Questions from D.Z., Sunday Source reporter for The Washington
Responses from Jungian analyst Weaver Stevens, M. Div., M. Litt.,
and April Barrett,
executive director, The Washington Society for Jungian Psychology
What can you tell me about Jung's thoughts regarding dreams?
How is the Jungian approach applied today?
Stevens (hereinafter, W.S.): The human psyche possesses
a capacity both for conscious thought, governed through the
agency of the ego, and unconscious energies, which are equivalent
to the psyche's reservoir of instinctual messages. The body
has its physical instincts; the psyche has its psychological
instincts. These psychological instincts have to communicate
somehow to the conscious decision-making dimension of the psyche.
Usually this communication is through dreams, though occasionally
sensitive persons may have visions or other less usual forms
of messaging. As psychological instincts must have a "language"
that conscious thought can tune into, over many thousands of
years the psychological instincts have utilized symbols to get
their message across.
For instance, last night you may have dreamt of driving across
a dessert and your car running out of gas. On one level this
might be a simple cautionary concern that when you drive from
Las Vegas to Phoenix it is wise to check your gas gage. But,
symbolically, your psychological instincts may be warning you
to think about an impoverished personal life, both with you
family and your business, and you may be facing an energy crisis
in the form of a breakdown or depression. Your unconscious will
know this usually long before your conscious awareness kicks
in, and it has to find a "symbolic" way to tell you.
Barrett (hereinafter, A.B.): This is an enormous
question, not unlike asking Alfred Einstein, for instance, for
his thoughts on Newtonian physics or the cosmos. Carl Jung wrote
extensively about dreams, the importance of dreams to living
an authentic life, and how to approach dreams. To the seriously
interested reader, I can recommend a collection of Jung's essays
on dreams in C.G. Jung, Dreams, published by Princeton University
Jung's thoughts on dreams are applied and misapplied in a variety
of ways, but what comes to mind of the value of working with
one's dreams in a Jungian analysis is that it helps enable one
to become the person she was meant to become, to approach a
wholeness of the personality, to live an authentic life, to
be connected to one's religious depths. This is huge; it's everything.
Dream analysis is central to Jung's depth psychology because
dreams describe what's happening in the life of the dreamer
from the point of view of the unconscious, which is often a
corrective point of view. An analogy might be as follows: Just
as visual depth perception is very limited in a person with
only one eye, so it is that to have only the single point of
view from consciousness is also severely limiting; to be able
to add to the conscious point of view the dream's commentary
from the unconscious realm is more than just helpful; it adds
perspective, depth, quality, color, intensity, profundity, richness,
fullness, and the like. It provides meaning and connects us
to a vitality in our own depths. It adds Life.
What advice can you offer on how to reflect and analyze one's
Self-analysis of dreams is tricky, primarily because the
part of yourself facing a difficulty may not be ready to see
the unpleasant facts. It is somewhat self-evident if you dream
of toilets overflowing or roofs leaking; these can signify personal
difficulties not being properly dealt with. However, a more
complex dream, such as mountain climbing with a team and, in
a blizzard, finding yourself cut loose by an unseen member of
the team, and you falling into the abyss, can have many possible
interpretations, and it then becomes important to have an outside
person with some experience of symbolic language to help sort
out the interpretation that seems most adequate to your situation.
Even then you may not be emotionally ready to make the decision
that will turn things around.
Dream analysis is serious and important work. To start with,
one can simply accept that if a particular dream (any dream)
has come, there is a reason for this particular dream having
come at this particular time in this particular dreamer's life.
Discerning what the dream might mean is the difficulty. A useful
analogy might be that analyzing a dream is like peeling an onion,
the point being that there are apt to be layers and layers of
meaning. An individual might be able to get at the outer layers
of meaning on her own or in a dream group, but as often as not,
she may be misled. True dream analysis, real depth work requires
the assistance of an analyst. No question! Jungian analysts
(as distinct from therapist, psychiatrists, counselors, etc.,
even "Jungian-oriented" ones) have undergone years
of extensive training in dream analysis, their own and those
of others; they know how the psyche works and are very insightful.
One can begin work with a dream by exploring the dreamer's own
personal amplifications to the images in the dream, what they
might mean to the dreamer, and in this way begin to gather in
the context and the possibilities of what the dream images might
reveal. (These are emphatically not the amplifications of a
dream-group member or any other person.) Under ordinary circumstances,
the dream is usually specific to the dreamer.
Amplification is not the same as free association. This is important
because dreams often come from a great depth, whereas free association
likely involves only the surface meanings (the outer layers
of the onion). A drawing made from a dream can often be very
So, the dreamer brings to the dream images whatever relevant
background she can from her own life and also, perhaps, from
previous dreams. To that she adds whatever appropriate material
she can unearth from the deeper realms of religion and myth,
fairy tale and folk-lore, the ancient life of our species and
other species, animal and vegetable. Sometimes it's all in the
What are some common misconceptions about dreams?
Is there anything that is often misreported about dreams?
The most likely misconception about dream symbols is that a
given symbol has a dependable interpretation. The same symbol
can have many different meanings, depending on the individual,
the family and social circumstances, the historical and cultural
milieu, and, which will be hardest for your readers to understand,
mythological patterns that are present in all cultures possessing
all levels of sophistication. For instance, no matter how primitive
or "civilized" the culture, there are always mothers,
killers, liars, stealers, gods, enemies, etc.; the list is long.
Jung has discovered these universal symbols and patterns in
all times, all places, all peoples. He labels this part of the
human psyche as the "collective unconscious." For
those who want an accessible study of this, I suggest Joseph
Campbell's Myths to Live By.
In the Jungian model, there is no dogma associated with the
meanings of the symbols and images in dreams; sometimes a house,
for instance, indicates the dreamer's psyche; sometimes not.
So, the "Discover the Meaning of Your Dreams" booklets
that we're apt to see at the supermarket check-out and other
places have little value, if any. How can it be otherwise? If
the meanings of the symbols in dreams were formulaic, if the
dream images always indicated a fixed meaning, then the true
meaning of the dream would be missed in favor of a forced and
lifeless equation; the dream would not "speak" to
the dreamer if its voice were frozen in a simple code.
Are there dream archetypes, i.e., common dream themes that
many people report having?
If so, do they sometimes indicate similar things about the dreamers'
The word "archetype" is a bit technical. It is enough
to say that archetypes are the source of the symbols as well
as the means whereby the symbols are transmitted in dreams.
There certainly are common dream themes. For instance, fires
can suggest that something must be eliminated or transformed;
they also represent the spilling forth of anger and rage, the
intensity of energy, an alchemical or psychological "cooking"
leading to a changed circumstance. To dream of a "home"
can have as many meanings as there are homes. A wild animal
may symbolize a powerful energy that needs handling. A "mother"
may be "good," "bad," "possessive,"
"abandoning," "abusive," "angelic,"
"mean"; each symbolic investigation requires searching
out many factors. In short, if you dream tonight that a forty-foot
crocodile is following you around, hie thee to the nearest Jungian
Yes, sometimes. People dream about taking exams and everything
going wrong, about missing their flight or the last flight out
(or train or bus), about the washing machine (or the toilet)
overflowing, about someone else driving their car, about having
to get somewhere or do something and being frustrated at every
turn, about being naked in public, about some other presence
in their house, about snakes or other reptiles, about stunning
flowers, brilliant birds, beautiful new babies.
What reputable dream-related books and websites would you
I began with P.W. Martin's Experiment in Depth; it's
a wonderful book, long out of print, but it can be found online;
and I would further recommend that seriously interested persons
begin reading Jung wherever they find his writing interesting.
Just jump in with both feet!. Also, The Washington Society for
Jungian Psychology (WSJP) exists to assist in the plunge. The
WSJP website is http://www.jung.org.
Other potentially helpful sites include (alphabetically):
What local resources are provided either by the Jung Society
or another organization?
WSJP has a wonderful library. We also have wonderful programs.
This is not just a plug. If you were to begin reading or attending
Jung programs, you would stimulate the unconscious and would
likely be rewarded with a dream. If you were to write that dream
in a dream journal, you'd likely be rewarded with another. And
on it goes, if one is faithful to the process.
For instance, WSJP's next lecture and workshop take place on
November 3 & 4 at the Embassy of Switzerland. Robin Robertson,
Ph.D., will lecture on The Ultimate Mystery: The Self-Referential
Nature of Reality; his description includes a discussion of
"dreams, myths, Gnosticism, alchemy, modern physics, and
Then, on December 1, Larry Dossey, M.D., will lecture on The
Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things, the delicate
dance between spirit and medicine, at the Washington National
Cathedral. I'm checking into whether or not he will include
a discussion of dreams. I'll get back to you on that. In the
meantime, here are some words from Jung, from his wonderful
little book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul: "The
least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the
greatest of things without it. . . . And it is only the meaningful
that sets us free."