The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the psyche, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness may extend… All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood.
Carl Gustav Jung, Civilization in Transition
Salvador Dali, The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can Be Used as a Table
Dream interpretation is my thing. A frequently quoted passage from the Talmud says that a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not read. I am waiting for that letter each night. My approach is mostly based on Carl Gustav Jung’s approach because even though I have read numerous books on dream interpretation by various authors whose names I do not even remember, Jung’s philosophy seems to be the only one that personally appeals to me. If I manage to interpret a dream in a Jungian way, I feel as if a sparkle within me ignited. A dream I cannot understand can be with me for days, forever present in the semi-consciousness until I finally crack it open. There are still dreams that lie uninterpreted in the dark recesses of my mind. I never lose hope I will decode them one day. I believe that if and when their time comes, perhaps outside circumstances will reveal their true meaning. Those uninterpreted dreams may contain the seeds of the future that my consciousness is not quite ready to embrace.
Jung’s handwritten letter
If a dream be a letter, who wrote it? Jung always started a dream interpretation session by acknowledging that he had absolutely no idea what the dream meant. We could look at a dream as a text to interpret; the images of a dream beg us to construct a coherent narrative, a tale pertinent to our life situation. Interpreting a dream is a task of hermeneutics – a theory of interpreting written, verbal and non-verbal communication. The word hermeneutics most probably comes from Hermes, who in this case symbolizes the mind which undertakes a task of understanding through interpretation. When I was a student hermeneutics proposed by Heidegger and Gadamer was all the rage in philosophical circles. I have not looked t their work for a long time but I still have a general understanding of what they proposed and I think it was very similar to Jung’s concept of humility in the face of a dream. We must begin from a position of not knowing and be prepared for our initial intuitions to be refuted. Jung always emphasized that more often than not “the dream is saying something surprisingly different from what we would expect… for as a rule the standpoint of the unconscious is complementary or compensatory to consciousness and thus unexpectedly different.” (Psychology and Alchemy).
Also, it is important to stay as close to the original text of the dream as possible. If we dreamt of a dog we should go as deeply as possible into the meaning of that particular symbol because particular symbols are generated for a reason and not to stand for something else. In his books, Jung would analyze a particular dream images in pages after pages through a process which he called amplification. I always loved his ability to go deep and deeper into images. We do not do this anymore, we want to look a symbol up in some sort of dream dictionary and have a ready-made answer immediately. That is wrong for two reasons: dream cookbooks are too simplistic and too impersonal. I deeply believe that in order to interpret a symbol in a dream a fusion of two horizons is needed: firstly, the individual horizon of the dreaming person, his or her life situation, and individual associations with the symbol; and, secondly, the horizon of the collective unconscious, i.e. the collective meaning of a given symbol. Here is a pivotal passage from Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy, which explains a general role of symbols in dreams:
The symbols of the process of individuation that appear in dreams are images of an archetypal nature which depict the centralizing process of the production of a new centre of personality. … I call this centre the Self, which should be understood as the totality of the psyche. The Self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness.
This is a crucial quote because it shows that dreams have a prospective function: something new within our psyche wants to reveal itself, our conscious one-sidedness needs to be compensated by a new, fuller view and approach. It was Freud who famously said that the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. In a dream our Self is writing a letter to our ego to show it the hidden potential of the whole psyche and the unlived part of life. The most rudimentary symbol of the Self is a circle with a dot in the middle, the most elaborate – the mandala. Dreams simultaneously show us new ways of finding our spiritual centre and ways of expanding our consciousness by integrating the unconscious, unacknowledged parts of our psyche.
Ancient Egyptians considered the night time of sleep and dreaming as sacred and likened it to the night journey of the Sun god. A sleeping person was said to be submerging in Nun, the primordial watery abyss that surrounds and encapsulates the manifested sphere of life. Nun existed before there was land and was depicted as a deity holding a bark that the sun god Ra travelled in through the night ocean after the sunset.
Image via http://carrington-arts.com/Becoming.html
Jung, an image from The Red Book
In a book Isis. Auf der Suche nach dem göttlichen Geheimnis (Isis. In Search of Divine Mystery), which to my knowledge has not been translated into English, Gisela Schoeller writes beautifully about the night journey the souls undertake each night, as described in Egyptian myth. Dreams offer a unique opportunity to look at ourselves from the perspective of the underground reality, i.e. from the soul perspective. The undiscovered soul truth manifests itself in dreams through images and characters, who want to penetrate our consciousness. The unlived parts of our souls seek embodiment in dream images and characters. They show which powers are waking within our deepest with a desire to act upon our conscious reality.
In a book Visions in the Night: Jungian and Ancient Dream Interpretation, Joel Covitz writes about the art of dream interpretation according to the Zohar. I was fascinated to read that in the Zohar it states that you should only tell your dreams to a person who loves you. He mentioned this in passing without commenting further but I was deeply touched by the truth of it. I also need to have a deeper connection with a person and an understanding of his or her life circumstances to be even interested in their dreams. A relationship of mutual friendship and understanding is a must for any dream interpretation, at least for me. Who dreams is as important as what is dreamt.
Yacek Yerka, Dream, via Wikipedia
The name Gabriel in Hebrew is a composite of two words: man (gever) and El (God). Thus he is a connecting link between God and humanity. Gabriel is an angel who instructs the soul before its birth, providing it with an a priori knowledge of the divine purpose and intent. Through dreams we are put back in contact with our soul and its vast store of wisdom that we received before we were born. Dreams are like the bridge between our conscious and unconscious life. Gabriel’s function is that of a scribe: he records all our thoughts and deeds and reports them to God, who sends his feedback by means of dreams. Like Hermes, Gabriel is God’s messenger, mediating between our consciousness and unconsciousness.
Archangel Gabriel as a scribe, via Wikipedia
Gabriel confers understanding through dreams. This understanding is equalled with binah, one of the Ten Sefirot in the Kabbalah representing feminine receptive intelligence. Says Covitz:
A key note here is the connection of the dream to the future. Whether for a group or an individual, dreams are a form of prophecy, which focuses on the future dimension. While it is evident that dreams utilize the past as a source of images, the actual purpose of most dreams is to facilitate a creative union between the past and present, while laying the foundation for future possibilities. This is clearly the case in dreams throughout the Bible, where God communicates to people through their “visions in the night” about present and future concerns. Angels like Gabriel represent the whisperings of our mind that we commonly refer to as intuition. Intuitions can come to us through dreamwork, and it is the task of the dream interpreter to help uncover these hidden meanings and allusions.
I think interpreting dreams is a very delicate task, which should be undertaken tactfully and receptively. Any forced or hasty interpretation is usually wrong and arrogant. We dream in the soft lunar feminine light and we should not be too eager to use the flashlight of intellect to classify and understand the spectres of the dream. It is never wise to tear open a letter from the unconscious. Lunar light is also associated with feelings. Therefore dream interpretation is first and foremost an act of love.
In case you were wondering about the title of the post, it is the first line of a poem by Szymborska’s In Praise of Dreams. I also happen to adore Vermeer’s paintings and I find Dali’s tribute to Vermeer featured above quite captivating.
My cat asleep next to me while I am writing this