Assagioli wrote little about dreams or how to interpret them. Despite being a student of Freud’s and colleague of Jung’s, he felt that dreams reveal only a partial aspect of the human personality. He also believed that only part of the unconscious is able, or willing, to express itself through dreaming. He wrote that dreams that occur during the psychosynthesis process reveal the dreamer’s energetic forces, environment, and the inner world that birthed the dream.
In the last blog, I wrote about symbols and how we can consciously use them to further our personal and spiritual growth. We can also use the symbols that unconsciously appear to us in our dreams. Dreams are expressions of our life force, and the symbols that appear in them can be interpreted a multitude of ways from both a personal and collective perspective. Jung was once asked for advice from someone who had the idea of publishing a dictionary of symbols. His response was not to do it, since each symbol would require an entire book!
Jung’s general advice about how to look at a dream is:
“Treat every dream as though it were a totally unknown object. Look at it from all sides, take it in your hand, carry it about with you, let your imagination play around with it.”
A Closer Look at Symbols Appearing in Two Dreams
To better understand how symbols in dreams can be used, let’s look at two dreams that a man recently shared. But before we start, I want to clearly state that only the dreamer can understand the full meaning of a dream. This understanding typically comes when you feel an “aha!” moment inside yourself. In the example below, I am not the dreamer and it is not for me to interpret his dreams. I am only suggesting my initial reaction to the dreams and ways to explore the symbols in them.
In the first dream, I turned into a werewolf. It was not scary and I enjoyed the transition. In the next dream, a lady gave me keys to get to an oracle and I was seeking answers from our ancestors for her.
The symbol in the first dream is, obviously, a werewolf. What does ‘werewolf’ mean to the dreamer? I can surmise that he finds werewolves frightening, since he makes a point of saying that he was not scared and actually enjoyed becoming one. The dreamer must first decide if werewolves hold any particular memory or connotation for him on a personal level. For example, as a child did he dress up as a werewolf one Halloween? If so, what psychic energies are contained in that particular event? Did he eat too much candy and become ill? Did someone say something to him that he never forgot? Accept whatever emerges and examine it fully and honestly.
Exploring Symbols from an Archetypal Perspective
After exploring all sides of werewolf from a personal level, the dreamer can then look for clues from the collective understanding of werewolves. Werewolves are mythical creatures, half man/half beast. Shapeshifters can control their transformation into wolf form, but, according to most legends, a werewolf is a man who uncontrollably transforms into a wolf when there is a full moon. Werewolves, when in wolf form, have rampant rage and hunger. They are driven to kill all life they encounter. Often when they wake up in human form, they don’t remember anything they have done during the night.
Well, that is certainly a lot for the dreamer to work with! He might try visualizing the werewolf as if it were a subpersonality and imagine or ask what the werewolf wants and needs, where is his rage coming from and who is his anger directed at? My feeling is this inner werewolf appeared to the dreamer to suggest that he is ready to express rage he might be feeling in his outer life. Perhaps he is partly afraid of his own male aggression and anger (who isn’t?), suppressing these natural tendencies during his waking hours. It is interesting that he dreamt of becoming a werewolf at night (just when werewolves do!) and enjoyed the experience. Perhaps the dreamer is ready to creatively and joyfully express these feelings during the daytime without feeling frightened by them.
In fact, I believe in his second dream he might be searching for just how to do that…
A lady gave me keys to get to an oracle and I was seeking answers from our ancestors for her.
The symbols in this dream are: Lady, Keys, Oracle, Ancestors. What is interesting is that the Lady is seeking answers (not the dreamer) from his ancestors, and it is she who has the keys, which she hands over (as a gift?) to the dreamer. The dreamer is acting as Seeker and Messenger for the Lady. One or all of these symbols could be further explored on a personal and then archetypal level. The dreamer might want to draw a picture of these symbols to see how they relate to each other. Then playfully add the werewolf and see what happens!
Like Jung suggested, when working with dream symbols, don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Play joyfully! Besides the actual symbols in a dream, you can explore its setting, tone, where the highest energy occurs, where the most tension can be felt, and whether there is something strikingly comical or peculiar. What title would you give the dream? Don’t forget to use humor throughout this process. After a strong dream, see what emerges over the course of the next few days and joyfully discover another part of yourself.