In My Dreams I Paint Like Vermeer van Delft…

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


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

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31 Responses to In My Dreams I Paint Like Vermeer van Delft…

  1. Don says:

    “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.”

    I cannot agree more. For me, these are two crucial principles. It always frightens me how we so easily put our meanings on to the dream symbols of others. I know that water has a a particular collective universal meaning in dreams, but I also know that because of an intense experience I had with water a long time ago there are other layers of meaning for me whenever I dream of water, and not many people are privy to that experience. And so simply to take a dream of mine and to project a meaning on to the symbol of water without knowing something of my context and history would be ludicrous. Wonderful post thank you.


  2. I Identify with Vermeer’s “lengthy” perfectionism. Harder to identify with are interpretable dreams. I have read, with interest, books like Fritz Pearls on Gestalt, that have assumed the truth of dream symbolism, and have integrated dream interpretation in to some larger context. With Fritz it was group therapy.

    My dreams have always been 80% emotion. The pulsing light that shows in the eye’s peripheral, but disappears when viewed directly. They are non-narrative, and even things as simple as colors can’t be identified specifically every time, but often merely the color temperature, or my secondary perceptual reactions to the color, or texture.

    However, the symbolism to be learned is valuable in itself. That’s my feeling. Thanks again for a great article, Monika.


  3. Wonderful post! And so true that we need to look deeply into the meanings of what appears in our dreams, and veer away. I too love the dream world and look forward to it each night! 😉


  4. My dreams were once very rich in obscure symbols, but for the past year or so, my dreams are completely obvious and unveiled; like naked dreams. So, a nightmare where I try to dissect and fix a lover’s brain, means just that. And I knew in the dream I never should have tried. It was awful and barbarous! 😉 Totally obvious dreams. Always. I have no idea what to make of it.
    With that said, I consider sleep to be like prayer. I *go* to dreamtime, as a space and a place.
    A lovely post, Monika.


    • Maybe you live the dream as a tarot reader now. Maybe the subconscious mind in your case gets satiated enough while you are awake.
      Going to dreamtime – I love it.


      • Actually, you’re right. It has been since doing it professionally that this has occurred. Before they were sparse (I was unhappy for a very long time in academia, sometimes I just dreamed black) and cryptic, now they’re plentiful and obvious — and even when they’re scary and disturbing, they’re so clear that it’s hard to feel genuinely threatened. Thanks, Monika! You are a good interpreter. 😉


  5. Great post. I have several dream dictionaries that I do not use, because I cannot relate to the symbols used. My mind speaks a different language. I have not been able to read through the whole post yet, because my mind got stuck to the angel Gabriel. As I wanted to post on his role when it comes to the Quran. But clearly Gabriel is Idris is Tehuti (Thoth). I might want to do something on the angels. It is what I was to research for the Kabbalah dictionary anyway. For now it seems that Tehuti appears both in dreams and trance (meditation). And to understand how the messages differ, if there is any difference at all. Interesting. Also, beautiful picture of Nut and Nun.


    • Angels have fascinated me for a long time. Gabriel is actually connected with the fixed star Formalhaut. If you find something interesting on angels I will be happy to read it.


      • Formalhaut?! Angels in Pisces? Okay, I need to quit while I am still behind! Somehow I connect Formalhaut to the Hermit tarot card. For now, a nice article on angels, and connecting angels to the KMT gods, will have to do. Sweet dreams…


  6. Pingback: A Journey Within: 11 | Blazing Light, Love's Song

  7. Often when you write, Monika, I want to write back and create a sort of blogging discussion. Your pieces always spark richness within me. The connections that you make and can are ones that often I do not know of, yet in reading them they fit into other frames of which I am more familiar. I am grateful that you use this medium for your musings.


  8. Yea for us souls blessed with a mercury retrograde, we just think and process differently, typically more internally….

    It was serendipity at play to see this before going out to my dream group. I sent them links to this post so they could enjoy this article. You bring up many salient points, such as the delicacy of the practice, the importance to go beyond initial impressions/intuitions, the Talmud reference to a letter, the introduction of Gabriel ( who I address in my angels post). I so appreciate how you draw from so many disparate sources and weave them together into a wondrous tapestry.

    PS, I want to recommend a film about the history of a Vermeer painting passed on over the years, Brush with Fate, it is so enchanting!

    and your cat rocks 🙂


    • Thank you for linking this, I really appreciate it! About the retrograde Mercury, I have grown to appreciate it but it does often function in bizarre ways. It always gives me a warm feeling when a fellow retro like yourself gets my point and you always get it so well!


  9. renatembell says:

    Wonderful post. Dreams are fascinating. I spent several months typesetting several journals into one document. The dreams were recorded from 1988 through 2013. There are, like you stated, many left simmering in the unconscious, ripening for the “Ah-ha” moment. (Or is it waiting for me to ripen?) One thing that always intrigues me, is that in re-reading the entries, the vibration, feel, emotion, or mood of the dreams are right there at the fore again, as if I dreamed them last night- regardless of how long ago. And there are a few that I don’t hardly remember having.
    I do not have any formal education with interpretation, just study from books and using my intuition. I agree about the dream dictionary/cookie-cutter definitions. Dreams are so layered and personal, but collective as well. Dream definitions simply cannot be a one-size-fits-all.
    I look forward to ‘the dream-time” each night, too, and along with the personal experience, I turn to astrology to see the ‘tie in’ with the transiting planets. They often, I have found, color or theme the core essence of the dream material. It seems they are the ‘hands’ that go in a decide what to pull out and work with. Perhaps not always, though. More research needed!
    In 2010, I had the honor of flipping through the gorgeous pages of Jung’s Red Book, with white gloves on, inside the library at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, California.
    One last thing… Yet another Mercury Retrograde individual joining the discussion!


    • Thank you for this wonderful comment. Let’s abokish all cookie cutters together. 😉 I was at a special exhibition in Zurich shortly after The Red Book was published. I saw the original copy like Mona Lisa behind glass.


  10. Soul Fields says:

    A great post again. And a great discussion.

    ” …Therefore dream interpretation is first and foremost an act of love.” I love this and your own post is written in a loving and respectful tone. I also love the letter metaphor and all the photos. My love and knowing of Jung is more of intuitive nature, I have read only some of his works, so it is blissful to me that you share about him.

    Purrrr to your lovely cat. 🙂 (I have had a cat, too, she´s been on the other side of the veil for years now.)


    • I had a summer once when I read only Jung. During that summer I had the most vivid and symbolic dreams in my whole life. I am glad you found something in my post. Love, Monika


  11. You seem to have a strong resonance with this subject matter, and it seems to me you could become a powerful teacher of it in some way, or at the very least a strong investigative writer into the mysteries of dreams. As for myself, unfortunately for a very long time I rarely remember any of my dreams, and if I do it is only fragments. On occasion I do remember an interesting dream, but often feel I do not have the same experiences as others, like in the way you described dreams here. Still, I am interested in this topic and so am grateful to read your post. It is very interesting to me how you brought in the angel Gabriel- it makes a lot of sense to me.


    • I remember that you wrote about angel Gabriel in the past and his relation to Formalhaut. It is true that dreams are a fascinating subject for me. I keep a dream journal but like you I have been having fewer dreams in the last years. I don’t know why, perhaps because I deal with archetypes in the daytime and this is often like dreaming. Maybe this also applies to you. You do not have to dream to integrate the contents of the unconscious because you do it in your waking life.


  12. dreamrly says:

    Thank you so much for referring me back to this post – I have learned a lot from it, and imagine I will be returning to it often as the bits and pieces of knowledge that I am gathering begin to fall into a pattern, as an understanding of what all this means begins to shape itself. I can’t tell you enough how important I imagine your blog will be for me on that journey – I am so thankful to have discovered it! And, I am learning a lot from the comments – what a great community of folks have gathered here!


    • Thank you so much. Believe me, I hardly ever do that – I mean wander around the Internet soliciting people to read my blog. But I honestly felt an affinity between our blogs and our interests. Hope to interact more in the future.


  13. Casey says:

    Thank you for sharing this post with me and helping me to interpret that dream a few days back. I really appreciate it. It’s a beautiful discussion on dreams.

    I’ve always been fascinated with my dreams. When I was much, much younger, I had more “recurring nightmare” type dreams. I still remember a couple of them.

    I have also dreamed of 1) my first love – our relationship was cut short because of my mother. 2) my deceased friend after her death. 3) two different friends with whom I had become very close to but hadn’t seen in a long, long while. With these people, there was such a profound sense of love between us present. Sometimes, when I woke, I would wake up and cry deeply because I’d realize I was only dreaming them.

    I’ve always known my dreams were playing out things I couldn’t in my waking life, for whatever reason. I love that I can reconnect with people who were meaningful to me in my dreams.

    Btw, Vermeer is one of my favorite painters.

    A couple of weeks ago, I saw a movie called Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was a fictional account, but still interesting about the painting, the painter and the Girl he painted. Colin Firth played Vermeer.

    Jung speaks to me a great deal, as well and would like to start delving more into his writings.


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