Sigmund Freud as the father of the theory of the unconscious wrote the first description of dreaming and dreamwork in his series of lectures to the University of Vienna from 1915-1917, A General Introduction to Psycho-analysis. In it he explained that dreams are the “means of removing, by hallucinatory satisfaction, mental stimuli that disturb sleep” (P. 122). He believed dreams have meaning as wish-fulfillments and these come from instinctual drives- e.g. to have sex, to have power, to kill, to create and to die. He asserted in Totem and Taboo that pre-literate humans had taboos within their clan against incest and marrying within the totem. A totem is defined as the extended family beyond the nuclear family who share the same veneration for an animal for which they identified and revered, (e.g. the Bear Totem, the Wolf Totem). For these ancestors there was in their unconscious, when their instincts compelled them to outwardly act (to kill an enemy or to have sex with a woman of the clan), a conflict within due to the social taboos within the clan.
Freud and Jung theorized for post literate peoples living at the time of their popularity that when obsessive, recurrent or highly emotional dreams occur which are not normally associated with the personal associations or experience of the dreamer, then these they believed to be ‘archaic remnants’- thought forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life but seem to be aboriginal , innate and inherited patterns in the human mind. (The Undiscovered Self, Jung, 1957, p. 107).
Now 100 years later, we revisit their theories of dream interpretation, symbolism and how to work with dreams that have relevance to our current level of civilization. The hypothesis that complexes of opposite tendencies exist within the unconscious is a well known tenant of psycho-analytic theory. A conflict exists in modern humans- to act out feelings, drives or thoughts vs. to suppress/repress them. One only needs to see the prevalence of sexual assault, crimes of passion, murder and other criminal acts to see that we are not so very far removed from our ancestors in psychic disposition and many have acted on these impulses.
Furthermore, Carl Jung hypothesized that dreams had an additional purpose than just quelling the agitation that occurred during sleep due to instinctual conflicts. Dreams, he theorized, had a teleological purpose too- to bring one into contact with the Self or that concept of wholeness that achieves self-awareness and self-actualization. Jung asserted that dreams change the identity of the dreamer and motivate her to wholeness and completeness by reconciling opposites within her unconscious. For example, if Jane submits to another person such as a male co-worker at her daily job, her dream that following night may have a compensatory effect and she could dream that she is big, powerful and strong- capable of asserting her dominance over males. Jane’s behavior could then change the next day to asserting herself more at her job, if she had a good sense of self-esteem. Extending his theory of the unconscious and dreams beyond Freud’s description of it as a source of conflict, Jung hypothesized that dreams had the effect of resolving inner ambivalence by changing our identities and motivating us to change our behavior. Later on in Jung’ life near his death, he conceded that dreams may also have a way of getting us in contact with a field of consciousness in which deceased people exist and that we should investigate parapsychological phenomena objectively. (The Undiscovered Self, p. 26). Furthermore, Jung believed that man’s self knowledge today is rather limited knowledge, most of it dependent on social factors of what goes on in the human psyche. (The Undiscovered Self, p. 5).
Jung goes on to assert: “I have spent more than half a century investigating natural symbols, and have come to the conclusion that dreams and their symbols are not stupid or meaningless. On the contrary, dreams provide you with the most interesting information if you only take the time to study their symbols”, (The Undiscovered Self, p. 143)
Dreams’ symbolic meanings and the amplification of dream images can be correlated with developmental tasks that challenge us along the whole continuum of the life cycle from birth to age 72. In my new book, Life Passages: Where Dreams and Age Point Progressions Coincide (2017), I give volunteer examples of dreams that are pre-cognitive, reflect developmental challenges, and represent visitations from deceased persons. I use the technique of Age Point Progression (see Joyce Hopewell’s book on Using Age Progression, 2013) , a Huber methodology practised in Astrological Psychology, to pinpoint what life tasks reflect the psychological crisis that the dream symbolizes at the time that the dream occurs.