Mythological Dreams


According to Jung, the unconscious spontaneously produces images that are mythological in nature, meaning that they are symbolic, universal, and address the nature of the cosmos, and our place in it. Mythologems, or mythological motifs, are a kind of pre-existing psychic natural resource, present at least in potential in the deep layers of the psyche of every person. These mythological images are the raw materials from which the grand narratives that we know of as myth are formed.

Myths are products of the unconscious and reveal its workings. Jung wrote that “myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings.”[i] Jung believed that myths and dreams spring from a common source – that they both draw from to the same aquifer of universal images. “The whole world of myth of fable is an outgrowth of unconscious fantasy just like the dream.”[ii] Jung believed that the motifs found in dreams and myths were so similar that they were nearly identical.

Dreams, being statements of the unconscious, play no small part in the therapy….The indubitable occurrence of archetypal motifs in dreams make a thorough knowledge of the spiritual history of man indispensable for anyone seriously attempting to understand the real meaning of dreams. The likeness between certain dream motifs and mythologems is so striking that they may be regarded not merely as similar but even identical. This recognition not only raises the dream to a higher level and places it in the wider context of the mythologem, but, at the same time, the problems posed by mythology are brought into connection with the psychic life of the individual.[iii]

Joseph Campbell adds some nuance to Jung’s assertion that myth and dream originate from the same source. He contends that myths are produced with the help of consciousness, and contain not merely upwelling of instinctual wisdom, but the distillation of generations of lived knowledge.

If we are to grasp the full value of the materials, we must note that myths are not exactly comparable to dream. Their figures originate from the same sources – the unconscious wells of fantasy – and their grammar is the same, but they are not the spontaneous products of sleep. On the contrary, their patterns serve as a powerful picture language for the communication of traditional wisdom. This is true already of the so-called primitive folk mythologies. The trance-susceptible shaman and the initiated antelope-priest are not unsophisticated in the wisdom of the world, not unskilled in the principles of communication by analogy. The metaphors by which they live, and through which they operate, have been brooded upon, searched, and discussed for centuries – even millenniums; they have served whole societies, furthermore, as the mainstays of thought and life. The culture patterns have been shaped to them. The youth have been educated, and the aged rendered wise, through the study, experience, and understanding of their effective initiatory forms. For they touch and actually bring into play the vital energies of the whole human psyche. They link the unconscious to the fields of practical action.[iv]

The grand mythic narratives, therefore, have been forged by culture. Myths tell us how to live and contain the distilled wisdom of the ancestors. Mythological stories, then, always tell us something important about the collective. They instruct the individual about how he or she ought to orient toward the wider culture. It may be that, at decisive moments in personal individuation, our individual choices intersect with larger collective currents. At these times, our personal story becomes part of the larger myth unfolding in the life of society around us. It is likely that mythological dreams appear at just such junctures.

As Jung points out, our dreams often include images that could have come from myths or fairy tales. There are big symbols such as snakes or trees, and these are accompanied by big feelings. Or our dreams have supernatural creatures or occurrences. Animals talk. There are witches or vampires. Then we know we are in the realm of the mythic. When mythological dreams appear, it may be that these are there to link our personal story to collective events, to place our personal drama decisively in a historical context. If we are indeed connected to the entirety of human experience through the underground rhizome of the collective unconscious, and influence flows both ways, then receiving a dream from this level of the psyche alerts us that we are in the flow of a collective psychic happening.

Consider the following dream:

It was a sunny day, and I was carrying a little girl dressed in a long white gown to be baptized. The path to the church led up a steep hill. But I was holding the child safely and securely in my arms. All of a sudden, I found myself at the brink of a crevasse. I had just enough time to set the child down on the other side before I plunged into the abyss.[v]

The image of the little girl alerts us that we are potentially in mythological territory. The child is a profound symbol of futurity, of that which is both fragile and yet destined to survive us. Jung says that the child is a symbol that new thing that appears spontaneously as a result of the union of opposites just at that time when we feel most stuck and desolate.

The “child” is born out of the womb of the unconscious, begotten out of the depths of human nature, or rather out of living Nature herself. It is a personification of vital forces quite outside the limited range of our conscious mind; of ways and possibilities of which our one-sided conscious mind knows nothing; a wholeness which embraces the very depths of Nature. It represents the strongest, the most ineluctable urge in every being, namely the urge to realize itself.[vi]

The transpersonal content symbolized by the little girl is being carried by the dream ego toward a ritual experience of rebirth and consecration. The dream is reassuring that this content will survive beyond the destruction of the conscious personality. As a symbol, the child can stand for that which was there before consciousness, and that which will remain after consciousness ceases to be.

The child…is thus both beginning and end, an initial and a terminal creature. The initial creature existed before man wan, and the terminal creature will be when man is not. Psychologically speaking, this means that the “child” symbolizes the pre-conscious and the post-conscious essence of man. His pre-conscious essence is the unconscious state of earliest childhood; his post-conscious essence is an anticipation by analogy of life after death.[vii]

Just as our actual children will survive us and go on to carry a part of our essence into the infinite future, the symbolic child carries transpersonal values into the future beyond our personal, temporally limited engagement with them. (The image of the child is used to suggest just such a content at the end of the film 2001 A Space Odyssey.)


In fact, this dream was dreamt by Sophie Scholl on the night before her execution. According to the biography written by her sister, Scholl interpreted the dream to her cell mate thus:

“The child represents our idea, which will triumph in spite of all obstacles. We are allowed to be its trailblazers, but we must die before it is realized.”[viii]

Such a dream reveals to us the mythic substrate on which our personal drama unfolds. Mythological dreams may also perhaps reflect the currents of history and world events which flow beneath us at all times, but which we may not be capable of detecting without the benefit of hindsight.

Mythological dreams are usually Big Dreams, dreams that affect us powerfully, and stay with us for years. Mythological dreams encourage us to fulfill our personal destiny, so that we can take up our unique role in the life of the collective. They seem to appear at nodal points in our life, often prefiguring decisive moments when we face a choice whether to move in the direction of our mysteriously pre-ordained unfolding.

[i] “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 261.
[ii] “Principles of Practical Psychotherapy,” The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, par. 17.
[iii] “Foreword to White’s ‘God and the Unconscious,’” Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, par. 450.
[iv] Jospeh Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 256-257.
[v] Beradt, C. (1968). The Third Reich of dreams. With an essay by Bruno Bettelheim. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, pp. 107-108.
[vi] “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 289.
[vii] “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 299.
[viii] Beradt, C. (1968). The Third Reich of dreams. With an essay by Bruno Bettelheim. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, p. 108.


Lisa Marchiano, LCSW is a certified Jungian analyst in private practice in Philadelphia. She blogs at and is the co-creator of This Jungian Life podcast. She can be reached through


The Archetype of Apocalypse in Culture and Dreams: A Jungian Perspective

“We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos, the right moment for a metamorphosis of the gods, of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing” 

(Jung, The Undiscovered Self)

“Something new is trying to enter the consciousness of modern man in order to radically transform it, sinister and uncanny though it may be, meaninglessness is like a guest who knocks at our door asking for shelter…”

                                                                                      (Wolfgang Giegerich Soul Violence) typo

Why are visions of the end of the world so prevalent in our popular culture today? And why have apocalyptic themes been replicated in so many different forms across millennia; spanning art, religion, science, philosophy and our global media environments?  Do you ever have dreams with apocalyptic themes; hurricanes, tornados, tidal waves, earthquakes, floods, bombs, planets crashing towards earth (cosmophobia)?

Such dreams or inner dramas call out for our conscious attention. They provide a window deeper into our souls, and awaken awareness of the archetypal realm. Mythological themes and dream images, as well as real outward events amplify and express pieces of our human experience both personally and collectively. The theme of the Apocalypse is not a modern construct but rather is both ancient and universal. It reaches out and touches all of us. Bidden or unbidden, it presents itself in our human condition in the form of ecological dangers, wars, disease and starvation. Such themes may haunt us while we sleep as we plunge deeper into the unconscious often hoping to put the stresses of the day behind us.

As a Jungian analyst, one is often privileged in hearing the sound of apocalyptic murmurings coming from the unconscious via dream material.  Apocalyptic dreams may present when an individual is struggling to make necessary psychological changes in their lives, both inner and outer.  Strangely and surprisingly, they may signify healing efforts when the psyche is trying to assimilate trauma.  So while apocalyptic material from the unconscious may often feel scary and unwanted, it brings with it a message that contains the potential for transformation. This is quite a different perspective from a pessimistic catastrophic “end of the world” or doomsday outlook.

                       What is the meaning of the archetype of apocalypse?

Seen through a Jungian lens, the concept of the apocalypse is an archetypal construct.  An archetype is a pattern, a kind of primordial psychic ordering of images. Archetypes have a collective or generalized quality and contain dynamic energy. When archetypal energy is evoked or activated in the world, it is often autonomous.  Archetypes reveal themselves through experience and are expressed through images.  As Jung informs us, archetypes are spontaneous phenomena.  Archetypes possess their own purposefulness as both subject and object, they are universal images.

In general the term apocalypse means revelation. Apokalpsis is a Greek word with the root kalypto meaning to cover or to hide, the prefix is the preposition apo which means away from. Apokalypsis means to take the covering away from – perhaps from what has been secret, revealing what has been invisible.  From this perspective, we can consider that apocalyptic events and or psychic material may be revealing some new piece of our humanity be it personal or collective. Something new may be trying to emerge.

Jungian analyst Edward Edinger in his book Archetype of the Apocalypse, speculates that apocalyptic imagery can signify disaster only if the ego is alienated from or antagonistic towards the realities that the Self is bringing this material into consciousness.  Hence, one interpretation is that when our egos are unable or unwilling to embrace the messages coming from the guiding forces of the Self, the result can express itself symbolically in the form of apocalyptic end of world imagery.

The Self according to Jung is first an archetype and it represents the archetype of wholeness, a centerpoint of the psyche. The Self as seen through a Jungian lens has an ordering principle, and a transpersonal power that transcends the ego. It may be symbolized through images of the circle or mandala.  A recent popular film Melancholia by Lars Von Trier presents us with themes that may echo what both Jung and Edinger are telling us. Films can be considered a type of collective associative dreaming.

                    What role does a sense of meaning play in our lives?

Jung believed that man could not survive without a sense of meaningfulness about our lives. His psychology is essentially about finding meaning to address the alarm and anxiety he felt modern humanity was facing. Perhaps we are living in a time when the sense of the world hanging on a thin thread is piercing into our consciousness.  Jung believed in the redemptive role that we as humans play with the universe. In essence, when we change ourselves, we change the world.

The void in cosmic meaning is the deepest reason but not the only reason why the apocalypse meme is replicating around the world. Removed from nature and the cosmos, humans seem to possess an existential and insatiable thirst for visions of doom…  (Barry Vaker, The End of the World Again)

As we hopefully choose to consciously attend to the apocalyptic musings in our world both inner and outer, we hold in our hands the potential to effect change and transformation both personally and collectively. If we turn our attention away due to fear, anxiety, distrust and disinterest, we may be aligning with destructive anti-life forces rather than transformational forces. Destruction and transformation sit side by side. Our attitude and our unflinching awareness to both face uncertainty and to seek meaning may hold a key to how it all turns out.


Ronnie Landau, MA is a certified Jungian Psychoanalyst and is a senior training analyst with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts where she received her certification. She is the past President of PAJA and past Director of Training. She is also the past Secretary on the Executive Board of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. Ms. Landau has taught and lectured on dream theory throughout the United States. She has also taught Transference-Countertransference dynamics in analysis throughout the US as well as Zurich, Switzerland along with “The Holocaust: Through a Jungian Perspective.” She is the author of The Queen of Sheba and Her Hairy Legs, The Exile and Redemption of the Erotic Feminine in Western Monotheism and Jungian Process.

Our Dreaming Lives

We all lead full and complete lives: we go to work, we go go to school, we spend time with our families and friends. Yet under the thin veneer of our civilized lives exists the full panoply of our dream and fantasy lives where we are adventurers, captives, sluggards, sirens, kings, and queens.

All of us dream several times a night and there is even some speculation that the purpose of sleeping is so that we can dream. Whether or not we realize it, we bring our dream world into our waking world. Our dreams get our attention, often very dramatically, and can help us become more conscious by showing us things we have been unaware of in our lives. Jung says that dreams show us the unvarnished truth and  “… fetch up the essential points, bit by bit and with the nicest choice.”

A dream is made up of a series of images, ideas, and emotions that come to us from the unconscious psyche while we are sleeping.  According to Jung, dreams will draw on a person’s experiences as well as the collective unconscious to show us “Ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions.”

Dreams can help us see possibilities and potential in our lives and they can also help us  understand some aspects of our development that have eluded us. But to make sense of dreams it helps when we understand the symbolic nature of the dreams. Dream language is the language of image and metaphor; for example your dream might offer up a snake in the grass or a rat.  Some one once told me that they had a dream and said, “I was in the same boat with my Mother.”

Do you remember your dreams and take time to savor your dream experiences? Do you notice how you feel when you wake-up from a dream? Your emotional state, your affect, can be an important aspect of the dream’s message. When we make the effort to remember the dream and honor the dream we often discover that it has something to tell us. When we understand the dream we may feel a sense of relief or of being in touch with something long forgotten that has a great importance for us.

Dreaming is a natural process and everyone can benefit from their dreams whether or not we remember them or interpret them. However, we benefit most when we are able to integrate the dream more fully into consciousness. Understanding our dreams can help us live more productive and conscious lives. Human beings have always known that dreams help us to understand our human and spiritual condition more fully. Jung says “The dream is its own interpretation, meaning, they employ no artifices in order to conceal something, but inform us of their content as plainly as possible in their own way.”

Dreams can educate and instruct us and if we can follow the dream, the dream can lead us toward wholeness with a profound wisdom. James Hillman, in The Soul’s Code, says: “Dreams can’t protect us from the vicissitudes of life, but they can guide us on how to cope with them, how to find meaning in our life, how to fulfill our own destiny, how to follow our own star, so to speak, in order to realize the greater potential of life within us.”


Cynthia A. Candelaria, EdD, LPC is a Jungian analyst and a graduate of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and has a private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She received her doctorate in counseling and human development from Vanderbilt University and completed a re-specialization in clinical psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Cynthia is a senior training analyst and is currently the Director of the Seminar for the C.G. Jung Institute of Philadelphia and serves on the training committee of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts.