Mythological Dreams

Ligozzi_(Una_quimera)

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.)

sophie

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.

AUTHOR

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

 

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The Delphic Oracle Finds a Voice

apollo and Python

The Delphic Oracle Finds a Voice

“And then at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times.”

 This is a quote from a 22-year-old woman who was raped while unconscious. Her attacker, a former Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted her was sentenced to only 6 months plus probation.

One night in January, 2015, two Stanford University graduate students biking across campus spotted a freshman thrusting his body on top of an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. In March 2016, a California jury found the attacker, a former student, 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Turner faced a maximum of 14 years in prison. He was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. The judge’s defense of his light sentence was based on the premise that he didn’t want his sentence to have too serious an impact on this young man’s apparently bright and shining life.

However, at his sentencing his victim asked to be allowed to address her attacker directly. Focusing her gaze on him, she began, her statement:

“You don’t know me but you have been inside me and this is why we are here today.”

She continued detailing the severe impact his actions had on her from the time she learned that she had been assaulted by a stranger while unconscious, to the grueling trial during which Turner’s attorneys argued in the usual fashion that she had eagerly consented (while unconscious or before!).

In her passionate confrontation of her attacker, it appears she had hoped to impact his complete indifference to her suffering, and the life changing effect his actions had on her. Because the rule of law, the justice system, and the disrespectful attitude towards rape victims didn’t support and underscore her cry for a human response, it was not heeded. Her attacker remained coldly and arrogantly wedded to his perspective on his actions. He also remained the victim of society’s lack of response to the violence involved in sexual assault. Despite her being unconscious during the act, he maintained that she encouraged it.

The victim’s personal outrage was focused on the issue that even after being convicted, Turner failed to tell the truth, failed to acknowledge that he sexually assaulted her, failed to acknowledge that his act was one of violence, and above all failed to show any remorse, or any feeling for her, the woman he had assaulted. In short, he took no responsibility for his actions, adding a blood-curdling note to his absurd arrogance, an arrogance, which the judge seconded in his opinion expressed through his light sentencing, and seconded again by Turner’s father who felt the sentence was too serious a punishment for “twenty minutes of action.”

Apparently, Turner’s inability to feel the impact of his actions is supported by his father’s inability to discern the difference between sex and rape. However, Joe Biden “filled with furious anger” provided the necessary sacred counterpoint, in a public letter to this unknown woman, a woman, he calls “all women.” He began, “I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed. I am in awe of your courage for speaking out—for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim of human dignity.” “And while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied.”

With his hand in her hand, Biden and the embodied form of the “dignified voice of women,” are attempting to revive respect for women, and correspondingly and perhaps less understood, in this narrative, respect for men. There are four victims here: a man, who is less human than perhaps he could be and at the same time refusing to be further informed; a woman he made, with malicious intent, the receptacle for his inhumanity; an Apollonian consciousness uninformed by its feminine counterpart; and above all, the soul.

The difference between sex and rape was obliterated when the chthonic Python was vanquished by the sun-hero Apollo. This powerful distinction descended back into the earth, subsumed by the things created by man’s “enlightened” consciousness alone. This is a story told by the narration of myth in the way only myth can accomplish.

So the story goes as I remember it and attempt to retell it:

In the center of the world, at a place where roads crossed, the intersection of two fault lines enter into one another, symbolizing the union of opposites, a fissure opened into the black depths of the earth. Water flowed from the Castalian spring revealed by the fissure. These waters carried the sacred understandings of the mother, the beginning of all things. This place was called Delphi (Delphhoi), the womb, and in its cave sanctuary lived a shamanic priestess called the Pythia—serpent woman. Her prophetic power came from a she-dragon in the Castalian spring, the unconscious psyche, the evanescent unconscious which she brought into the light, providing the original moment of suture between what lay in the dark and the unknown and what is illuminated by the sun, by consciousness.

The chthonic Python, Pythia was vanquished by the sun-hero Apollo. He demonized the she-serpent (as told by Homer, in his Hymn to Apollo) and separated her from the waters of the shrine whose guardian she was. He violently seized the sanctuary and created a shrine to himself. His seizure was accompanied by rape and murder and thus power, and dominance was introduced. With this conquest, the unconscious feminine descended deep into the earth and disappeared. Now, there was only one element, the bright sun, and consciousness. It is said, that the Earth, however, struck back, sending up dreams from the deep, “which revealed unto the city of mortals, the past and the future,” preventing the she-serpent’s voice from being permanently silenced. (Dempsey, 21)

With this Apollonian victory, conquest, colonization of the other replaced dialogue; hostile take-over replaced union; rape replaced conjunction—the transformation of consciousness by the unconscious.

We are now left trying to re-create this space of reflection, the space where consciousness is enlarged through its relationship with the unconscious, the space where heart and mind meet and transform one another. Every now and then we are blessed to hear the voice of the chthonic feminine again. Sometimes a man speaks it, a man who is gifted with holding the opposites, a consciousness informed by its unconscious opposite. In this case however, the perfect voice emerges, the voice of the cast aside, devalued feminine, comes back to haunt us with its numinous truth.

I count the grains of sand on the beach and measure the sea

I understand the speech of the mute and hear the voiceless

—Delphic Oracle [Herodotus, I, 47]

Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (drjgolden@earthlink.net)

Reference:
Dempsey, T, The Delphic Oracle: its early history, influence and fall

Image Credit:
Apollo killing Python, A 1581 engraving by Virgil Solis for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I.