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?
An Example of Dreamwork: Hiding from my Shadow
In my last post, I described 5 practical steps for doing dreamwork. In this post, I want to give you a real life example of a dreamworking I did after writing the last post.
1. Remembering my dream
I don't usually remember my dreams. So this night, before going to bed, I said aloud, "I will have a dream and I will remember my dream." I then tried to think about dreaming as I went to sleep, so the last thing I would think about was dreaming. I then unintentionally woke a half hour to an hour earlier than I normally do, with just a little bit of memory of a dream. But as I thought what I remembered, more of the dream came back to me.
2. Recording my dream
I had placed a pad of paper and pen and a small light next to my bed, which I quickly retrieved and began to record what I recollected of my dream. This is what I recalled:
Scene 1: I was trying to get away from someone. I was at war with this person. It was a man. I escaped into space. I was floating in space. (I didn't have a space suit, but I did not need to breathe.) But he could still see me from the earth. So I hid myself behind the moon. I positioned myself so that the moon was between me and the man. The moon was a small bright white circle against the background of the earth, with the dark of space behind it, punctuated by the lights of the stars. I took a picture of it with my iPhone.
Scene 2: I was with a woman. I think she was the wife of the man I had been hiding from. I was trying to seduce her. I bragged to her how I had hidden myself from her husband.
3. Associations and Amplifications
I began by doing word associations with various elements of my dream, like this:
Earth: home, land, mother, environment, circle, physical, foundation ...
Space: empty, womb, stars, dark, floating ...
Moon: white, changing, woman, bright ...
... and so on.
I had difficulty associating the enemy in the dream with anything. I did not actually see the man in my dream. So I asked myself aloud, "Who is the man I was hiding from." Without intending to, I started thinking about the TV series I had been watching the night before, Kings, which is a modern-day retelling of the story of David and Saul from the Bible. It occurred to me that the man I had been hiding from was Saul. I remembered that there was a story in the Bible about David hiding from Saul, when Saul wanted to kill him.
So, I looked up this story and found it in 1 Samuel 18-26. King Saul was jealous of David and feared he would replace him as king, so he tried to kill David many times. David escaped into the wilderness with the help of Saul's daughter and son. For a time, David hid in a cave. I was like David, in exile from my home, hiding from a rival.
I recognized both in this story and in my dream elements of the archetypal struggle for sovereignty (represented by a woman or goddess) between two male rivals (sometimes mirror twins). Examples from pagan myth include Gwyn and Gwythr from the Mabinogion, King Arthur and Mordred, and others. This is where the second scene from my dream was relevant where I was attempting to seduce my enemy's wife.
I assumed when I first made the connection of the enemy in my dream with King Saul that the dream was presaging a struggle with this part of myself in which I must kill or defeat it. But when I read the Bible account, I was surprised to find that David was never hostile to Saul. In fact, he had opportunities to kill Saul and elected rather to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul. David did eventually replace Saul, but not due to any violence on David's part. The Bible story is about David's continuing efforts to reconcile himself with Saul. After reading this, I wondered if perhaps it was reconciliation, not triumph over, the enemy in my dream that I needed.
Still I struggled with the interpretation of the dream. It took me the better part of a day, thinking about it in my spare time, to settle on a meaning.
The fact that I was floating in space in my dream suggested to me that I was unrooted or disconnected. I have been feeling that way.
The fact that I was hiding seemed to be the most salient fact of the deam. But what was I hiding from? What part of me did the Saul figure represent?
The answer came to me when I focused on the visual image from my dream. (The fact that I took a picture in my dream was a clue that the visual image was significant.) The moon formed a bright circle against the earth. It was a kind of mandala. It occurred to me that for me to see this, I had to have the sun behind me. If the moon was full from my perspective, and it blocking me from Saul's view from earth, then Saul must be experiencing a new moon and a solar eclipse. (In an interesting bit of synchronicity, David escapes from Saul during the new moon feast. 1 Samuel 20:5)
Then the dream came together for me. Saul represents my shadow. That is why he is the penumbra of the moon in my dream. I am hiding from my shadow by placing the bright, full moon between me and it. The full moon is my "bright shadow" -- the positive aspects of myself that I have repressed. The earth represents the unconscious Ground from which I am disconnected. In order to reconnect with this Ground, I need to confront and reconcile my (dark) shadow.
I've written before here that the Neopagan reclamation of the Shadow of Western/Christian civilization, in the form of the divine feminine and the Horned God, and Holy Body, should not be confused with a confrontation with our own shadow. Neopaganism has its own shadow, which I wrote about here and here. I am guilty of confusing this myself. The gods (archetypes) that I honor in my rituals are more often than not the ones with whom I am comfortable -- my bright shadows. Absent are the gods which represent parts of myself about which I am still ashamed. Real shadow work (the subject of a future post) must engage the dark shadow, not just the bright shadow.
This interpretation both feels meaningful. In addition, it is challenging; it does not flatter my ego or shift responsibility away from me. It is vague as to how I should go about confronting my shadow, so I will look at future dreams to try to discern this.
Integrating my shadow is the project of a lifetime, so its not something I can practically do in the short term. However, I can resolve to start refocusing my attention from my bright shadows to my dark shadows. To symbolize this resolution, I did a simple symbolic action. On my altar is a shadow box with two cards from the Vertigo Tarot (the King and Queen of Pentacles) which represent for me the Pagan God and Goddess. I turned the shadow box upside down, thus reversing the Tarot card. Upside down Tarot cards are sometimes interpreted as having the opposite of their standard meaning. This serves as a simple ritual to incarnate my intention, as well as a future reminder of my dream and its meaning.
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