Big dreams


Odin: god of war

Big dreams

‘The big dream feels significant.

The big dream is the kind the president has.

He wakes and tells it to the secretary,

Together they tell it to the cabinet,

And before you know there is war.’

Louis Simpson

Although John Sanford thinks that all dreams have some significance certainly some ‘big dreams’ stand out for all of us. Both Thomas Merton and Carl Jung had some of these – as did Sigmund Freud, but it is here that how the dream is interpreted is central. For example, a big dream will be understood and analysed differently by a spiritual seeker than by a narcissist or power hungry general. Too often wars and revolutions, economic crises and political upheavals are only described in terms of the apparently rational causes leading up to them. This is inevitably then a partial view that leaves out the unconscious. History happens by collective forces operating through individuals, and so particularly influential are the prophets, seers, dictators and demagogues – who through some sort of myth-making can hugely influence millions of people.

The Jungian analyst Anthony Stephens sees how the mythology that springs up around such powerful people is made of visions and dreams. Such forces and manifestations are not always understood, and the consequences can be dire. One of the demagogues who inflicted most suffering on the twentieth century was Adolf Hitler who described himself as a somnambulist whose footsteps were guided by Providence. In 1917 he had a dream and in 1938 a vision which he believed confirmed the exalted role that Destiny had prepared for him.

In the dream when he was serving in the Bavarian Infantry on the Somme, he had a nightmare: he dreamt he was being buried under an avalanche of earth and molten iron. Waking up Hitler left the dugout in search of air – leaving the trench he felt he was not acting of his own free will, but rather being led. When the enemy guns fired, he threw himself to the ground, and then after hurried back to the trench to find that a direct hit meant that his comrades had either been blown to bits or buried alive. From the dream, Hitler felt he was special and had been entrusted with a divine mission.

The vision took place 21 years later after he had occupied Austria and stood on a balcony in front of a huge hysterical crowd.

‘In a highly emotional state, he gazed skywards and received a clear impression of Odin, the old German war god, looking down on the tumultuous scene and pointing imperiously to the East. Hitler took this apparition as an affirmation from on high for his plans to invade Russia … he failed to work on the deeper meaning of this visitation.’

Hitler lacked any insight on his own manic quest for world domination, and as Stephens suggests choose the wrong and unreliable god (Odin) to trust. He lacked objectivity and humility, and allowed the dream and vision to confirm his faith in his own special mission and his belief in his invulnerability, firmly convinced he was under divine protection. In fact, the earlier dream could have been prophetic of what was his true destiny – death and destruction during a bombardment in an underground bunker but not until after terrible widespread death and destruction.