Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

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

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Author
  • #72596

    I wrote a whole blog post about this but I just find these stories so inspiring I figured I could at least share the quote from this woman here.

    My nightmares focused around being chased and tormented by ‘The men without faces’. The only dream in which I was rescued, I climbed into a water tower and met with a shark who ate the man chasing me. In therapy, I practiced cognitive therapy to induce lucid dreaming about swimming with sharks. My father helped me design a waking dream in which I made a special dream suit and weapons from, to protect me from the men without faces. I continued to have nightmares up into my late 20’s, but instead of being helpless, I fought back.

    Later, Sidian helped me design a new waking dream in which the sharks spoke with me and gave me their skins to make a new sharkskin dreamsuit. Sharks represent to me, an innate and pure hunter instinct and with it, the ability to protect and fight for myself.

    Do you have any stories of how Personal Mythology helped or influenced you in big ways or small?


    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.


    Hello Stephen,

    Thank you for such a beautiful post that wraps the personal myth, the dream world, your personal dream, and your understanding of your dreams as they unfold and help you resolve a personal crisis.

    “…. 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 …”

    Your dream images followed by your interpretation, both at personal level and at the mythological level helped me sort out my dream world and dreams that I had two nights ago. Your  personal interaction with the Doberman, the silver wolf  – a creature or I should say creatures,  more in tune with nature were present in my dream too. While the silver wolf chased me in an underground tunnel, and I found myself running at super speed, and as the scene changed, the world outside became immensely peaceful with other nature birds flying overhead. There was a gorgeous bald eagle circling overhead, the sky was a beautiful blue, and just below the bald eagle was a golden eagle, also in flight. My conscious  and the unconscious are not in sync, I thought. The underworld is scary, and I seem to be running away from something but the outer world promises peace, strength, security. So, I am hoping to do some AI work tonight and incubate another dream. “Dreams are indeed the royal road into the unconscious”   And, they speak to us of our private myths.

    To know that you are a sparrow and not a swan; or, on the contrary, a swan and not a sparrow…gives a great security, stability and quality of harmony and peace to the psyche,” Joseph Campbell wrote in Kyoto in 1955, drafting a convocation address for his students back at Sarah Lawrence.Iyer, Pico. A Beginner’s Guide to Japan (p. 90).

    With much gratitude for sharing your personal myths and personal dreams here and of course, always  in such a poetic manner.



    Thanks, Shaheda,

    Sidian makes a power point with his example of how dreams offer a glimpse into, and a means of engaging, our personal mythology.

    Out of the myriad dreams I have recorded, the dream series I shared above proved pivotal my understanding of how dreams work. One can read all of what Jung, Hillman, and others say on the subject, but it’s all abstract until we see how those dynamics play out in our own experience of the dream world.

    Thank you for sharing your insight about your own dream image. Makes sense – something in the underworld of the unconscious is frightening. As you note, the exterior world “promises peace, strength, security.” Adding a layer to that, one could observe that it’s becoming aware of that threat from within that you arrive at a place in harmony with nature (and indeed, what is the unconscious but part of the natural world – it’s only threatening to ego, one’s sense of oneself).

    And I love your response: I trust your foray into active imagination aided that embrace of, and comfort with, the unconscious.


    Hello Stephen,  I am a teacher of personal mythology through the images of tarot, an art form that has, in recent years, exploded in diversity and depth, as hundreds of artists are creating their personal images of archetypal energies.  Victor Daniels PhD, retired head of the Psychology Dept at Sonoma State University, calls a pack of tarot cards a pocket-sized Gestalt sand tray.  The dream experiences you shared reminded me immediately of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot Moon card, one which I often refer to as illustrating the approach to the Underworld in the cycle of the Hero’s Journey.  The crustacean in the center foreground (the consciousness of the hero) rises up out of the deep subconscious where it’s been residing, heretofore asleep to it’s calling)  and faces a path that leads between pairs of opposites. First the pair of canines, a domestic dog and a wild wolf.  Then the pair of pillars, reminiscent of the clashing rocks faced by the Argonauts and onward to the rugged moonscape of mountains beyone.  While above, the Moon and Sun appear in the same place in space which is clearly unnatural and signifies that the space-time referenced here is not in the Ordinary World.  Thank you for your posting!  (RWS card posted with permission from US Games Systems Inc.)   Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Moon Card


    Thanks, Cheryl, for drawing that connection. The proliferation of new tarot decks by contemporary artists certainly increases availability and access to one of the best tools for activating the mythic imagination, one I regularly draw on myself (I don’t often use the Rider-Waite cards; my go-to deck is the Haindl Tarot, created by the late German artist Herman Haindl, which adapts mythological imagery; the feeling-tone it conveys stimulates my imagination – I’ll post an image of Haindl’s Moon from the Major Arcana below. Sometimes I just love looking at the differences and similarities among the same card from multiple decks, knowing none are “right” or “wrong” but add additional layers and dimensions).

    Just as dreams are valuable in helping uncover one’s personal mythology, so is the tarot, as well as other forms of divination. That’s worthy of a conversation all it’s own, rather than a post buried in a thread more focused on dreams.

    Perhaps you wouldn’t mind starting a thread on the subject of the tarot as a tool for discovering one’s personal myth. I believe that would be valuable info for other forum participants (though might just be thee and me posting there at first). All you have to do is either click on the “Exploring Your Personal Mythology” breadcrumb at the top of this conversation (or click on this link), then scroll past the other topics and post your comment in the form at the bottom of the page (with a relevant topic title).

    The Moon, Haindl Tarot

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • The forum ‘Exploring Your Personal Mythology’ is closed to new topics and replies.