Introduction/ What Are Dreams?/ Next Symbols and Metaphor/ The Unconscious/ Discovering the Inner Self
Interpreting the Dream/ Resources & Guides for the Dreamer

Print This Page

The Importance of Dreams


Understanding Symbols

Where Do Dream Symbols Originate?

Throughout history mankind has used symbols to illustrate what the spoken tongue often fails to convey. As illustrated previously, ancient Egyptians used symbols as their language. Since all humans have the same physical brain structure, all humans retain those primitive images that relate to the human condition, and spirit. They are imprinted on the psyche. Jung's ARCHETPYES are described as being 'self-portraits of the instincts'. All humans inherit these instincts and it is understandable as to why they appear in our dreams. ARCHETYPES are from what Jung called the 'Collective Unconscious' and include symbols that occur in mythology. The collective unconscious is that part of the psyche which retains and transmits the common psychological inheritance of mankind. The collective unconscious is not individual but common to all mankind, and even perhaps to all animals. It is the instinctive aspect of the psyche, just as in the turtle knowing exactly where the water is at birth and knowing to go straight for it.

Cultures and societies also leave imprints on the psyche. Houses and autos are common dream symbols but most often they are metaphors for the dreamer's physical or psychological self. These images are from what Jung termed the 'personal unconscious'. The 'personal unconscious' consists of those things that have been repressed, rejected from consciousness; it is therefore something that has build up during the individuals lifetime. They are mental contents within the unconscious that the ego does not recognize, psychic contents which are either too weak to reach consciousness, or which are actively suppressed by the ego because it {ego} is threatened by them.

One thing to remember is that no dream symbol is fixed. An image may symbolize one aspect in one dream and another aspect in the next dream. Symbols may have entirely different meanings depending on the age and sex of the individual, and will often mean something different to one person as to another.

Common Dream Symbols

Perhaps the most common dream symbol is the house. Houses are most often symbolic of the dreamer and different parts of the house may be different ages, different emotions, different complexes, etc., the modern representing the conscious ego, the oldest the deepest layers of the unconscious {Jung's 'Collective Unconscious"}. A house may represent your self image: how you see yourself, or how you want to be seen by the world, or what you want from life. Going upstairs may mean going into the 'head' - that is, the layer of the mind where rational thinking takes place. Cellars basements, or any symbol which is dark may represent the unconscious. Not being able to go into a particular room may indicate there is some aspect in your life that is not yet open to your conscious mind. When you acknowledge these emotions, you will be able to enter into the room in your dreams, and open up aspects about yourself that were previously unavailable to you..
The feelings associated with the symbols are important also. If the house feels cramped, this might indicate frustration in some aspect of the dreamer's life. If you dream of your parental home, what you feel in the dream may say a lot about your childhood feelings - about your parents, for instance. The emotions that are associated with the dream will determine to a great extent what the dream is trying to communicate to you.

Perhaps the most distressing dream symbol is that of someone dying or a death in a dream. This is where it is important to understand that most dreams are metaphorical, and should not be taken literally. Death or dying in a dream seldom refers to an actual death. Death refers to changes in one's life, or attitudes toward certain persons, or even a fear of dying. If the dead person is someone you are not familiar with or takes on characteristics of other persons or other things, it probably symbolizes you. The dream may be telling you the old self needs to be left behind. The old self may possess irrational guilt-feelings, and that self needs to symbolically experience a death. Alternatively, the 'old self' may be old attachments, habits, ambitions, values, goals; in which case the dream is telling you that the only way forward for you lies through giving these up and looking deeper within yourself for better values, etc. It is a symbolic death in that the 'old self' dies. And from mythology, with any death comes new life. This is the message of the dream, the compensation it provides to help restore balance to life, providing possible solutions to outward ego problems through symbology and metaphor.

Shadow Symbols-Masculine/Feminine & Aspects of the 'Self'

Symbols do not stand alone and most often have some association with the deeper aspects of the psyche. The first step in discerning dream symbols is recognizing those conditions of the psyche which are more or less fixed. The 'SHADOW' is often part of dreams because it constitutes all that is opposed to the persona. The 'SHADOW' is the personification of that part of the human psyche that we deny in ourselves and project onto others. It is everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. In dreams the 'SHADOW' is occasionally an animal or part-animal figure, but usually a person of the same sex as the dreamer but with opposite qualities (dark, shady, dangerous). The 'SHADOW' isn't always a negative aspect but more typically it carries negative or evil qualities. Cinderella was a 'SHADOW' figure. She is ignored and neglected by her elder sisters. They go out into the world, but Cinderella is shut up indoors. This represents the contrast between the conscious ego (which relates to the outside world) and those parts of the unconscious that have not been allowed any part in one's conscious activity. Cinderella eventually escapes from her imprisonment and marries the Prince. This marriage symbolizes the joining together of conscious ego (Prince) and shadow (Cinderella), which is the end result of the penetration of the conscious mind by the unconscious and/or the penetration of the unconscious by consciousness.

Another 'SHADOW' figure is Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. What we mistake for Jekyll's goodness is only a mask that has been distorted and brought into the service of the egocentric ego. Below this mask lies the shadow, hidden away. When Hyde emerges we are appalled by his evil acts, but he is merely the manifestation of the absence of good. This also explains how we live out of two centers of personality, the ego and the Self. The ego is the center of our conscious personality, the part of us through which we encounter the world. The Self is a larger reality which encompasses and energizes the ego. The Self, which some liken to God, provides a larger framework in which the ego can view reality - offering creativity and a sense of meaning in life. In dreams it is addressing the highest condition or the spiritual aspect that Jung believed in, spiritual being much more than religion. The ego and Self are meant to have a relationship in which each supports and serves the other, resulting in a whole person. This is Jung's Individuation Process.

The Self draws its power exclusively from the collective unconscious; it is trans-personal rather than personal and is not conditioned by a person's individual experiences. All symbols of the Self include the characteristics of power and impersonality. Common symbols of the Self are an aged seer or priestess, a wise old man or woman, or guardian spirit. Religious symbols such as that of Jesus or the Buddha also can symbolize the Self.

Symbols of the masculine/feminine qualities within the dreamer are as prevalent as that of the 'SHADOW'. This is one's 'soul image', an archetypal image. Every man has a feminine component in his psyche; every woman has a masculine component in hers. Unfortunately in most societies today the feminine aspect has been neglected, a suppression of what some consider the 'higher' aspect of the psyche. One result of this has been man's bad treatment of women. Man's fear and neglect of his own femininity have had dire consequences. Not only has he repressed the femininity in himself; but also, being frightened of women - who are 'the feminine' par excellence - he has suppressed them, kept them subordinate and powerless. This creates a world of men dominated by war. It also suppresses the creative aspect and often provide religious cover for those who seek power and use religion as a guise {perhaps unconsciously}. The 'soul-image' is vital for proper balance in a person's life. The soul-image has characteristics which are the opposite of those possessed by your persona (your self-image?. For instance, if your persona is an intellectual one, your soul-image will be characterized by sentiment and emotion; and if you are the intuitive type, your soul-image will be earthly and sensual. The 'soul-image' will most always be of the opposite sex. The feminine aspects of a male psyche include gentleness, tenderness, patience, receptiveness, closeness to nature, readiness to forgive. The masculine aspects of a female psyche include assertiveness, the will to control and take charge, fighting spirit, power and being over-bearing.

Introduction/ What Are Dreams?/ Symbols and Metaphor/ The Unconscious/ Discovering the Inner Self
Interpreting the Dream/ Resources & Guides for the Dreamer

Return to