But what does it mean? The symbolic language of dreams BY MACHIEL KLERK
return of the friend to your outer life. To look at the symbolic presentation of this friend, you would ask “what characteristics of this friend are now showing up in my life?” The dream disguises a characteristic, life theme or dynamic as a friend of our youth. You need to read this figure symbolically to learn what it represents in your dream. Sometimes the dream figure does point to the same figure in waking life, which can give us a clue about a situation with that person. In a dream, you might be visited by a family member who is ill or is about to die, or a person you had not noticed before who seems to be interested in you in waking life. Jung called this interpretation of dream symbols as referring directly to waking life the object level. Interpreting a dream figure as referring to inner life (for instance, a female colleague as the inner woman, or a doctor as the inner physician) would be working on the subject level.
Tips to discover the symbolic meaning of a dream image
“Midsummer Night’s Dream” n a dream: “I am driving my car, and I find myself sitting on the backseat and can hardly touch the steering wheel”. Psychiatrist and visionary Carl Jung held that the language of dreams is symbolic and suggested that to understand a dream we should listen to its poetic and symbolic language. Understanding this language allows us to uncover the life themes that are at play. A symbol represents exactly what it is and also some mystery, simultaneously. A symbol stands for a partially known and a partially unknown aspect of the psyche. One
could dream about the sun, a symbolic representation of the light of life, which has some known aspects
A symbol stands for a partially known and a partially unknown aspect of our psyche. but is essentially a mystery. The car in the dream above might represent a vehicle or a certain mode of moving through life.
Dream images and figures are not fixed signs. A stop sign is fixed; it has one clear meaning. There is no room for interpretation of multiple meanings, and it does not refer to any unknown aspect. Stop is stop. Dream symbol books often translate dream figures into fixed signs. Such a book might, for example, state that if you dream about a spider, you will encounter bad luck. Jung would strongly disagree with that kind of an interpretation. In a dream, you might encounter a friend from youth whom you have not seen for years. This dream probably does not refer to the sudden
Ask yourself what kind of associations you have with this image. For example, perhaps your youthful friend was loyal and dependable, or perhaps she had a great sense of humor. Jung suggested going with the association that “clicks,” and was adamant that the association apply directly to the dream image—for example cow-milk or cow-grass rather than cow-milk-breast-mother. Next, ask what the function of the dream image is. For example, the function of eating would be to take something in (an idea, emotion); sex in a dream could be seen as a unification or integration; washing might be cleaning. In the car dream, I seem not to have a grip on the steering wheel, which might represent not being in control of the direction of my own life. I don’t sit behind the wheel, but on the back seat; I’m not in the position of control. Take a look at the symbolism of some images from your own dreams. You may begin to see themes that play a role in your life. Next month I will provide a recipe for working with your dreams. For now, sleep well. u Machiel Klerk, LMFT, is a Jungian-oriented therapist with a private practice in Salt Lake City and founding president of the Jung Society of Utah. Machiel will lead a 12-week course in dreamwork beginning in January. WWW.MACHIELKLERK.COM, MACHIEL@MACHIELKLERK.COM.
CATALYST Magazine December 2010 issue