The Importance of Dreams:
Some studies have indicated that dreams occur during REM sleep, and that deprivation of that sleep in which they occur causes anxiety, mood disorders, irritability, and depression. Dreams have been seen in a religious context, as a means to healing, as evil (Middle Ages), and as a way to be contacted by ancestors (among other things). In the 1800’s, dreams were considered to stem from anxiety or even indigestion. Sigmund Freud revolutionized the study of dreams, recognizing their importance, believing them to be the key to the unconscious (a reflection of the subconscious). Jung…”believed that by understanding how one’s personal unconscious integrates with the collective unconscious, a person can achieve a state of individuation, or wholeness of self.” (Vered A. Jung and Old. 1997). Freud and Jung split because of their differences in opinion concerning dreams. Suffice it to say, dream interpretation and analysis is commonly used in therapy. For more on both theories, see http://www2.arnes.si/~uljfdv15/library/art06.html and http://www.tnnweb.com/mds/jungvsfreud.html .
I’ve been plagued with nightmares for years. Like most nightmares, they are vivid. Certain ones were—or are–recurring, or at least have a recurrent theme. Since I’m exploring my dreams this month, I’m going to write a bit about one of the two that have had the most impact on my life.
What I am writing is highly personal. I am not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, nor do I interpret dreams professionally—as will become obvious. I am doing this assignment at the wise suggestion of my therapist in an effort to understand, not only where I was at the time of the dream, but where I am going in terms of a second dream. I will first describe the dream. Following the description, I will connect the most common symbols (archetypes) with their most commonly used interpretations. Next, I will describe what circumstances in my life I now believe caused me to have this dream. As the title indicates, this is an assignment.
This dream I had at least once a week, starting around 1994. In the dream, I am at the bottom of a high dark tower. It is very dark outside, the moon and stars are covered. I seek safety in the tower, so I go inside. There is something or someone in there with me; however, I can see nothing in the gloom. In front of me is a winding staircase. I start up, but whatever I sense is present begins to follow me. I climb faster, but my legs feel like lead, it is like climbing through molasses; the “thing”, which, in my dream’s eye I instinctively recognize is demonic, is right behind me. I climb and climb, never reaching the top, but knowing at the top is safety. In each successive dream, the demon gets closer. I wake up in a panicked state. Then, around 1997, I turn and face the demon. What happens next is cloudy; however, when I wake up, I feel a sense of profound relief.. The dream did not recur again until around 1999. Again, I am outside a dark tower, and it is night. I go in the door and start to climb—this time NOT being chased. When I arrive at the top, there is a faceless figure in a black cape, with his back turned away from me. I sense this figure is male. He turns around, I run into his arms, and he kisses me. When I awaken, I feel a sense of immense loss and sadness, Sometimes, I am crying, and feels as if I have been sent back.
Interpretations of symbols:
Towers tend to point towards isolation. Since I feel alone and frightened as I attempt to escape from the demon chasing me up the spiraling staircase, I believe I am safe in assuming the dark tower (isolation) is the theme. Being chased points toward avoidance of issues; confronting the demon I assume means that I was ready to face the issues. My pursuer, also, can be interpreted as aspects of the self, which I had rejected. Being chased can mean actual fear of being attacked, but in this case, if it was, it was more a fear of psychic attack, a mental attack. This is more likely, since all the characters, as well as the environment and the tower, are black. Black symbolizes the unknown, the unconscious, danger, mystery, darkness, death, mourning, rejection, hate or malice. Black also tends in interpretation towards a need to go deeper into the unconscious mind to gain a better self-understanding. Black can also represent a lack of love and lack of support. On a positive note, black represents potential and possibilities.
Because the black was mixed with gray (fog, shadows), I researched the more accepted meanings of gray in dreams. Gray indicates fear, fright, depression, ill health, ambivalence and confusion. Or, a feeling of emotional distance or detachment. On a more positive side, the color gray can symbolize individualism
A cape indicates an attempt to shield oneself from being emotionally hurt. But, I am not wearing the cape. The person to whom I am running, the person at the top of the tower, wears the cape.
Spiral or winding stairs represent growth or rebirth. But, there is fear in my climbing—I am climbing to escape. Am I trying to escape myself? My then-marriage? Circumstances in which I feel trapped and helpless? Old values and beliefs which I was holding onto because I did not know how to discard them? Stairs also represent progress. Was the demon myself? Was I running up the stairs away from parts of myself I didn’t like?
Recurrence points toward a time of transition.
The stranger is probably a protector, whether psychic, spiritual or a real person.
The kiss, a need to be more honest in my emotional relationships.
A Short Autobiography:
At the time the dreams began, , I had just finished a degree program, which I had attained in three years as a non-traditional student, majoring in two subjects (English and African American Studies). I had declined, as a high school graduate (1973), to attend what was then Ambassador College–I wanted to go to a real university for a real degree—however, any other college outside the church-owned one was not allowed. I was married in 1974 to a member of the Worldwide Church of God—my reasoning at that time was that it might be easier to leave the organization if I was out of my parents’ home. Plus, according to the Worldwide Church of God, the “end” was near, and I wanted children. The person I cared most about, in a romantic sense, at that time was attending Ambassador College, and contact had ceased (for reasons I would only discover much, much later in life). Dating and marriage outside of the organization was forbidden by my parents and strongly discouraged by the church. Not the best reasons upon which to make such a commitment. It was obvious to me, from certain events that occurred before and on the day of the wedding, that I was making a mistake; however, I did not want to inconvenience those who had been invited to the wedding (a part of the “mask” was to always make things as easy for others as possible—not to “make waves”, not to cause people to “talk”).
Over the next eight years, I had three children (they are the reason I have no regrets about my choice to marry). When my oldest was five years of age, and my twins were two (1981), I applied to and was accepted by a private college. Told that my traveling back and forth was too hard on my vehicle, that the children were too young, and so forth, I had no choice but to wait a few more years. In 1991, I took myself over to the state college, applied, and was accepted. I also applied for a grant, and received it. I was pretty determined. And, my mother’s serious illness at that time made me even more determined (she, thankfully, recovered). So, going year-round and cramming as many credits into a semester as was allowed, I earned a B.A. in three years. I worked when I could, took care of the children, and finished assignments on the syllabi in advance of the due dates. In 1994, when the dream began to exhibit itself on a recurring basis, I had just been accepted into graduate school. From 1994-1996, I threw myself into the graduate program, and worked as a graduate assistant. I also found myself on a path of self-destruction. I developed a close friendship with a horrendous woman who would later stab me in the back professionally and personally. I drank too much. I was hooked on Prozac. Basically, I was a wreck, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And, the dream continued to plague me, occurring with even more frequency (probably at least once a week). In 1996, I finished the graduate program, ended the destructive friendship, threw myself into one of the family businesses, and tried to reconcile myself to being stuck in a hopeless situation forever. Around this time, I also began to search spiritually outside of Christianity, all the while attending church services intermittently with my then-husband. These services were, for the most part, conducted by splinter groups of the Worldwide Church of God. I was fine on the outside. On the inside, I was miserable. I literally felt that the life was being drained out of me.
With that as a background, the dream makes sense. I WAS climbing towards higher goals: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. At the same time, I was terrified. I was escaping the demons—perhaps personified in the demonic presence that threatened me in the dream– that plagued me (religion, a bad marriage, self-hatred, and the past in general), yet escaping them also meant giving up family, home, and security—as well as disappointing and hurting a lot of people.
A few months after the dream in which I do reach the top and the “protector”, I finally began to take serious steps to leave my old life behind. I applied to several post-graduate programs, and was accepted into one in Florida. When I left, I didn’t know where my course of action would take me. It was frightening and sad. I left family, friends, parents, sister, home, business, and children. My oldest was by then in graduate school; the twins at their respective colleges in-state. Still, I knew that what I was doing would change their worlds, as well as my own. I took nothing but my books, my computer, and my clothing. The dream stopped. And, I haven’t had it since.
An odd ending to this dream saga: when I first started going out with my present husband, we were looking at a drawing he had done in high school that was hanging on his living room wall. We were discussing using dreams as inspiration for art. A dream that he had often had was that of a woman, dressed in black, whose face he could not see. Many of the archetypes and motifs in my own dream matched the archetypes and motifs in his. Neither of us has experienced what we refer to as the “hidden face” dream since.
There is another dream I need to explore, but the exercise of doing so is exhausting. Working on a dream that WAS makes working on a dream that IS, however, much easier—kind of like an outline to follow as I explore a current recurring dream that is troubling me. From the work I’ve done on this dream, I have come away with an increased sense of profound respect about the ability of the human body, the human mind, to tell us about ourselves before we realize it on a conscious level. I’ve known this for years as an avid follower of both Jung and Joseph Campbell, as well as others, but I’ve never just sat down and treated the analysis of one of my own dreams as an assignment. If the reader has stuck with my ramblings thus far, I hope you take away something that might be helpful in your own journey towards fulfillment and self-understanding.