‘Big dreams’

Carl Jung writes extensively about dream work – seeing dreams as the psyche’s attempt to communicate important things to the individual, and so he valued dreams highly, perhaps above all else, as a way of knowing what was really going on. As did Freud, Jung saw that dreams were ‘the royal road to the unconscious’.

Dreams are also an important part of the development of the personality – the process that he called individuation. Jung thought that dreams expressed things openly, and were often a way of expressing something that the ego does not yet know or understand. They can also act as a form of compensation, particularly if we are in some way out of balance. Sometimes it’s not so easy to know what our dreams mean, because the dreams use symbols in expressing what is not known. There may be resonance with external events, but Jung thought that every object in the dream corresponds to an element within the individual’s own psyche.

‘Big dreams’ are dreams that stand out or in some way are set apart from the usual dreaming, because they link to archetypal themes and have a deep meaning. They feel especially significant. Jung used the term after visiting in 1925 with the East African tribe in Kenya the Elgoni, who had a strong dreaming culture. They explained to Jung that there are little dreams and big dreams. For the Elgoni, big dreams were seen as collective dreams as the dreamer was dreaming for the community, for the landscape, and perhaps for the entire world. Sadly, the old medicine man that Jung consulted about the big dreams said that ‘since the whites were in Africa … no one had dreams any more. Dreams were no longer needed because now the English knew everything.’ As Jung comments, the divine voice that had counselled the tribe and who had gone with the arrival of the colonialists meant that the value of life now lay wholly in this world, showing ‘the spreading disintegration of an undermined, outmoded, unrestorable world.’

But in 2020 as ‘civilisation’ finally begins to confront its own disintegration and an outmoded way of living dreams can still offer deep meaning:

‘The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the psyche, 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 may extend…

All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal human dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There is still the whole, and the whole is in [the person], indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. Out of these all-uniting depths arises the dream, be it never so infantile, never so grotesque, never so immoral.’

The next few posts will be examples of ‘big dreams’ …