Joseph Campbell said, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” How many of us realize that the plots of the books and movies we love—even the most fantastic, dreamlike ones about imaginary times, places, people, and creatures (for example, The Wizard of Oz)—are commentaries on the inner life of every human being who ever existed? How often do we remember that a weird dream is not just a meaningless phenomenon but a personal message about the realities of our unconscious selves?
Looking for the psychological meanings of public myths and private dreams is a powerful way to train your intuition, heal yourself, and increase your wisdom. Sometimes you won’t like what you see: Who likes the Wicked Witch of the West? Yet, if you can imagine this story from a different perspective—as did the writers of the Broadway play Wicked who told it from her perspective—you’ll see how even the most terrifying villains can have benevolent intentions and teach valuable lessons. I’ll illustrate with a recent dream.
Dream #4346: A Dragon Wants to Enter The House
I’m in a house. My mother’s in the kitchen. A dragon is outside flapping its wings against the roof and banging against the walls of a room in the far left corner. I walk down the hall and stand in the doorway. The opposite wall looks like a garage door with windows in the top half. The dragon is hanging down from the roof, its gigantic head framed in the windows. One huge eye stares at me. Its open mouth is lined with pointy teeth.
As I turn away in fear it bangs on the window. I hear a crash. He must have broken through. I call out to my mother, “Run! We’ve got to get out of here!” This feels like Fred’s old house so I know the door to the garage is ahead and hope we can escape in my car. Then I realize I don’t have the keys. I ask my mother where they are and hear her voice saying they’re in the family room. Oh no! I’ll have to go back toward the dragon to find my keys.
I awoke with my heart pounding. Do you see how archetypal the symbols are? House? Kitchen? Mother? Dragon? Windows? Doors? Eye? Teeth? Keys? About the only things missing are a hero, some woods, a sword and a horse! This is a drama about the unfolding of my private myth. So far I understand that a powerful unconscious emotion (the dragon) is desperate for my ego’s attention. Although I’m gaining perspective on it (I glimpse it through windows separating me from the unconscious) I still fear it. It has something to do with the nurturing (kitchen) I received or didn’t receive from my mother, and also with my husband (I’m in the house where he grew up). Finally, the keys to this mystery relate to family (the keys are in the family room). For the next several days I’ll carry this dream with me, feeling its feelings, talking to its images, looking to developments in my waking life for new insights.
Why am I telling you this dream? You can’t possibly understand the complexities of my inner life, and even if I did, I wouldn’t share them all here. But I want you to see my trust in the benevolence of dreams, and I’d like to help you work with yours. So with the understanding that your responses say more about your inner life than mine, I welcome your projections. Perhaps I’ll share some of mine next time if I think they could be helpful.
I too have suffered from despair since childhood. It began at the age of 11 when my father died. To this day there are many occasions in my daily life when I cannot get excited about something because I know it will not last and my pleasure will not last and I will die and nobody will care and nothing I have done will make any difference, and so what?