It is useful to look a little bit closer at our dreams and to analyze them. They contain unconscious happenings which compensate the conscious ego. Dreams give us clarification on non-personal motives, situations, our shortcomings, and so on, of which we are not, or only vaguely, aware of in everyday life.
When analyzing one’s dreams, one obtains a healthy self-criticism, the first step necessary for a purposeful psychological development. Dreams tell us precisely what is wrong and what needs to be done to correct it. By acting correspondingly, one becomes more conscious of oneself. The consciousness grows from its restricted and personal, sensitive ego-world to a new horizon.
The origin of conscious actions, with all their shortcomings and advantages, is in the unconscious of man. One of the ways the world of the unconscious expresses itself is by dreams. By means of symbols and events it tries to communicate with our consciousness. All too often one does not attach any importance to dreams and one does not make any effort to recall them. They contain complete information of our entire being and by listening to this dream world, man can gain access to a wonderful world that is as real as what we call our conscious reality. It is a world in which we are rooted. From this dream world we get the food for our inner growth, although we do not recognize it. He who closes himself of to this world is just floating around on the ocean. But he who listens and understands the language of the birds, the winds and the waves, knows where he can go unhindered. So it is with dreams. He who knows their language, knows how to repair mistakes, and thus lead a better life.
Carl Gustav Jung wrote in his ‘Ubergang’ that the dream is as “a small hidden door to the most deep hidden and secret corners of the psyche, an entrance to the cosmic night, which was the psyche before there was any trace of an ‘ego’-consciousness: and what will remain the psyche, no matter how far our ‘ego’-consciousness might stretch itself… All consciousness acts to divide, but in our dreams we take the form of a more universal, true and eternal man who wanders through the darkness of the primal night. There he is still the whole man, and this wholeness is in him, not distinguishable from nature and devoid of any ego-consciousness. From this all unifying depth the dream arises; no matter how childish, grotesque or immoral the dream might be.”
In the entire history of man, and with all cultures, dreams have always been important. Dreams were a means for the gods to contact man. But demons and evil spirits also entered the dreams of man. Shamans and magicians always paid close attention to dreams as they could contain the fate of the entire tribe.
In ancient Egypt temples were dedicated to dream work. Their priests were known as ‘Masters of the Secret Things’. The explanation of dreams was a kind of commerce. Archeologists have uncovered a sign with the text: “I explain dreams with the mandate of the gods. Much luck. The present dream interpreter is from Crete.”
In those temples, dreams were induced with the intent of making a diagnoses or to treat a disease. Close to the temple of Hathor in Egypt are the ruins of a sanitarium where the goddess caused amazing healings. In the building was a four headed statue of her from which water streamed into the gallery.
In the second century BC there were some 320 known dream temples in Greece and in other Mediterranean countries. These temples were dedicated to Asculepios, the god of healing. The dream incubation ceremonies in the temple of Aesculapios were complicated. From the participants it was demanded that they first abstained from certain foods like wine, flesh and beans, and also from sex. Then they had to undergo a ritual cleansing with cold water. Then the candidates had to bring offerings to the god and participate in gatherings dedicated to the amazing healing that would take place. At night there were ceremonies by the light of torches, with prayers devoted to Aesculapios. Then the patients went to sleep in special rooms amidst harmless yellow snakes. The next day many of the participants talked about Aeasculapios visiting them at night telling them what medicines to take or what changes in their life they had to undertake. In some instances some people were healed during the night.
In all mythologies one can find the mention of dreams. Usually a god appears in the dream of a hero to warn him of impending danger or to take him out of his troubles.
The Bible also has reports of dreams. In the gospel of Matthew an angel appears in a dream to Joseph to announce the birth of Jesus. In the Old Testament, the best known dream is the one of Jacob at Bethel, better known as the Ladder of Jacob (Gen.28: 10-22).
The first breakthrough in the meaning of dreams was given by Freud. He discovered that dreams were reflections of developments in the unconscious part of the personality. By interpreting his own dreams, Freud uncovered memories from his childhood. Memories which caused thoughts and feelings in him which he would not have expected the existence of in his own mind. Among this was a dark and clearly sexual and infantile desire for his mother, and an ambivalent attitude towards his father. Freud brought up the idea that sharp, pointed objects in dreams symbolize the penis, while round, dome or ball forms represent the female genitalia. He discovered that neuroses are psychological expressions of a deep repressed, unbearable memory. The organism wants to balance itself, and thus the unconscious tries to bring the problems to light in dreams in order to make the dreamer aware that he has to do something about it.
According to Freud dreams are the result of five special workings:
Condensation: numerous problems can be condensed into one dream. One dream can be about many issues.
Disguise: the dream usually works with symbols and unrecognizable shapes to mask painful feelings. Many people can not stand their own negative feelings.
Representation: abstractions are represented by specific dream images. For example, driving a car means how one is living his own life. Sometimes abstractions are shown literally. For example, a dream about being in prison can represent the feeling about being locked up or being restricted in his freedom.
Symbols: a symbol can have more than one meaning, depending on the person and his background. What does it mean to you?
Secondary manipulation: after waking up and remembering the dream some changes happen: parts of the dream are not remembered because it is being censured by the unconscious; certain content is being omitted intentionally; certain content is being added.
Freud and his followers considered the dream as an expression of mostly secret sexual desires. Carl Gustav Jung, who once was a student of Freud, did not agree. Jung said that the dream in essence is spiritual and contains all known and unknown regions of the human mind. By dreaming, we try to discover the reason for our existence, and the dream is a new way of exploring all unresolved problems from the past and makes a link to the future. Because dreams are the product of the individual mind, Jung believed that we would better understand the spiritual process of man, and thus become better and more whole individuals.
Jung discovered that one dream is often the interpretation of another dream, as if the unconscious is trying to find a way to make itself understandable. Therefore a dream by itself can not be entirely understood. One needs to study a series of dreams for repeating content or the lack of certain content.
Jung believed that very dream is a unique product of an individual person, and thus he discarded every mechanical interpretation. A mechanical interpretation would only be useful with universal symbols or archetypes. In contrast to Freud, not all things are represented by symbols. Some things can be interpreted by their mere appearance.
Jung believed that the unconscious gets its material not only from repressed experiences but also from universal archaic structures in the brain, and also from racial and genetic ‘memories’.
The unconscious tries to balance the personality by the compensating effects of dreams. Dreams are useful because they represent, among other things, repressed parts of our personality, but they tell us not what we desire, but what we need to become a whole human being. For example, a dominant person will dream about being submissive.
The dream can also be the manifestation of everything that has been discarded and forgotten by the conscious mind. Thus the dream tries to bring attention to those parts of the psyche which have been neglected by everyday consciousness.
Jung also believed that the individual takes part in a ‘collective unconscious’, that is, an unconscious that contains all universal experiences of our ancestors in the form of primal images (=archetypes). By being a part of this collective unconscious, every man contains within himself every great thought, feeling and impulse mankind has ever generated, but also every shameful and awful deed. This is the source of the meaning of existence and the fundamental issues and experiences typical for mankind: love, birth, life, death, courage, beauty, evil, religious inspiration and the conflicts inherent to his development and growth.
From this collective unconscious arise dreams which are experienced as being very real and meaningful; dreams which are strikingly clear, beautiful, or sometimes even fearful. Such dreams can bear meaning or a message for a group of people, as with religious prophetic dreams or visions, or they can apply only to the individual, accompanied by radical changes.
Just as our bodies still bear the signs of our water living animal ancestors from prehistoric times, our mind contains the primal material of fantasy. Those primal images are archetypes, visible in religions, religious rites, myths, fairy-tales, dreams, and nightmares.
When interpreting a dream, Jung would ask his patient to first give his own associations in regards to the dream symbols. When, in the process, the patient would hit a dead end, Jung would ask him to give a description of the symbol, asking him to explain it as he would to somebody who did not know the symbol.
In short we can say that there are the following types of dreams:
Compensating: for example, when we are not good to a person, in our dream we would be treat them better.
Conflicts: arise in dreams that have roots in hidden conflicts in our personality that normally we would never discover.
Hidden wishes: things we would like but that we would not admit to ourselves that we want to have them.
Precognitive dreams: it doesn’t have to be world disasters, ordinary events in our own personal life might be predicted in dreams, sometimes in symbolic forms.
Warnings: the psyche can sense danger in the immediate future, and give a warning in dreams.
During sleep we are able to come into contact with that what is present in potential but what has not yet manifested. The result is a precognitive dream. Man has always recognized these dreams and precognitive dreams have always been highly regarded. In antiquity, many rulers had one or more dream interpreter in his service who could explain the content of the royal dreams.
One the most typical examples of precognitive dreams is the one of the tinker John Chapman, in the 15th century, who lived in the English village of Swaffham. He dreamt that he had to go to London and that he would meet a stranger on the London Bridge, who would tell him about a great treasure. John followed the advice and went to London. At the appointed bridge he indeed met a man, who told John that he had had a strange dream. In this dream he had seen how a merchant from Swaffham was digging in his backyard and found a clay pot filled with gold coins. Chapman went back, started digging and found a fortune. A part of the money was used to help with the building of the church of Peter and Paul. His story was memorialized in the woodwork of the choir-stalls and in the glass windows.
Many precognitive dreams are about murders or accidents. The murder of archduke Frans Ferdinand at Sarajevo in 1914, leading to WWI, had been seen beforehand in a dream of the teacher of the archduke, bishop Josef Lanyi.
The disaster of the Titanic had been predicted by many people because of their dreams.
Just before the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon dreamt of a number of figures representing his past victories, and one figure in chains, representing his coming defeat.
President Abraham Lincoln dreamt that he would be murdered.
When Adolph Hitler was still a corporal in 1917, he was sleeping in a trench and dreamt that he was under a mass of earth and molten iron, and blood was flowing from his chest. Upon awakening he was so restless that he jumped up and ran in between the two trenches of the opposing sides, upon which the trench he had just left was immediately hit and destroyed. From that day on he believed that he had been assigned a special task in life and would be a powerful leader.
Precognitive dreams do not always predict important or world events, more often it is about everyday events.
Nightmares do not respect young or old. Anyone who has tried to comfort a child that has had a nightmare and is still in the spell of it, knows that a nightmare can be a cruel experience for the child.
The nightmare does not discriminate in time or culture. She plagues both primitive and civilized people. She happens to the healthy and the sick, to both sane and insane people. One might think that a nightmare is an obvious experience for prehistoric man, living in a world of fear and unknown energies. But the nightmare equally visits modern man who is self-assured in a predictable environment of technology. The nightmare will continue to visit our children in the future. The nightmare is universal experience.
Although it is said that the nightmare contains fears and frustrations of one’s early life, it probably also contains anxieties and problems of the entire human race. Thus it can also arise from the depths of the collective unconscious.
When people still personified human energies and qualities they considered the nightmare as a being, usually a female spirit, or a monster who would attack people at night, giving them a choking and gasping sensation. The nightmare was believed to be a kind of disease caused by demons.
Where does the word nightmare come from? The English word for evil spirit or incubus is mare, a word that comes from the Sanskrit mara, meaning ‘crusher’. The French word for nightmare, cauchemar, also contains the root mare, while ‘caucher’ means to trample. At some time in history people started to confuse mare or merrie, which meant a female horse, with the other meaning of mare of an evil spirit. Maybe a further complication happened because of the existence of a Teutonic goddess Mara who would changed herself in a white merrie to visit a sleeping man at night.
The nightmare as a horse was not the only one with sexual intentions. The incubus and his female counterpart, the succubus, were considered to be demons whose prime occupation was to have sexual affairs with human partners. Sometimes these uninvited guests had a blinding beauty, sometimes they were very ugly. Despite their appearance, they were always irresistible. They were blamed for involuntary erections, wet dreams, masturbation and sexual dreams and thoughts, especially with young girls (I guess boys did not have them??) and holy hermits.
Whether spirit or personified bodily energies, despite of the taboos, the experience had a strong influence on certain people. Priests wrote that some girls who had come to ask them for spiritual advise had described them in detail who the incubus had entertained them, and they were not always willing to depart from their demonic lover. As one priest writes: “I became convinced that despite her denials, she had encouraged the demon. She even knew beforehand when he would come, because her genitalia would become stimulated… and instead of taking refuge to prayer, she would run to her room and throw herself on the bed.”
Today psychologists considers the nightmare as the struggle to integrate the inner and outer world by which the psyche digs up past repressed memories and impulses. Thus a nightmare refers to the existence of a hidden stress situation. If this problem is being resolved and integrated into the personality, spiritual development will continue unhindered. If one takes the wrong attitude towards his nightmares, and the nightmares continue, one runs the risk of becoming neurotic or psychotic.
When nightmares are about monsters, bogeyman, vampires, or dark caves and underworldly experiences, then the content of the nightmare comes from the primal epochs of human existence. These symbols refer to dark emotions, lust, power, cruelty, guilt and punishment. By projecting the emotions onto ‘bloodthirsty’ animals or awful looking figures, the psyche tries to symbolize its repressed contents.
Psychologists warn parents that exaggeration in expressing their disapproval of ordinary activities, and imposing a too strict code of conduct onto a child, will not only create nightmares, but also neuroses. From early childhood on we have been indoctrinated with a strong consciousness of good and evil, around which our sense of self worth has centered. It is no wonder that the nightmare appears in that stage of life, childhood, when we are most vulnerable.
As the nightmare also appears with very young children, psychologists now think that not only emotional disturbances cause these bad dreams, but that there must be some strong instinctive forces in the unconscious associated with inner conflicts, causing disturbing dreams. Although it is generally accepted that the nightmare is present with five year old children, there are examples that three year old children have them too.
Five year old children have difficulties telling their nightmares. They tend to confuse reality with fantasy. They will often be afraid to fall asleep again. In his nightmare usually ferocious animals will be encountered, like wolves and bears, although these animals can also appear benevolent in other dreams. Weird and bad people, with strange appearances also appear. Usually they pursue the little dreamer. Other fearful experiences can involve water and fire.
Past five and a half years of age dreams start to change and they are less fearful, probably because the child is more capable of telling about his dreams. Fearful animals are still there, but now the child is also talking about the ‘things’ in bed. In such circumstances it is better that the parent asks the child about it. Who wants to go to their parents in the middle of the night, in total darkness, after just having escaped from the jaws of the nightmare?
By six, the number of nightmares diminish, but still contain fearful animals, fire, storms, war; but now ghosts and skeletons also appear. For Freudians it might be meaningful that girls of this age dream of evil men entering their bedroom. Sometimes the child dreams of the mother leaving or being hurt.
At seven years of age a nightmare might still resonate after awakening but the child will recognize it as just a dream. In this stage the child dreams of being pursued and not being able to escape, or of being paralyzed. The first dreams of flying, swimming, falling and walking in the air appear. The child will also dream ‘shameful’ acts of everyday life, like wetting his pants. Now, burglars, supernatural images, and themes from movies begin to manifest.
Between nine and ten the nightmare can be manifold, with a grotesque and threatening character. The child can dream of being pursued, kidnapped, wounded or killed. The victims in his dreams can also be people he loves or hates. The child can also be afraid of dying during its sleep. It will also learn to avoid fearful movies or books before going to sleep.
The nightmares of older children resemble those of adults, and are reflections of anxieties in relation to school, exams, or a possible future.
The Senoi is a tribe in the mountainous woods of Malaysia that pays a lot of attention to dreams. They believe that the fearful content of dreams point to aggressive characteristics of the dreamer, characteristics that might be harmful for both the dreamer and for the other members of the tribe. One of the most important lessons the Senoi children learn is to never run away from danger in a dream, it doesn’t matter if that danger is in the form of a veracious animal, an evil figure or an amorphous threat. Only by facing the danger, one can master it. If the dreamer keeps on running away, the nightmare will continue to haunt him, ever more fearful. When a child has a nightmare, it is told that next time, he has to stay and fight back, while he can also call his dream friends for help. All dream friends that refuse to help have to be considered enemies and need to be conquered. If necessary, the enemy has to be killed. By doing this the psychological energy in the person, represented by the enemy or the danger, is being transformed and liberated. If possible the conquered enemy must give the dreamer a present: a poem, a song, a drawing, the solution to a problem and so on, something that has a practical value in daily life. The value of the present is then evaluated by the entire tribe.
Lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer is fully conscious of the fact that that he is dreaming. Experiences in lucid dreams are particularly vivid. Colors, sounds, tastes, smells, warmth, cold, pain, everything looks completely real. The thinking processes of the lucid dreamer, however, are less realistic than in everyday life, but one can remember the intentions one had in relation to a lucid dream. The memory of the dreamer is less accurate in relation to the specific details of his life that often appear distorted in the lucid dream.
Emotions in a lucid dream are similar to the ones in daily life, ranging from a neutral observing of the lucid state to the exalted feelings of freedom and excitement.
In a lucid dream, one needs to be ever vigilant to stay lucid, as one can easily slip back again in a normal dream state. One has to stay in control and not get to excited, and wake up, or get distracted and slip into normal dreaming.
In dreams we sometimes become aware of certain things that do not follow the laws of nature or are too abnormal to be true, that we become half conscious of the dreaming state, but then continue dreaming again. Even when we realize that we are dreaming, this is not a guarantee for a lucid dream. To get a fully lucid dream, one needs to train oneself. As Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda: “You have to start with something very simple. Tonight you have to look at your hands”. Later on Don Juan said: ” You do not have to look at your hands. As I have said before, you can choose whatever you want. But choose one particular thing and find that in your dreams.” When going to sleep it is good to repeat the intention over and over again.
Here are some themes with their archetypal content. Remember that the meaning of the dream ultimately depends on the symbolism used by that dreamer himself.
Bird: an image of the soul, that part of man that is free.
Climbing: encouragement to persevere and solve a problem.
Crossing a river: a fundamental change of attitude.
Death: fundamentally, death is a transformation; the wish to be born again; to start over clean. Old things are dying, new things are being born. An urge to make a change in life.
Exams: fear of failure; fear of being tested.
Exhibitionism: a need to find psychological balance.
Falling: as an archetype falling represents primal fear. It can also be an experience from early childhood; or it can symbolize loosing self-worth; or a moral depression; or falling back to an earlier situation.
Flying: freedom and the escaping the common and worldly life.
House: a house is usually the self. The rooms can be different aspects of the personality. The basement is the unconscious or the lower energies in the personality; the attic is the higher part of the self.
Missing a bus, train, ship or airplane connection: the fear of missing a change; or a sign that the dreamer has to change his attitude if he wants to make progress.
Sexual dreams: Erotic dreams are not always expressions of sexual desires. They can point to problems with the partner, or they liberate certain inhibitions in our contact with other people. Sexual dreams can mirror the fear of the loss of something, or point to a falling apart of something. Incest dreams (with young dreamers), for example, can tell that it is time to leave the house, and to prove that they can be independent.
Snake: from a traditional point the snake can mean evil things, or conflicts between instincts and conscious choices. The snake as an archetype is about transformation and a big change in one’s life, especially when a snake has bitten.
Spider: the psychic world which is not easily accessible to the conscious. In the east Maya, the veil of illusion, is called the spinner.
Stairs: as stairs are used to go from one level to another, they symbolize the passing from one phase of life to another.
Teeth, losing: growing up.
Water: can be prenatal memories of floating in the amniotic fluid, the desire to go back to this state of protection, or the desire to be born again. Water also relates to the unconscious. Clear water is like clear life energy. Water often symbolizes emotions that one is going through.
When you have changed the pattern in your dreams you will notice that your behavior in daily life has changed too. When, having conquered your dream enemies, you are not running away from dangers, you will also face and solve your problems in life and you will be able to handle aggressive people.
Give dreams the recognition they deserve. By taking them seriously they will provide you with a valuable amount of information about yourself and your development. Dreams give you instructions on how to balance yourself and create a better life.
Remembering dreams demands practice. We all have many dreams each night, you just have to learn to remember them. The best way is to program yourself when you go asleep. Keep on repeating that you will remember your dreams in detail on awakening. Have pen and paper ready to write them down.
Try to integrate dreams in your daily life, especially on the artistic level. Draw, paint, sculpt, or dance your dreams.
The most positive situation in a dream is getting a present from a dream figure. If possible ask the dream figure a beautiful or useful present.
Always face danger in your dreams, whatever form it takes, and conquer it. The death of a dream enemy liberates a repressed energy and turns it into a positive energy.
Try to find pleasure and enjoyment, and happiness in your dreams, this is equally liberating.
Do not feel ashamed when you have an incestuous or indecent love experience in your dreams, as this is a part of yourself that is asking to be integrated. It is not associated with actual incest or indecency, or a desire for it.
When falling or flying, try to steer yourself into interesting places. Often these dreams become lucid, so it becomes easier to direct yourself. Try to take something nice from the place you visited. (Oh, do I wish I could bring all those crystals and tarot decks into the real world!)
Try to get as many dream friends as possible, accept their help and be thankful. Also ask them for a present, or to be your guide.
When you dream about food, share it with the other dream figures.
Utilize the power of positive thinking. A defeat does not have to be negative. It is a lesson to change the course of action the next time. It all depends on the value you give it.
If you want to get serious and start with dream work, get the book “Creative Dreaming”, written by Patricia Garfield.