The Unconscious World of Dream
Dreams and Myth
Next: Dreams and Archetypes

Both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell {the primary sources of knowledge for Myths-Dreams-Symbols} believed both dreams and myth stemmed from the collective unconscious. Thus it is not surprising that mythological elements are often found in dreams. '
Myths are public dreams
Dreams are private myths
When you read the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable you are reading about patterns of behavior that fit with the present day human psyche. By understanding metaphor, and Jung's archetypes, we have learned how to interpret dreams whith some accuracy, often with great accuracy. When the dreamer has that AH! HA! moment, not only is there a connection to the interpretation that let's the dreamer understand what the dream is about, but by understyanding something about oneself is new knowledge, thus new insights never available before, and ultimately a wiser you.

Jung recommended the use of myths as a repertoire of parallels in dreams, which could help the dreamer tease out the meaning of a dream. And he used the process of amplification. Amplication is made easier by the fact that the dream material often contains explicit mythological themes; these represent the archetypal energies of the collective unconscious in personalized form, and indicate the relationship of such energies to the particular life-circumstances of the dreamer.

Amplification honours the precise expression of the dream and attempts to uncover out of what memories, feelings, insight or experience the dreamer has formed or created the dream.
Therefore the message of the unique dream is found.

Mythic images occurring in the dreams of Westerners often call to mind Greek, Eygytian and Christian equivalents-the mythologies with which many of us are most familiar. The Resurrected God, the Hero, the Savior, the Trickster, the Wise Old Man, and the Young Girl are recurring archetypes. Sometimes the mythic content is undisguised: a princess in a tower, for example. However, there are allso oblique references, such as a Hero expressed as a star from port or the movies, or as someone coming valiantly to the rescue in a recognizably modern context.

David Fontana, PhD- the Secret Languages of Dreams

Perhaps the best way of explaining how myth is important in dreams is to let Joseph Campbell state the case from the popular PBS series 'The Power of Myth'. The following is exerpts from his interviews with Bill Moyers.

Understanding the relation of myth to our personal dreams


From The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers: So when we dream, we are fishing in some vast ocean of mythology that -

Joseph Campbell: - that goes down and down and down.You can get all mixed up with complexes, you know, things like that, but really, as the Polynsian saying goes, you are "standing on a whale fishing for minnows." We are standing on a whale. The ground of being is the ground of our being, and when we simply turn outward, we see all of these little problems here and there. But, if we look inward, we see that we are the source of them all.

Bill Moyers: You talk about mythology existing here and now in dreamtime. What is dreamtime?

Joseph Campbell: This is the time you get into when you go to sleep and have a dream that talks about permanent conditions within your own psyche as they relate to the temporal conditions of your life right now.

Bill Moyers: Explain that.

Joseph Campbell: For example, you may be worried about whether you are going to pass an exam. Then you have a dream of some kind of failure, and you find that failure will be associated with many other failures in your life. They are all piled up together there. Freud says even the most fully expounded dream is not really fully expounded. The dream is an exhaustible source of spiritual information about yourself.
Now the level of dream of "Will I pass the exam?" or "Should I marry this girl?" - that is purely personal. But, on another level, the problem of passing the exam is not simply a personal problem. Everyone has to pass a threshold of some kind. That is an archetypal thing. So there is a basic mythological theme there even though it is a personal dream. These two levels - the personal aspect and then the big general problem of which the person's problem is a local example - are found in all cultures. For example, everyone has the problem of facing death. This is a standard mystery.

Bill Moyers: What do we learn from our dreams?

Joseph Campbell: You learn about yourself.

Bill Moyers: How do we pay attention to our dreams?

Joseph Campbell: All you have to do is remember your dream in the first place, and write it down. Then take one little fraction of the dream, one or two images or ideas, and associate with them. Write down what comes to your mind, and again what comes to your mind, and again. You'll find that the dream is based on a body of experiences that have some kind of significance in your life and that you didn't know were influencing you. Soon the next dream will come along, and your interpretation will go further.

Bill Moyers: A man once told me he didn't remember dreaming until he retired. Suddenly, having no place to focus his energy, he began to dream and dream and dream. Do you think we tend to overlook the significance of dreaming in our modern society?

Joseph Campbell: Ever since Freud's Interpretation of Dreams was published, there has been a recognition of the importance of dreams. But even before that there were dream interpretations. People had superstitious notions about dreams - for example, "Something is going to happen because I dreamed it was going to happen."


As individuals we are not completely unique, but are like all other men. Hence a dream with a collective meaning is valid in the first place for the dreamer, but it expresses at the same time the fact that his momentary problem is also the problem of other people. This is often of great practical importance, for there are countless people who are inwardly cut off from humanity and oppressed by the thought that nobody else has their problems. Or else they are those all-too-modest souls who, feeling themselves nonentities, have kept their claim to social recognition on too low a level. Moreover, every individual problem is somehow connected with the problem of the age, so that practically every subjective difficulty has to be viewed from the standpoint of the human situation as a whole. But this is permissible only when the dream really is a mythological one and makes use of collective symbols....C.G. Jung - The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man

Bill Moyers: Why is a myth different from a dream?

Joseph Campbell: Oh, because a dream is a personl experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society's dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.

Bill Moyers: So if my priavte dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I'm more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public -

Joseph Campbell: - you'll be in trouble. If you're forced to live in that system, you'll be a neurotic.

Bill Moyers: But aren't there visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?

Joseph Campbell: Yes, there are.

Bill Moyers: How do you explain that?

Joseph Campbell: They've moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of orginal experience. Orginal experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you've got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can't. You don't have to go far off from the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience - that is the hero's deed.

Bill Moyers: You say dreams come up from the psyche.

Joseph Campbell: I don't know where else they come from. They come from the imagination, don't they? The imagination is grounded in the energy of the organs of the body, and these are the same in all human beings. Since imagination comes from out of one biological ground, it is bound to produce certain themes. Dreams are dreams. There are certain charactistics of dreams that can be enumerated, no matter who is dreaming them.


The myth is the public domain and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got a long adventure in the dark forest ahead of you....Joseph Campbell

Bill Moyers: I think of a dream as something very private, while a myth is something public.

Joseph Campbell: On some levels a private dream runs into truly mythic themes and can't be interpreted except by an analogy with a myth. Jung speaks of two orders of dream, the personal dream and the archetpal dream, or the dream of the mythic dimension. You can interpret a personal dream by association, figuring out what it is talking about in your own life, or in relationship to your own personal problem. But every now and then a dream comes up that is pure myth, that carries a mythic theme, or that is said, for example, to come from the Christ within.

Bill Moyers: From the archetypal person within us, the archetypal self we are.

Joseph Campbell: That's right. Now there is another, deeper meaning of dreamtime - which is of a time that is no time, just an enduring state of being. There is an important myth from Indonesia that tells of this mythological age and its termination. In the beginning, according to this story {myth}, the ancestors were not distinguished as to sex. There were no births, there were no deaths. Then a great public dance was celebrated, and in the course of the dance one of the participants was trampled to death and torn to pieces, and the pieces were buried. At the moment of that killing the sexes became separated, so that death was balanced by begetting, begetting by death, while from the buried parts of the dismembered body food plants grew. Time had come into being, death, birth, and the killing and eating of other living beings, for the perservation of life. The timeless time of the beginning had terminated by a communal crime, a deliberate murder or sacrifice.
Now, one of the problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal percondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don't kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on life, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing - in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions of life is fundamental to all creation stories {myths}. They're very like each other in this aspect.

Bill Moyers: So the one great story is our search to find our place in the drama?

Joseph Campbell: To be in accord with the grand symphony that the world is, to put the harmony of our own body in accord with that harmony.

Bill Moyers: When I read these stories, no matter the culture or origin, I feel a sense of wonder at the spectacle of the human imagination groping to try to understand this existence, to invest in their small journey these transcendent possibilities. Has that ever happened to you?

Joseph Campbell: I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for you.


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, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth....Joseph Campbell

List of Articles:
The Function of Myth
Myth and Dreams
The Hero's Adventure in Myth
Metaphor and Transcendence
God and Metaphor
The Importance of Myth
Gaia-Nature as Divinity

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