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The Dream as a code

The dream can be likened to a cartoon, which expresses or comments upon a situation by using images. The dream can also be likened to a strange language, which we have to translate to arrive at its meaning. As Nietzsche suggested, it may be that the dream is our own archaic language, which at one time was the universal thinking process of humans prior to speech. To some extent we can easily see the possible truth of this by a simple experiment. The experiment also helps us in understanding the language of dreams, and thus begins the process of interpretation.

The experiment is simply this – try to think without the use of words! To be more specific, imagine that you wish to tell someone that: ‘What most people call prophecy, if looked at rationally, is usually an unconscious analysis of present events, and our projection of their consequences into the future.

I have purposely given a rather difficult idea to use in the experiment, and it should be done now before reading on. Then one finds that without words, one is thrown back upon the use of images, symbols, dramatisation and depiction of various emotions. It would be interesting to know exactly how you have been able, if at all, to express the given idea about prophecy.

Here is how a dream has done it.

‘I was looking into a crystal ball, when suddenly I could see a whole file of men walking along some railway lines. I called John (the dreamer’s husband), and said “Look, there is a picture in the crystal!” He looked, but then pointed behind me, and I could see that what I saw in the crystal was only a reflection of what was actually going on in the street behind me.’

This experiment of expressing ourselves without words, is very important. It demonstrates a number of things necessary in dream interpretation. Firstly, it shows that the dream may be our heritage from the past. It could be the method of thought used prior to humanity’s use of words. If so, it suggests that human consciousness is stratified, and our present type of consciousness is built over and developed from the older level. It also clearly shows how we link up ideas such as ‘prophecy’ with an object such as a ‘crystal’. The complex idea of the future being a reflection of the present is dealt with by the clever positioning of several images in the dream. The difference between speculative and logical thinking is also expressed by the man and woman.

If we explore this idea a little further, we will quickly be able to see how a dream might be able to use common objects and events in our everyday life. Just as we have seen how a crystal expresses the idea of the future, or prophecy, our favourite armchair could express comfort or our sense of relaxation. To understand such things we have to be careful to investigate just exactly what we do feel or think about such things. For instance, our car is something we use to get from one place to another. It is a vehicle. In a sense, a school is also a vehicle, it transports us from ignorance to knowledge. But if we always feel ashamed when in our car, because it is shabby; then the car used in the dream represents our shame, our desire for better things.

Therefore we have to carefully note what our relationship with the dream symbols is. Our dream may not use our car, but just a car; when it becomes just a means of transport, about which we have no feelings except those in the dream. Similarly, if friends or acquaintances are pictured in dreams, then they are used because of the ideas and emotions we associate with them. Therefore, a friend who is always miserable and unsure of himself, represents our own feelings of uncertainty and misery. The warm emotional friend likewise is a symbol of our own feelings.

Sometimes dreams play on words and symbols together. Thus, if we dream of finding an old leather bag which did not belong to us, unlocking it with a key, only to find rotten and evil smelling food inside, this would be a very caustic comment on our sexual relationships. In effect it is saying, I picked up an ‘old bag’, had sexual intercourse with her, but found it unsatisfying and in the end, distasteful.

Although we have said that the dream may be a pre-language thinking, now that words have been added to our experience, the dream will naturally use them. In fact the dream uses any available material quite without our conscious sense of appropriateness. Thus, colours, words, images and feelings will all be collected to express what emerges from within as the dream. In most cases, however, we can arrive at the meaning of the symbols through our own associations with them. Of course, many symbols, like the crystal, would be almost universal, but they are only universal because enormous numbers of people have the same, or very similar, associated ideas concerning them. If one’s mother had used a crystal ball to hit one on the head as a child, it would no longer associate with prophecy, but punishment. A look at advertisements shows us how often such symbols are used to quickly convey a message without words. Thus a doctor or nurse expresses healing or sickness and the authority to support in your need – a lightning flash is energy, speed and power – a policeman, law, protection or conscience – an attractive  person of the opposite sex, sexual or emotional pleasures – and so on.

Very often, the dream picks up a theme from the day’s experiences, and uses it to illustrate some inner condition. The following dream is an example of this.

‘I was looking everywhere for some green stuff to eat. I saw a field of cabbages, but, as they were not mine, could not eat the leaves.’ A couple of days before, the dreamer had prepared a salad for dinner, as it was winter, and the family were getting few ‘living’ foods. So we see that the conscious concern over ‘living’ foods has been used as a symbol in the dream. Thus the search for green leaves represents a search for something of her own that is living. The woman had been wondering what her own personal capabilities in life were. As the dream shows, she will not be satisfied or feel happy by simply taking or copying what others have done, or eating the rewards of their labours.

One last thing about the use of symbols and our attempts to interpret. Some symbols may be used a number of times in different dreams. In such cases, or in analysis generally, we have to realise that a symbol is influenced by the symbols it is grouped with, and the way it is used. To understand this, if we realise that words are symbols of thoughts in daily life, we will see clearly what is meant. As a demonstration of how one symbol (word) can alter its meaning due to context, I do not think I can better the efforts of Leslie Weatherhead when he wrote:

“For instance, in Mesopotamia you might have an officer who had blue blood in his veins and who at Oxford had been a blue. Rarely would he be a blue after dark when the whiskey went round, unless of course he went out on the blue on some stunt or other. Then he might be in a blue funk, and the air would be blue with his language. But in time he would recover from his fit of the blues, get his leave and pay, and blue the whole of the latter in a single day of the former, and he wouldn’t spend it on blue stockings either.”

So when interpreting, although we have to understand each individual symbol, we also have to see that symbol in context with the rest of the dream. Only in this way can we understand it properly.

Listing Of Symbols

If we are working on our own dreams, we cannot simply lie on a couch and let somebody else ask us all the searching questions. We have to be the one asking the right questions, and the one on the couch finding the answers. In other words, we have to know what questions to ask ourselves, and also be able to relax and let spontaneous associations and replies come up. Now that something has been said about dreams in the earlier chapters, and the idea behind association of ideas dealt with, we can actually get down to the dream analysis.

So, we have had our dream, remembered it, and written it out fully. Our next step is to start the interpretation. To begin with, one of the best ways to do this is by listing the symbols. I will use a dream to demonstrate this that is fairly simple. Here is the dream: ‘I was lying in the bed that I slept in whilst on holiday. There were a lot of people round me and I had had a baby. Everybody seemed to be certain that I was going to die, and the child or children I had given birth to had been taken away. I thought that I would die (if I was going to die) when I expelled the afterbirth, but I didn’t seem to mind.’ The dreamer added the comment, ‘I had this dream during a fit of depression.’

‘Holiday bed’ is our first symbol. When this is written down, one must now ask oneself what this idea suggests. Some of the ideas that arose around this symbol are that one talks of ‘making one’s bed, and lying on it’. So a bed can stand for some condition that has been created, that we now have to face, This is suggested by the dream showing that it is the ‘holiday’ bed, pointing to some condition that occurred on holiday. This brought up the fact that just before going on holiday, the woman had received a letter from a friend she was deeply attached to. Part of the letter had so hurt her feelings that she had felt depressed all during the holiday. Here we have the ‘bed’ that was slept in on holiday. The dream is, in fact, pointing to the ‘fit of depression’.

Turning to the next symbol, we can call it ‘a lot of people’. This is associated with two things. It is all the parts of the dreamer’s life that are implicated in her depression. Also, all of those about her, who are likewise influenced. Other parts of one’s life are obviously involved in depression. One might usually he active and creative, writing letters to people, cooking extra treats for the family, etc., all of which are left undone during such feelings of unhappiness. Or at least, not done with the same spirit.

Then we come to ‘the baby’. In real life a baby is a blending of mother and father, and all they represent. A baby is a new thing that has been ‘born’ out of us and the circumstances we are involved in. The dreamer said that due to the pain caused by the letter, a new attitude had arisen to the person who had written it. We can definitely associate this with the baby. It had likewise been ‘born’ out of her present self, and her relationship with her friend. In fact, mystics have always spoken of their pupils as ‘spiritual children’. This usually referred to the relationship between the teacher and pupil. But we can see that the dream suggests a much deeper inter-relationship. When we enter the receptive or sensitive part of another human being, we often leave a seed there that develops into a new baby. a new attitude, an offspring of the relationship between us.

‘Death’ or ‘Dying’ is the next symbol. and in the light of what has already been said is not hard to understand. For with the birth of the ‘new attitude’ to her friend, she certainly begins to feel that her old feelings for the friend are dying. As she still associates herself strongly with these feelings, it is as if she is dying. If on the other hand, she could see that the old feelings are not worth holding on to because they were so susceptible to being hurt, her dream might have shown them as the death of an old friend.

The dream ends with the symbol of ‘the afterbirth’. The placenta is that which links our established body to the new growth. The new always develops out of the old – always builds itself out of the elements, nourishment, provided by the old. In this sense, the afterbirth can be seen as the in-between condition within the woman. She could not have given birth to a new attitude unless she was near to reaching those conclusions. It also suggests those parts of the affair that ‘hang on’ within one, even when the affair is over. Not until these have dropped away will the old die, and the new, more vigorous attitude come into its own.

Therefore, our list of symbols will look something like this:


When one makes one’s bed, one lies in it. The bed is my depression I felt on holiday. The dream is saying this is my bed. In other words, maybe I made this depression and had to experience it because of my own attitudes.


All the parts of my nature involved through my feelings of depression, and the Outer consequences of this.


The new attitude that has sprung from my pain.


All the feelings that are still hanging on concerning my hurt.


The disappearance or death of my old attitude.

From all that, we emerge with a very comprehensive message and analysis of the situation. Although not a long and complex dream, nevertheless, an enormous amount can be gathered from it. If we think of it as a letter to ourselves from our Self, we might write it out thus:

“The letter from P. hurt a great deal. But I could not have felt that hurt if I had not entertained the feelings about him I did. In a sense, I made ‘my own bed’ by thinking about him in that way. It followed that as soon as he did something that did not fit those feelings, they would be hurt.

Yet the hurt has been a positive thing, as it has ‘given birth’ to a new attitude that may help me see P. as he is, instead of as I wanted him to be. Obviously I am still hanging on to the old attitude, but there seems the promise that it will drop away from me. Then all the old attitude, along with its possibility of being so badly hurt, will die.”

Not all dreams are as straightforward to interpret as that one. Some dreams will be only half understood. Others always remain a mystery. The next dream is an example of a more difficult type. Where so many events and objects come into the dream instead of remaining closely bound in the one scene like the bedroom dream, it usually signifies a more complex dream.

In the dream, ‘A girl had been captured by a dwarf – she’d been in hospital previous to this. He was painting and made her help him, but took all her clothes. He made her help him climb on to a big platform. While he was painting someone came up through a trap door almost underneath her, and was shocked to find her there naked and frightened. He took her away, and he and his wife gave her some clothes – bundled her into them. They kept telling her the best way to get to London; but she didn’t really want to go there and kept protesting. They didn’t listen, thinking they were doing the right thing. They took her to the bus terminus and left her there, having told her several routes to London and suggested she either got a bus or a lift. She wandered around hoping no one would recognise her. All the buses seemed to be going to Black-heath. She went to a refreshment stand; the girl in front of her in the queue had orange squash, and asked “Would chips be very expensive?” She had orange squash and it cost 10d. A shop beside the stall was headed, “Christmas cards not decorations”. She went to a cafe – they were selling peas and Brussels sprouts or rolls.’

It should be explained that the dreamer had not been appearing in her dreams. Therefore we see it all occurring to ‘a girl’. The dreamer also made only these comments on the dream: ‘I suppose the girl represents me, or more likely some part or aspect of me. The dwarf seems to stand for ugliness, cruelty – the outside world? But I am obliged to help it. Rescue comes from below – my rescuer finds this part of me helpless and vulnerable – clothes it, but in the wrong things; helps it, but in the wrong way. From this I conclude that help for this part of me will not come from below. The rescuer offers ways but none of these is the right (acceptable?) way, and this part of me is not even sure it wanted to go on a journey – it only wants to keep itself hidden. I have no direct associations with “Blackheath” – except that it reminds me of Shakespeare’s “blasted heath” and just sounds a rather unpleasant place to go.

With its lack of outer associations, and length, the dream looks like a formidable problem to unravel, although this should not put one off attempting it. Even if only part of it is revealed, it is worth the effort.

Let us start with THE GIRL. In dealing with a dream like this, lacking associations, we have to let the dream itself do much of the explaining. For instance, if one saw a man’s hand holding a beautiful bunch of red roses, with a note attached saying, ‘With love’, would it need associations? In the dream ‘the girl’ is not the dreamer. She has also recently been in hospital. So immediately the images tell us that the dreamer has submitted to a healing regime recently, and also that she does not like to see herself mixed up with the things of her dream. For one usually only disguises oneself or appears incognito, if one does not wish to be ‘associated’ with the situation. In outer life the dreamer had just become really interested in her dreams, and we might tentatively associate this with the hospital or healing.


This can also be dealt with by looking at it as it appears in the dream. The dreamer’s associations are not satisfactory because they do not explain the dwarf in this dream context. That is stunted growth – painting – undressing the girl – making her help him to a high(er) platform. Taking the image as it is, it becomes self explanatory. It is a part of her that is faced as soon as she submits to the healing regime. It is stunted growth of creative masculine abilities that need her help to lift it to a higher level of expression. In contacting it, however, it unveils her helplessness; it strips away the clothing of pretence and delusion she had swathed herself in. and makes her see how she relates to it – in fear and trembling.

Put in words of a more understandable nature; each of us, man or woman, has something of the opposite sex in us. The logical, cool, constructive male, underneath has a world of emotions, irrational hopes, intuitions and softness usually only associated with women. On the other hand, an emotional, motherly, illogical woman, yet has within her constructive, logical, creative male characteristics. Joan of Arc is an extreme example of the strength and masculine power a woman can wield when her male qualities blend with her female self. While perhaps Schweitzer, with his gentleness, long suffering, and lovingness, is an example of the male female union. In the dreamer, however, this male creative part of her is stunted in growth. (In psychology this male aspect of a woman is called her animus. The female aspect of a man, anima.) This part of her seeks expression in art, in creativity, but has to force her co-operation by stripping off ideas, hopes, etc. This taking away of her orthodox attitudes frightens her; just as it might any person who, settled in a career that offers regular pay and security, suddenly feels a powerful urge to leave all this and take up some less ‘sensible’ job. Most people are ‘rescued’ from this frightening situation by similar means to the dreamer. Their ‘common sense saves them.

Moving on to the MAN AND WOMAN, we see that they fit this role of common sense, mum and dad, figures. They seem to be the easily shocked parents who try to do their inadequate best for the child. They represent orthodoxy, possibly gained from her parents.

But such orthodoxy ill suits her. The clothing fits poorly; the directions are not aligned with the dreamer’s inner desires. That such help arises from below, further suggests that these are orthodox habits of relationship acquired in childhood from home and school. Habits are notably motivated from the unconscious – we do such things unconsciously – without thinking.


Offers a more difficult symbol. It is, in the dream, recommended by the man and woman, so we can gain a little insight by aligning it with their possible attitudes. The orthodox usually prefer the accepted. the safe, known way of doing things. Therefore, if we think of London as a symbol of the centre of commerce, of worldly pleasure; the direction in which most people go when they wish to ‘make a name’ for themselves. Thus the dream begins to resolve into a representation of an inner conflict between two urges in the dreamer’s life. One is her own creative urge which frightens her because it tends to be unorthodox. This she has held back in growth due to her fear. The other urge is that of the orthodox desire to seek a more ‘sensible’ commercial career or at least, to be more concerned with outer life. As can be seen, this is a difficult decision to make due to the inner circumstances surrounding her own creative or inner nature. We can also see that the dream is concerned with very real problems in life, and with practical affairs. For if the dreamer chooses wrongly, she may remain unsatisfied for a very long time. As the dreamer says, ‘This part of me is not even sure it wanted to go on a journey – it only wants to keep itself hidden.’ This shows how we may prefer not to know about our real inner feelings because of the torment of decision they will require.

That the BUSES going to BLACKHEATH follow this, Is very explanatory of what the dreamer senses the consequence will be. All the buses are going to Blackheath, or ‘blasted heath’. This could be taken two ways, one being that any move to commerce or acceptance of outer instead of inner values would be a journey to a very black situation, or that consciousness of the decision cannot help but lead to a period of black despair. Possibly they are both true.

In regard to the last part of the dream, she says she ‘can make no sense’. I must admit I find this difficult also, made worse by not having been able to talk it over in length with the dreamer. Generally speaking, however, any search for food is a search for nourishment. Food and drink ‘sustain’ us, ‘feed’ us. Thus arose the saying, ‘Feed my lambs’, which in its religious setting means to sustain, to keep strong. the spiritual life of the flock. However, our dream does not have a religious setting. The episode of the refreshment stand follows upon the image of Blackheath and the dreamer’s ‘wandering around’. The feelings that arise from such images, if we place ourselves in them, is that of being lost, not knowing what to do, hopelessness. Certainly in such circumstances we would need sustaining, strengthening. If we ask ourselves how we sustain ourselves in such situations we see that some people use an effort of will, some reason about the situation, some pray, some visit a friend who cheers them up, some withdraw or hide the feelings by entertainment or outer activity. Without the dreamer’s comments on this, we do not know what she did, but the dream suggests that she feels the price may be too high, and buys only the least expensive of sustenance.

The next image in the dream is CHRISTMAS CARDS not DECORATIONS. Again we can only speculate on this due to the lack of associations. The fact that it follows the concern over the cost, may help; for Christmas cards are things we give and receive, unlike decorations which simply belong to us as adornment. So the dream image seems to suggest that if we are to receive help we must not count the cost. It is a matter of giving and receiving, of being willing to part with things, that life and events will bring its own reward. We send a Christmas card because we wish a friend to know we remember him. It is a self expression, not a concern over personal adornment, a making of our house, our self, more decorative. Then the decorations, of other people’s cards come naturally. So in applying this to the conflict, it says that in expressing what is in us, instead of simply worrying about seeing we are ‘decorated’ with security, things naturally come to us.


Seem even more bizarre until we see that they all have something in common. They are all round objects. Quite simply, a round thing suggests completeness, the full circle, the whole horizon, an ‘all round’ person. So through give and take we arrive at the condition where we can partake of a more complete, whole sustenance, which will, because of its completeness, help us through the decision. This interpretation may seem far fetched until we see, from analysis of many dreams, that a spherical shape often refers to completeness, integration or wholeness.

However, the interpretation of the dream is far less satisfying than the previous dream. This is because it lacks the comments of the dreamer in saying whether or not these interpretations really apply. It also lacks details about the dreamer’s life that would confirm or deny the conclusions. Nevertheless, it is a good example of how we can get at the possible meaning of the dream symbols if we fail to find helpful associations.

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