Women in Men's Dreams


Some years ago, a very successful and talented friend of mine began to experience a crisis of meaning. As he became more receptive to his inner life he found himself drawn to Jungian psychology and dreamwork. One night he had the following dream.

An odd chase dream. I am with a woman…no one I know. I am being pursued by a very large bear. I have a thin spear-like stick with which to defend myself. The woman points out to me a very sharp, but very thin and small, piece of metal on the ground. It is like a piece of broken razor blade. I have to search for it a bit on the ground, where it is entangled with leaves, twigs, etc. I have it and force it into the end of the stick. The bear, I sense is close at hand, but I can’t see it…I never see it. I do see various cast shadows of it, almost like cut shots in a film, one of its powerful open jaws. I jab and feint at locations near me where, based on the cast shadows, I feel I might hit the bear. I never do. Shift. I am a woman. I awaken.

I haven’t discussed this dream with my friend, who was amazingly generous to share it with me, so I do not know what it means to him; nor can either of us possibly know its fullest meaning. The best I can do is tell you what it would mean to me if it were my dream. So here goes.

For me this extraordinary dream illustrates the archetypal drama of being compelled to move out of familiar territory (he is being chased by a bear), and accepting help from our feminine side (an unknown woman companion helps him), so as to be empowered to become an authentic Spirit Warrior (he is forced to look for a weapon with which to defend himself against an animal which feels dangerous and threatening). This new problem with its accompanying discomfort and uncertainty makes it necessary to develop creative new resources (the unusual weapon).

The woman in this dream (his anima, or unconscious feminine side, and possibly a suggestion of the archetypal Great Mother) helps by pointing out the sharp piece of metal (a product of masculine, man-made technology) which is entangled on the ground among leaves and twigs (feminine symbols of the natural world). He searches for the piece of metal (possibly a pun suggesting he is searching for his mettle, i.e. courage to honor his true self and live authentically), and then finds a creative way to unite the two objects, man-made metal and Mother Nature’s stick, into one useful weapon which he uses to jab at shadows: i.e. his shadow.

It would appear that when my friend had this dream his ego was trying to figure out how to deal with an aspect of his shadow — perhaps an instinct (suggested by the bear) or regressive tendency — against which it wanted to defend itself. I have no idea what the characteristics of his particular shadow are, but the dream makes it very clear that because he followed the guidance of his inner feminine and found a creative way to unite the opposites, (masculine technology, feminine biology), not only did he find a way to protect himself, but for one, brief moment he was able to identify with his feminine side by actually becoming a woman.

What could this mean? Does this suggest a positive development in this man’s psyche? If so, why would accepting help from a woman and briefly “becoming a woman” be important to a man’s psychological and spiritual development? Next time I’ll answer these important questions from the perspective of Jungian psychology.

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0 Responses

  1. The bear itself is a very symbolic creature; the mother bear was said to give form to her offspring by licking them into shape.

    1. Yes, indeed, Viv. Thanks for this association. So one way of thinking about the combination of the bear and the unknown woman could suggest some kind of maturing development in his psyche involving the nurturing aspects of the feminine unconscious.

  2. The dream says he could neither see the bear nor hit it … which reminds me of a story told by Heinrich von Kleist, about a bear who never moved when the feints of his would-be attacker were not meant in earnest, and moved so intuitively when attacked that it was impossible to hit him. You can find it here, towards the end of the narrative: http://thingsthatquickentheheart.blogspot.de/2011/11/on-puppet-theater.html
    What struck me as weird in the dream is that the dreamer actually thought he could fight a very large bear with a broken razorblade mounted on a thin stick. 😉 How effective would that be in a real fight? Especially when the bear is “very close by”, how much time would the dreamer have to look for a small piece of metal on the ground and join it to his stick? (Freudians would probably see a lot of phallic symbolism here. 😉 )
    It seems to me he feels overwhelmed by some force he cannot really see – which might turn out to be an ally rather than a menace, maybe symbolizing his own strength that he has not yet owned – and the weapons that are at his command are painfully inadequate to deal with the challenge. But then the miracle happens and he turns into a woman. To me this would suggest that he thinks he has to meet the challenge with traditional “male” resources – weapons and fighting. But the weapon is useless against an opponent much larger and stronger than himself, whom he cannot even see properly – much less hit -, so the more “feminine” arts of magic and shapeshifting seem to be better suited to deal with the situation.
    One way to do dreamwork with this dream would be to shapeshift into the bear to see what he is actually after, and also the woman, whose role I feel is rather ambiguous.
    I’d love to know what happened after he had the dream, if you are at liberty to tell …
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Hi Zarah,
    Your many observations are a perfect example of how to approach a dream: playing with associations, no answers, lots of questions, noticing your intuitions, and always coming back to the imagery of the dream. Dreams are one of Nature’s most eloquent ways of speaking to Spirit, and our (ego’s) role is to mediate in this dialogue without making premature judgments.
    Thank you also for providing the link to the marvelous von Kleist story of the puppets, the boy and the bear. The thing these all have in common is that they all celebrate the awakening process (which Jung called individuation and the alchemists called the ‘magnum opus’) and the end state of “returning to the place where you began and knowing it for the first time” to paraphrase T.S. Eliot: i.e. from the pure Nature/animal/instinctual being to the fully conscious being who then understands the grace and gift of being a natural/animal/instinctual being and finds a way to balance Nature and Spirit!
    At some level, all dreams portray characteristics and phases of this universal process: examples from this dream include the struggle to tame one’s instincts and the need to integrate one’s contrasexual opposites, etc. And yes, at the beginning of a new phase, one often “feels overwhelmed by some force he cannot really see”, which may indeed “turn out to be an ally rather than a menace.”
    I love your suggestion about roleplaying the bear and the woman. This is not only a very helpful way to gain more information, but also a great example of the value of getting the body involved in the work (a direction which is, in fact, suggested by the dream imagery) instead of limiting dreamwork to mental activity only.
    I can tell you that when the dreamer told me this dream he was in therapy. In subsequent years he made several life changes which required a great deal of courage and continued to serve the expanding of his consciousness. At the moment he is enjoying a peaceful retirement.
    Thank you for sharing your thought-provoking associations.

  4. I found the dream fascinating, your discussion of possible meanings in the dream enriching, and your dialogue in the comments section meaningful. Thinking about all this I wonder if one can say dreams are our ‘second’ life, or ‘echo,’ or twin. The idea of going into the dream, from different perspectives, is something like non-linear storytelling isn’t it? The imagination being integral to perceiving… What a free gift these dreams are and most people (thinking of myself here) take them very much for granted.

    1. Thank you very much, Steven. Your question about dreams being our second life or echo is a very insightful one. I would slightly rephrase my answer to say that dreams are images of, and messages from, our unconscious self, which may indeed be seen as the twin of our conscious self. As an interesting aside, I titled an earlier version of my newest book The Soul’s Twins. For me, there are many levels of collaborative twinship within the psyche: conscious and unconscious, ego and shadow, masculine and feminine, soul and spirit are the main ones.
      I love your comparison of this approach to dreamwork to non-linear storytelling. Yes!! Our left brain’s linear thinking and story-telling and our right brain’s perceptions and imagination are always carrying on a dialogue in the “nous,” that middle place between the opposites, and this becomes very easy to see when we take our dreams seriously.
      Dreams are indeed a free gift and it truly is unfortunate that so few of us invite that dialogue into our waking lives. To use the language of alchemy, facilitating a conscious interaction between our inner and outer opposites is how we find the “philosopher’s stone” and achieve our “magnum opus.”

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