Dream Symbols of Transition and Transformation


Inner work causes gradual changes in our inner and outer lives. When an important change has occurred, the Self may send a “big” dream to let us know our work is paying off and to furnish the energy and motivation to continue. Following are some symbols we might expect to see in these dreams.
Dreams use symbols as metaphors for what’s going on in our unconscious and are rarely meant to be taken literally. For example, death is an important symbol that often depicts the end of an old outmoded aspect of our personality or phase of growth. Likewise, the birth of a baby usually symbolizes the emergence of healthy new life.
After a time of inner work we may have an important dream of transition that deals with our acceptance of our anima, or unconscious feminine side. Perhaps we befriend a woman we have previously disliked, or are attracted to an especially unusual and interesting woman. Likewise, a dream about accepting our animus, or unconscious masculine side, might feature men who initially feel threatening but become more friendly; or perhaps we are in an intimate relationship with an especially attractive man. Allowing our femininity and masculinity to merge and overlap as equal inner partners is how we empower our souls to become all they can be. It is also a major step forward in healing our relationships.
Dreams about the union between our feminine and masculine aspects often use the symbol of the wedding.  In his book The Kingdom Within, Jungian analyst John A. Sanford says the most auspicious wedding dream is one in which the dream ego is not too directly involved. When the ego plays the role of the bride or groom, it suggests an “inflated” ego that’s a bit self-important and full of itself.  What matters most is that we be invited to attend the wedding. This suggests our ego is heeding the call of the Self to witness the sacred joining of our inner opposites without taking credit for this miraculous gift.
Other symbols of transformation include the moon (which is transformed each month from a tiny, silver sliver into a full, glowing orb), bears (which have always held sacred meaning because of their hibernation, or death, each winter and their apparent rebirth each spring), and snakes (which shed their old skins, or old lives, and grow new ones). These symbols are archetypal; that is, the meaning attached to them is so universally accepted that we know they come from the collective unconscious. They are also associated with the Self, which is ultimately responsible for our inner transformations.
A dream about an initiation, a dramatic change in direction, a visit to a spectacular garden beneath the ocean, or a dynamic nuclear reaction at the earth’s core also probably signifies that some important life-changing transformation has occurred deep within our unconscious world. While the exact nature of the change my not be immediately apparent, dreams like this fill us with hope and bring special meaning to our lives. It is enough to know that our inner work is paying off in an especially potent way.
Note: This post is an adaptation of a section about “big” dreams from my book, Dream Theatres of the Soul. Since I wrote it, other symbols have appeared in my dreams to suggest important life changes. Do you have any to contribute to this list?

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0 Responses

  1. Jean points out several common symbols I often see in dreams of transformations in my dreamwork. Although as Jungians we should never take any symbol as concrete in its application I have found these to ‘fit’ with the dreamer’s waking life experiences. I don’t just assume this to be true, I have the benefit of confirmation in responses to an interpretation by the dreamer. If it fits the dreamer’s waking experiences they often recognze it, and understand it to be a proper interpretation. What better way to determine the meaning of symbols within a dream, confirmation by the dreamer of the interpretation of the symbol and their dream?
    Jean notes the use of these symbols in her life from her book ‘Dreams Theatres of the Soul’. This book was an influence in my understanding of dream symbols early in my education in Jungian psyche. A simple book by most standards but so rich in knowledge. It helped awaken those intuitive forces within my psyche, a natural attraction to the world of dreams and psyche, something I never knew existed until my own transformation. Death and birth, bears and moons, snakes and weddings, what was once a confusing array of nonsensical imagery giving new meaning to what I was experiencing. ‘Jung got it right’ but it is the sages who have followed up on his legacy that have provided the ‘layperson’ with the ability to understand. Jean is one of these sages and we should recognize her contributions.

    1. Dear mythsdreamssymbols,
      Thank you for the important reminder that the meaning of any symbol always depends on the dreamer’s associations and its correspondence with the dreamer’s current waking life experience, not someone else’s projections. Every symbol has 3 levels of meaning — personal, cultural and archetypal — and all three should be considered. The dreamer’s intuitive “resonance” or “Aha!” is the ultimate arbiter.
      Thank you also for the extremely kind words about my book and my work! It is such a joy to know I’ve contributed to a psycho-spiritual awakening which reveals a whole new world of experience and meaning and uses an entirely new language of which we were previously unaware. This is exactly what I hope to do with this blog and my next book. Synchronistically, this different “language of the soul” is also the topic of an upcoming blog post. I hope you’ll stop by again and add your considerable sage wisdom to it!

  2. Not sure if this is archetypal, but the presence of water for cleansing. For me, having to take a different path in a dream that required the inconvienence of walking through water symbolized a new path I was taking that would require a cleansing of old patterns and practices.

    1. Hi Rob,
      Yes, ritual washing and cleansing is certainly an archetypal image used by every religion and an important dream image of transition. So is choosing to take a different path, whether in or out of the water. Both suggest the dreamer has attained a new level of hard-won consciousness. Thank you so much for adding these to our list!
      My best wishes to you as you progress on your own journey,

  3. I dream at frequent intervals of spiders, snakes and also bears. I have also had the not-infrequent experience of hypnogogic and hypnopompic visions of the same creatures, as well as small dragons.
    However, the dreams that alarm me are the ones that involve floods, deluges and tidal waves. They always seem to presage a tumultous change in my life, usually a relocation and a rewriting of my life.
    food for thought.

  4. Hi Viv,
    Jung noted that spiders, snakes and bears are often symbols of the Self. When I fear these in my dreams I always ask myself what aspect of the Self has recently emerged into my consciousness and why is my ego afraid of it? If my dream ego is not afraid of them I am heartened that I’ve achieved a new level of comfort with my unconscious self.
    At one point in my inner work I had a plethora of floods, deluges, tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcano eruptions in my dreams. Writing them down, dating them, and paying attention to what was going on in my life then showed me that they always had to do being swamped or overwhelmed with powerful emotions I was afraid of feeling and expressing.
    Eventually I realized these dreams were coming at a time of tumultuous outer and inner conflict (For one thing, I was very torn between my need for job security and my profound dissatisfaction with my work; I was teaching college and wanted to write a book. Other waking life factors were also involved. ) Anyway, these dreams often presaged unwanted emotional outbursts!! It took a while for me to learn to see these emotions and find healthy ways to express them before the lid blew off the pot, but when I did, the dreams stopped. I can’t tell you how encouraging this was!
    Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I hope my observations are helpful.

    1. Curiously, neither in dreams nor in real life, am I at all afraid of spiders or snakes. My older brother is an entomologist and admitting to being scared of anything meant it usually ended up in my bed when we were children. I’ve handled both tarantulas and house spiders without much concern, and have picked up snakes in the wild.
      Bears, of course, I would be cautious of, naturally, but have no fear of them beyond what good sense demands.
      The visionary spiders and snakes I have seen as friendly allies, in a shamanic sense, and am glad to see them.
      yes, your commen is very helpful!

      1. I got a good chuckle imagining spiders and snakes in your childhood bed! I suspect your comfort with these kinds of creatures says a lot about your psychological courage! I see my bears, snakes and horses, as allies in a shamanic sense too. While I haven’t seen them in visions, my dreams about them are always especially instructive and meaningful. I love knowing their power and guidance dwell not only without but also within. So glad you found meaning in my comment.

  5. I’m not clear on symbols of transcendence and Jung’s ‘transcendent function’. can you clarify… and maybe give some simple examples?

    1. Sure, Bett. By ‘transcendent function,’ Jung meant the part of every psyche that longs to rise above the personal to unite with the transpersonal Mystery we call God. He called our desire and capacity to ‘grow into God’ the Self; and he described the Self as our God-image.
      As the core and circumference of the psyche, the Self is the source of our dream symbols and the fear and trembling, awe and wonder we feel when we have an experience that convinces us we are known and loved by something far greater than our ego selves.
      Jungian analyst Karen Signell says symbols of the Self reflect four major ideas: love, union, wholeness and pattern. To others are life-giving energy and centrality. A classic symbol of pattern is a honeycomb with its hexagonal chambers. Union could be suggested by bridges, passageways or weddings. Love, by hearts, red roses, and embraces. Centrality by a round table with a rose or other symbol in the center. And so on.
      Thank you for asking. I hope this helps.

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