Thank you for sharing your Big Dream, Mary! I find it enchanting, and appreciate your personal and mythic associations and amplifications. Clearly this dream has deep resonance, providing guidance and support throughout your life. Though I do enjoy discussing dreams, this one needs no elucidation from me (though each image triggers layer upon layer of associations in my mind, anything I add would reflect my concerns and the engagement of my waking consciousness, in the same way the imagery from another culture’s mythology can nevertheless stir one’s soul).
The patterns in one’s dreams as you discuss often coincide with patterns in our lives. Sometimes I have been surprised by how, looking back, I can see that a dream series involving a pattern has had such keys to unlock psyche and meanings of events in my life. Why did this or that have to happen? What was my dream pressing to tell me? Why did I wake from this dream feeling like there is something more I need to know? What does my psyche hold in its deep and/or dark that I should work on to improve myself and my life?”
So very true. I certainly will ask such questions when reviewing my dreams. At the same time, thanks in part to James Hillman’s influence, I have come accept that the dream realm is independent of, rather than in service to, waking consciousness; a dream is an animal in its own right (to paraphrase Hillman), whose intention is not to convey a specific, exclusive message for me.
Of course, when we practice dream work, the usual question is “What does the dream mean?” (though it sounds similar, I believe that is a much more simplistic approach, in search of a definitive, black-and-white answer, than the series of questions you shared in your approach to your dreams). Interpretation is thought to aim at meaning – but no dream dictionary will capture that ethereal flow. Dreams are beyond meaning, not at all linear and literal; dreams instead suggest a holographic structure with a multitude of meanings, parallel and paradox, enfolded in each image – much the same as the imagery of music, poetry, theater, and the other arts . . .
What, after all, is the meaning of those first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth, or that F-sharp buried in the middle of a Tchaikovsky suite? What is the meaning of a color dancing through a Jackson Pollack painting, or the tone Jerry Garcia wrings from his guitar?
That doesn’t mean I don’t find meaning in dreams, the same way one can find “meaning” in other natural phenomena (oracles, for example: a shaman may find affirmation, insight, or warning in an abrupt deviation of the flight of birds, or the way smoke unfurls when burning sage), but that’s a meaning I bring to it when I engage these images. Meaning arises in subjective consciousness – but even within one person different possibilities arise, in response to the manifold layers of association embedded in each image presented to consciousness. In inner work, multiple and sometimes contradictory interpretations serve to flesh out the vapors of dream, and so paint a multidimensional portrait of the polymorphic psyche.
I understand and embrace the differentiation between little (personal) dreams and Big (archetypal) dreams, as Jung (and Campbell, following Jung) explains it – yet I’m not wedded to that distinction. Certainly I’ve experienced dreams that are of an order and magnitude far beyond my little subjective ego concerns – and yet I’ve recorded so many hundred of dreams over the years and find the line between “little” and “big” is not always so clear.
[Dreamtime] is the time you get into when you go to sleep and have a dream that talks about permanent conditions within your own psyche as they relate to the temporal conditions of your life right now…
Now the level of dream of “Will I pass this exam?” or “Should I marry this girl?” – that is purely personal. But on another level, the problem of passing an exam is not simply a personal problem. Everyone has to pass a threshold of some kind. That is an archetypal thing. So there is a basic mythological theme there even though it is a personal dream. These two levels – the personal aspect and then the big general problem of which the person’s problem is a local example – are found in all cultures.
(Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 47)
When I return months or years later to a dream recorded in my journal, I find the clearly personal elements that speak so clearly to my circumstances at the time of the dream now open out onto something deeper, something more; the further I go beyond the subjective layer, the more clearly I apprehend even the most mundane images opening a door into the archetypal realms of the collective psyche.
Subtle nuances speak volumes in dream. Pun imagery, verbal or visceral, humorous or obscure, runs rampant. Dream images, like all components of psyche, are fluid, quicksilver – and quicksilver, mercury, is ruled by Hermes, a trickster, god of communication (and miscommunication). Wherever one thing is also another, whether symbolic ritual or trivial pun, Hermes hides in the ambiguity, cloaked in paradox, putting the alchemical flavor into dream work.
In dream we are immersed in the stuff of poetry – images wet, electric, self-luminous, and fluid – a nighttime sensurround toon town theater in 3-D, in which we are sometimes audience, sometimes extra, sometimes star – at times, all three. Here we dance in elysian fields, bathe in the wellsprings of creativity and pure imagination. Is it any wonder patterns we find there point to energies manifesting in waking realities?
Dream helps us relate to these patterns, and can bring us into a conscious harmony with the natural rhythms of life – but that’s just one aspect, and not my default starting point. Rather, when a dream follows me up from the depths of the psyche and past the threshold of consciousness into waking life, my initial response is aesthetic arrest. I return to it time and again, not to penetrate its secret meaning, but to revel in the experience and appreciate the beauty, color, and relationship of the imagery (to one another, and to the whole) within the field of the dream.
Over time, individual images evoke associations and cry out for amplification, and something personal and powerful gets going . . . but my immediate reaction is simply