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The Personal vs. the Archetypal Interpretation of Dreams

Often is most difficult to understand, or even to determine, which aspect of a dream should be sought when looking for an interpretation. It has been said often that all dreams have at least two interpretations. What is meant by this is the dream messsage as it has to do with the permanent conditions within your own psyche as they relate to the temporal conditions of your life right now. As an example put forth by Joseh Campbell,

"you may be worried about whether you are going to pass an exam. Then you have a dream of some kind of failure, and you find that failure will be associated with many other failures in your life. They are all piled up together there. Freud says even the most fully expounded dream is not really fully expounded. The dream is an exhaustible source of spiritual information about yourself.
Now the level of dream of "Will I pass the exam?" or "Should I marry this girl?" - that is purely personal. But, on another level, the problem of passing the exam is not simply a personal problem. Everyone has to pass a threshold of some kind. That is an archetypal thing. So there is a basic mythological theme there even though it is a personal dream. These two levels - the personal aspect and then the big general problem of which the person's problem is a local example - are found in all cultures."

So the dream is doing two things at once using the same symbols to address both things. On one hand it is addressing the purely personal aspects of your life, the daily experiences that you must confront, an exam at school, pressure from your job, etc. On the other hand the dream is addressing those aspects that are deeper, influences and experiences that have to do with who you are as a person, the whole experience of your life and the evolution of that life. The fear failure of passing an exam is a part of the daily personal life. But when you look deeper there is often other failures, or fears, that are a result from experiences from earlier life, often childhood. These deeper issues are often the dragons that you must confront and overcome before there can be true wholeness in your life. If as a child there was mental or physical abuse and these experiences have not be reconciled, your dreams will attempt to present these to you so you can realize that they are there.

Perhaps a good example is the scandals we so often read about where Catholic priests sexually abuse children under their trust. These children often go through life carrying these experiences with them, living failed lives because of them, not really knowing what it is that makes their life so empty. Suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, failed relationships, all these have been documented as
experiences with these adults, the children who have grown up but have not fully developed because of the lost trust, not only from their spiritual mentors {prists} but the trust in themselves.

When the first reported cases of these abuses came to light, others who had experienced the same type of abuse started to speak out. Many had lived their lives knowing of the abuse but were afraid to say anything. Who would believe them over the words of a priest? Others blocked out the whole experience, consciously, what is often knwon as repression. But unconsciously they continued to wrestle with the experiences. And in their dreams these past experiences are being played out, in diifferent metaphorical experssions, trying to convey to the conscious mind the obstacles that are preventing them from being whole.

So, which is it that one should give attention to when interpreting a dream? The answer of course is both. Not all have such traumatic experiences as mentioned above with abuse. But we all have our demons, on what scale is left to the personal life. Look at your dream and compare it to your waking life. See what it may be addressing on a purely personal aspect first. And then determine what it is that is the deeper issues in your life. Those issues may not be life threatening but in some sense they are preventing you from being that whole self.


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Re: The Personal vs. the Archetypal Interpretation of Dreams

this is beautiful Gerald. I've often wondered how long does one pay attention to any specific dream.
Your information puts a bit of a different light on the subject. Recently, I've noticed that I had dreams that warned me of decisions I was making, up to 6 to 12 months before I made the decision!
These dreams were based on one archeytpe ( goddess )that kept showing up. For as much as she belongs to the world - on a spiritual level I was being warned.
Very interesting subject and I'd like to compliment you on all your hard work.

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