This is Part I of a 4-5 part series on Dream Analysis based on Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth by Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson.
The purpose of a dream is to “wake us up to something” according to Johnson.
The focus of this series is to share his method of dream interpretation that leads us to a greater understanding of ourselves; our own awakening. Here, I will do my best to “boil down” his method without shaving the process too thin. There are four basic steps to dream interpretation they are: Making associations, Connecting dreams to inner dynamics, Interpreting & Making the Dream Concrete. This post will focus on the process of making associations.
I was outside of my maternal grandmother’s (Grandma B) home and the woods behind her home were being engulfed by a wildfire. There were concerns about evacuating, but my grandmother wanted to stay (confusion, indecision). Her face, set in determination, was seen in the flames that licked the sky. Smoke banks were surrounding the home, making visibility difficult. Yet the air around me was clear for at least 20 feet in all directions as if I were in a bubble. While there was a sense of urgency to the dream, there was also a calmness like “this is how it is to be.” My grandmother was a reflection of this as she was usually an anxious & “hyper” woman in real life, she seemed relatively calm and ready for whatever was to come within the dream. In a way all elements of the dream were exaggerated or “larger than life” and hyper-reality.
After writing down the dream itself, the next step is to list out the different elements of the dream (maternal grandmother, her home, wildfire, smoke, bubble, etc). Next you take each element separately and write out what you personally associate to that one element, individually. Johnson warns to be sure to stay with the original element and avoid stream of consciousness where one association leads to further associations. To avoid stream of consciousness, go back to the original element after each association. For example, after writing down the association “scapegoat” (see below) for my grandmother, if I had then written “patsy,” I would have then thought of Lee Harvey Oswald because of the many times he’s referred to as a patsy in one of the movies about JFK’s assassination. That could have then lead me to think of sniper and before I know it my Grandma’s being a scapegoat leads me to Chris Kyle in American Sniper. So be sure each association relates back to the original element.
Johnson discourages the use of Dream symbol searches as the purpose of this process is to unlock our own meaning and association with each element within a dream. Yet, at the same time, cultural references such as colloquialisms and Archetypes can be helpful resources to use.
Colloquialisms can also help to unlock the meaning of an element. For example, “courage under fire” may rise to the surface. Colloquialisms can offer a deeper meaning to the dream analysis as they are common threads of awareness, similar to archetypes. Speaking of archetypes, you know that your dream involves the presence of an archetype when there are exaggerated or “Epic” elements within in the dream. After seeing some of the associations of my dream I did a search for “creative and destructive” Goddess, which is when Kali rose to the forefront of my awareness.
Making associations to the dream’s elements can be both fun and frustrating. Sometimes we need to step back from the dream itself to be able to understand the association to the element. The deeper that we can travel within to understand what an element is showing us, the greater our potential gain in personal growth. Remember, the dream’s purpose is to “wake us up to something.” Is it not ironic that we dream to be woken up?
In the list of associations below, you will see that I’ve italicized associations that were repeated while I bolded others as they “clicked.” Basically, if the association “clicks” there is a deeper emotional response and you have found the association that is most meaningful to you for that particular element. The stronger the emotional response to the association, the more likely it is that you are on the right track.
- Grandma B: maternal grandmother; crazy: bipolar; unpredictable, scapegoat; town’s shadow; grudges; judgment; shame; guilt, suicide; death; cover up; vulnerable; destructive; Goddess Kali; Family; Roots; Connections; stubborn; tenacious; Proud; Independent; Wise; Faith; Grace; protective; maternal; nurturing; contradictory edges
- Grandmother’s home: Farm (fertility), Poor, Simple, Loving, Mixed emotions; Confusion; Betrayal; Loyalty; Humble; Cold; Hot; Red Clay; Grapes on the vine; Garden; Free Roaming Chickens; Outhouse; Hoarding; Gossip; Home of the Divine Mother*
- Woods – Fuel; Trees; Oxygen; Wildlife; Darkness; Hidden; protective/safety; Secrets “What happens in the woods stays in the woods.” Cycles
- Wildfires – A force of Mother Nature; beautiful destruction; cycle; a force to be reckoned with; burning down of the old, get rid of obstructions, clearing, setting up for something new (rebirth), passion, heat, change, uncontrolled, part of natural process, old guard (trees) dying, fuel to fire, unpredictable, Fire of transformation, Playing with Fire, Courage under Fire; Judgment; Separation; Fire & brimstone, Discernment, Urgency “The Time is Now,” attention-getter, Burning Desires; Passion – out of control; Kali
- Smoke like fog all around – unclear; confusion; suffocating; stifling; blind/ignorant: decreased visibility; blockage; Ego; Smoke & Mirrors: Illusion; when there’s smoke there’s fire
- Bubble – safety, clarity; protection; discernment; separation; invisible yet present protection; womb; clearly defined boundaries; not living in reality; living in my own reality
*According to Johnson, a dream involving your maternal grandmother’s home (mother’s mother) is a sign that you are in the “house of the Mother;” an archetypal mother. Additional clues that this dream involved an Archetype are the exaggerated or “Epic” proportions within the dream.
In the next part I will discuss how to connect the bolded and repeated associations to inner dynamics. I will continue to use this wildfire dream as an example. In the meantime, I hope that you find a dream that you can begin to go through this process with. If you can, I highly encourage you to read Johnson’s book and particularly the chapters on dream interpretation, as he gives many examples and clues that I found helpful. After all, what have you to lose when you have a better understanding of yourself to gain.
Namaste & Happy Dreaming!