also symbolizes the need to move through a difficult time or place to get to where you need to be.

If your dreams are taking place in a desert, that may be a sign that you are entering a challenging time in your life, and you should be careful as it may be easy for you to lose your way.

It can be a sign that obstacles are coming, and you may have a long spiritual or psychological journey ahead before you return to peace and normality in life.

4. Loneliness


Given how vast and empty deserts can be, it’s no wonder that deserts can also symbolize loneliness and isolation – they are an easy space to feel completely alone in the world and swallowed up by the geographical features around you.

Think of a single figure wandering through the desert, and you will think of an image of bleak isolation.

If you are dreaming of vast, empty desert spaces, it may signify that you are experiencing feelings of loneliness in waking life, or that you fear being left alone.

It could be a sign that you need to reach out to those you are close to or work on building stronger relationships with people who come into your life.

On the other hand, dreaming of a desert may signify a lack of depth in the relationship you have, and that you may be feeling lonely even when your life is full of people.

You may have to reconsider your relationship with yourself and find comfort in your own company.

5. Creativity


The desert can both be a place of great creativity and of lack of creativity. Due to its vast empty-seeming spaces, it can often be seen as the perfect blank canvas.

Movies like Zabriskie Point, for example, show the desert as a blank slate for young people to explore and find themselves.

Events like the Burning Man festival also come to mind, where the desert is used as the backdrop for acts of great artistic innovation and creativity. But it can also be a dearth of creation, where nothing grows and man chooses to build and create nothing of permanence.

If you are dreaming of the desert, it may signify that you are feeling creatively stunted, or experiencing a drought of inspiration. It may also signify that you are on the brink of creating something important, and the desert is the blank canvas you need to make your expression a reality.

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Deserts are ripe with spiritual and symbolic meaning, from the potential for spiritual clarity and awakenings to the fears and anxieties of modern life and the perils of potential loneliness.

These themes shown through desert geography continue to compel us whether it is through media, art, religion, or our own subconscious.