Dreams:A Telling of our Relationship to the Archetypal Rhythms of Life The role of Complexes and Archetypes in dreams
When the angel appeared to the aging King Cronus, informing him that one of his children would soon be the new king, he took this as a helpful warning to protect himself against losing his sovereignty. Thus began his plans to kill off any and all threats to his rule. In misinterpreting and projecting a meaning onto the angel’s guidance that was far from its intent, Cronus' fear caused no end of tragedy for his wife and family.
The angel’s visitation speaks of an encounter with the Self, whose message, like those in our dreams, far exceeds our conscious orientation to life, and instead points towards a greater horizon. This story captures so much of the challenges in working with dreams, in that our projections and reactions can all too often eclipse the dreams inherent wisdom.
While much of modern dream work views our feelings and reactions evoked by the dream as synonymous with the dream’s message, Cronus' experience clearly shows that there is a profound difference between these. It also shows us the consequences of neglecting the archetypal wisdom of the dream. The angel informed the King of the archetypal need for renewal, and a new form of leadership. This archetypal story is found in endless variations in myths and legends and heard in the recognizable refrain: ”The king has died, long live the king".
However, instead of understanding and accepting this natural contour of life, the king’s reactions speak volumes about his fear and power complex, which caused him to cling to an outdated way of life. It was his inability and refusal to recognize the presence, strength, and autonomy of this complex that eclipsed the dreams archetypal and objective message. The tragic irony of this story is that the potential of the dream to convey wisdom and guide the King onto the next stage of his journey, was distorted by this complex and ultimately served to usher in the very tragedy he most feared.
The work of Jung and those truly creative pioneers in the field including; M.L. von Franz, Barbara Hannah, Aniela Jaffe, and later, Marion Woodman, James Hillman and Yoram Kaufmann, speaks to the primacy of the image and its presentation of the archetypal nature of life. They taught us to get into the skin of the image so as to know something of its unique and essential nature. For instance, if one dreams of a lungfish, or a black bear and its cubs frolicking in the winter snow, or of a handmade cedar canoe, our work is to not only focus on the dreamer’s reactions, but also to understand the archetypal, and objective meaning of the image. It is the artistry of psyche to present that one specific image and theme whose nature and archetypal meaning so beautifully captures the dreamer’s journey in life and at times, an intimation of destiny. To appreciate these vestiges of the "antique,” archetypal soul, we are asked to see where our own imaginings, emotions and memories evoked by the dream image, speak to the image itself and/or to the dreamer’s complex activated by the dream, a task Cronus was unable to do..
Many of our artistic and spiritual leaders also speak about this innate, archetypal dimension of image and story. From Annie Lamott, to Rabbi Heschel, and Saul Liberman, we are encouraged to know the character of our dreams, stories and sacred texts. Annie Lamott stresses this point in her book, Bird by Bird, when speaking about the creation of a character in a story and their need for a well-developed personality, replete with idiosyncrasies, tendencies and needs. Such rich characterization is found in every form of literature, film and fable. It is easily recognized in the sitcom Seinfeld, where George, Elaine, Jerry and Kramer are examples of such richly crated personalities, so much so that one we will never forget the unique and "interesting world" inhabited by Kramer, and Elaine’s infamous dance moves. Here, each character reflects a personification and behavior coherent with the archetype it seeks to portray. While we may never understand why and how Kramer does what he does, his behavior is nevertheless exemplative of "his world" and for that we will always love him!! Any script consultant will concur with the need to capture the archetypal nature of a character in story, and here we find ourselves yet again appreciating the genius of Jung's work with dream imagery.
Similar to Jung's work with dreams, the great Talmudic Scholar Rabbi Saul Liberman, taught us to approach a sacred text free of bias, judgement, and preconceptions, and instead, come to understand its unique story. So too, with dreams; each image responds to the natural rhythms of life that have existed since the beginning of time. From marriage, to parenting, to entering our later years, there exists a universal, archetypal path of life bringing us into relationship with the rich spiritual traditions that have guided humanity since the beginning of time. It is this, to which we seek connection, n the dream serves as threshold into this domain of psyche.
As there are many aspects to dream work, this nine month training program will address the following themes:
* learning to recognize the archetypal nature of symbols and their meaning in our dreams * learning to recognize the presence of workings of complexes in dreams as they assume symbolic form * learning to see the relationship and difference between the inherent dream message and what may be our complexed reaction to it. * Learning the art of translating, and not interpreting the dreams message into a language we can understand and bring into our life * The role of personal associations to dream images * The projection of meaning and inference onto dream images * working with familiar dream motifs such as couplings, weddings, work, and death, the presence of friends, teachers, and analysts, and dreams of animals, sexuality, bridges, and cars. As each of these images captures a vital archetypal threshold, we will look at their personal and archetypal relevance and meaning for the dreamer. * learning to discern the presence and intimation of destiny in dreams.
Because of the profundity and importance of dreams, and the extent to which they reveal so much of what is alive in the dreamers psyche, we will not be working with participant’s dreams in this seminar.
Conforti, M. (2003).Field, Form, and Fate: Patterns in Mind, Nature, and Psyche(New [rev.] ed.). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.
Kaufmann, Y. (2009).The Way of the Image: The Orientational Approach to the Psyche. New York, NY: Zahav Books.
Recommended Reading – Books
Conforti, M. (2008). Threshold Experiences: The Archetype of Beginnings. Brattleboro, VT: Assisi Institute Press.
Von Franz, M.L. (1998).Dreams: A Study of the Dreams of Jung, Descartes, Socrates, and Other Historical Figures. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Recommended Reading – Articles
(Download as PDF file below)
Conforti, M. (2010). Where Were the Leaves Before They Came Out? In Henderson, R., & Henderson, J. (Ed.), Living With Jung "Enterviews" With Jungian Analysts(Vol. 3, pp. 193-211). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.
Portmann, A. (1964). Metamorphosis in Animals: The Transformations of the Individual and the Type. In Campbell, J. (Ed.),Man and Transformation: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks(Vol. 5, pp. 297-325). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.