Figure 1. Carl Jung.
In 1936, C.G. Jung (Figure 1) first introduced his essay “Dream Symbols of the Process of Individuation.” Jung (1944/1970) later renamed the same essay “Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy” and published it in Psychology and Alchemy. The essay focused on a series of highly archetypal dreams—over 400 in the series—and underscored the relationship between alchemical symbolism and the process of individuation. Images and motifs contained in the dream series directly suggested the formation of a new center of the personality or what Jung alternatively called the archetype of the self. Thus, we can infer that the dreams showed a gradual shift of the personality’s psychic center of gravity—from the limited ego to the wholeness implied in the individual’s greater personality. The dreams that Jung studied and discussed were later revealed to belong to physicist and Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Pauli
Figure 2. Wolfgang Pauli
(Figure 2), who would go on to work closely alongside Jung in the formulation of the theory of synchronicity. Jung suggested that Pauli’s dreams are exceptional for their mandala symbolism, which Jung (1929) discussed at length in his essay “Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower”: “Mandala means “circle,” more especially a magic circle. Mandalas are found not only throughout the East but also among us” (CW13, para. 31). Jung’s sampling of Pauli’s dreams occurred over a period spanning approximately ten months and included waking visions and impressions that could be viewed as active imaginations.
In a similar vein, I was given permission to include a dream series from a client whose identity will remain anonymous. The client’s dreams, although hardly as extensive and elaborate as Pauli’s material, contain a wealth of archetypal symbolism which can be read on multiple levels. In a three-part blog I will attempt to analyze and amplify the archetypal symbolism contained in the dream series. In the aforesaid essay, Jung employed his constructive method which seeks to associate and amplify the dream material by framing it in an appropriate psychological context. Jung (1944/1970) suggested that
The psychological context of dream-contents consists in the web of associations in which the dream is naturally embedded. Theoretically we can never know anything in advance about this web, but in practice it is sometimes possible, granted long enough experience. (CW13, para. 48)
Because we have already addressed the topics of the unconscious, symbols, and active imagination elsewhere, I will provide some introductory commentary on the depth psychology of dreams before turning to the material which consists of three dreams that took place over five months (March 2014 thru July 2014).
No dream should be studied in isolation but should be viewed in the context of its contiguous and associative aspects. In other words, one stands to gain most by studying dreams in a series that took place over a span of time. One should also be conservative with his or her interpretation and stick closely to the personal and objective context while exploring dream material. Jung (1944/1970) tells us that “the series is the context, and the dreamer himself supplies it” (CW13, para. 50). Jung (1916/1948) further adds:
If we want to interpret a dream correctly, we need a thorough knowledge of the conscious situation at that moment, because the dream contains its unconscious complement, that is, the material which the conscious situation has constellated in the unconscious. Without this knowledge it is impossible to interpret a dream correctly, except by a lucky fluke. (CW8, para. 477)
Elsewhere, Jung (1945) has stated that “every interpretation of a dream is a psychological statement about its contents” (CW8, para. 533). Jung is alluding to what he called “taking up the context,” which “consists of making sure that every shade of meaning and each salient feature of the dream is determined by the associations of the dreamer himself” (1945, CW8, para. 542)
Because dreams are derivatives of unconscious processes, they usually possess both a complementary and compensatory relationship with the conscious mind. Put a different way, what we fail to live consciously is expressed in our dreams. Jung (1916/1948) wrote that
In this dream we can discern a compensating function of the unconscious whereby those thoughts, inclinations, and tendencies which in conscious life are too little valued come spontaneously into action during the sleeping state, when the conscious process is to a large extent eliminated. (CW8, para. 466)
Although I recognize that using only three dreams will substantially constrain the interpretation of the material, by limiting the study to three dreams we can dedicate more time to understanding the meaning of the dream symbolism. Furthermore, I will attempt to show how the dream images facilitate a gradual movement toward wholeness and individuation. Before proceeding, it is necessary to further explore the phenomenon of the dream itself in a depth psychological context.
According to Jung (1916/1948), dreams are structured differently than other conscious contents in that they do not share the same continuity of development (CW8, para. 443). Dreams could be viewed as products of the fantasy function of the psyche because they do not follow the hard and fast rules of “realit
y thinking” and are “in striking contrast to the logical sequence of ideas which we consider to be a special characteristic of conscious mental processes” (Jung, 1916/1948, CW8, para. 445). Jung, in contradistinction to Sigmund Freud’s (Figure 3) emphasis on a causal standpoint, thought that dreams also had a finalistic or prospective aspect that could orient the individual to his or her future development. So, one could say that dreams are purposive and can elucidate a great deal not only about our personal past, but about the collective future (Jung, 1916/1948, CW8, para. 462). Informed by a finalistic standpoint, dream symbols may be viewed as empirical psychic facts portrayed in a figurative language which seek to teach and instruct rather than hide or deceive. As Jung (1921/1971) suggested, a symbol is the best possible expression for something mostly unknown (CW6, para. 401).
There is no surefire way to fully grasp a dream’s meaning. It is usually best to approach it from multiple hermeneutic angles—reductive, prospective, complementary, compensatory, etc.—to fully engage its content, yet to be clear, one can never completely exhaust its meaning. Some of the dream will forever be concealed within the unconscious. Dreams, if nothing else, can help us reorient our conscious attitude to live a more whole and meaningful life. Dreams could be viewed as split off psychic fragments whose phenomenology is practically indistinguishable from the concept of a feeling-toned complex. “The dream is a fragment of involuntary psychic activity, just conscious enough to be reproducible in the waking state” (Jung, 1945/1948, CW8, para. 532). Because of its symbolic nature, the dream could be viewed as a portal or gateway into the unconscious. Through the dream, the psyche speaks when we listen or when we make the effort to understand the language of dreams, which are basically symbols.
Our client is a middle-aged Caucasian male, married with children. Of average intelligence and widely read and learned. Although it is difficult to pin his typology, he strikes me as a thinking-intuitive introverted type. The man is seeking answers for his life by immersing himself in books. The dreamer has been unemployed for a lengthy period and understandably is uncertain about the future. Because of his financial situation, he is concerned about how he will take care of his family. We will attempt to apply Jung’s constructive method of amplification to the dream series and explore his personal associations to the material as well. What follows constitutes the first dream of our series:
March 15, 2014 – Last night, I dreamed that my wife, children, and I were driving down a road that paralleled a sharp cliff which abruptly dropped off into the ocean. Below I saw a beach which was occupied by people. Suddenly, a huge wave appeared out of nowhere and engulfed our vehicle overturning it. This scared and surprised me at the same time. When the water receded, I realized that we were near the cliff’s edge but thankfully did not fall over it. The kids were okay. When I looked around at the beach below people were going about their business as though nothing had happened. I was relieved.
That the dreamer is accompanied by his family seems to merit further commentary. The dreamer does not view himself solely as an individual but as a family unit consisting of his wife and children—husband, wife, son, daughter. That they are on a road implies a journey that could be viewed as a process of psychic development. The scene contains a cliff and then the ocean and Jung (1988) observed that the “the ocean is always the symbol of the collective unconscious” (p. 71). All life originated from the oceans; thus, it is not surprising to see that Jung viewed it as a symbol par excellence of the collective unconscious, or viewed differently, the figurative womb of humankind. The ocean is a natural force that has an uncanny effect on the psyche. It is difficult not to look at a sunset on the ocean without being moved at a visceral level. And then the wave comes, a force of energy or libido that abruptly appears and strikes the vehicle. The wave seems to represent that latent energies contained in the collective unconscious that the dreamer is contending with.
The unconscious is a force of nature that knows nothing about ethics or morality. At best, it is a neutral force that can assist our conscious development or at worst, lead to psychic desolation. If nothing else, it must be met with by the light of our own consciousness. Only then can we find the means to integrate its contents within our own personality. Of course, with every rise there is a descent and the water eventually recedes. On a personal level, it seems meaningful and important that the man’s family is unhurt and still intact. The man’s attention returns to the beach below and there he again sees the people who appear to be going about their business. Like Zeus and his lightning bolt, the collective unconscious as a force of nature has sent a message to the man, which seems to read: “There are forces in the world far more powerful than you. Be careful and honor that what you do not know.” The client shared this with me. The dream seems to show the man his provisional status in the world. His ego is dwarfed compared to the immensity of the unconscious, and by extension life itself. Naturally, this analysis and amplification is hardly final nor conclusive. As previously stated, any interpretation can never exhaust the entire meaning of the dream. More dreams will follow, which I will discuss at length in parts two and three of the “Dreams” blog.
Jung, C.G. (1929). Commentary on The secret of the golden flower. In R.F.C Hull (Trans.), The collected works of C.G. Jung. (Vol. 13). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1948). General aspects of dream psychology. In: R. F. C. Hull (Trans.) & H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1916)
Jung, C. G. (1948). On the nature of dreams. In: R. F. C. Hull (Trans.) & H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1945)
Jung, C. G. (1970). Psychology and alchemy. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed.,Vol. 12). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1944)
Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types. (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (2nd ed., Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1921) (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (2nd ed., Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1921)
Jung, C.G. (1988). Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: Notes on the seminar given in 1934-1939. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.