Myths, Fairy Tales and Dreams


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"The Sleeping Beauty, the Prince and the Dragon"
An Exploration of the Soul

Seminar 1
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Seminar Main Page What is the Soul? click here
Seminar 2
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Seminar 2 The Origins of the Concept of Soul click here
Seminar 3
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Seminar 3 The Myth of the Fall click here
Seminar 4
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Seminar 4   Myths, Fairy Tales and Dreams  this page  
Seminar 4A
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Seminar 4   Animals in Dreams 
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Seminar 5
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Seminar 5  The Roots of Depression click here
Seminar 6
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Seminar 6 The Care of the Child click here
Seminar 7
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Seminar 7 The Great Web of Life   click here
Seminar 8
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Seminar 8 The Brain and the Neuro-psycho-immune System  click here  
Seminar 9
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Seminar 9 The Dragon: Integrating the Archaic Psyche and the Shadow click here
Seminar 10
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Seminar 10 Rebalancing the Masculine and the Feminine click here
Seminar 11
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Seminar 11 Base Metal into Gold: The Process of the Soul's Transformation click here
Seminar 12
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Seminar 12 Individual Soul, Cosmic Soul and Spirit
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Seminar 13
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Seminar 12 The Wisdom Texts
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Seminar 4


from Nicholas Delphinus, The Book of Lambspring

©Anne Baring

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.
                                                              — from The Secret Life of Bees


In the lines below, it is clear that those who were members of the Platonic Academy knew that an understanding of the imagery of myth could assist the transformation of the soul.

The soul descends into generation, after the manner of Kore
She is scattered by generation, after the manner of Dionysus;
Like Prometheus and the Titans, she is bound to body.
She frees herself by exercising the strength of Heracles;
Gathers herself together through the help of Apollo
And the saviour Athene, by truly purifying philosophy;
And she elevates herself to the causes of her being with Demeter. 

                                     Damascius, the last head of the Platonic Academy in Athens, 6th century AD.

from "The Seven Myths of the Soul" by Tim Addey, The Prometheus Trust, www.prometheustrust.co.uk

The Power of Myth

Today, myth is generally used in the sense of describing something that is false, unreal, unproven. But there is another aspect to myth in today's world that needs to be considered. The Utopian ideologies that demonised a social class (Communism) or an entire people (Fascism) and destroyed the lives of millions, have shown us how myth as political ideology can be used as a lethal political weapon. Wherever negative projections that demonise others are encouraged by politicians and religious leaders, whenever a situation develops that polarises different ethnic, national or religious groups, then the archetypal power of myth can become active, take possession of millions of individuals and justify unspeakable acts of barbarism towards an ‘enemy’ because a situation is polarised into “us against them”.
          There is a powerful myth that lies at the root of Western and Middle-Eastern culture that is deeply embedded in the human psyche. It comes down to us from the mythology of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and Greece. Its principal theme is a hero’s struggle with a mighty dragon and, on a cosmic scale, the battle between light and darkness, good and evil and the ultimate victory of light over darkness. It may be that this myth has its remote origins in lunar mythology and a story that grew up around the observation of the phases of the moon - the idea that the waning moon had been “swallowed” by the dragon of darkness and that a hero could rescue the crescent moon (the maiden) and help her to be reborn after the three days of darkness.
          But in historic times it can more specifically be traced to the Babylonian Myth of Creation known as the Enuma Elish that told of a mighty battle between the god Marduk and a dragoness called Tiamat. Marduk killed Tiamat, splitting her carcass into two halves and creating heaven and earth from her dismembered corpse. The myth was recited annually at the Spring Equinox, a time when the floods which covered the Babylonian plain in winter were receding, when the power of the sun warmed the earth and the spring sowing of the crops could begin. The recitation of the myth was believed to strengthen the forces of light against the forces of darkness in the great annual battle that took place between them, so renewing the possibility of life for the new year. A story grew up around this annual event - the story of a solar hero who defeats the forces of darkness and evil that were personified by a dragon and this story was transmitted to other, later cultures and is still very much alive in our own.
          We discover it in Zoroastrian mythology in the great struggle between the opposing forces of Ormuzd and Ahriman and in Greek mythology where the sun god Apollo kills the She-Dragon of Delphi. And we find it in the Book of Revelation in the great battle fought between St. Michael and the Dragon. Later, the myth was transferred to the human dimension where an outstanding individual was endowed with the mythical powers of a solar god in his position as spiritual or national leader.
          For thousands of years solar mythology has inspired people to fight for freedom, for justice, for human rights against all kinds of oppression and this is the positive aspect of this mythology. But the negative aspect has been the projection of darkness and evil onto an opponent, and the attribution of all light and goodness and value to oneself or to one’s tribal or religious group. Hence the medieval struggle of Christianity against Islam or the efforts of the Inquisition to extirpate the ‘evil’ of heresy. Victory was the coveted prize bestowed by God and God was invoked to support the ‘good’ in the battle against ‘evil’.
         Whenever we hear the words ‘good’ and ‘evil’ mentioned in the context of a struggle between opposing forces, we may expect to find the old solar myth and an individual assuming the mantle of the solar hero and leading his people against the demon of darkness. We may also expect to find the demonisation of an enemy and all the propaganda that accompanies the constellation of a battle between good and evil.
        Who are the modern solar heroes? It is not hard to see that George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden are each tapping into the ancient mythology of the solar hero who confronts and defeats darkness and evil. Each sees himself as called upon or chosen by God to overthrow evil – engaged in a battle of almost cosmic dimensions: “Those who are not with us are against us.”
          It is time to look at the dangers of this mythology and how it still informs the actions of a world that despises the power of myth even as it embraces a modern version of it. The myth of the invincibility of military power and technology – the goal of “full-spectrum dominance” joined to an ideology such as democracy - is the old solar myth dressed up in new clothes. It masquerades as a beneficent power that can free humanity from danger yet it is potentially even more dangerous to the world than the totalitarian myths of Fascism and Communism which devastated the lives of millions in the last century. Like them, it has a spurious morality: the end justifies the means.
          We need always to ask: "What is the particular myth that drives and directs our culture?" Does it enrich the life of that culture or does it endanger it? With this caveat, we can turn to a more positive aspect of the power of myth as described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished: and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, the very dreams that blister sleep, prime discoveries in science and technology, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth. (1)          

Religious institutions which reflect the consciousness of a particular society at a particular time develop from myth; but myth flows on beneath the religious tradition like a mighty river, connecting the source of life with the goal, connecting our superficial awareness with its roots, ready always when we are ready, to well up like a perennial spring whenever we call upon our soul for help. Revelation brought by extraordinary individuals, such as the Buddha or Jesus or Muhammad (solar heroes), quickly becomes institutionalised and its numinous meaning may, with time, become stifled by dogma. It falls to myth, epic, legend and fairy-tale to provide in symbolic form the knowledge and the values that may have been excluded or neglected by the orthodox religious traditions. In European civilisation there has been a wealth of ideas that had to go underground because they could only escape persecution by being hidden in allegory. Only now are they emerging, having been preserved for the day of their "resurrection" by a strong mythological tradition expressed in Alchemy and Kabbalah on the one hand and in countless legends and stories such as the legend of the Holy Grail on the other. Again, Joseph Campbell comments:

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history or science, it is killed. The living images become only a remote fact of a distant time or sky. Furthermore it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilisation begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it. Temples become museums and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved. Such a blight has certainly descended on the Bible and on a great part of the Christian cult. (1)         

 Jung was immersed for years in extensive researches into the myths of the ancient world, as well as the Christian myth and the lesser known myth of alchemy, and came to recognise in the dreams of his patients many of the symbolic images and themes that were common to both mythology and alchemy. He concluded that there was an unexplored substratum of consciousness common to all humanity (the collective unconscious) and that an interpretation of mythic imagery in relation to the soul could help to reconnect the modern mind with that deeper archetypal dimension. Most importantly, it could help us to interpret and understand our dreams. The imagery of certain myths, he felt, portrays both the landscape and the spiritual task of the soul and also describes its powers - powers which can heal, regenerate and guide but also terrify, overwhelm, delude and destroy (as with the myths or ideologies that demonize others). Modern consciousness, he felt, was cut off from its roots, impoverished because of its lack of connection with them and its ignorance of the undiscovered treasure-house of the soul.

The Legacy of Egypt
Egypt has bequeathed to us dramatic and timeless myths which can open the door to a deeper understanding of neglected dimensions of our own nature if their imagery is interpreted in relation to the unexplored terrain of the soul. The hidden dimensions of the soul and methods of access to them were known and explored by Egyptian astronomer-priests and their knowledge transmitted from Egypt to certain Greek philosophers and to later cultures through the medium of Gnosticism, Alchemy and Kabbalah but this knowledge was all but lost to western culture and has only recently been restored through various means including the discovery in 1945 of the Nag Hammadi texts which had vanished for centuries.
          It has also been reanimated in the twentieth century by the work of the two great explorers of consciousness, Freud and Jung. Each realised that a profound familiarity with mythology was essential to an understanding of the soul. Jung concluded that myths transmitted images and ideas to us from a stratum of consciousness that we know nothing about and that myth, as well as dream and vision, was the language of the soul, as difficult for us to decipher and comprehend as was the language of hieroglyphs for the early Egyptologists. Only now can we begin to assess the immense debt owed to Egypt by later cultures, including our own. The stories of the Greek and Roman heroes, their descent into the underworld and their struggle with a great serpent or dragon have long been known to us but they have not been 'read' by us in relation to the inner dimension of the soul nor is it realised how great is their debt to Egyptian myth.           

There are seven great themes deeply rooted in Mediterranean culture which may originate in the lunar and solar myths of Egypt:
1. The theme of the dying and resurrected god
2. The theme of the descent into the underworld and the return
3. The theme of the struggle with a superhuman adversary, a dragon or monster
4. The theme of a journey and the quest for a priceless treasure
5. The theme of transformation
6. The theme of the sacred marriage
7. The theme of the birth of the divine child

All but one of these themes is carried forward into the great Christian myth that has formed western civilization.

The Influence of the Moon and the Sun
The fascination with and millennial observation of the sun, moon and stars lies at the root of many ancient myths as well as such modern sciences as mathematics, astronomy and cosmology. It is not too much to say that the moon and the sun have been the inspiration of the greatest myths to emerge from the depths of the human soul. The moon appears as the crescent, waxes to fullness, then wanes as it descends into the darkness of the underworld and enters the hidden phase of its being, from whence it re-emerges to begin the cycle again. Observation of the moon may be the origin of the idea of transformation and regeneration after death. The sun has a shorter cycle and carries the same theme of descent into darkness and rebirth but with a more polarized emphasis. Moon and sun were imagined in Bronze Age civilizations to marry every eighth or Great Year and also at the time of an eclipse.
          Many peoples of earlier times believed that their survival depended on rituals which would ensure the rebirth of the crescent moon after its three-day "death", or the re-appearance of the sun at dawn. Every phase of the life of these great luminaries as well as the prominent stars and constellations was noted, recorded and reflected upon and celebrated with rituals. The earliest lunar notations discovered in Africa have been dated to 40,000 BC. It is now well-known that the Egyptians were great astronomers and mathematicians. A recent book, The Orion Mystery by Robert Bauval, describes the exciting discovery that the southern shafts in the King and Queen's Chambers of the Great Pyramid were targeted (c. 2450 BC) to focus on the star Sirius (identified with the goddess Isis) and the star Al Nitak (Zeta Orionis), the lowest star in Orion's belt. (2) The constellation of Orion was identified with the god Osiris and the soul of the deceased Pharaoh was believed to rejoin the god, his spiritual counterpart, in that constellation. It is as if in the Egyptian mythological imagination, the shafts created a "pathway" for the soul to travel to those stars. We can compare this idea with the tunnel imagery of the near-death experience today. The same book has pointed out the precise alignment between the "celestial river" of the Milky Way and the Nile, and between the three stars in Orion's Belt and the position of the three pyramids at Giza near the banks of the Nile.
          One of the greatest and longest lasting of the Egyptian lunar myths was that of Isis and Osiris (see The Moon: Myth and Image by Jules Cashford, Cassell 2004). The most enduring of the Egyptian solar myths is that of the night journey of the Sun-God through the Netherworld. The story of the night journey of the sun is told in the Amduat - one of the Egyptian Books of the Netherworld, which dates to the New Kingdom, about 1500 BC.
----- --It describes the nightly transformation of the sun-god who, old and weak in the evening, rises miraculously renewed in the morning after his journey through the mysterious terrain of the netherworld. The sun-god dies as the ram-headed god Atum, is reborn in the morning as Chephri and shines at mid-day as Re (Ra). He descends into the netherworld or underworld in his barge. At its prow, as protector and guide, stands the goddess Isis/Hathor, whose various titles include "She of the Mid-night," "The Great One of the Netherworld," "the Wise One who Protects." It is Isis, "Mistress of the Barge," who has the magical knowledge and amulets to contain the power of the terrifying serpent Apophis whom the god encounters at the seventh and most dangerous hour of his journey. The aim of Apophis is to prevent the god from renewing himself. At first the barge proceeds on the river of an underground Nile; then it comes to a desert and has to transform into a snake in order to pass over dry land. At the fifth hour, the Sun-God enters the cave of Sokar. At the sixth he enters the primordial waters - the waters of Nun. At the seventh hour the barge comes to a standstill and cannot proceed. It is the hour of greatest danger. The goddess Isis/Hathor confronts and binds the power of the great serpent Apophis who is cut into seven pieces. The enemies of the Sun-God - those who would impede his progress - are beheaded. During the course of the journey the Sun-God encounters many beings, some who hinder, some who help him towards rebirth and renewal until he emerges from the netherworld at the twelfth hour as Chephri, the newly born sun.
          Transcribed to the landscape of the soul, this myth can be understood to reflect the deepening or expansion of human consciousness (symbolised by the sun) as it becomes aware of and learns how to relate to the invisible stellar dimension of the "underworld" or dimension of the collective unconscious. So detailed and explicit are the stages, imagery and dangers of this process that some can be recognised millennia later in alchemical texts which describe the soul's transformation and the gradual unveiling of the inner sun - the gold or philosopher's stone that was the symbol of an illumined or transfigured consciousness.

The Relevance of this Myth Today
How is the solar myth of death and regeneration or renewal relevant to our culture today? It could be said that we are living through a phase of death or darkness as the prevailing myth or "sun" of our culture - the god-image or concept of God which has governed and structured western civilisation for nearly two thousand years - wanes and dies and disappears into the underworld of the collective unconscious. The "Death of God" is a phrase that has been lived out during the last century as the failing conscious dominant has slowly lost its power to hold society together through shared beliefs and shared values. "We are," as the historian of culture Thomas Berry comments, "in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story." Mythologically speaking, we are waiting for the rebirth of the sun.
          During the "between" phase of darkness however, we have fallen under the influence of an aspect of the solar myth mentioned above - the Promethean myth of progress and the mastery of life through the power of our science and technology. This myth has no vertical axis, no relationship with or acknowledgement of a transcendent dimension. The human mind is, at present, the supreme value. In its hubristic stance, it has banished the unknown, unexplored, non-rational aspect of life and of our own nature. Yet this erupts from the underworld in unforeseen ways to challenge our conviction that we are "in control" and reveals the hidden (yet preventable) causes of events which inflict immense suffering and distress on humanity as reflected, for example, in the current situation in Iraq.
          Here the ancient myths can help us. They tell us that in this phase of our journey we are likely to encounter the great Serpent or Dragon. Today we might identify the serpent with the drive for power and control that has become the dominant ethos of modern culture and that we meet face to face in our "enemies". Psychological understanding suggests that the serpent or dragon is none other than the deeply unconscious 200 million year old programming of our reptilian brain system which can still exert a powerful influence on the conscious mind. The myth says that the serpent (the power of these unconscious patterns of behaviour) can impede the return of the Sun-God, yet may be overcome with the help of the feminine principle - personified by the goddess Isis standing at the prow of the Sun-God's boat. As the Book of the Amduat says: "It is good for the dead to have this knowledge, but also for the man on earth, a million times proven."
          Pharaonic Egypt, in its fascination with the after-life and the nature and survival of the soul, was concerned with uniting the solar "day" world with the lunar and stellar "night" world - the invisible world of the gods. The solar myth of the night journey of the sun-god expressly connected the day world with the night world, the upper world with the underworld, the known with the unknown, so that together they formed a whole, each indispensable to the other. Relating this to the human psyche today, one could say that the solar and lunar, conscious and unconscious dimensions of our being need to be brought into relationship with each other so that they too form a whole. Mind needs to reconnect with heart; thinking needs to take account of feeling and to become aware of the unconscious drives which still control and direct the conscious personality and the political life of nations. A diagram (below) can perhaps illustrate the two hemispheres of our psychic life: the one solar and masculine in character, focussed on the manifest world; the other feminine and lunar in character, the archetypal and instinctive underworld of the soul which seeks relationship with us but is variously seen by many as frightening, inferior, irrelevant or non-existent.


Jung felt that as long as these two hemispheres were dissociated or estranged from each other, we were incomplete or undeveloped human beings. If we failed to become aware of the perils of this dissociation and were unable to reconnect with the deep ground of the soul we were in danger of unconsciously inviting our own destruction through our inability to respect the inter-related systems of life on which our own survival depends. Of our current situation, he wrote as long ago as 1959:

Today humanity, as never before, is split into two apparently irreconcilable halves. The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.

These words are even more prophetic and relevant today (post September 9/11, 2001) than they were when he wrote them. Understood in relation to the soul the paramount theme of myth is about the achievement of enlightenment, clear vision, wisdom and the great treasure to be won through overcoming fear, ignorance and the destructive power of the archaic instinct. However, with tragic results for humanity, this inner theme was projected outward onto the world and lived out as the drive to conquer an enemy perceived and named as darkness and evil. The solar myth was externalised and literalised and provided the archetypal background for the tribal and national conflicts that are with us still today. From the blood stained triumphs of Sargon of Akkad in 2300 BC to the contemporary tragedy unfolding in the Middle East, we can follow the battle between good and evil projected into the arena of the world through four thousand years of tribal warfare and "holy wars". The mythic battle between good and evil has also flourished in religion where the heretic or the alien belief was named as evil.
          The true goal of lunar and solar myth is not the eradication of evil but the transformation of human consciousness. The goal of the heroic quest is ultimately not the exterior world, but the inner dimension of the soul. The hero is one who sets out on a quest to penetrate the veil separating two dimensions of consciousness - the known and the unknown. He ventures into a world of supernatural mystery and wonder. He encounters there superhuman forces and powers which have to be overcome and transformed and others whose friendship and support may be won. He returns to the "real world", bringing with him the treasure of the dragon's hoard and a princess whom he has rescued from the dragon (the instinctive powers of his own nature). With the lunar treasure of the feminine value personified by the princess, and the great power symbolised by the dragon's hoard now available to him, he is able to regenerate his culture, heal the sick, free the people from the spell cast on them by a witch or a magician, release the waters of life so that fertility is restored to the wasteland.
          In summary, myth is not something fictional or illusory but something of exceptional significance and value. Like the Rosetta Stone, certain myths contain a meaning which can be decoded from the symbolic language that conceals them and used as a key to a deeper understanding of our own nature. These myths have the power to guide and heal if their images are understood in relation to the soul itself. They present in images and allegorical stories the hidden workings and powers of the soul. They describe the great evolutionary task of the growth and transformation of human consciousness and the struggle for greater consciousness or understanding of life through search, suffering and heroic endeavour. They can be applied as much to the life of an individual as to the life of a culture or to our whole evolutionary journey on this planet. They describes what has to be accomplished over and over again if we are to free ourselves from enslavement to belief-systems and the unconscious compulsion to repeat atavistic patterns of behaviour. They portray the transformation of one level of consciousness into a greater, more complete kind of understanding which is described as the treasure - the supreme value. The treasure is not power, nor any kind of supremacy over any thing or any one. The treasure is the dawning sun of wisdom, compassion and integrity of action that is the reward of the creation of a relationship with the invisible yet omnipresent archetypal ground of life.

The Greeks had a lovely image to describe the relationship of the part to the whole. They called the whole - the Ground of Being - Zoë. And they called the individual parts, the tiny atoms of life strung like beads upon a necklace - bios. We can imagine ourselves as beads strung on the great cosmic necklace of Zoë.
          Myths and fairy-tales come to us from the dimension of the soul. They speak the language of the soul, reflect the imagery of the soul. They are stories the soul tells us about its own secret life. The imagination is the vessel which receives the images and ideas flowing from Zoë, the greater soul of the cosmos.
Certain great myths originating in the civilizations of the ancient world carry the theme of death and regeneration. Over some five thousand years, these have had a huge influence on the formation of the Western psyche:

1. EGYPT - a. the myth of the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God, Moon and Sun
                   b. The myth of Isis and Osiris
                   c. The myth of the journey of the sun-god into the Underworld.

2. SUMER - a. the myth of the descent of the goddess Inanna
                    b. the myth of Gilgamesh's quest for the treasure of immortality.

3. BABYLON - the myth of the descent of the goddess Ishtar in search of her son-lover Tammuz;
                          awakening her partner from his sleep in the Underworld.

4. GREECE - the myth of Demeter and Persephone - The goddess's search for her daughter.

                      a. the Christian myth of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.
                      b. the Gnostic myth of Sophia (the soul) lost in the underworld of Earth.

One of the oldest themes of myth and fairy tale is that of a marriage between god and goddess, prince and princess. 4000 years ago in the courtyards of the great temples on the banks of the Nile the sacred marriage of goddess and god was celebrated with elaborate and sumptuous ceremony. The goddess made her way down the Nile on her barge to the temple of the god where, in a special precinct, the marriage was consummated. Symbolically, the union of goddess and god represented the marriage of the moon and the sun as well as the union of heaven and earth. The sacred ritual was believed to promote the fertility of the land in the coming year. The theme of the sacred marriage has come down to us in myth, in fairy tales like Cinderella or the Sleeping Beauty, and in the marvellous poetry of the Song of Songs which perhaps had its origin in similar temple ritual, possibly in Mesopotamia or Canaan.
          A second theme of myth and fairy tale also has its roots in Egypt. It is the theme of death and regeneration. The great myth of Isis and Osiris, like the ritual of the sacred marriage, was dramatised in the temple precincts of Egypt and told the story of how Osiris was murdered by his brother, Seth and how Isis, his wife and sister, went in search of the 14 dismembered pieces of his body and, gathering them together, restored him to life by taking the form of a kite and fanning his dead body with her wings. The sun-god Horus was born from their union. So this myth, as well as being a story about death and regeneration tells the story of the union or reunion of husband and wife, brother and sister, king and queen, and the birth of the divine child.
          A third theme - the quest for a priceless treasure - weaves like a golden thread through the mythology of many ancient cultures. In Sumer it is Gilgamesh's quest for the Herb of Immortality; in Greece the quest for the Golden Fleece; in the New Testament the treasure is the Pearl of Great Price, in 12th century France it is the Holy Grail. Alchemy gave it many names: the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher's Stone, the Heavenly Balsalm, the Living Water, the Quintessential Gold. "Our gold is not the common gold," the alchemists said. The treasure is invariably lost, hidden, stolen or guarded by a dragon or fearful superhuman power, sometimes lying at the bottom of the sea or deep under the earth. Very often, as in the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, it cannot be found without the help of a woman. The quest for the treasure usually has as its accompanying myth, the encounter with the dragon, snake or monster.
          Because it is such a splendid description, I can't resist putting in here a passage from a Greek writer's telling of the story of the Golden Fleece (Apollonius of Rhodes c. 250 BC - The Voyage of Argo):

The monster in his sheath of horny scales rolled forward his interminable coils, like the eddies of black smoke that spring from smouldering logs and chase each other from below in endless convolutions. But as he writhed he saw the maiden take her stand, and heard her in her sweet voice invoking Sleep, the conqueror of the Gods, to charm him. She also called on the night-wandering queen of the world below to countenance her efforts. Jason from behind looked on in terror. But the giant snake, enchanted by her song, was soon relaxing the whole length of his serrated spine and smoothing out his multitudinous undulation, like a dark and silent swell rolling across a sluggish sea. Yet his grim head still hovered over them and the cruel jaws threatened to snap them up. But Medea, changing a spell, dipped a fresh sprig of juniper in her brew and sprinkled his eyes with her most potent drug; and as the all-pervading magic scent spread round his head, sleep fell upon him. Stirring no more, he let his jaw sink to the ground, and his inumerable coils lay streched out far behind, spanning the deep wood. Medea called to Jason and he snatched the Golden Fleece from the oak. But she herself stayed where she was, smearing the wild one's head with a magic salve, till Jason urged her to come back to the ship and she left the sombre grove of Ares.
            Lord Jason held up the great fleece in his arms. The shimmering wool threw a fiery glow on his fair cheeks and forehead; and he rejoiced in it, glad as the girl who catches on her silken gown the lovely light of the full moon as it climgs the sky and looks into her attic room. The ram's skin with its golden covering was as large as the hide of a yearling heifer or a brocket, (young stag). The long flocks weighed it down and the very ground before him as he walked was bright with gold.


The Hero Myth
There are also four hero myths which have their root in the Bronze Age and stand at the beginning of recorded literature. The earliest is the Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh and his quest for the Herb of Immortality. The second is the myth of the descent of the Goddess Inanna into the Nether World. The third is the story of the descent of the Goddess Ishtar to rescue her son Tammuz from the underworld and the celebration of the sacred marriage of heaven and earth. The fourth is the Babylonian myth of the god Marduk killing the dragoness Tiamat and his creation of heaven and earth from her dead body. We can follow the thread of these four myths from about 2000 BC. through all the cultures which are the foundation of our own.
          The Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh (about 2500 BC.) gives us the earliest version of the Great Flood. The Bible story is derived from it. It is also the first known story about the longing to transcend death, to venture into an unknown dimension to bring back a priceless treasure - the treasure of immortality. It tells us that by this point in the evolution of human consciousness, life and death had already become polarised in the human imagination: the underworld had become a terrifying place. Gilgamesh enters upon his quest as a result of losing his beloved friend Enkidu whose death had plunged him into inconsolable grief. Even now, reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, we can feel Gilgamesh's anguish and also his excitement when Utnapishtim (the Biblical Noah) says to him:

"I shall reveal a secret thing, it is a mystery of the gods that I am telling you. There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; if you succeed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which restores his lost youth to a man."

Gilgamesh makes his great journey. He dives into the depths of the water where the plant lies hidden. He seizes it in his hands and rises to the surface. He starts back to his city, but on the way he rests by the side of a well and falls asleep. In the depths of the well there is a serpent which - smelling the sweetness of the flower - rises out of the water and carries it away. Immediately, it sloughs off its skin and returns to the water. Gilgamesh weeps inconsolably when he sees what has happened: "I found the sign and now I have lost it."
          We can trace the influence of Gilgamesh's quest in the story of Odysseus. Later, we can follow it in Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece; still later in Roman times, in Aeneas's descent into the underworld in search of the gift of the great goddess — the Golden Bough. The same theme is discovered in the mediaeval quest for the Holy Grail and in all the rich symbolism of Alchemy and the quest for the Elixir of Immortality.   
        The second hero myth – Inanna's Descent into the Nether World – is a lunar myth, telling the story of the lunar cycle. In this myth, Inanna, the Moon, Queen of Heaven and Earth, makes the journey from the Great Above to the Great Below, into the underworld kingdom ruled by her sister goddess, Ereshkigal, goddess of the dark phase of the moon. At each of the seven gates of the Underworld she has to leave behind a part of her glorious apparel as luminous goddess of the Great Above until, naked and humbled, she appears before her sister, who kills her with a terrible glance of her eyes. For three days Inanna hangs on a meat hook until her close companion, Ninshubur, initiates her rescue by appealing to the gods for help. She is restored to life by two emissaries sent by Enki, the god of wisdom and returns to the upper world as the full moon, having had restored to her all her splendid regalia.
          This great myth with its lunar theme of life, death and regeneration and the essential unity and relationship of the light and dark, the known and the unknown, the visible and the invisible, is transmitted to us from an unknown past of humanity long predating the Bronze Age. It has bequeathed its imagery to the greatest hero myth of own culture — that of the death and resurrection of Christ, but it also has an affinity with the age-old myths of India which tell of the eternally recurring cycles of life emanating from and returning to the source. It is transmitted to the gnostic myth of Sophia, daughter of the divine Mother and Father, who descended (as the soul) into matter, became entangled or lost in it and was rescued by her brother, Christ. Perhaps most important of all, it underlies all mythologies which teach that we have become separated from our source or ground and are therefore lost, exiled, or asleep in the underworld. It tells of the need for us to penetrate the darkness of an unknown and (to us) terrifying dimension, and of our power, through this heroic act, to bring about our own transformation, redemption or regeneration.
          The third hero myth – of the goddess's search for her son-lover – is the foundation of all later myths and stories which end with a marriage of hero and heroine, with this difference: in the Bronze Age myth, it is the goddess who makes the journey to the underworld and rescues her son/lover from his sleep or brings him back to life in order to celebrate their marriage and regenerate the earth. The Greek myth of Demeter's search for her daughter Persephone carries the same theme as the earlier Babylonian one except that in this myth - as contrasted with the story of Ishtar and Tammuz - the lost element is a daughter rather than a son.
          The fourth hero myth tells of the great battle between the sun god Marduk and the goddess Tiamat and is the myth that underlies all mythologies which tell of a conflict between the forces of light and darkness, between good and evil, life and death. (see seminar 2) This Babylonian myth marks a new phase in the evolution of human consciousness when it began to express itself in solar rather than lunar imagery. The solar hero does not strive to enter the darkness, assimilate its mysteries and return with the treasure of enlightenment. He strives to conquer and overcome the darkness, to kill the dragon, to associate himself with the light or good in the battle against darkness and evil. The imagery of these Bronze Age myths descends to the following Greek myths:

Hercules accomplishing his 12 labours
Apollo killing the great dragoness at Delphi
Perseus overcoming the Gorgon Medusa with the help of Athena
Theseus slaying the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne
Jason overcoming the dragon and taking the Golden Fleece with the help of Medea.

In the later Iron Age it is the solar hero (often the son of a god) who makes this descent in a quest for the treasure and who wins the treasure and the hand of the king's daughter as a reward. We can find the ancient theme in the story of Beowulf in Old English mythology and in St. George's fight with the dragon. Today we find its imagery reanimated in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and in the stories about the new child hero – Harry Potter – who has captured the imagination of children the world over. The same solar myth which originated in the Babylonian story lies at the root of the great battle between Good and Evil in Persian mythology. It appears in the Apocalypse as the struggle between St. Michael with his hosts of angels and the great serpent dragon of the abyss. For the last 400 years or so, it has been lived out in Western culture as the struggle to "conquer" nature, which, like Tiamat, has been imagined as something separate from ourselves, something whose power we have to tame and subject to our will.
          Generally speaking, the imagery throughout these myths is solar and the hero identifies himself with the sun — the light which strives to overcome darkness. Understood in relation to the soul however, the theme is about the achievement of enlightenment, clear vision, wisdom and the great treasure to be won through overcoming fear, ignorance and the destructive power of the archaic instinct. However, with tragic results for humanity, this inner theme was projected outward onto the world and lived out as the drive to conquer an enemy perceived and named as darkness and evil. The solar myth was externalised and literalised and provided the archetypal background for the tribal and national conflicts that are with us still today.
- From the blood stained triumphs of Sargon of Akkad in 2300 BC to the contemporary tragedy unfolding in the Middle East, we can follow the battle between good and evil projected into the arena of the world through four thousand years of tribal warfare and "holy wars". The mythic battle between good and evil has also flourished in religion where the heretic or the alien belief was named as evil.
We are still under the spell of this myth today. The great danger of the solar myth which polarises light and dark in a way that the lunar myths do not, is that the solar hero unconsciously identifies himself with good in the battle against evil. Evil then may become anything which he defines as an enemy or that resists his definition of "the good". "Those who are not with us are against us" (George W. Bush 2003). As St. Augustine said – speaking with reference to the fight against evil – "Error has no rights." The mythic identification of ourselves with "the good" and the projection of evil onto the other is the root of the totalitarian tendency in the political and the religious sphere (fundamentalism) which increasingly threatens the modern world.
          So the true goal of lunar and solar myth is not the eradication of evil but the transformation of human consciousness. The goal of the heroic quest is ultimately not the exterior world, but the inner dimension of the soul. The hero is one who sets out on a quest to penetrate the veil separating two dimensions of consciousness — the known and the unknown. He ventures into a world of supernatural mystery and wonder. He encounters there superhuman forces and powers which have to be overcome and transformed and others whose friendship and support may be won. He returns to the "real world", bringing with him the treasure of the dragon's hoard and a princess whom he has rescued from the dragon (the feeling values and instinctive/intuitive powers of his own nature). With the lunar treasure of the feminine value personified by the princess, and the great power symbolised by the dragon's hoard now available to him, he is able to regenerate his culture, heal the sick, free the people from the spell cast on them by a witch or a magician, release the waters of life so that fertility is restored to the wasteland.

1. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
2. C.G. Jung, CW 9, Part 11 (Aion), par. 126


The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost. Tolkien The fairy tale journey may look like an outward trek across plains and mountains, through castles and forests, but the actual movement is inward, into the lands of the soul. The dark path of the fairy tale forest lies in the shadows of our imagination, the depths of our unconscious. To travel to the wood, to face its dangers, is to emerge transformed by this experience. Particularly for children whose world does not resemble the simplified world of television sit-coms...this ability to travel inward, to face fear and transform it, is a skill they will use all their lives. We do children--and ourselves--a grave disservice by censoring the old tales, glossing over the darker passages and ambiguities.                                                                                           
                                                               Terri Wilding White as Snow: Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Fairy tales are very old, certainly as old as the Neolithic era, perhaps as old as the Palaeolithic era. Fairy Tales connect us with the soul and the imagination. The realm of the soul in fairy tales is sometimes called "the kingdom of faerie". Watch a child's face change, watch its eyes glaze over and its body become still as it enters this kingdom. The realm of the soul is often portrayed in these stories as across the sea, in the underworld, in a far country, or a dense forest like the one Dante describes at the beginning of the Divine Comedy.
          The timeless stories of fairy tale arise from our age-old instinctual life which includes both the life of the body and, in its widest sense, the life of the cosmos which lives and guides us through our deepest instincts. Jung often spoke of a two million year old man or woman within us who holds all the experience and wisdom of that immense span of time. He called this wiser, older consciousness the Self. In fairy tale this wiser consciousness is often personified by a wise old man or woman who lives in the forest or deserted place, who offers guidance to the hero on his quest.
          In the story of Cinderella the fairy god-mother presides over her god-daughter's transformation from soot-blackened drudge into radiant bride. In a modern myth, a wizard helps Harry Potter to face and overcome the dangerous powers he encounters. This greater Self, rooted in the age old life of nature and the cosmos, this cosmic soul that is both spirit as consciousness and nature as form is the tap root of the imagination. It has the power to bring about miraculous change in our lives if only we can discover how to recognise, trust and follow the thread of its guidance.
          The soul communicates through images of every kind which, over the millennia of our evolution, have been endowed with certain meanings. It communicates through vision and dream; through ideas; through instinctual feelings; subliminal intuitions, sensory perceptions which may not be noticed. The body, so split off from mind that it seems like a separate entity, is also an aspect of the soul - its visible form or "clothing", perhaps energy that moves at a slower rate of vibration than idea or feeling.
          Fairy tales speak with the voice of the soul and carry many levels of meaning. The Sleeping Beauty is an old, old story, with deep roots in the Bronze Age and the mythology of the sacred marriage between heaven and earth and in the rituals of agricultural peoples who mourned the death of earth's life in winter and celebrated its return in spring. The lunar myth of death and regeneration lies at the heart of the story of the Sleeping Beauty. The moon is "the most beautiful princess in the whole world". The dark phase of the moon is symbolised by the sleeping princess and the court and also by the old crone who causes the princess to fall into a death-like sleep. The prince awakens the new moon to life as his bride and, as this happens, the whole court awakens.
Following the ancient imagery of Bronze Age ceremony of the sacred marriage, the princess (the moon) becomes the bride of the prince (the sun) who awakens the sleeping princess and restores the court to life. We can understand the 'new moon' as a new phase in the evolution of consciousness.
          The story is thought to have come originally from one of the lost plays of Aeschylus and is also reflected in the Persephone myth. Who can say where this story originated and how it was transmitted for centuries from generation to generation? The sacred marriage of king and queen, prince and princess is also an image intrinsic to the imagery of Alchemy, Gnosticism and Kabbalah.
          In this story the prince I believe, stands for the solar principle of consciousness expressed as the questing human mind (logos) which seeks to explore every aspect of the universe but also, ultimately, seeks reconnection with its feminine counterpart - the soul. The princess carries the lunar principle of soul and the neglected feeling values (eros) which have not been considered rational and therefore essential to our wholeness. In today's world, I feel that the Sleeping Court symbolises western civilisation or perhaps the whole world, where the feminine value - the soul - has lain under a spell for centuries, if not millennia.
-----    I see this magical story as a metaphor for our time and the urgent need for a marriage between our head and our heart, a marriage between thinking and feeling - between our too-rational mind which knows nothing of an inner life and has become sterile and rigid, and our imaginal, instinctual, creative soul. At a deeper level, I also see it as a metaphor of the reconciliation of spirit and nature or the reunion of the masculine and feminine aspects of spirit which have been progressively sundered during the last four thousand years.


The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach. C. G Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections Everywhere at all times in all cultures and races of which we have record, when the greatest meaning, the highest value of life man called gods or God needed renewal and increase, the process of renewal began through a dream.
C.G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, page 347, par.488

We have forgotten the fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions...It seems incredible that though we receive signals from the unconscious mind every night, deciphering these communications seems too tedious for any but a very few people to be bothered with it. Man's greatest instrument, his psyche, is little thought of, and it is often directly mistrusted and despised. C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, p. 102

As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional "unconscious identity" with natural phenomena. This enormous loss is compensated for by the symbols of our dreams. They bring up our original nature - its instincts and peculiar thinking. Unfortunately they express their contents in the language of nature, which is strange and incomprehensible to us. It therefore confronts us with the task of translating it into the rational words and concepts of modern speech…which has liberated itself from its mystical participation with the things it describes. C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, p. 95

A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read. from the Babylonian Talmud

Dreams are like the thread of Ariadne, a tenuous and vital link with the ground of our being, one of the very few guides we have through the labyrinth of life. Without this thread connecting us to the root of ourselves, it is difficult to find our way and to accomplish the immensely difficult and hazardous task of confronting the dangerous aspect of the instinct that is symbolised in mythology by the minotaur or the dragon (see seminar 9). Only through a growing understanding of the soul can its destructive powers be contained and transformed so that we are no longer condemned, like Sisyphus, to sacrifice our lives to the fruitless labour of endlessly repeating the negative patterns of the past. The interpretation of dreams as a way of healing both soul and body, and of deepening our understanding of life is one of the great rediscoveries of the twentieth century. Yet, despite some hundred years of dream interpretation since Freud wrote his Interpretation of Dreams, there is still no general realisation in the culture that dreams are of any value. Children are not brought up to be aware of their dreams, to share them with parents, teachers or friends, to find wonder and interest in their meaning. Dreams are something that just happen: nice dreams and nasty dreams come and go rather like the weather but, unlike the weather, we don't comment on them to each other. As soon as the night is over, they are forgotten and we pass on to the more important concerns of daily life without making any attempt to remember them or to understand their meaning. Are we neglecting a vital aspect of our lives?
          Heinrich Zimmer tells a magical story in his book, The King and the Corpse:

It was remarkable, the way the king became involved in the adventure. For ten years, every day, there had been appearing in his audience chamber, where he sat in state hearing petitions and dispensing justice, a holy man in the robe of a beggar ascetic, who, without a word, would offer him a fruit. And the royal personage would accept the trifling present, passing it along without an afterthought to his treasurer standing behind the throne. Without making any request, the mendicant would then withdraw and vanish into a crowd of petitioners, having betrayed no sign either of disappointment or of impatience. Then it happened one day, some ten years after the first appearance of the holy man, that a tame monkey, having escaped from the women's apartments in the inner palace, came bounding into the hall and leaped upon the arm of the throne. The mendicant had just presented his gift, and the king playfully handed it over to the monkey. When the animal bit into it, a valuable jewel dropped out and rolled across the floor. The king's eyes grew wide. He turned with dignity to the treasurer at his shoulder. "What has become of all the others?" he asked. But the treasurer was unable to say. He had been tossing the unimpressive gifts through an upper, trellised window into the treasure house, not even bothering to unlock the door. And so he excused himself and hurried away to the vault. Opening it, he made his way to the part beneath the little window. There, on the floor, lay a mass of rotten fruit in various stages of decay, and, amidst this debris of many years, a heap of priceless gems." The beggar, it later transpired, bore the appropriate name of "Rich in Patience."          

Could this image apply to the soul who, night after night, sends us the jewels of our dreams, only to have them tossed through the window of our lives onto the rubbish heap to which we consign them, never discovering their meaning or asking the sender's identity? In the remote and "superstitious" past, dreams were treated with awe and reverence. In the Egyptian, Sumero-Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman civilisations, they were used both for divination and healing. Through the Old Testament we know of the dreams of Pharaoh interpreted by Joseph (Gen.41) and the dream of king Nebuchadnezzar interpreted by Daniel (Daniel 2). Daniel, under the threat of death, had not only to interpret the King's dream but even to tell him what it was, since the king himself had forgotten it! Jacob's dream of the ladder set up between earth and heaven with the angels ascending and descending is a striking image of the pathway of communication between earth and heaven, between human soul and cosmic soul (Gen.28). The stone on which he rested his head had, from the most ancient times, been a symbol of divinity, and Jacob said of the place where he had slept and dreamed: "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Gen.28:17) How much lost knowledge is contained in this one sentence.
          Dreams as a communication from a transcendent dimension and as an agent of healing were received in places specially built for this purpose. The origins of the "sacred place" set aside for divination, incubation and healing may go back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras when the shape of the cave and, later, the Megalithic temple-tomb, followed the contours of the life-containing womb of the goddess. At the Hypogeum in Malta, remarkable sanctuaries hollowed in three descending layers deep under the earth suggest they were used for this purpose. The tiny statue of a sleeping woman found in one of them may show a woman or a priestess in shamanic trance, undergoing a rite of initiation or receiving a special dream. In Greece, people came from all over the Greek Empire to the great temples of the god Aesclepius at Epidaurus, Pergamum (Anatolia) and Kos to be healed of their diseases, and here, as in Egypt, the main diagnostic agent was the dream.
          The serpent is always shown in association with the god, suggesting the long-established relationship between the image of the serpent and the regeneration of life. After the appropriate sacrifices, cleansing rituals and invocations to the god for help had been made, the patient was wrapped in a special robe and conducted to an underground chamber or cave where he waited, sometimes for days, for the healing dream. Sometimes the power of the dream itself brought the desired cure, sometimes it was interpreted by priests trained in the art of divining its meaning. Body and soul were treated as one unit. Sickness of the body, as well as sickness of the mind reflected a state of imbalance between the patient and the gods, the nature of which the dream revealed.
          At the time of the Greek philosopher Parmenides, there was a tradition of a rite of incubation in caves where the initiate travelled to the inner dimensions, there to receive guidance to bring back to this world. Parmenides himself wrote a poem about his journey and his encounter with the goddess Persephone. (see Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom) The Platonic academy in Athens, founded in the fifth century bce, lasted for a thousand years, and it was perhaps here that the study of dreams was developed and transmitted to the Romans. It was thought that sleep, in separating the soul from the life of the senses, enabled the dreamer to awake to the inner life and open its inner "eye". It is a tragedy that this idea was not transmitted to Christian civilisation.
          For now we enter a very different climate of belief and find an attitude to the soul that saw it as a battleground between the powers of darkness and light, between the demonic hosts of Satan on the one hand, and the angelic hosts of heaven on the other. The realm of air just above the earth was imagined as Satan's territory and from here he ruled over the earth and humanity. The "spirits" of air, sea and earth, so familiar to the Greeks and Romans and earlier shamanic cultures, were transformed into demons. The Church Fathers believed that demons were responsible for the malefic forces of nature - storm, flood and hail - and for the diseases which afflicted men and women.
          So a thousand years passed during which dreams were interpreted in many different ways by the three cultures - Christian, Muslim and Hebrew - which met on European soil. As late as the Renaissance -perhaps particularly at that time under the influence of the Platonic revival in Florence under Marsilio Ficino - dreams were again taken seriously as communicating divine guidance and prophecy. But from then on until the twentieth century, with the growing emphasis on the secular as opposed to the sacramental view of life, the split widens between men and women and their soul. The numinous quality once associated with dreams fades into a scepticism that has lasted until the present time.
          Now, at last, faced with the abyss of nihilism that life without a transcendent meaning presents to us, we are beginning once more to pay attention to our dreams, responding to the exploration of the psyche made by the two great pioneers of dream interpretation, Freud and Jung. Jung's obituary of Freud includes this tribute to him:

"Freud rescued something of the utmost value from the past, where it had seemingly sunk in oblivion... It was an act of the greatest scientific courage to make anything as unpopular as dreams a subject of serious discussion."

 Jung began to understand the unconscious not (as Freud thought) as the repository of repressed infantile drives and wishes, but as a vitally creative "energy" whose image-creating faculty was the primary agent in the evolution of human consciousness. He saw that primitive men and women had interpreted their "big" dreams and visions as messages from the soul which were used as guidance for the tribe as a whole. Such dreams, Jung believed, reflected a superior intelligence and wisdom that represents a directing energy or consciousness within our psychic depths - depths that are the repository of the immemorial ancestral experience of life. He saw the dream as a symbol in itself, a symbol which expressed an idea or a constellation of ideas that could not be expressed directly in words but, rather, in images. To be able to interpret dreams, one has to have a profound knowledge of what symbolic images have meant to humanity; to imagine what they might have meant to shamanic cultures which were far more in touch with their soul than we are.
          The dream never expresses its meaning in the logical sequence of left brain thinking that the well-trained intellect can grasp without effort. On the contrary, it speaks in the language of parable and metaphor and paradox. The apparent lack of clarity in most dreams comes from the fact that they are presented in an unfamiliar language of images, that has to be learnt, just as one has to learn the language of hieroglyphs before one can interpret the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

"...The dream comes in as the expression of an involuntary, unconscious psychic process beyond the control of the conscious mind. It shows the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be, but as it is."

 The dream has a compensatory function in relation to the attitude of the conscious mind. It reflects the "overall" view of an intelligence which can see both sides of the picture, both aspects of the psyche - that which is known to the dreamer and that which is unknown. If a conscious attitude is too rigid and limited, too inflated or too self-critical; if the individual carries a deep wound which is asking for recognition and healing; if there is a danger of imbalance leading to mental or physical illness, the dream points the way to the integration of the deeper knowledge and insight of the unconscious mind with the conscious one and therefore to a better state of balance:

"The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does. Every process that goes too far immediately and inevitably calls forth compensations, and without these there would be neither a normal metabolism nor a normal psyche...Too little on one side results in too much on the other."

Jung saw this compensatory process as a natural, self-regulating one, which could take place during sleep and not necessarily disturb the dreamer. But he was convinced that when dreams woke the dreamer up, it was because the unconscious mind wanted to bring certain things to the attention of the conscious mind, to stimulate it to reflect on their meaning:

"Dreams preserve sleep whenever possible: that is to say, they function necessarily and automatically under the influence of the sleeping state: but they break through when their function demands it, that is, when the compensatory contents are so intense that they are liable to counteract sleep. A compensatory content is especially intense when it has a vital significance for conscious orientation."

The "big" dream and the nightmare are two examples of intense contents which are significant for conscious orientation, but the more one reflects on "small" dreams, the more they reveal their meaning; so that, although one may be very far from understanding the meaning of every dream, one becomes progressively more familiar with one's own dream symbolism, and therefore more able to respond to it. One begins to recognise the soul's (or the body's) signals of harmony or distress, continually deepening the sense of relationship between two aspects of the psyche, one the older, wiser aspect, and the other the younger, inexperienced aspect (the personality) which is trying to make sense of life:

"Through the assimilation of unconscious contents, the momentary life of consciousness can once more be brought into harmony with the law of nature from which it all too easily departs and the individual can be led back to the natural law of his own being."

Some individuals may develop a rigid controlling attitude in relation to their lives and their needs, and may be convinced of the "truth" of their convictions or beliefs (Fundamentalism of all kinds). This over-emphasis on the conscious position may lead to a corresponding devaluation of unconscious factors which are rigidly repressed in order to maintain the former. Other people may be so uncertain of themselves that they are easily manipulated or influenced by others, having no sense of their own or other's boundaries. They may have difficulty establishing themselves in life, where they too readily become the victim of a particular situation, ideology, forceful personality or charismatic leader. The first attitude reflects a "superman" attitude towards life, whereby it may be controlled, dominated and manipulated by the will. The second attitude may lead to a surrender to life's overwhelmingly hostile power and the conviction that adverse circumstances can never be changed (except through following an ideology or charismatic leader). Both reflect a conscious attitude that is too rigid and limited to include the full potential of understanding and insight that is available to the conscious personality. Dreams can give insight into both these situations and suggest the need to modify the inflexibility of the conscious position. A old dream of mine reflects just such a situation: I am lying in bed asleep on Easter Day. My daughter brings me an Easter egg but I burrow under the covers and refuse to look.
          This dream shows me lying asleep (unconscious) on the most significant day of the year - the day when life is regenerated from death. My daughter represents both my daughter in real life and also the young, growing aspect of myself - my new life - carrying in her hands the symbol of this new life, still in embryonic form. I reject both child and offering, choosing to hide under the bed covers like an ostrich. This dream demanded a revaluation of my relationship with my own emerging creative life and also a transformation of my relationship with my daughter, involving the recognition that I was in fact unconsciously rejecting both.
          In his book The Heart of the Hunter Laurens van der Post says that many people would write to him after hearing his lectures about the Bushman, saying they had dreamed of one. He mentions a particular dream from one of these letters:

I had not had a dream for years, but last night after the talk I dreamt I was in a great dilapidated building rather like a neglected castle I once knew. Somewhere inside it a woman was weeping as if her heart would break. I rushed from room to room along corridor after corridor and down stair after stair, trying to find her so that I could comfort her. Everywhere I went was empty; the dust thick on the floor and cobwebs on the wall. I was in despair of ever finding her, though the sound of her weeping grew louder and more pitiful in my ears. Suddenly one of your little Bushmen appeared in the window. He beckoned to me urgently with his bow, indicating that he would lead me to the woman. I started out to follow him, but immediately there was a growl behind me. To my horror one of the fiercest of the wolf hounds which I let loose in the grounds of my house as watch dogs every night, leapt forward and dashed straight at the Bushman. I tried to call the hound back but I could not find my voice. In the struggle to find it, I woke up in great distress and could not sleep again.          

Here are the images of the neglected dimension of the soul - the empty, dust-covered, building, the weeping woman. The little Bushman, symbol of the guiding wisdom of the instinct, cannot connect the dreamer with the woman because of the fierce wolf-hound. This, like Cerberus, has to be put to sleep before the Bushman can function as guide and the weeping woman be rescued.
          The work of Freud and Jung and of others who have turned to dreams in order to understand the language of the soul has not yet reached the consciousness of the general public, yet the current interest in the non-rational suggests that there may be millions of people who are looking for a deeper understanding of themselves than has been offered so far by either religion or science. The word psychology means 'The word or speech of the soul.' Time and attention devoted to our dreams helps us to understand the speech of the soul. In attempting to become aware of our dream life, and to create a relationship with the unconscious - the instinctive part of ourselves we are not aware of - we have to treat the dream with an attitude of profound respect. There is enough evidence gathered during this century alone to know with certainty that the Dreamer, who night after night conveys the messages to our sleeping self, is far more important than we realise. Alan MacGlashan, in his book, The Savage and Beautiful Country, writes:

The concept of the Dreamer is among the most fascinating and relevant of the mysteries facing contemporary man. It is nothing less than an invitation to transcend our normal and habitual level of consciousness, to develop a long-latent function, to enter a terra incognita of which, paradoxically, we are free-born citizens. As Dante was led through realms beyond human range by the ghost of Virgil, so the Dreamer can lead us, through the labyrinthine corridors of sleep to a realm of being where the human mind blooms in new and brilliant and unimagined forms of life…The Dreamer is the source not only of dreams but of symbol, myth and fairy tale; he is the ruler of a twilight kingdom which lies between the temporal and the Timeless, or in theological terms, between man and God. The Dreamer is he who tells us golden stories, coming from afar, that are the only true salve and comfort of our existential condition; and who brings us in the night, as his final gift, intimations of the possibility of other forms of awareness - co-existent with our conscious life...which perhaps need only a fractional turning of the head to be seen and known.          

The Dreamer plays the role of the god Thoth in Egypt, or the Greek god Hermes, acting as an emissary from the deeper dimension of the soul. In the more familiar imagery of Christianity, the Dreamer is an angelic messenger, bringing guidance, warning and the possibility of healing. However - and this is most important - where the psyche has been deeply wounded, it can also present itself in demonic guise (see Donald Kalsched, The Inner World of Trauma).          
         Dreams can immeasurably enrich our lives, drawing us closer to the meaning of our mystery. They speak with the voice of the instinct which can be compared, as Jung compared it, to an immensely old man or woman within us - so old that it is appropriate to imagine them in terms of eternal spirit. The messenger may take the form of a bird, or an animal. The late poet laureate, Ted Hughes, tells of a dream that changed his life: at university he had been working on an essay until late into the night. Exhausted, he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was sitting once again at his desk. Suddenly, the door of his study opened and a man with the head of a fox came in. The fox-man looked as if he had been in a fire and his skin was blackened and bleeding. He came to the table and put a blood-stained paw on the essay and said: "This is killing both of us." Deeply shaken by this dream, Ted Hughes decided the next day to switch studies from English literature to anthropology. The effort to subject literature and poetry to criticism had been killing his instinct and even threatening his own life.
          A dream like this reflects the truth of Jung's statement:

The interpretation of dreams can enrich the poverty of consciousness so that it learns to understand again the forgotten language of the instincts. Man and His Symbols
p. 52

All activity, whether creative or destructive, starts with some kind of instinctual impulse. Where the soul manifests itself in negative feelings as in guilt, depression, anxiety, aggression, or in terrifying or overwhelming dreams, it is calling attention to a wound that needs healing; perhaps a wound caused by deep psychic injury inflicted by another person or by some traumatic life experience such as the loss of a parent or a child. In the belief that all our attention has to be directed towards external reality, rather than towards healing our inner life, we have repressed our suffering for millennia, never seeing the connection between this repression and the negative effects on our families and the life of the culture. Repressed pain and anger are vented through projection onto some other person or scapegoat in the external world who takes the full brunt of the aggression stemming from unrecognised and untreated complexes which may be collective as well as individual. Aggression is a symptom that something is amiss in our relationship with our soul. It is not "natural". On the contrary, it is a symptom of the "unnaturalness" of the way we live our lives when we are disconnected from our instincts. The more instinctual feelings are shut away from consciousness, the more uncontrollable and overwhelming they become until at last they burst forth in ways that may injure others as well as ourselves. Depression, aggression, eventually perhaps the savage carnage of war, are all symptoms of deep psychic wounds, both individual and collective, which need healing. Since, in essence, we are all part of one life, different people or groups may live out the unrecognised complexes of another group. They may attack us and we may retaliate or defend ourselves against them, but, as with an attacking element in a dream, we need to ask, "Why is this disturbing element acting so destructively? Is it asking for attention, for integration, for acceptance, for love?"
          Learning to understand the symbolic language of the Soul and to apply the insight gained to the problems of our relationships with other people and our relationship with life, can gradually transform us. We live life in a different way, less blindly, no longer reacting unconsciously to events; more sensitively aware of the direction in which life is seeking to taking us, of our smallness in relation to its greatness; aware also that it may depend for the fulfillment of its purpose upon the frail vessel of our consciousness which it has brought into being over so many millions of years. Jung describes this kind of insight in his interpretation of a dream that made a deep impression on him at the beginning of his university career:

It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment I was conscious, in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers. When I awoke I realised at once that this figure was my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew, too, that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have. My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest. Though infinitely small and fragile in comparison with the darkness, it is still a light, my only light. (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 93)

Jung understood from this dream that "in the light of consciousness the invisible realm of the soul appears as a gigantic shadow." To face this darkness, to learn how to relate to it, is an act of heroism in an age which has so neglected the soul that it has come to fear and despise whatever does not appear to be 'rational'. Not surprisingly, our culture is now confronted by an eruption of the non-rational in the form of hatred, anger and violence.
          Dreams may come dressed in the humble garb of everyday life, using as symbolic images people and things that we see, hear, touch and meet in the course of our lives, yet their role may be compared to that of the four great archangels of the Christian tradition, who are the messengers of the dimension of unseen Spirit. Like Raphael, they bring healing and are the witness - as in the story of Tobias and the Angel - of the unseen presence that guides us through life and does not fully reveal itself until we have learned to trust it and follow its guidance.
          Raphael did not reveal himself to Tobias and his father until Tobias, realising how much his new found friend had accomplished, said to his father,

Oh Father, it is no harm to me to give him half of those things which I have brought: for he hath brought me again to thee in safety, and made whole my wife, and brought me the money, and likewise healed thee.
(Tobit 12:2-4)

How much we may miss by our neglect of the messenger is conveyed in the tremendous revelation which follows:

I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. (Tobit 12:15)

Like Gabriel, dreams may come as intermediaries between this world and the older, wiser consciousness in the depths of our being. They bring us, as Gabriel brought to Mary, the annunciation of a rebirth within the soul, the birth of the awareness of a different order of reality. Like Michael, dreams offer the judgment of the spirit upon the way we live our lives: upon the deficiency or lack of wholeness and balance of our conscious values; our failure to accept anything which cannot be "proven" by the intellect or perceived by the senses. But they do so in such a way that it is hard to recognise the message unless one is alert to the language of symbols. Instead of thundering with the voice of an Archangel, they may, in a subtle, even humorous way, point out the fact that one needs to change one's standpoint by buying some new shoes.
          As archetypal tendencies, Gabriel brings the annunciation of the birth of the divine child within us; Raphael brings healing to the wounds we carry; Michael brings discrimination and insight; Uriel brings understanding: all these are vital aspects of the role the dream can play in expanding our knowledge of and developing a relationship with the Soul. Perseverance in the effort to understand the symbolic language of dreams brings its reward in the establishment of an attitude of nightly listening to the messages which come as visitors from that other dimension of reality. The gradual growth of understanding is occasionally marked by the "Big Dream" - a moment of revelation which gives direction and meaning to one's life and is altogether outside our normal frame of reference. The measure of commitment that is asked of us by the Soul in return for the gift of her wisdom and guidance is only gradually revealed, but the inscription on the lead casket chosen by Bassanio, in the hope of winning the hand of Portia, (The Merchant of Venice) says it all:

Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath

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