Dreaming the Myth Onward: Jungian Neo-Paganism

Carl Jung's ideas have been influencing the development of Neo-Paganism from its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. But what if Jung's ideas have been misunderstood by many Pagans: literalized on the one hand and oversimplified on the other? What fresh insights can a Jungian Neo-Paganism contribute to Pagan discourse and practice today? And might Jungianism serve as a bridge between the earth-centered and deity-centered Pagan communities?

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Jungian Pagan Practice, Part 3: Dreamwork

When I comprehended my darkness, a truly magnificent night

came over me and my dream plunged me into the depths of the

millennia, and from it my phoenix ascended.

-- Jung, The Red Book

Recently, a Pagan blogger at Patheos made a short of things that matter to her: 

"How birthing takes place matters.

How infants are raised matters.

Having a rich and varied dream life matters.

All living persons (human or Other) matter.

Ontological security matters.

The magic of personal interaction and healthy and passionate sexual expression matter."  

I thought this was a great list.  The inclusion of a "rich and varied dream life" caught my attention.  I think a rich dream life must be a goal of every Jungian Pagan practice.

Dreams were what convinced Jung of the reality of the collective unconscious.  The interpretation of dreams, according to Freud, is the "royal road" to understanding the unconscious.  But Jung departed from Freud's understanding of of the function of dreams.  For Freud, dreams were a negative function of the psyche: acting as mere wish-fulfillment, revealing repressed (sexual) desires.  But for Jung, the compensatory function of dreams was more positive: dreams were the unconscious mind's way of communicating with the conscious mind, trying to actively lead it in the direction of greater wholeness. 

In addition, Jung insisted that the symbolic language of dreams is not a form of self-deception.  The unconscious is not trying to disguise or obscure its meaning from the conscious mind, as Freud believed.  For Jung, dreams mean what they say.  The difficulty is that the unconscious does not speak the same "language" as the rational or discursive mind.  For Jung, dreams are the speech of the soul:  

"The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends. For all ego-consciousness is isolated; because it separates and discriminates, it knows only particulars, and it sees only those that can be related to the ego. Its essence is limitation, even though it reach to the farthest nebulae among the stars. All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. 

"It is from these all-uniting depths that the dream arises, be it never so childish, grotesque, and immoral. So flower like is it in its candour and veracity that it makes us blush for the deceitfulness of our lives. No wonder that in all the ancient civilizations an impressive dream was accounted a message from the gods! It remained for the rationalism of our age to explain the dream as the remnants left over from the day, as the crumbs that fell into the twilit world from the richly laden table of our consciousness. These dark depths are then nothing but an empty sack, containing no more than what falls into it from above. Why do we always forget that there is nothing majestic or beautiful in the wide domain of human culture that did not grow originally from a lucky idea? What would become of mankind if nobody had lucky ideas any more? It would be far truer to say that our consciousness is that sack, which has nothing in it except what chances to fall into it. We never appreciate how dependent we are on lucky ideas-until we find to our distress that they will not come. A dream is nothing but a lucky idea that comes to us from the dark, all-unifying world of the psyche. What would be more natural, when we have lost ourselves amid the endless particulars and isolated details of the world's surface, than to knock at the door of dreams and inquire of them the bearings which would bring us closer to the basic facts of human existence?" (CW 10, P 304-305) 

Dreams, then, spring from that same source from which creative inspiration arises.  A dream, Jung went on, is

"a communication or message from the unconscious, unitary soul of humanity. It reflects not on the ego but on the Self; it recollects that strange Self, alien to the ego, which was ours from the beginning, the trunk from which the ego grew. It is alien to us because, through the aberrations of consciousness, we have alienated ourselves from it." (CW 10, P 318)

Most people today probably accept the proposition that our dreams are trying to tell us something.  But still the nature of dreams is often misunderstood.  Some people think of dream imagery as a secret code which must be broken for the meaning of the dream to become clear.  Thus, dozens of "dream dictionaries" promise to reveal the secret meaning your dreams.  I would suggest that a "dream dictionary" would be about as useful as a "poetry dictionary".  Just as there is no universal key for understanding poetry, so there is no universal key for understanding dreams.  Dreams are, in part, a product of the collective unconscious, but they are also the product of our personal unconscious.  Consequently, our dreams have elements that are both universal and personal.  They cannot be understood outside the context of the individual dreamer's life and mind.

In The Hero with a Thousand FacesJoseph Campbell famously described dreams as "personalized myths" and myths as "depersonalized dreams".  Each of us has a "secretly potent pantheon of dreams," wrote Campbell.  Campbell also believed that there was a connection between the universal dream of myth and the individual myth of dream: "The individual dream opens to the universal myth, and gods in vision descend to the dreamer as aspects of himself."  (The Mythic Image).  The title of this blog is "Dreaming the Myth Forward", which is adapted from a quote by Jung where he explains that we cannot ever fully understand the archetypes of the unconscious: "The most we can do," he says, "is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.”  Our individual dreams, and the way that we live them out in our individual lives, are the way that the collective myth of the human race evolves through each individual.

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John discovered Jungianism and Neo-Paganism at the same time through the writings of Vivianne Crowley, Margot Adler, and Starhawk, and the two have remained intertwined for him ever since.  John is the managing editor at HumanisticPaganism.com, a community blog for Naturalistic Pagans. He also writes about his spiritual quest on his blog The Allergic Pagan (www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/), where he explores his personal religious history, Paganism, UUism, and Jungianism.

Comments

  • Jamie
    Jamie Tuesday, 30 July 2013

    Very interesting food for thought. Thanks again for sharing it with us!

  • Laura Smith
    Laura Smith Thursday, 08 August 2013

    Great posting. I am a follower of Jung and Campbell in my practice as an Archetypal Dreamwork Analyst. I also blog about my own personal journey in Archetypal Dreamwork here www.inseachofpuella.com.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Friday, 16 August 2013

    Thanks Laura. I'll definitely come over and check out your work.

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