What are Dreams?
After years of sporadic blogging over a variety of platforms, I realized that it would be best to have all my content on one site (especially those in the realm of Paganism and Psychology) so, now that I've created Hedgewitch Herbarium - my content finally has a forever home!
The following post was originally on my Collective Unconscious Wordpress blog - but I'd like to share it with you here - to illustrate my own perspective on dream interpretation and to kick off my Dream Interpretation service!
I will also be sharing my own dreams and their interpretations in future posts, to inspire you to create your own Dream Journal and to give you an idea on how to go about analyzing your dreams - in order to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your relationships and your life.
Learning how to heal and assimilate the knowledge you unearth while interpreting your dreams is an invaluable skill - so let's get started!
Dreams inform our lives and stories, providing inspiration for art, music and literature; affecting change in the world, from science to politics and religion.
For me, my dreams are like chapters of my life story. I gain much inspiration and ideas from them to include in my writing.
A while ago, I finished listening to an audio book (the Great courses) about sleep, which pretty much dismissed dreams as random images with no meaning. I was dismayed and disappointed, even though there was a side to me that understood that some people – especially scientists – view dream analysis as a fanciful aberration.
When I stopped recording my dreams, they diminished quite a lot, to the degree where I barely registered any dreams or found it difficult to recall them – if I had dreamed at all. It wasn’t until I re-dedicated myself to the Pagan path, when it dawned on me that the information delivered in the audiobook was faulty.
I’ve said before, that dreams notice you noticing them – then they become more rich and vivid.
Delwyn and the Portal Stormers - from my fantasy series -
The Storming Archives (shameless plug!)
Every day there are images, impressions, emotions, memories, attitudes and other things related to the human experience that are filtered through our minds, then stored in the subconscious. When we dream, those experiences, ideas etc. are filtered back up to our conscious minds.
Yes, they are sometimes “random” images, but they are gleaned from the subconscious, where they “mingle” with our behaviors and memories. They are shaped and infused with our own belief systems, psychologies/personalities, before they appear in our dreams.
That’s why – when we dissect and analyze our dreams – common themes and symbols become known to us, then we can recognize patterns and relate them to any issues we have in our lives. This is something I have always done with my dream interpretations. My Agnostic/Atheistic side forces me to keep “fact-checking” myself when I am interpreting my dreams, as I don’t want to muddy the waters with wishful thinking.
Throughout the years, I’ve discovered things about myself, my life and other people when I’ve analyzed my dreams and I’ve developed a richer and deeper understanding of human nature and the world we live in.
How else can you explain nightmares and recurring dreams – if not generated by the subconscious or brought about by chaos or problems that we deal with in waking life?
Why would great thinkers - like Carl Jung - spend a great deal of their lives devoted to researching the psyche, if there was no evidence to support their theories or any positive outcomes and insights gained by their analysis of their patients and students?
I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Whatever works!”
If – after all is said and done – dreams are just random images, then it still shouldn’t matter if we record and analyze them for personal growth and understanding. I’ll also say that you could obtain a similar result when analyzing your emotional responses to a piece of music, work of art, great novel, sumptuous food or glorious lovemaking.
The only thing that matters is the end result: deeper knowledge and understanding of yourself and the world.
Dreams have brought answers to puzzling questions, closure for grieving people, comfort and happiness, as well as fear and introspection. All of these and more allow us to analyze our lives from a different perspective. The human experience is a shared experience – even if you’re a hermit!
Dreams alert us to aspects regarding ourselves and our lives that might need to be dealt with. They sometimes alert us to dangerous behavior and have been – at times – prophetic.
I’d like to add that in terms of prophetic dreams, I’m also talking about the ones where it’s obvious that the current path we are treading can be leading to danger. We all have the ability to see (particularly when observing and contemplating others) behavioral patterns that could lead to a terrible end. The subconscious dredges up symbols that “it” thinks will alarm us enough to convince us to change our ways.
There are also dreams that mystify us by depicting events that actually come true. Taking into consideration futurism, common sense, psychological and even spiritual awareness, dreams have the capacity to not only explain the past – but to track our progress through life and to hint at what is to come.
Dreams are our own thoughts and memories coming back at us. If they originate from the subconscious and are supposedly meaningless – what does that say about us, our experiences and our lives? Are we meaningless? Does it mean that we are just microbes, with our conscious minds being the only “worthy” part of our psyches?
If dreams are just random images – then what is the point or reason for showing them to us in the first place? If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to dream at all. It’s an aberration.
Some would say that it’s just the brain idling or cleaning the memory banks in order to prepare for another day, but that doesn’t account for recurring dreams, themes or symbols. Sometimes the imagery can be so complex and convoluted, it’s difficult to believe that they are random and meaningless.
Fair enough, our minds are complex, but when a dream comes from nowhere with an intricate story-line and attention to detail, it’s hard to consider it unimportant and not worthy of our attention.
If you were to argue that those more likely to have vivid dreams are also more likely to have active imaginations and creative streaks, I would reiterate that they are also more likely to have a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. It’s the chicken and egg conundrum all over again.
When you ignore your dreams because you think that they’re bogus – you probably won’t remember them and you’re likely to continue through life thinking that everything is okay or that everything that happens to you is someone else’s fault or at the very least – a random event.
Now, I’m not saying that those who ignore their dreams are ignorant and live boring lives. It’s just that analysis and examination of projections, perceptions and behavioral traits enrich understanding.
Of course, an intelligent person who doesn’t believe that dreams are worth interpreting can obviously see (if they apply critical thinking) that their current circumstances and the events in their past, were brought about by certain decisions and choices.
I would ask, why wouldn’t anyone want a better handle on their emotions and evolutionary growth? Why wouldn’t anyone find symbolism and mythology intriguing – especially when applied to things like self-analysis and contemplation?
Dreams are a part of us – a deeper side to our personalities and our lives. They can provide revelations that we might not have considered otherwise. I’ve gained so much wisdom from analyzing my dreams and have decided to continue to do so. Aside from anything else – it’s thoroughly enjoyable!
Dragonflies are Totems for the Dreamworld
Self analysis would be pointless (in my view) without the inclusion of dream interpretation. The subconscious world is the playing field where our daily events, relationships, memories, impressions, problems, personality issues etc are ‘played’ out – like a nightly performance. They afford us the opportunity to dissect, analyze and integrate the messages into our waking consciousness.
When our consciousness lapses into sleep, the subconscious mind takes over and dredges up all the things we have repressed, ignored or denied – to produce the dream. When we’re awake, it can filter through to produce visions.
It’s also the realm that gives us the playground for daydreaming and creativity – offering us the forum and tools we need in order to explore and understand ourselves, others and the world around us.
how do we interpret dreams?
By interpreting the symbols, atmospheres, emotions and actions – even the time of day. It’s been said that if the dream was in the morning, then it represents our early years. Midday indicates now or our middle years. If the dream was in the evening or night time, then it denotes our later years.
If you dream in color (some people don’t) – analyze the meaning of the colors – also shapes, numbers, etc. The list is endless. Dreams sometimes speak in puns – for example: seeing someone kicking a bucket could be death (which in turn, could represent the ending of old habits or way of life, transformation etc) – or it could just mean a bad tempered person!
Another example would be a crumbled cookie – saying “that’s just the way things are” – regarding an issue that might be bothering you – basically saying “That’s the way the cookie crumbles”. Or it could just mean that you feel you don’t have enough to eat – with only crumbs available.
Our dreams can also speak to us in riddles, in contrast to blatantly direct messages. That’s why dreams can be so difficult (and sometimes annoying) when we’re attempting to interpret them – however – the process is also interesting, illuminating and definitely rewarding.
They can also show sides of ourselves as reflected through others, which is confusing when we try to place the blame or try to figure out who and what the dream was talking about. (We’ll explore this further, regarding the elements of the Shadow, the Anima/Animus and the Self, later on in this post.)
The most vital tool to interpreting your dreams is understanding universal or ‘classic’ symbolism – in contrast to your own personal symbolism. A monkey can represent a mischievous character to one person – and to another – it may symbolize a wise man or woman. A flower could mean beauty, growth, coming of age, sexual attractiveness, pregnancy and so on. It all depends on the dreamer and what’s going on in their lives.
The Swan is another Dream Totem
It’s important to keep a dream journal – whether a notebook or a word document on your computer. (If you’re not much of an artist – you can cut and paste images to represent the symbols, which makes the process fun.
Alternatively, keep a tape recorder or note taker by your bed, so you don’t have to scramble around trying to find your pen and journal in the dark.
A handy tip – You can remember your dreams more easily when your eyes are shut. The theta waves are in play – just like when you’re dreaming.
It’s somewhat difficult to interpret dreams as ‘prophetic’, due to the many possibilities regarding the symbolic nature of them. People have had them throughout history: like the man who dreamed that there was going to be a plane crash and tried to alert authorities – to no avail. A plane did crash, as per the details in his dream. But as plane crashes happen a lot –it’s hard to 100% apply it as prophetic.
To dream of death – even dead bodies, pronouncements of death, headstones etc – does not necessarily mean that you or someone else is going to die. It usually represents endings, transformation and so on. It’s important to take into consideration other symbols surrounding it, such as the atmosphere, what the people were doing, saying, how they were dressed etc.
Seeing dead bodies could signify issues such as illnesses in the body, lethargy or certain aspects of the body changing. Sometimes we don’t see that a dream was prophetic until way after it occurs.
I had a dream once, where (to cut a long story short) I had a fly agaric toadstool in my pocket (the red ones with white specks on them.) The pocket was in a white jacket made of wolf’s fur. In front of me was a congregation of rabbits, who trembled every time I faced them.
I tried to interpret it to the best of my ability at the time, but it wasn’t until later – a few months later – when I realized that it meant that I needed to be careful as to who I told about my being a witch, as some people were afraid of me afterwards. (Their projection – not mine, I assure you. I’m quite a pleasant person!)
There are also dreams that can alert us to the fact that we might have medical issues that we’re not aware of – or are about to manifest. For example: I had a dream that I was on the second floor of a house, where the lower floor was in flames. I tried to escape down a ladder, but it was also on fire.
Not long afterwards, I had problems with a very painful hip, due to a joint problem. It felt as though it was on fire and I had to get x-rays and tests done, but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. For two months I had to take anti inflammatory medication, until it went away by itself.
To dream of a house sometimes means you’re exploring the ‘Mansion of the soul’. Apparently the basement can represent your repressed memories or hidden self. The kitchen sometimes means your family memories or the nurturing side of yourself. The bedroom can represent your sexual side; the attic can signify what’s going on with your mental or spiritual attitudes; the lounge room can denote how you present to others or how you act in a crowd, and so on.
I’m not trying to dissuade you from interpreting your dreams as prophetic, but just be careful, as you may be - at times – deluding yourself to the point of being disappointed when they don’t come into being. (Especially if you dream about becoming wealthy!)
wish fulfillment dreams
Not all the wonderful dreams we have are wish fulfillment. For example: some sexual dreams deal with our attitudes towards our own sexuality, our sexual history or even the desire to ‘unite’ with someone, an idea or group of people, etc.
Once again, it all depends on the dreamer and their circumstances. We often have dreams where we are having sex with a famous person we either secretly adore or never had any attraction to.
You don’t necessarily need to be single to have sexual dreams, therefore – it doesn’t automatically signify that you are sexually starved! (Even though sexual starvation does occur in some relationships.) For some sex addicts, to dream of having sex rarely occurs, but usually appears in some other format, such as packed trains or laundry baskets full of dirty underwear.
Sometimes their dreams involve grossly abnormal sexuality or bizarre events – even animals (denoting base or animalistic desires.) But that can also occur for people who are celibate.
To dream of eating delicious food such as gourmet cooking, chocolate, cakes or feasting at a smorgasbord – can represent physical starvation – e.g. someone on a diet or financially challenged. It can also signify other issues – even sex. Once again it all depends on what else is going on in the dream and your life, your attitudes, etc.
Dreaming of finding a wad of cash or a wallet bursting with money usually appears when we don’t have any! Also, dreaming of being successful and powerful sometimes appears when we feel powerless and unimportant. The subconscious tries to make up for any shortcomings, which again makes the interpretation of dreams harder still. We need to be careful not to jump to conclusions and to assess the dream from all possible angles.
Recurring dreams and common themes are usually an indication that we are not paying attention to ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. Of course, some common themes do continue occurring, as either it ‘worked’ before – when you paid heed or where your subconscious ‘knows’ what symbols to use to grab your attention.
universal or classic dreams
Having a good understanding of basic symbolism helps when interpreting your dreams, as well as a working knowledge of archetypes, which we’ll discuss soon. I’ll include here a brief list of ‘universal’ or ‘classic’ dreams, which we all seem to have at one time or another. Again, this all depends on the dreamer, the circumstances etc. But on average, the following can be applied for general purposes:
Flying – a desire to get away from difficulties; escape, desire for freedom. Some say flying represents an idealized view of your sexual capacity! Look at how you’re flying, where, the weather, your feelings – e.g. elated or fearful?
Falling – sometimes linked with flying, but usually an anxiety dream, indicating lack of support, feelings of insecurity, a need for structure, etc. Successful people often have this dream, for obvious reasons.
Nakedness – feeling exposed (where you might be worrying about others finding out your hidden side, etc), repressed sexuality, vulnerability, concern about social status, etc.
Loose teeth – falling out or being pulled can signify the desire to change your situation, feeling powerless, insecurities regarding your appearance, impotence, etc.
Snakes – can signify new perceptions and realities. Historically they meant psychic or sexual energy or deep seated fears; a “snake in the grass” to watch out for (as a pun).
Travel – depends on the vehicle. e.g. Airplanes could mean foreign concepts, or the same as flying. A train could signify how you ’travel’ in life alongside others and so on. Are you going left or right (wrong or right)? Are you driving or is someone else, meaning - who’s in charge of the vehicle (your life) etc.?
Weather: Rain – water usually represents emotions, so being in the rain or seeing it could mean tears or emotional issues. Alternatively it could mean washing something clean or a welcome sign of rejuvenation.
Also, being underwater could mean being swamped by emotions, but water can represent the subconscious and being lost in your thoughts or depression. Therefore, swimming might indicate being on top of things or coping reasonably well, while standing on a pier or looking over an ocean could show how in control you are - or even void of emotion/cut off from your feelings.
Weather: Storms – struggles, personal disaster etc. Raging emotions, war of words, chaos – sometimes necessary to clear the path.
Weather: Tidal waves – I used to often have these dreams – it usually represents feeling overwhelmed by your emotions. It depends on what’s going on. For example: I used to dream that the wave was washing over me and I had no control, but once I resolved these issues (to a degree!) – I dreamt that the tidal wave came, then crashed – but by the time the water reached me I was sitting down calmly, letting the foam tickle my toes.
Being chased – this is a very common, universal dream, as we all have times in our lives where we are either running away from ourselves or the things that we think can hurt us. Who is the person chasing you – a monster, wild woman etc? Could it be an aspect of yourself? (To be discussed further down.)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty of good books about dreams out there – depending on your needs, e.g. you might want the mystical interpretations or folklore, rather than psychological, etc. Mythic themes are useful in the interpretation of dreams – but we still need to focus on how the symbols speak to us personally.
what if we ignore our dreams?
If we ignore our dreams (especially if they are important) our subconscious may eventually create a nightmare, where there is more urgency and the symbols become more exaggerated and sometimes terrifying.
Even though nightmares can be frightening, they do afford us the opportunity to dissect difficult things or situations in our lives, and help us realize that things aren’t as grim as we thought they were.
That knowledge helped me with the fear I used to feel in dreams. Now – even when I see a terrifying image – I’m more like a scientist, trying to figure it out whilst in the dream. (Lucid dreaming is covered further down.)
Facing our ‘demons’ is usually the reason the nightmare comes to us, if we’ve ignored the messages in previous dreams. We need to treat dreams like mini documentaries and take them seriously. Our subconscious is like a reporter on the edge, feeding back relevant information – the news!
discovering your personal symbology
Symbols are everywhere, as encapsulations of all kinds of information, depending on how they are used and who is looking at them. Interpreting symbols – even whilst awake – is a great exercise in understanding your reactions to imagery. For example: you’re walking past a field and see some horses. Meditate on what they mean to you – e.g. strength, freedom, spirit?
If you see leaves falling from a tree, what does it invoke in you? Maybe the cycle of life, the autumn years, waste? If you witness an argument, can you read between the lines as to what’s really going on, or are they just having a spirited discussion? What does their body language tell you?
Or perhaps you see an abandoned car by the side of the road. Does it represent a discarded life, forgotten dreams, rubbish? Doing this exercise not only helps you hone your interpretation skills, it also trains your mind to analyze things from different perspectives. Believe me – it’s amazing how quickly this skill transfers to the dream world and awakens the possibility for understanding, as well as lucid dreaming.
This is where we actually become aware that we are dreaming, whilst in the dream. This is a level of consciousness that allows us to keep a foot in each world simultaneously, bridging the conscious and subconscious realms. In this state, we are able to delve deeper into our unconscious motivations and the psyche, and to work out issues (some of them serious). We are also able to explore the wonderful dream realm and are only limited by our imaginations!
The word lucid comes from the Latin ‘lux’ – meaning light – which is interesting, as it is about the concept of ‘shedding light’ on the subject. While this is a fascinating experience, it is by no means easy. Sometimes it happens randomly without any prompting from our conscious mind; other times – it needs to be planned and ‘activated’.
One way to activate the experience is to program yourself, before you go to sleep. A little later I’ll talk about incubating dreams. One of the methods is to tell yourself before you go to sleep, that you will be alert during the dream and that something – a symbol or action – will prompt you to become aware that you are dreaming, therefore taking control of it.
Apparently lucid dreaming also reduces the frequency of nightmares, so it’s obviously a useful tool. It has been noted that children dream lucidly – more than adults – though the reasons why seem to be a little vague, such as sleeping patterns, etc.
Being more aware of your subconscious world, through analysis and dream interpretation is helpful – as well as meditation – which assists in helping you gain more control over your inner world. Again, programming yourself is useful, especially when coupled with hypnosis (or self hypnosis – which can be gained with such things as affirmations, meditation and creative visualization, even combining the two: pathworking.)
If you program yourself before you go to sleep, so that you will be alerted once an ‘unreal’ action or event occurs in the dream, it should prompt you to take note (hopefully!) If there’s a common theme in your dreams that could be considered as ‘unreal’ – a great exaggeration of reality or some other recurring symbol – program yourself to recognize it when dreaming, in order to trigger the process of lucidity.
If you often dream of blue birds, stairs going this way and that or suddenly ‘teleporting’ to some other place (unusual or not) etc – then use them as ‘lucidity triggers’.
This doesn’t mean – by any stretch of the imagination – that you will be 100% successful. It takes a lot of practice and programming. Just make sure you continue recording and analyzing your dreams – maybe you’ll achieve and possibly even master lucid dreaming!
It’s funny how it becomes easier when you take the time to dissect them. It’s like your subconscious mind ‘knows’ it’s being watched! I’ve met a few people who dream lucidly, all the time – so just keep at it. I assure you, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Be mindful that there will be times that the lucidity will slip through your fingers. It’s easy to get caught up in the dream world and forget that you’re dreaming. One way to trigger lucidity is to recognize – in the dream – that what’s going on wouldn’t happen in waking life. For example: people with apples for heads, or driving cars without your hands on the wheel, etc.
For some people, it helps to wake themselves up, with an alarm clock or some other method (like drinking too much liquid before going to bed, so you’ll wake up – hopefully – to go to the toilet). Then stay awake for a while, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour.
The reason for this is that it ‘disturbs’ the sleeping patterns and sometimes evokes lucidity. But be careful that you don’t disrupt your whole sleeping pattern. You don’t want to spend your days walking around like a zombie or ending up an insomniac!
Another method is to try to retain consciousness whilst going to sleep. This is difficult to do, but the theory is that you’ll stay alert for the entry into the dream state, therefore – you'll be lucid and aware that you’re dreaming. I have tried this myself, but found for me – I might be aware for a few minutes and then forget that I am dreaming. Vigilance and perseverance is definitely a factor.
There are several methods for the incubation of dreams. One way – as discussed – is to program yourself before going to sleep, such as repeating a mantra, like “I wish to dream about...” The same could be done for a particular dream that deals with a certain issue. For example: “I will dream about a solution to…”
To start with, I find it useful to read a certain type of book before bed, or listen to a particular type of music, watch a movie etc., that embodies the kind of issues and images I’d like to have in my dream. Also, talk about it during the day (to yourself or others) as though it’s an established fact – that you’re going to have a certain type of dream.
A good way to achieve self-programming is – of course – ritual. Ritual speaks to the subconscious, so it’s an excellent tool for dream incubation.
You don’t need to be a witch to conduct a ritual. We have little rituals in our life every day. You might want to align yourself with a particular archetype or deity. Even if you’re Christian, you could ask Jesus to help guide you in the process. Other deities could be:
Another deity is Bes – an Egyptian god, whose likeness was carved on headboards to chase nightmares away. (It is said that if you draw a picture of him on your left hand and wrap it in a black cloth – that has been dedicated to Isis – he will bring you the dream you want.)
There are many other deities out there, or you can use an archetype. Whatever makes you comfortable. The correspondences you can use when conducting your ritual could be as follows:
You don’t have to use all of them – even one herb/plant or stone will suffice.
Dream Totems to consider:
The above is just a guide. You might not want to incorporate ritual at all, and might be more comfortable just meditating. It’s up to you to choose the methods that you feel most comfortable with and then go from there.
DREAM INCUBATION RITUAL
If you like, draw a picture of the deity/archetype you’re going to use, as well as a Totem animal (or all three), if you like. Write out your question or statement regarding what kind of dream you want to have.
Get a white or silver candle, consecrate it with sandalwood oil (again – depending on your preference) and prepare a cauldron or dish for your charcoal and incense (made from the herbs/plants - dried) and set them on your altar or bedside table – being careful with the flame of the candle and charcoal.
You can place the gems on your altar/bedside table or put them under your pillow (with the note, if you won’t be burning it in the ritual).
Light the candle, sprinkle some of the incense on the lit charcoal and call the quarters. Invoke the deities etc that you wish to have assist you in the ritual. Cast a protective circle and state the following (or write your own verbiage):
“Hear me, Morpheus – God of dreams, I invoke Thee” (or whoever you’re using) “I seek your assistance tonight. Bring me a dream that answers this question” (either put the note in the cauldron to burn or put it under your pillow.)
“As this candle burns, the energies of dream incubation will be released. Thank you Morpheus” – or whoever your guide is. Then meditate on the flame, performing creative visualization, incorporating the Totem animal – giving you the answers you desire. Mix it up to suit your purpose.
When you’re done, close the quarters and circle, go to bed and go over your question in symbolic format – e.g. if you want to know how to combat an emotional issue, see the issue as a tear falling down your face, and so on. Use your imagination, which speaks to your subconscious.
When you awake, record your impressions. As I said before, you don’t have to conduct a ritual, it’s just that ritual is a great way of programming your subconscious will. If you prefer to only meditate and/or put the gems under your pillow with the note, that’s perfectly fine. The important thing is – to set the tone for your desired outcome.
You might notice that the symbols in your dream seem totally nonsensical in regards to what you asked for, but don’t be discouraged. This is always the way the subconscious appears (at first.) Do analyze the dream and keep a look out for the next few nights – as the answer might not come straight away.
basic archetypes and individuation
Carl Jung regarded the individuation process as involving the developmental path that we all take during our lives, taking into consideration the fact that each of us are individuals with unique destinies. He stated that we have two personalities: the outward, ‘conscious’ personality and the hidden personality, contained in the ‘collective unconscious’.
Under the conscious self is a well of repressed, ignored or forgotten feelings, memories and behavioral patterns, which he called the ‘personal unconscious’. Beneath that lies the ‘collective unconscious’ – a depository which is massive and encompasses all the behaviors and imagery that have been recorded right throughout history, since ancient times.
Jung believed that this collective unconscious – this depository of human memories etc. – shows how history still has an incredible impact on us and our lives.
The Archetypal Stages of Individuation
1/ The Shadow: this is the archetype that embodies all the personal traits that we ignore, deny or repress. It usually represents itself as the same sex as the dreamer or as a monster, depending on the level of repression, etc.
2/ The Anima/Animus: usually the archetype that represents the opposite sex to the dreamer or the male/female aspects of the dreamer.
3/ The Self: this is the archetype of the integrated persona – the ‘whole’ self - usually represented by a wise man or woman, but it can take on other forms, such as animals, inanimate objects – in nature and man made – or a variety of human forms. In our dreams, we are often pulled back by our past and prompted by our future.
These energies are sometimes personified or objectified by our archetypes. The individuation process is when we begin to integrate the whole of our consciousness into a singular being, rather than a fragmented being. Dreams are the individuation process reports; they tell us how we’re going in relation to our integration of various personas, attitudes, beliefs and so on.
The archetypes appear in our lives through the individuation process, which is determined by the type of person we are. This is why each path for each person is different.
Usually, the individuation process involves the second stage of life, according to Jung. He believed that we spend the first half of our lives building the personality, and when that’s accomplished (if not, then the process is difficult to say the least!) – then we can focus on going within.
During the first half of life, we learn how to live and how to deal with the world and the people in our lives. Our parents are the be all and end all, when we are young. They are the authorities and what they say usually goes. We become who we are depending on their expectations and how they present themselves to us – often mimicking their behavior.
We all enter into this world with a blueprint of who we can become. It needs to be able to adapt to all the different energies, experiences and people we encounter, in order for us to fulfill our destiny. We all have inherent skills, abilities and desires, which are sometimes denied, ignored or repressed in order to satisfy the expectations of others.
According to Jung, one or more personalities grow around these ignored or repressed desires etc. – which become the Shadow. When new issues arise in our life and we don’t know how to deal with them, the Shadow figure appears in our dreams, which symbolizes the energies we need in order to deal with them. Jung said that the Shadow appears when a new cycle is about to begin.
To start with, the Shadow appears as non-human, like a monster, zombie, etc. Later on they become fully human, the same sex as us – but still frightening. Later still, they become more of a nuisance, rather than a scary persona. We then look down at them and put up with their presence.
Further on, they become acquaintances (although not important), then they evolve into friends, family members, or even partners. If we have integrated their traits into our persona, they will no longer appear in our dreams, as they have become a part of us.
If we continue to deny our true identity, the Shadow will pursue us in nightmares, which is why we need to stop and engage the Shadow, to find out what it wants. (This is why shadow figures appear in nightmares and dreams – because we have become too set in our ways or have forgotten our true path.)
When we think that we are perfect, the Shadow figure contrasts this with the opposite persona – imperfect, dark, menacing and so on. The Shadow teaches us about how misguided we are about our desires.
When we repress ourselves sexually, a shadow figure appears who emulates all kinds of sexual ‘aberrations’. The more we deny the shadow, the more power we give it. After a while, it becomes too powerful for us to ignore. We either slip up and do things we’d rather forget or project it onto others, especially those who aren’t as inhibited.
If we acknowledge the Shadow, we can evolve. If we repress it, we suffer its wrath. In order to understand the Shadow, we need to see our projections and break them down.
If we don’t examine our hidden selves, they build to monster proportions and break through to our conscious lives. If you come across someone in your dream who frightens you or if you fight with them, observe their qualities and investigate what correlates to your personality and integrate them. The more the conflict – the more likely that you’re dealing with a Shadow figure.
The Anima and Animus
The Anima is the males’ feminine aspect and the Animus is the masculine aspect of the female. It’s more difficult to integrate the Anima/Animus than the shadow. Intense emotional energies occur when we transform from the shadow to the Anima/Animus.
Once the Shadow qualities become integrated, the Anima/Animus issues appear – although I’ve found they can occur simultaneously. The Shadow appears to alert us to our hidden, ignored, forgotten or repressed desires and the Anima/Animus takes it from there.
The world of the Anima/Animus is the testing ground for how we conduct ourselves in relationships (personal and with the world.) Our issues with our parents are also reflected in the workings of the Anima/Animus.
The Anima/Animus appears in our dreams in many formats. As God/Goddess – such as Mars (embodying war, fortitude, etc.) and Aphrodite (embodying beauty, love, compassion etc.) They also appear as a variety of different archetypes, like the mother or father. They personify those particular qualities that we need when we are about to go through a transformation.
The Anima/Animus shows us how misguided we can be about our emotions and relationships. In the Shadow stage, we discover that the ‘monster’ is actually us. In the Anima/Animus stage, we discover that we are connected to everyone and everything.
The Self teaches us that we need to discover our inherent nature, in order to be wholly integrated.
The Self is even harder to interpret than the Shadow or Anima/Animus. As an archetype, the Self encompasses many images and forms, which is what makes it so difficult to interpret. The Self is who we were destined to be; the supreme goal. It’s the divine aspect of ourselves.
As we have an idealized view of ourselves (or who we should be), we usually use the archetype of the Self to measure other people against. When we stray from our true Self, a Shadow figure appears, but as we draw closer to our Self – the Shadow becomes less of a monster and more like ourselves.
In dreams, the Self can be represented by an animal or even a tree, flower or river. Jung also believed that the Self could be symbolized by things such as mandalas and other forms.
These images often appear in our dreams when some kind of order is being restored within ourselves. If we don’t see the image, animal etc. as an expression or symbol of ourselves, then integration will be difficult. When we dream about animals, usually depicted as aloof or disinterested, we need to realize that the Self has appeared to us.
Reptiles – especially snakes - are usually representative of the Self, as they appear when a new cycle is about to commence. They embody wisdom and powerful instincts. Apparently the most common representations of the Self as an animal are: snakes, horses, bulls, elephants, bears, black and white birds, fish, turtles, spiders, snails and beetles!
The “Mana” Personality
In dreams, this is a being with magical powers and is evocative of the occult. Once the Anima/Animus is integrated, the Mana personality appears – sometimes before the Self does – and is considered a lesser representation of the Self. It forces us to question out true identity; to ask ourselves the question – “Who am I?” This is the part of the individuation process that is key – “How do I go from who I’ve become to who I’m supposed to be?”
We are ‘self actualized’ when our motivations are ‘pure’ and not colored by external expectations. Put another way, we can only truly be ourselves when we follow our own path rather than someone else’s, or their idea of what our path should be.
Self actualized people are those who adhere to concepts such as truth, justice and beauty. They cope with life better than others, no matter how difficult the journey is. They truly ‘feel’ or experience the good and the bad in life. They are truly connected to their emotions, but once felt and expressed – are more able to move on - quicker than those who are not self actualized.
We can’t be our true selves without having confronted and dealt with who we are and what we want in life, without other people’s projections interfering. (Notwithstanding solicited advice, legitimate concerns and so on.) According to Jung, there are strange side effects when the Self appears, such as emotional outbursts that seem to happen for no good reason, or strange illnesses that seemingly appear out of nowhere.
Other symptoms might include prophetic dreams which come true and other ‘paranormal’ activity. This is the time when we need to guard against assuming we have become everyone’s ‘guru’ – especially towards those we think are less evolved.
This apparently occurs because of the archetypal energy released when the Self appears. We can counteract this distorted use of the energy by channeling it through a creative outlet. This is the process of sharing the collective unconscious with the world.
final notes on dreams
We surely now understand why analyzing our dreams is important. When we take notice of our dreams they take notice of us noticing them! We form a ‘bond’ with the dream realm and it reacts accordingly.
See how your dreams change once you start taking them seriously. When analyzing your symbols, use free word association and stream of consciousness methods. Let your imagination run wild! This helps amplify the meaning, giving you every possible angle, so that you have a better chance of finding what makes the most sense to you.
Words are also symbols, so check out their meanings in the dictionary, thesaurus and even world history, to see if you can shed any light on the subject. If your dream resembles a mythic story or fairy tale, research it to see if you can gain any more insights.
I can not emphasize how important it is to record your dreams. Give them titles and dates so that you can access them easier. Use drawings if you can’t find the right words to describe them. You’ll discover that your dreams contain many wild adventures and opportunities for growth that will literally change your life.
P.S. If you want to see examples of my own dream interpretations, check out my post - and thanks for hanging in there!