Reflections 11
Dreams:
Messages of the Soul



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"Face to Face" 1971,
Oil on board, 36"x48" © Robin Baring

 

1
Woman as Custodian of Life
by Anne Baring
2
Spirit and Stardust
by Congressman Dennis Kucinich
3
Gaia - Myth and Science
by Jules Cashford
4
Devastating the Earth
by Jane Goodall
5
A New Image of God
by Anne Baring
6
The Incarnation and the Mystery of Suffering
by Joy Ryan-Bloore
7
The Miracle of Death
by Betty C. Kovács
8
The Survival of the Soul
by Anne Baring
9
Near Death Experience
by Mellen-Thomas Benedict
10
Alchemy: The Light of Darkness
by Paul Levy
11
Dreams: Messages of the Soul
by Anne Baring
- this page
12
Animals in Dreams
by Anne Baring

 

 

Dreams: Messages of the Soul

Dream Flowers
In last night's dream who put into my hand
Two sprigs of verbena, culled from what sweet tree?
Your mother, it was told me, though I could not see her:
But to what daughter and by what mother,
By what Demeter to what Persephone given?
Was the hand mine that took those flowers
Given from one world to another?

There is a speech by none in this life spoken,
Yet we the speakers, we the listeners seem;
In that discourse, all signifies:
But what mind means the meaning that then is known?

Flowers of the earth grow out of mystery
From the deep loam of what has been
The past rises up in their life-stream
On whose surface images form and re-form;
But dreams rise up from a deeper spring:
Not from the past nor from the future come, but from the origin
These semblances of knowledge veiled in being.

                                                            — from The Hollow Hill, by Kathleen Raine


Dreams connect our time-bound world with an eternal one. Like the thread of Ariadne, they are a tenuous but vital link with the source of our being, one of the very few guides we have through the labyrinth of life. Without this thread connecting us to the fathomless source of ourselves, it is difficult to find the way towards gaining the cooperation and guidance of the instinct, as well as to recognize and transform its immensely powerful and dangerous aspect that is symbolized in mythology by the Minotaur, the Gorgon and the Dragon. Only through a growing relationship with the soul can the destructive powers of the instinct be contained and transformed so that we are no longer condemned, like Sisyphus, to sacrifice our lives to the fruitless labour of endlessly repeating the negative patterns of the past.           
          The interpretation of dreams as a way of healing both soul and body and of deepening our understanding of life is one of the great rediscoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “The dream,” Jung wrote,“is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”(1)
          Yet, despite more than a hundred years of dream analysis since Freud wrote his Interpretation of Dreams, there is still no general awareness in our culture that dreams are of any value or significance. Children are not brought up to be aware of their dreams, to share them with parents, teachers or friends, or to find wonder and interest in their meaning. Politicians are not taught how to recognize and pay attention to dreams that might warn them of the inadvisability of taking nations into war. Dreams are something that just happen: nice dreams and nasty dreams come and go rather like the weather but, unlike the weather, we don't comment on them to each other. As soon as the night is over, they are forgotten and we pass on to the more important concerns of daily life without making any attempt to remember them or to understand their meaning. Are we neglecting a vital aspect of our lives?
          Heinrich Zimmer tells a magical story in his book, The King and the Corpse:

          It was remarkable, the way the king became involved in the adventure. For ten years, every day, there had been appearing in his audience chamber, where he sat in state hearing petitions and dispensing justice, a holy man in the robe of a beggar ascetic, who, without a word, would offer him a fruit. And the royal personage would accept the trifling present, passing it along without an afterthought to his treasurer standing behind the throne. Without making any request, the mendicant would then withdraw and vanish into a crowd of petitioners, having betrayed no sign either of disappointment or of impatience.
          Then it happened one day, some ten years after the first appearance of the holy man, that a tame monkey, having escaped from the women's apartments in the inner palace, came bounding into the hall and leaped upon the arm of the throne. The mendicant had just presented his gift, and the king playfully handed it over to the monkey. When the animal bit into it, a valuable jewel dropped out and rolled across the floor.
          The king's eyes grew wide. He turned with dignity to the treasurer at his shoulder. “What has become of all the others?” he asked. But the treasurer was unable to say. He had been tossing the unimpressive gifts through an upper, trellised window into the treasure house, not even bothering to unlock the door. And so he excused himself and hurried to the vault. Opening it, he made his way to the part beneath the little window. There, on the floor, lay a mass of rotten fruit in various stages of decay, and, amidst this debris of many years, a heap of priceless gems. The beggar, it later transpired, bore the appropriate name of “Rich in Patience.”(2)

Could this image of the beggar - “Rich in Patience” - apply to the soul who, night after night, sends us the jewels of our dreams, only to have them tossed through the window of our lives onto the rubbish heap to which we consign them, never discovering their meaning or asking the sender's identity?
        In his autobiography, Jung comments on the importance of dreams for keeping us in touch with our soul:

As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional "unconscious identity" with natural phenomena. These have slowly lost their symbolic implications…This enormous loss is compensated for by the symbols of our dreams. They bring up our original nature - its instincts and peculiar thinking. Unfortunately they express their contents in the language of nature, which is strange and incomprehensible to us. It therefore confronts us with the task of translating it into the rational words and concepts of modern speech, which has liberated itself…from its mystical participation with the things it describes. (3)

The very earliest recorded dream comes from Sumeria, from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh had two vivid dreams of a meteor falling to earth and of a great axe. He took these dreams to his mother to be interpreted and learnt from her that the gods were to give him a mighty companion whom he would take to his heart. From approximately the same period - ca. 2000 BC - a cylinder seal records the dream of King Gudea of Lagash who was addressed by the god Ningirsu, telling him to build a temple in his honor. Unable to interpret the dream, he took it to the temple of the goddess-mother Gatumdag and asked her for help. The goddess gave the king her interpretation of the dream in dialogue with him. So we know from these two examples that dreams were taken seriously in Sumerian culture and that interpretations of them were expected and received. (4)
          In the Egyptian, Sumero-Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman civilizations, as well as in all shamanc cultures, dreams were used both for divination and healing. In the Old Testament we know of the dreams of Pharaoh that were interpreted by Joseph (Gen.41) and the dream of king Nebuchadnezzar interpreted by Daniel (Daniel 2). Daniel, under the threat of death, had not only to interpret the King's dream but even to tell him what it was, since the king himself had forgotten it! Jacob's dream of the ladder set up between earth and heaven with the angels ascending and descending is a striking image of the pathway of communication between earth and heaven, between the human soul and the eternal ground of spirit (Gen.28). The stone on which he rested his head had, from the most ancient times, been a symbol of divinity, and Jacob said of the place where he had slept and dreamed: “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen.28:17) How much lost knowledge is contained in this one sentence.
          Moving on to Hellenistic times, in the second century AD, a Greek man called Artemidorus, living in the city of Ephesus, recorded his observation of three thousand dreams in five books. Arranging them in general categories, he noted that it was important to have knowledge of the dreamer when interpreting his dreams and to set the interpretation in the context of his life, his outlook, his emotions and his desires.

A Sacred Space for Dreaming and Healing
Dreams as communications from a transcendent dimension and as agents of healing, divination and prophecy were received in places specially built for this purpose. The origins of the “sacred place” set aside for these purposes may go back to the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras when the shape of the cave and, later, the Megalithic temple-tomb, followed the contours of the life-generating womb of the goddess.
          In the time of the Greek philosopher Parmenides (sixth century BC), there was in Southern Italy, as in many other parts of the ancient world, a shamanic tradition involving the practise of incubation in caves. Here, often over a period of several days, the initiate would await dreams or make a shamanic journey to the inner dimensions in order to receive guidance which he would then bring back to this world. Parmenides himself wrote a famous poem about a journey that took him “as far as longing can reach.” His chariot, as he describes it, drawn by mares and guided by young women, took him through gigantic gates that, stretching between earth and heaven, opened onto the road that led into the great chasm of the underworld. There he encountered the goddess Persephone who, as he says, “welcomed me kindly and took my right hand in hers,” giving him a message that he was instructed to take back to the world of mortals. (5)
          At Dodona, in the north of Greece, and above all at Delphi, the celebrated priestesses of the Oracle received embassies from all over the Greek empire, The high priestess or Pythia at Delphi who also held the title of “The Delphic Bee” was the highest authority in that world, intermediary between the supplicant and the god Apollo. Here also, the serpent was associated with the shrine of divination and prophecy and, as in the Aesclepian sanctuaries, snakes were kept in the sacred precincts.

woman or priestess experiencing rite of incubation?
from the Hypogeum in Malta

          At the Hypogeum in Malta, remarkable sanctuaries were hollowed out in three descending layers deep under the earth, which suggests that they were used for the purpose of incubation. The tiny statue of a sleeping woman found in one of them may show a woman or a priestess in shamanic trance, or receiving a special dream.
          In Greece, people traveled great distances to the many healing sanctuaries of the god Aesclepius - the most famous of which were at Epidaurus, Kos and Pergamum (modern Turkey) - to be healed of their diseases. Here, as in Egypt and Crete, the main diagnostic agent was the dream, sometimes a visionary dream of the god himself. As one man who was healed of his long-standing illness described it, in words that leap up from a forgotten past, “One listened and heard things, sometimes in a dream, sometimes in waking life. One’s hair stood on end; one cried and felt happy; one’s heart swelled out but not with vainglory. What human being could put this experience into words? But anyone who has been through it will share my knowledge and recognize the state of my mind.”(6)
          The serpent is always shown in association with Aesclepius, suggesting the long-established relationship between divine powers, the image of the serpent and the regeneration of life. After the appropriate cleansing rituals had been performed and sacrifices and invocations to the god had been made, the patient was wrapped in a special robe and conducted to an underground chamber, passageway or cave where he waited, sometimes for days, for the healing dream. Sometimes the power of the dream itself brought the desired cure, sometimes it was interpreted by priests trained in the art of divining its meaning. Body and soul were treated as one unit. Sickness of the body—as well as sickness of the mind—reflected a state of imbalance between the patient and the gods, the nature of which the dream would reveal. The ruins of Pergamum today give only the faintest hint of the immense and thriving city that once stood there. The Aesclepian healing sanctuary was five miles from the hill-top citadel, yet still within the city limits. Amazingly, the springs of water that flowed there so long ago flow there still today. I dipped my hands into them when I was there.
          The Platonic academy in Athens, founded in the fifth century BC, lasted for a thousand years, and it was perhaps here that the study of dreams was most completely developed and disseminated over the Greek and later the Roman empire. It was thought that sleep, in separating the soul from the life of the senses, enabled the dreamer to awake to the inner life and open his inner “eye”. It is a tragedy that this idea was not transmitted to Christian civilization and that dreams were neglected for some fifteen hundred years and with them, the living connection that people had not only with their own soul but with the soul of the natural world.

Spirits into Demons
With the rise and spread of Christianity, we leave the open, enquiring and generally tolerant mind of the Greek world and discover a very different climate of belief. We increasingly encounter an attitude toward the soul that sees it as a battleground between the powers of darkness and light, between the demonic hosts of Satan on the one hand, and the angelic hosts of heaven on the other. The realm of air just above the earth was imagined as Satan's territory, and from here he ruled over the earth and humanity. The “spirits” of air, sea and earth, the daemons so familiar to the Greeks and Romans and to older shamanic cultures, were transformed into demons. The Church Fathers believed that demons – led by Satan - were responsible for the malefic forces of nature - storm, flood and hail - and for the diseases which afflicted men and women. With psychological hindsight as well as historical knowledge, we know that the loss of the archaic sense of oneness with nature and with the spirits inhabiting nature led to the transformation of these spirits into the “demons” that terrified people. Priests were called to “exorcize” these demons rather than to heal the underlying cause of mental or physical distress.
          In the early centuries of Christianity, stories about the furious battles of the Desert Fathers with the Devil or the Evil One found their way into collective beliefs and increased people’s fear of Satan. The greater the effort to exorcize the demons and to resist the wiles and temptations of Satan, the greater became the oppressive and repressive character of Christianity until this process culminated in the dreadful practices of the Inquisition and the witch-hunts of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries when many men as well as hundreds of thousands of women were condemned to die agonizing deaths at the stake.

The Later Interpretation of Dreams
However, the belief in the importance of dreams did not evaporate overnight. For a thousand years dreams were still interpreted in many different ways by the three primary cultures - Christian, Muslim and Hebrew - which met on European soil. As late as the Renaissance - particularly under the influence of the Platonic revival in fifteenth century Florence inspired by Marsilio Ficino - dreams were again taken seriously as communicating divine guidance and prophecy. It is said that Ficino put on his finest robes in preparation for entering into a dialogue with the World-Soul, the anima-mundi.
          As a last brilliant image of the dream at the threshold of the Renaissance in fifteenth century France, there is the exquisite scene painted by King René of Anjou at the beginning of his book, Le Livre du Cueur d’Amours Espris, as described by Professor Unterkircher, who wrote the commentary on this rare illustrated text. It describes the journey of the King’s heart and its encounter with the helpful and hindering creatures that it meets on its way to its spiritual destination. This precious book is now one of the treasures of the National Library in Vienna:

René, the King and Poet, is asleep. In the magical night scene he sees himself and the figures in his dream: Amour, the God of Love, is standing beside his bed and with both hands plucks the heart from René’s breast, giving it to the Page, Ardent Desire, who stands with hands outstretched to receive it. It is not René himself who starts off on a journey with the Page but his heart, personified as the Knight Cueur. The artist brings this multileveled poetic allegory to life by giving its characters a three-dimensional reality and endowing the scenes with color shadings and light that almost transcend reality, suggesting that realm between dream and daylight wherein poetry has its roots…The painting’s physical details are as easy to describe as it is difficult or impossible to do justice in words to its rich, dreamy atmosphere and masterful color harmonies. (7)
King René's Dream

          
But from this time until the nineteenth century, with the growing emphasis on the scientific as opposed to the sacramental view of life, the split widens between men and women and their dreaming soul. The numinous quality once associated with dreams fades into the scepticism that has become the main characteristic of modern secular culture.
          Now, faced with the abyss of nihilism that life without a transcendent meaning presents to us, people are beginning once more to pay attention to their dreams, responding to the exploration of the psyche led by the two great pioneers of dream interpretation, Freud and Jung. Their discoveries did not spring suddenly into being but developed out of soil that had been cultivated during the nineteenth century by outstandingly gifted men. The Romantic movement in Germany was interested in dreams. In the early part of that century in Germany, von Schubert published The Symbolism of Dreams, in which he described the pictorial language of dreams as a “higher kind of algebra.” In 1867 in France, Hervey de Saint-Denis (1823-1892) published his Dreams and the Means to Direct Them.
          Henri Ellenberger, in his monumental work, The Discovery of the Unconscious, writes that “The scarcity of this book is the more regrettable because it contains the findings of a lifetime of dream investigation by a man who opened new paths that few men were able to follow.”(8) Saint-Denis began drawing his dreams as a child and, incredibly, for twenty years never missed a single one, assembling twenty-two notebooks recording the dreams of nineteen hundred and forty-six nights over this period. His emphasis was on the possibility of controlling the dream process from the conscious mind and not, as Jung’s approach would be, on the idea that the dream process revealed the existence of a consciousness superior to that of the waking mind.
          Freud published his Interpretation of Dreams in 1899 and brought together two streams of nineteenth century exploration: the study of dreams and the pathology of mental illness. Jung's obituary of Freud includes this tribute to him: “Freud rescued something of the utmost value from the past, where it had seemingly sunk in oblivion... It was an act of the greatest scientific courage to make anything as unpopular as dreams a subject of serious discussion.”(9)

Dreams as Messages from the Primordial Soul
Jung began to understand the unconscious, not as Freud did, as the repository of repressed infantile drives and wishes, but as a vitally creative “energy” whose image-creating faculty was a primary element of human consciousness, connecting it with the deeper dimension of the collective unconscious. He observed that in Africa and in the American Indian tribes, for example, men and women interpreted their “big” dreams and visions as messages from the ancestors which were used as guidance for the tribe as a whole, generation after generation. Such dreams, Jung believed, reflected a superior intelligence and wisdom that represents a directing energy or consciousness within our psychic depths—depths that are the repository of the immemorial ancestral experience of life. He saw the dream as a symbol in itself, a symbol which expressed an idea or constellation of ideas that could not be expressed directly in words but, rather, in images. Dreams, he realized, were one of the few ways that the primordial instinctive soul could communicate with the conscious mind: “Dream symbols are the essential message carriers from the instinctive to the rational parts of the human mind, and their interpretation enriches the poverty of consciousness so that it learns to understand again the forgotten language of the instincts.”(10)
          To be able to interpret dreams, one has to have a wide knowledge of what symbolic images have meant to humanity as a whole, as well as to specific cultures, and to be able to understand what they meant to shamanic cultures which were far more in touch with their soul than we are. In his last book, Man and His Symbols, Jung commented:

We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective consciousness that we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions. The Buddhist discards the world of unconscious fantasies as useless illusions; the Christian puts his Church and his Bible between himself and his unconscious; and the rational intellectual does not yet know that his consciousness is not his total psyche. This ignorance persists today in spite of the fact that for more than 70 years the unconscious has been a basic scientific concept that is indispensable to any serious psychological investigation…It seems almost incredible that though we receive signals from the unconscious mind every night, deciphering these communications seems too tedious for any but a very few people to be bothered with it. Man's greatest instrument, his psyche, is little thought of, and it is often directly mistrusted and despised. “It’s only psychological” too often means: It is nothing. (11)

The dream never expresses its meaning in the logical sequence of left brain thinking that the well-trained rational mind can grasp without effort. On the contrary, it speaks in the language of parable, metaphor and paradox, more closely related to right-hemispheric consciousness. The apparent lack of clarity in most dreams comes from the fact that they are presented in an unfamiliar language of images that has to be learnt, just as one has to learn the language of hieroglyphs before one can interpret the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Jung’s words amplify this necessity:

Dreams contain images and thought associations which we do not create with conscious intent. They arise spontaneously without our assistance and are representatives of a psychic activity withdrawn from our arbitrary will. Therefore the dream is, properly speaking, a highly objective, natural product of the psyche, from which we might expect indications, or at least hints, about certain basic trends in the psychic process. Now, since the psychic process, like any other life process, is not just a causal sequence, but is also a process with a teleological orientation, we might expect dreams to give us certain indicia about the objective causality as well as about the objective tendencies, precisely because dreams are nothing less than self-portraits of the psychic life-process. (12)

Again, he observes that “The dream comes in as the expression of an involuntary, unconscious psychic process beyond the control of the conscious mind. It shows the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be, and not as he would like it to be, but as it is…That is to say, I take dreams as diagnostically valuable facts.” (13)
           The dream has a compensatory function in relation to the attitude of the conscious mind. It reflects the “overall” view of a deeper intelligence which can see both sides of the picture, both aspects of the psyche—that which is known to the dreamer and that which is unknown. If a conscious attitude is too rigid and limited, too inflated or too self-critical; if the individual carries a deep unconscious trauma which is asking for recognition and healing; if there is a danger of imbalance leading to mental or physical illness, or if the dreamer is in danger of going “off the rails,” the dream points the way to the integration of the deeper knowledge and insight of the unconscious mind with the conscious one and, therefore, to a better state of balance: “The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does. Every process that goes too far immediately and inevitably calls forth compensations, and without these there would be neither a normal metabolism nor a normal psyche. In this case we can take the theory of compensation as a basic law of psychic behaviour. Too little on one side results in too much on the other…When we set out to interpret a dream, it is always helpful to ask: What conscious attitude does it compensate?” (14)
           The dream of a woman concerned about her relationship with her daughter reflects the need for greater consciousness: “I am lying in bed asleep on Easter Day. My daughter brings me an Easter egg but I burrow under the covers and refuse to look.”
          This dream shows the dreamer lying asleep (unconscious) on the most significant day of the year—the day when life is regenerated from death. Her daughter represents both her daughter in real life and also the young, growing aspect of herself - her new life - carrying in its hands the symbol of this new life, still in embryonic form. She rejects both child and offering, choosing to remain unconscious and hide under the bed covers like an ostrich. The dream showed her what she was doing and invited a revaluation of her relationship with her own emerging creative life, symbolized by her daughter, and also a transformation of her relationship with her daughter in real life. The dream helped her to recognize that she was, in fact, unconsciously rejecting both, a very painful realization.
          Jung saw this compensatory process as a natural, self-regulating one, which could take place during sleep and not necessarily disturb the dreamer. But he was convinced that when dreams woke the dreamer up, it was because the unconscious mind wanted to bring certain things to the attention of the conscious mind, to stimulate it to reflect on their meaning:

Dreams preserve sleep whenever possible: that is to say, they function necessarily and automatically under the influence of the sleeping state; but they break through when their function demands it, that is, when the compensatory contents are so intense that they are liable to counteract sleep. A compensatory content is especially intense when it has a vital significance for conscious orientation. (15)

The “big” dream and the nightmare are two examples of intense contents which are significant for conscious orientation, but the more one reflects on “small” dreams, the more they reveal their meaning; so that, although one may be very far from understanding the meaning of every dream, one becomes progressively more familiar with one's own dream symbolism and, therefore, more able to respond to it. One begins to recognize the soul or the body's signals of harmony or distress, continually deepening the sense of relationship between the two aspects of the psyche, the older, wiser aspect and the younger, inexperienced aspect (the ego personality) which is trying to make sense of life. As Jung observed, “Through the assimilation of unconscious contents, the momentary life of consciousness can once more be brought into harmony with the law of nature from which it all too easily departs and the individual can be led back to the natural law of his own being.”(16)
          This alienation from our own authentic being begins with the expectations we place upon our children. Our culture imposes such ferocious extraverted demands on children and young people, demands such as passing exams, learning to use the new digital technology and gaining the qualifications needed to reach “the top of the ladder” in a particular profession, that soul needs may be neglected. This is particularly the case where the channels for the expression of emotions and the skills which can mediate and develop feeling – music, art, poetry and drama – do not exist. Children as young as two now have televisions in their bedrooms and are encouraged to learn how to use a computer. Many, even at this age, watch hours of television. There is no place for the imagination in their lives or for the creation of a relationship with the world that surrounds them. There is no space simply to be. Instead, children watch pre-programmed entertainment, or spend hours with their Play-Stations and Game-Boys rather than interacting with their parents who are too busy or too tired to devote to them the attention that their emotional development requires.
          Programmed in this and other ways—perhaps through religious or even secular indoctrination—some individuals may later develop a rigid controlling attitude in relation to their lives and their needs, and may be convinced of the infallibility or absolute truth of their convictions or beliefs. Their once healthy instincts may have been so repressed and distorted that they may eventually control the conscious mind. One can see this tendency in fundamentalism of all kinds, whether secular or religious. Fundamentalism in its most extreme form merges into fanaticism, reflected in the behavior of the Taliban and in the beliefs of certain fundamentalist Christian sects in America. Fundamentalists cannot risk the intrusion of any doubt. However, when the doubt is “deleted” or repressed into the unconscious, it adds to the strident, messianic tone of the conscious position. The tone of absolute conviction reflects the fact that the unconscious is controlling the conscious personality. This is the psychology of the bully who must, at all cost, control whatever situation she finds herself in, whether at home or in the wider field of society. The need for control arises from the need to deny what has been split off or repressed.
          At the other end of the scale are people who may be so uncertain of themselves and their own needs that they are easily manipulated or influenced by others because they have no sense of their own or other’s boundaries. They may have difficulty establishing themselves in life, and may all too readily become the victim in a relationship or are easily persuaded to follow an ideology, forceful personality or charismatic leader. The first attitude reflects a “superman” attitude towards life, where the goal is to control, dominate and manipulate events through one’s will. The second attitude may lead to a surrender to what one perceives as life’s overwhelmingly hostile power and the conviction that adverse circumstances can never be changed. If accompanied by strict religious beliefs, everything is accepted as the “will of God,” or the “will of Allah”. Absolute obedience to a powerful leader will be the corollary of this psychic attitude. Both perspectives reflect an attitude that is too rigid and limited to include the full potential of understanding and insight that could be available to the conscious personality if unconscious needs and drives were integrated with it.
          The work of Freud, Jung and thousands of others who have studied dreams in order to understand the language of the soul has barely reached the consciousness of the general public, yet the current interest in New Age approaches to self-healing suggests that there may be millions of people who are looking for a deeper understanding of themselves and of life. In the intermediate stage between total indifference to dreams and the realization that dreams may be conveying something important from the deeper strata of the soul, they may be treated as something that can be exploited by the conscious mind “for greater power and influence”. This attitude gives rise to unqualified charlatans who set themselves up as dream interpreters or therapists. It treats the unconscious as a useful repository of power which can be harnessed to the achievement of specific superficial goals such as the creation of wealth, but it contributes nothing to reuniting the dissociated aspects of our being. If anything it makes the unconscious the servant of the deficient aims of the conscious ego and does great injury to the soul, trivializing the priceless treasure of a deeper understanding of life, like the king who nearly lost the treasure offered to him by the beggar at his court.
          The word psychology means “The word or speech of the soul”. Time devoted to paying attention to our dreams helps us to deepen our understanding of the speech of the soul. To become truly aware of our dream life and to create a relationship with the unconscious - the instinctive part of ourselves from which we are so estranged - we have to treat the dream with an attitude of profound respect. There has been enough evidence gathered during this last century alone to know with certainty that the Dreamer, who night after night conveys the messages to our sleeping self, is far more important than we realize, as the Jungian analyst, Alan MacGlashan, relates in his book, The Savage and Beautiful Country:

          The concept of the Dreamer is among the most fascinating and relevant of the mysteries facing contemporary man. It is nothing less than an invitation to transcend our normal and habitual level of consciousness, to develop a long-latent function, to enter a terra incognita of which, paradoxically, we are free-born citizens. As Dante was led through realms beyond human range by the ghost of Virgil, so the Dreamer can lead us, through the labyrinthine corridors of sleep to a realm of being where the human mind blooms in new and brilliant and unimagined forms of life…
          The Dreamer is the source not only of dreams but of symbol, myth and fairy tale; he is the ruler of a twilight kingdom which lies between the temporal and the Timeless, or in theological terms, between man and God. The Dreamer is he who tells us golden stories, coming from afar, that are the only true salve and comfort of our existential condition; and who brings us in the night, as his final gift, intimations of the possibility of other forms of awareness - co-existent with our conscious life...which perhaps need only a fractional turning of the head to be seen and known. (17)

The Traumatized Instinct
Paradoxically - and this is most important - where the instinct has been deeply traumatized, it can also present itself as something or someone that is deeply threatening to the dreamer, even something demonic in its apparent intent to destroy. No one has illustrated this better than Donald Kalsched in his book, The Inner World of Trauma. As he explains, “the traumatized psyche is self-traumatizing. Trauma doesn’t end with the cessation of outer violation, but continues unabated in the inner world of the trauma victim, whose dreams are often haunted by persecutory inner figures.” The second finding is that “the victim of personalized trauma continually finds himself or herself in life situations where he or she is re-traumatized.”(18)

For the person who has experienced unbearable pain, the psychological defense of dissociation allows external life to go on but at a great internal cost. The outer trauma ends and its effects may be largely “forgotten,” but the psychological sequelae of the trauma continue to haunt the inner world, and they do this, Jung discovered, in the form of certain images which cluster around a strong affect…These complexes tend to behave autonomously as frightening inner “beings,” who are represented in dreams as attacking “enemies,” vicious animals, etc. (19)

I think the insight into the fact that the victim of trauma repeats the pattern of traumatization could be applied to the life of humanity as a whole. A powerful example of this can be seen in how we continually re-enact and suffer the trauma of war. The memories of conflict and the suffering engendered through past conflicts do not go away with the coming of new generations. They are held in the unconscious of the species, ready to be re-activated when specific “triggers” call forth the same response. If we can gain some insight into what psychological factors cause us to be caught up in this pattern of unconscious repetition, we might be able to transform it. Without insight, we seem destined to continue as before.

The Effects of the Trauma of War
Whatever the causes of why we are addicted to war - whether it is the influence on us of the archetypal pattern of the warrior or the ongoing inner conflict in our soul between the conscious mind and the primordial instinct - we need to understand its effects better than we do. There are not many books on the effects of war on the soul. One of the most interesting has been written by the Jungian analyst, Edward Tick, who has devoted his life to treating traumatized veterans of war, the Vietnam War in particular. In his book, War and the Soul, he writes that veterans can be haunted for years by reliving in nightmares the original terrifying experiences they underwent. “They may see themselves killing again, or friends and enemies dying again. They may have waking visions of dead friends, enemies, or both. They may also, in retrospect, feel moral anguish that the people they killed did not deserve to die.” (20)

Though hostilities cease and life moves on, and though loved ones yearn for their healing, veterans often remain drenched in the imagery and emotion of war for decades and sometimes for their entire lives. For these survivors, every vital human characteristic that we attribute to the soul may be fundamentally reshaped. These traits include how we perceive; how our minds are organized and function; how we love and relate; what we believe, expect, and value; what we feel and refuse to feel; and what we judge as good or evil, right or wrong. Thought the affliction that today we call post-traumatic stress disorder has had many names over the centuries, it is always the result of the way war invades, wounds ands transforms our spirit. (21)

 As he explores the effects of war on the soul and the reasons he explains why post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is so difficult to treat. He writes, “…the traumatic impact of war and violence inflicts wounds so deep we need to address them with extraordinary attention, resources and methods. Conventional methods of medical and psychological functioning and therapeutics are not adequate to explain or treat such wounds. Veterans and their afflictions try to tell us so.” (22)

War devastates not only our physical being but our very soul—for the entire culture as well as for the individual. In war, chaos overwhelms compassion, violence replaces cooperation, instinct replaces rationality, gut dominates mind. When drenched in these conditions, the soul is disfigured and can become lost for life. What is called soul loss is an extreme psychospiritual condition beyond what psychologists commonly call dissociation. It is far more than psychic numbing or separation of mind from body. It is a removal of the center of experience from the living body without completely snapping the connection. In the presence of overwhelming life-threatening violence, the soul—the true self—flees. The center of experience shifts; the body takes the impact of the trauma but does not register it as deeply as before. With body and soul separated, a person is trapped in a limbo where past and present intermingle without differentiation or continuity. Nothing feels right until body and soul rejoin. (23)

It is worth reading his book to discover not only how he defines soul but the efficacy of the methods he uses to reconnect soul and body.

Changing Our Lives
Dreams can tell us what has happened and what is happening to the instinct. Since we have so little awareness of this dimension of ourselves and even less knowledge of how to connect with it, we are deprived of the means of responding to it. With greater understanding of them, dreams can immeasurably enrich our lives, drawing us closer to the meaning of our suffering if, for example, we have experienced the loss of soul described above through the trauma of war or the trauma of a personal catastrophe in our lives such as the loss of a parent, a child, or the disintegration of a relationship.
          As an example of how paying attention to dreams can change the course of one’s life, the late English poet laureate, Ted Hughes, tells of a dream that he had when he was at university. He had been working on an essay until late into the night. Exhausted, he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was sitting once again at his desk. Suddenly, the door of his study opened and a man with the head of a fox came in. The fox-man looked as if he had been in a fire and his skin was blackened and bleeding. He came to the table and put a blood-stained paw on the white page of Hughes' essay, saying, “This is killing both of us.” Deeply shaken by this dream, Ted Hughes decided the next day to switch studies from English literature to anthropology. The effort to subject the literature and poetry that he loved to deconstructive criticism had been killing his instinct and even threatening his life.
          Learning to understand the symbolic language of the soul and to apply the insight gained to the problems of our relationships with other people and our relationship with life, can gradually transform us. We can learn to live life in a different way, less blindly, no longer at the mercy of unconscious complexes, no longer reacting blindly to events; more sensitively aware of the direction in which life is seeking to take us. We are aware of our smallness in relation to life’s greatness, but we are also aware that life may depend for the fulfilment of its purpose upon this frail vessel of our consciousness which it has brought into being over so many millions of years.
          To face the darkness of the soul and to learn how to relate to it is an act of heroism in an age which denies the existence of the soul and has come to disparage and reject whatever does not appear to be “rational”. Not surprisingly, in view of its neglect of the soul, our culture is now confronted by an eruption of the “irrational” in the form of the hatred, anger and violence of terrorism, violent crime and self-destructive patterns of behavior such as drug-addiction and alcoholism as well as an increase in mental illness. It tries to eradicate the threat by exerting ever more control instead of looking at the causes which have given rise to these symptoms of distress. It may be difficult to comprehend the hypothesis that the terrorism and the crime we fight with weapons, armies and prisons, thinking to control and eliminate them, may be a manifestation of our own shadow, our own traumatized and split off instincts. Because, at the deepest level, we are all connected with each other, these instincts manifest in the world as an enemy intent on destroying us whom we then attempt to destroy.

The Dream as Prophecy
Sometimes a visionary dream can be dreamt on behalf of a tribal group, even perhaps the whole of humanity. Yet who today except someone familiar with the Jungian approach to dreams, would pay attention to such a dream or recognize that it carried a message for our time? In contrast to this, the dreams of the people of indigenous cultures were always taken seriously and paid close attention for this reason. The famous dream of a nine year old boy belonging to the Sioux tribe in America is well known and worth recalling here. As an old man he recounted it to a Nebraskan poet called John Neihardt who recorded it in his book Black Elk Speaks. He had seen himself standing on the central mountain of the world which he recognized as his own sacred peak in his homeland, even though he knew that “anywhere is the center of the world.” “I was seeing” he said, “the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all things as they must live together, like one being. And I saw the the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.”(24)

The Dream as Emissary
The dream plays the role of the god Thoth in Egypt, or the Greek god Hermes, acting as emissary between the deeper dimension of the instinctive soul and the conscious personality. In the more familiar imagery of Christianity and also the less familiar imagery of Kabbalah, the Dreamer may be compared to an angelic messenger, bringing guidance, warning and the possibility of healing.
          Dreams may come dressed in the humble garb of everyday life, using as symbolic images people and things that we see, hear, touch and meet in the course of our lives, yet their role may be compared to that of the four great archangels of the Christian tradition, who are the messengers or emissaries of the unseen dimension of spirit.
          In the famous story of Tobias and the Angel in the Apocrypha, Raphael did not reveal himself to Tobias and his father until Tobias, realizing how much his new found friend had accomplished, said to his father, “Oh Father, it is no harm to me to give him half of those things which I have brought: for he hath brought me again to thee in safety, and made whole my wife, and brought me the money, and likewise healed thee.” (Tobit 12:2-4)
          How much we may miss by our neglect of the messenger or our failure to recognize its message is conveyed in the tremendous revelation which follows: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.” (Tobit 12:15)

Filippino Lippi or Verrochio
Tobias and the Angel

 Dreams may come as emissaries of the infinitely older and wiser consciousness in the depths of our  soul. In the imagery of the four great archangels of ancient tradition, they can bring us, as Gabriel  brought to Mary, the annunciation of a divine birth within the soul, the illuminating awareness of a  different order of reality. Like Michael, who traditionally wields the sword of discrimination, dreams  may offer the judgment of the spirit upon the way we live our lives, upon the deficiency of our  conscious values and our rejection of anything which cannot be “proven” by the rational mind or  perceived by the senses. Like Raphael, they may bring us healing for the buried wounds our soul carries; like Uriel they may bring understanding and insight.
          All these are vital aspects of the role dreams can play in expanding our knowledge of and  relationship with the soul. But these messages come to us in a form that may be hard to recognize  unless we are familiar with the language of symbols. Instead of thundering with the voice of an  archangel, they may in a subtle, even humorous way point out the fact that we need to change our standpoint by buying some new shoes.
          Perseverance in the effort to understand the symbolic imagery of dreams brings its reward in  the establishment of an attitude of nightly listening to the messages which come as visitors from that  other dimension of reality. The gradual growth of understanding is occasionally marked by the “Big Dream”— a moment of revelation which can give direction and meaning to our life and is altogether outside our normal frame of reference, even having a reference for the culture as a whole, as in the dream of Black Elk above. So we would be wise to remember the words written in the Babylonian Talmud: A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is left unread.

Notes:

1.C.G. Jung, CW 10, par. 304
2. Heinrich Zimmer, The King and the Corpse, Bollingen Foundation, Pantheon books, New York, 1957, p. 202
3. C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, p. 102
4. King Gudea of Lagash dream, Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Occidental Mythology, p. 117-119
5. Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, The Golden Sufi Center, California, 1999
6. Dreams: Visions of the Night, Thames and Hudson, London (no date) editor Jill Purce, p. 18
7. Le Livre du Cueur d’Amours Espris, Thames and Hudson, London, 1975. translation and commentary by F. Unterkircher. Manuscript in The National Library, Vienna
8. Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious, p. 306
9. C.G. Jung, In Memory of Sigmund Freud, 1939, pp. 44-45
10. Man and His Symbols, p. 52
11. ibid, p. 102
12. Jung, CW 7, par. 210
13. Jung, CW 16, par. 304
14. CW 8, par. 487
15. CW 16, par. 330
16. CW 16, par. 351
17. Alan McGlashan, The Savage and Beautiful Country, Chatto and Windus, London, 1966, p.126 and 132
18. Donald Kalsched, The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit, Routledge, New York, 1996, p. 5
19. ibid, p. 13
20. Edward Tick, War and the Soul, Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2005, p. 138
21. ibid, p. 1
22. ibid, p. 2
23. ibid, p. 16
24. John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, pp. 20-47 (recounted in Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, p. 33

 

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