Hi Stephen, Everyone,
I am sorry for my late response to you and everyone. I enjoyed your response very much, and find myself in agreement with you. My post was certainly not thought out or planned very much and was rather spontaneously written, without drafting or planning, so there is no way that one such short post of essay could contain all I think or believe about dreams in general or this one dream. Each and every dream, especially with archetypal content, could merit its own book if going into detail. What stood out for me the most in your response was your remark that sometimes there seems little difference between a “big dream” and a “little dream” followed by your quoting Campbell. It seems so true to me as well that sometimes it is hard to discern between a big or little dream because many dreams contain elements of both. One case example I can think of from my own life is that when I was much younger I used to dream that there was a glass of water at my bedside/nightstand and I would reach for it to take a drink and wake with my hand closed into a grasping fist around the glass of water that was not “really” there. I could ask myself if this was a wish fulfillment dream (if I was thirsty in my sleep!) or if the glass of water and drinking stood for (was a symbol of) something else, something larger. I could ask, What might I be thirsting for? What elixir of life might be in that glass? What do the waters of life hold for me? What do I want/need to take in? Yet, it might not have been that “heavy”–it might have been all very “little,” that I was simply thirsty in my sleep a lot of times.
After reading your response, thinking about Hillman, I wrote the following blog. It was a subject matter and blog I had been planning to write for quite a while now, but your response reminded me to write about my thoughts on Hillman’s concepts of dreams. This blog also mirrors some subject matter I wrote about in a paper a few years back when I took a dream work class, so it is not entirely new. I hope someday to merge this blog with the earlier paper I wrote to produce another draft of the paper. The paper was about a dream I had in which I was analyzing the dream animal and other dream figures as autonomous, looking at the dream from the views of Freud, then Jung, then Hillman, and with Aizenstat’s dream-tending. However, in the end, I found that all the various theories held some merit as to possible meanings of the dream. Here is the recent blog I wrote which contains furthered thoughts into my ideas about dreams and reactions too to Hillman (I added extra indentation to my blog entry):
I refer the reader of this blog to this article on Archetypal Psychologist James Hillman who is often quoted as saying that dreams have no meaning. Do you take his statement that dreams have no meaning as 100% concrete or do you regard it as true if looked within a particular context–or contexts, since Hillman is so multitudinous in each or any of his ideas–of his own meaning? Decide that, what works best for you with your own psyche, then take it from there. I also refer the reader to my post just prior to this one about my dream of being a Freya-type driver of a carriage to the afterlife and back.
If dreams have no meaning…what a difficult question this is for me to ask, as I am all about dream meanings!
If dreams, as mythologist Joseph Campbell said, come from the same place myths come from (and poetry, btw), and if dreams have no meaning (as Hillman is known to have said), then why do we love, read, and study/contemplate the myths? As Campbell is noted for asking, “What is the message [meaning] of the myth?” (brackets mine). Many people search the myths and also their dreams for meaning, whether mythologists and depth psychologists like myself or not. Most people seem to find meaning (to various extents) in some of their dreams, and find no meaning in other of their dreams. If Hillman really meant that dreams have no meaning, then I would have to say that I would not subscribe 100% to Hillman’s notions about dreams or their function. I dare add that if in a moment Hillman actually meant that dreams 100% of the time have 100% no meaning, that Hillman did not think this 100% of the time, for it seems that elsewhere in his writings he contradicts that statement, but I will get to that later after discussing Freud and Jung who came first in the realm of dream interpretation in depth psychology.
I myself (there is no other “myself” or “I” even if I contain multitudes! and Hillman would agree to that, that we all contain multitudes as surely as the poet Walk Whitman did) subscribe to all three of the best-known minds in depth psychology when it comes to the ideas of dreams: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Hillman, and ascribe each their dream theories to various dreams of mine and to the dreams of others that I analyze and help interpret. Some dreams are wish fulfillment (Freud), some are residual (Freud and Jung), some are the “little dreams” while others are the “big dreams” that contain archetypal content that is of numinous effect upon the dreamer (Jung); still, some might seem “meaningless” and as if they are their own animal (as in how could this possibly have come from my own mind or my own psyche?–it must be its own occasion or phenomena!) (Hillman); and, sometimes I see merit in each of these theories all in the one same dream.
For instance, in my “Freya Dream,” I could say it was a wish fulfillment dream since at that time in my early life I was curious about what it would be like to be old and what might the afterlife be or look like if indeed there was any; my wish was to see it, so perhaps my psyche/dream granted this wish for me. But according to my belief system, I might ask did my psyche alone provide this wish or was this providence a divine providence? To answer that, if it was of a divine providence, then what of the “coincidence” that I was reading about the Norse myths at the time and had encountered the myth of Freya, the Norse goddess whose chariot was pulled by cats as she would take the souls of the deceased to the heavens? It thus seems likely it was then a residual dream. However, this residual information must have had some type of numinous affect upon my psyche (or did it really?) to register itself in a dream. Since I read about the image of Freya in a mythology text, it is then not too surprising or huge that I had a dream in which there was large archetypal material, since the myths are all about archetypes. However, how it presented personally to me with the people in my life (familiar and thus residual as residing in my life), made it all the more numinous to me even if the image of Freya was residual, from the residue in my psyche from reading the myth. Whether the image I received of the afterlife is “real” or “authentic” or “true” or not is not the big matter here; the matter at hand that really counts on my fingers is that I had this opportunity to view such archetypal content in the dream that I could even associate and amplify to other myths (that granted, I had already known about and read). It is the beauty and the sacredness of the dream event, of what was important to me in my life (my beloved grandparents all getting older and closer to death and dying and the realization that I would “lose” them in the near future) that mattered, that spoke to my heart. And that it spoke to my heart was its meaning and that it spoke to my psyche in a big archetypal way was its meaning too.
If I were to strip it of its meaningfulness to my psyche and soul, then I could say it was meaningless; but, I cannot do that. Can I still say it was its own animal? That is possible. I could say that Freya and these other images in my dream exist historically and culturally in myths and live there in those texts of culture and book and myth as their own “facts” whether true or untrue, actual gods and places or not. For, to be its own animal, the image of Freya would have to be live somehow somewhere in some content or context as the “living image.” It does not matter how it lives or where it lives as long as the image is living. And it lived in my psyche and dream that night. Hillman calling the dream figure like a dog or circle or person its own animal is quite akin to Jung’s concept of the autonomous ‘level’ of the psyche or of autonomous dream figures and dream images. The “animal” in my dream (or animals) was (were) the horse. Horses replaced the cats that pull Freya’s chariot that replaced the horses in the first place–so my psyche associated the cats to horses, seeming to prefer the horses. And then the humans in my dream–my grandparents and myself) were the human animals in the dream.
It is my perspective that there is usually no one right or one wrong way of looking at or regarding a dream, that dreams can contain multitudes of meanings or meaninglessnesses, that several theories and perspectives can each have validity at once in any one dream and to whatever extent that is to be found, that there can be more than one “truth” to a dream or most any other situation. I as one person, if I too contain multitudes, can maintain any amount of “truths” or interpretations or amounts of meaningfulness or meaninglessness. I could ask myself if it was meaningful to me even if another person could not find anything of meaning in it.
I like to think that when a dream is its own animal, and if we regard it then as the living image, that we have respect for it in its own right or rite of dream passage and perhaps simply wonder at the gift it brought with it in its appearance. I may have to then wonder, however, what was the meaning of the gift, as well as of the myth.
I leave the reader with one last consideration. If Hillman really intended to say 100% that dreams have no meaning, then why in one of his books on dreams did he go on to describe various and numerous meanings or various and numerous dreams right after saying to ascribe dreams no meaning? It would seem he contradicted himself, and it does seem he was aware that he contradicted himself, for he does offer a (sort of) apology, saying that, Well, if you MUST give them a meaning, here are some to consider type of thing. I can add one last thought: that some of his dream meanings have nothing to do at all with mine and I do not always subscribe 100% to all his dream meaning interpretations either. Sometimes what we think and say about a dream says more about us than it does the dreamer, because it can be true, as Jung says, that “We do not see things the way they are, we see things the way we are” (emboldened emphasis mine). That is why dream dictionaries are often no help at all.
One of your dreams I meant to respond to by now that really gripped my attention and is fascinating is the unknown animal breathing on the other side of your door. That in and of itself perhaps has at least one of its possible meanings as the concept of a dream being its own animal. I thought of that dream of yours as I read your response. Of course, it could have many other possible meanings as you have already mentioned. I liked readings about your mysterious dream image because the animal could have been anything, and I found myself imagining all the different types of animals or creatures it could be as the living image!