Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Reply To: Power of Personal Mythology: How sharks helped a woman through trauma


Hi Sidian,

Considering “Personal Mythology” is in the title, I moved this into the Exploring Your Personal Mythology forum for housekeeping purposes (though, with a different title, it could have fit nicely as well in the Myths, Dreams, Reflections forum).

Dreams are indeed the royal road into the unconscious. As Joseph Campbell observed (which of course you know), “Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.”

I love the way your correspondent’s own dream provided an image to help her deal with the shadow energies constellated in her nightmares – and the example of using active imagination you supplied, drawing on a sharkskin dreamsuit that offers her protection.

Over the past three decades I have recorded more than 1,000 dreams in a dozen dream journals, and have many examples I could share. The following, though, is an early one that made a deep impression on me:

Roughly 28 years ago I was nearing the end of what proved to be a brief fling with “Julie,” who, at twenty-three, was thirteen years my junior (relationship in lieu of a sporty red convertible?). Ours was a tenuous mismatch that could not sustain Julie’s interest; however, infatuated and in denial, I was the only member in my circle of friends who did not anticipate the inevitable.

Then, one night, I dreamt I was invisible, and had broken into a large warehouse, a place I did not belong. The night watchman glances inside, but cannot see me as I dash into a room off the main hall (I remain invisible even to myself). However, the Watchman releases the guard dog, a large, menacing, black Doberman, to sweep the building. The dog enters the room where I hide and somehow senses me: bristling and vicious, it tries to attack – so I bludgeon the beast to death with a fire extinguisher!

(Not my typical behavior – as St. Augustine said, thank God we can’t be held accountable for our dreams!)

I found this imagery disturbing. Here is a snarling black dog, a gatekeeper of sorts, which threatens me. I couldn’t help but think of Cerberus, the sharp-fanged, triple-headed, black hound guarding the entrance to Hades.

Could it be that I can’t “see” myself because of something I am unconscious of – and this content in my unconscious (clad in the skin of that vicious, snarling Doberman) appears so threatening to ego (my sense of myself) that I forcefully, violently repress it?

But I had no idea what, specifically, I could not see in waking life (I guess that’s why it’s called the unconscious), so I decided to sleep on it.

Two nights later I dreamt that I was at the top of a flight of stairs leading down into a dark subway tunnel – and somewhere loose in the tunnel is a large, silver-gray timber wolf. I slip quietly down the steps and carefully close and latch a huge cage door at the bottom of the stairs, thinking to lock the wolf in the subway . . . but when I turn around, I realize the wolf waits for me at the top of the stairs – I have locked it out with me, in the daylight world!

Notice how the image of the black Doberman, bred to be vicious and deadly, has morphed into a silver wolf, a creature more in tune with nature – suggesting a subtle shift in accent – though what is unknown, what must emerge from below, is still threatening enough to ego that I want to keep it locked in the unconscious (the subway). However, working with the earlier dream, going into the underworld of the unconscious, playing with and reflecting on its images (suggested by that hesitant descent into the subway) served to release what is repressed into the light of day.

As I pondered the second dream, I gradually realized that I had been denying the reality of my collapsing relationship. After several days of reflection I finally opened an honest discussion with Julie, and we came to a mutual parting of the ways. Yes, it was awkward and uncomfortable – but, had I continued to ignore the relationship’s trajectory, I would have felt shattered and heartbroken, perhaps reacting in blind desperation, and facing far deeper, longer lasting wounds. Instead, I was surprised to feel a measure of bittersweet relief.

That night the dream series wrapped up with me walking out of Julie’s shower and across the street. Though in the dream it was about 4 a.m., there were two workmen, wearing overalls, on hands and knees in the gutter clearing out the debris clogging the storm drain. A golden retriever puppy nipped playfully at their heels while they worked. The workmen found the happy pup a bit distracting, but were more amused than irritated.

Hmm . . . undertaking this interior work clears an obstruction in my psyche and shifts my perspective, thus inaugurating a change in circumstance in waking life.

Keep in mind that I am by no means a qualified psychotherapist, but am simply speaking from my own experience. Certainly this dream series addresses the personal level Campbell mentions to Moyers in The Power of Myth (e.g. “Will I marry this girl?”); nevertheless, the archetypal level is represented as well. Notice how mythological themes play through the dreams, and how, though details of an image may differ from dream to dream – depending on what is being emphasized – the underlying motif remains in play: the snarling Doberman, the aloof timber wolf, and the playful golden puppy are all different inflections of the same archetypal pattern (Cerberus/Anubis; dog as psychopomp or guide of souls, etc.); similarly, the warehouse, the subway, and the storm drain all suggest the Underworld of the unconscious.

And making the unconscious conscious, tending to my dreams and bringing those dream contents into awareness, observing them, working with them, midwifed resolution of impending crisis in the waking world.

Even though the details of that brief, romantic relationship have faded into memory, Julie became one of my closest friends – but, just as important, the recurring and enduring nature of archetypal patterns in dream and myth remain etched in awareness yet today.