~ Join me on a magical journey into the world of dream interpretation, inspired by the teachings of Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz ~
Have you ever pondered the meaning of those illusive narratives that come to you in the middle of the night? Dreams visit us as mysterious nighttime experiences that can sometimes float away as we awaken, forever out of reach as though they never occurred; other times they leave such a profound impact on our whole being, that they can be vividly recalled and emotionally re-experienced even many years later.
Dreams are the utterance of our own unconscious mind, but the unconscious does not speak to us in our normal way of communicating. The language of the unconscious is entirely symbolic, leaving its nocturnal messages to appear at times odd or completely meaningless to our more rational, conscious minds. This symbolic language is one that we can not easily understand, yet these messages from deep within our own psyche are of the utmost importance to attend to.
In my personal life I have been passionately interested in the work of Carl Jung, who was a pioneer into the study of the unconscious, and the work of Marie-Louise von Franz, who worked closely with Jung for over 30 years. In this series of blog posts, I would like to highlight some of their accumulated teachings regarding the interpretation of dreams. There are some key rules and techniques of dream interpretation, from a Jungian perspective, that can be applied to dream narratives as an aid to understanding the messages they contain. With these helpful tools, seemingly impenetrable dream messages can begin to be deciphered, and the deeper meaning of these messages can be extracted for their healing benefits. This ability to tune-in to and to decode dream messages from one's own unconscious can lead to profound transformation and to a furthering of self-knowledge.
In this first post, I will detail the most common types of dreams and their functions, as described by Carl Jung. In following posts, I will introduce the different characters, motifs and symbols that show up regularly in dreams. Lastly, I will explain how to get started interpreting your own dreams, so you can begin to experience firsthand the amazing healing and guiding potential that your own unconscious has for you.
"Dreams show us how to find meaning in our lives, how to fulfil our own destiny, and how to realise the greater potential of life within us." Marie-Louise von Franz
Types of Dreams
Dreams have many functions: they can help us understand where our conscious world views need to be adjusted, they can warn us from danger, they can build us up when we need encouragement, they can predict events in the future, and they can guide us to a truer, more balanced version of ourselves, to name just a few.
In Jung's paper, "General Aspects of Dream Psychology," he explains how dreams serve to comment on what is happening in the conscious, waking life of the dreamer at the time of the dream. In order to interpret dreams correctly, according to Jung, the dreamer must also pay attention to what has happened in waking life in the day or days preceding the dream. Jung says:
"...dreams are not entirely cut off from the continuity of consciousness, for in almost every dream certain details can be found which have their origin in the impressions, thoughts, and moods of the preceding day or days."
"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."
Like the Yin Yang symbol depicted, the unconscious is striving to bring about balance in the human psyche, and the unconscious will work through dream messages to restore, correct, add, or detract from the dreamer's conscious views in order to create a more harmonious existence in the life of the dreamer. The unconscious is also trying to bring the dreamer's conscious awareness to something that the dreamer does not already know. This is an important point to remember. Jung states:
"Since the meaning of most dreams is not in accord with the tendencies of the conscious mind but shows peculiar deviations, we must assume that the unconscious, the matrix of dreams, has an independent function. This is what I call the autonomy of the unconscious. The dream not only fails to obey our will, but very often stands in flagrant opposition to our conscious intentions"
Keep this in mind when you begin to examine your dreams. Dreams always serve to show you something you do not already know. They aim to reveal psychological blind-spots. Any interpretation that highlights something you already know will likely be incorrect and need to be re-examined.
"Dreams, I maintain, are compensatory to the conscious situation of the moment." Carl Jung
Our psyche as a whole is steadily striving towards balance and inner growth, and this is shown quite clearly in the compensatory nature of dreams. The unconscious, through dream messages, intentionally offers up viewpoints that are designed to compensate for any tendencies or outlooks in consciousness that are too one-sided. Carl Jung states:
"As a rule, the unconscious content contrasts strikingly with the conscious material, particularly when the conscious attitude tends too exclusively in a direction that would threaten the vital needs of the individual. The more one-sided his conscious attitude is, and the further it deviates from the optimum, the greater becomes the possibility that vivid dreams with a strongly contrasting but purposive content will appear as an expression of self-regulation of the psyche."
From a Jungian perspective, the goal to developing a healthy, authentically individual psyche is to remain in the tension - or remain in the middle - between opposing one-sided tendencies. To mature as an individual means to avoid getting pulled endlessly from one extreme tendency to its opposite, equally extreme tendency. Any behaviour or attitude that is too one-sided always carries with it the potential to switch spontaneously to it's opposite, due to the fact that all things possess a dual nature. This sudden switch is called an enantiodromia. For example, anyone who has endured an acrimonious breakup can attest to the fact that it is possible for love to spontaneously switch to its opposite - hate!
This all too human tendency to be too one-sided and to constantly swing between opposing tendencies is brilliantly described by Marie-Louise von Franz in her book, "The Problem of the Puer Aeternus." Von Franz analyses this pull of opposites with tremendous insight, through the psychological interpretation of Bruno Goetz's novel, "The Kingdom Without Space." In Goetz's novel, the main character Melchior is constantly being lured by two opposing forces: a man Ulrich von Spat - who symbolises rationality without any emotion, and a boy Fo - who symbolises youthful emotion and constant movement, but without any goal or result. Marie-Louise von Franz explains:
"The opposites must unite, like the opposites in our book where pure emotion is represented by the boy Fo, and order and reason by von Spat. The author of the book is torn between these two...If you cannot keep in the middle between the two you are lost, which is exactly the tragedy of the book."
"...von Spat and Fo are two aspects of the same thing - each is secretly the other. This is something one always finds in extreme psychological opposites, for at the turning point the two are one. It is the Tai-gi-tu of Chinese philosophy: the germ of the opposite is always in the black or in the white."
Dreams can offer up compensations in incredibly creative ways. In "The Way of the Dream," a young boy relates a dream in which he is soaring through the sky on an eagle, and the eagle repeatedly "shits on the head" of his best friend, who has to turn back home humiliated to shower off. Von Franz explains that this dream is a compensation - in conscious life the boy felt too inferior to his friend, and his unconscious compensated for these feelings of inferiority by humiliating his friend and by dramatically elevating the boy above his friend in his own dream. The boy clearly needed a boost in his self-esteem, and his unconscious provided a very effective one, which ultimately left the boy feeling immensely satisfied with himself!
Any one-sidedness is corrected continuously by one's own unconscious, through the process of dreams. The unconscious points out whenever any behaviour, thought or activity is too off-centre and works to bring the individual back to a healthier middle ground through compensatory dreams.
"There are many people whose conscious attitude is defective not as regards to adaptation to environment but as regards expression of their own character. These are people whose conscious attitude and adaptive performance exceed their capacities as individuals...Such people climb above their natural level thanks to the influence of a collective ideal or the lure of some social advantage, or the support offered by society. They have not grown inwardly to the level of their outward eminence, for which reason the unconscious in all these cases has a negatively compensating, or reductive, function." Carl Jung
Have you ever wondered what dreams of falling, tumbling down, being criticised, or crashing mean? These types of dreams can take on many forms, such as free-falling through the air, crashing a car into a brick wall, tumbling down from a peak at the top of a mountain, and so on. Carl Jung states that a reductive dream "...does more than anything to undermine effectively a position that is too high...Every appearance of false grandeur and importance melts away before the reductive imagery of the dream, which analyses [the dreamer's] conscious attitude with pitiless criticism and brings up devastating material containing a complete inventory of all his most painful weaknesses."
These types of harsh criticisms or brutal falls in dreams are typical features of the reductive function, which serves to show us when we are too lofty in our daily attitude, or when we are not sufficiently in touch with the reality of a situation that is happening in waking life at the time of the dream. In "The Way of the Dream," Marie-Louise von Franz explains:
"If you have dreams of falling, it means that somewhere you are too high up. Perhaps, you have too high an opinion of yourself, or you have romantic, unreal ideas, or you are living in a make-believe world, or in a theory. Somewhere you are not in touch with reality. Sudden fall dreams generally coincide with outer, deep disappointment when one is suddenly faced with naked reality as it is. That can be a deadly shock to the ego. One can be, so to speak, blotted out for a while. The ego is out. It has nothing to say. That is death by hitting the floor."
The earth and the ground symbolise the principle of reality. To be in touch with the ground in dreams is to be rooted in reality. The unconscious is always trying to create balance, so if we are not realistic enough, if we are too egotistical, or if we are facing a situation in waking life where we are likely to be disappointed, the unconscious will point this out to us clearly in symbolic form - bringing us back down to earth so to speak - through these types of reductive dreams.
"The occurrence of prospective dreams cannot be denied." Carl Jung
Sometimes an individual's conscious views are too drastically out of line with their deeper Self, and this inner mis-alignment can result in the expression of various neurotic symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, low energy, restlessness, and so on. In these cases, the unconscious often sends dreams of a prospective nature, that over time serve to guide the individual to a truer, more all-encompassing version of themselves. Jung says:
"When the individual deviates from the norm in the sense that his conscious attitude is unadapted both objectively and subjectively, the merely compensatory function of the unconscious becomes a guiding, prospective function capable of leading the conscious attitude in quite a different direction which is much better than the previous one."
"The prospective function, on the other hand, is an anticipation in the unconscious of future conscious achievements, something like a preliminary exercise or sketch, or a plan roughed out in advance. Its symbolic content sometimes outlines the solution of a conflict."
In "The Way of the Dream," Marie-Louise von Franz tells the story of a fine art painter who was experiencing distressing neurotic symptoms and had reoccurring dreams telling him to change his style of painting from old-fashioned portraits to modern, brightly coloured abstract art. Consciously, he absolutely hated modern art, yet night after night his dreams urged him to paint abstractly. Von Franz says:
"...as soon as he obeyed these dream messages, his neurotic symptoms...disappeared. He was cured by completely changing his artistic style."
This is just one example of many in which dreams serve to guide an individual to a more genuine version of themselves. Prospective dreams are quite common due to the fact that the collective norms of modern society often contrast with the deeper needs of individuals. In "The Animus: The Spirit of Inner Truth in Women, Volume 1," Barbara Hannah explains:
"Every child goes through a period of wholeness when it is very young...But the child who is raised in our so-called civilisation is soon called out of this paradise and educated more and more to fit into our one-sided world, which no longer has much of an idea of wholeness. Our civilisation, for example, suffers from the loss of the paradox, thus it is not surprising that - long before modern psychology - many individuals really lived their whole lives in an unconscious search for their lost wholeness."
Dreams guide us towards inner wholeness, and this guidance ultimately allows us to express our true nature in a more integrated way. The prospective function of dreams aligns us with our own inner compass, and can lead us to find greater satisfaction and deeper meaning in our lives.
"The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul." Carl Jung
I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to the world of dreams. I would like to note that this list is by no means exhaustive! Carl Jung also discusses the existence of Reaction Dreams - where traumatic events are replayed in dreams repeatedly, and Telepathic Dreams - where both significant and insignificant future events are predicted in dreams.
The dream world is a wonder that gives us access to our own unconscious and to the deeper truths that reside within. Tuning into dreams offers innumerable benefits for our own psychic health and can lead us to a more meaningful and expansive existence.
Join me next time where I will discuss The Shadow, and how the psychological shadow can sometimes show up in dreams as friends, acquaintances, or hostile strangers in pursuit. In the meantime, keep a pen and paper by your bed and begin to write down your dreams. Also, please do post any questions in the comments below, and I will do my best to answer them. Happy dreaming! :)
General Aspect of Dream Psychology - Carl Jung
On the Nature of Dreams - Carl Jung
The Way of the Dream - Marie-Louise von Franz and Fraser Boa
The Problem of the Puer Aeternus - Marie-Louise von Franz
The Animus: The Spirit of Inner Truth in Women, Volume 1 - Barbara Hannah