Children's Dreams Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936-1940 by C. G. Jung
Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008 Princeton University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-691-13323-2
On the Method of Dream Interpretation (Professor Jung)
Professor Jung: In this seminar we will deal primarily with the dreams of children. In addition, some books about the significance of dreams will be discussed.
All of the dreams with which we will concern ourselves have been contributed by the participants. In most cases they were remembered by adults from their childhood, and were not obtained from the children themselves. This poses a difficulty as, in the case of remembered dreams, we can no longer ask the children themselves but have to resort to other means in order to enrich the dream material and to understand the dream. But we are also in a difficult situation when we record dreams from children directly. We must always reckon with the possibility that the child does not supply any information at all or, for instance, does not have associations because of being frightened by the dream. Furthermore, it lies in the nature of the earliest dreams of childhood that one usually does not get related associations: they are a manifestation of a part of the unconscious, standing alien in time. These early dreams in particular are of the utmost importance because they are dreamed out of the depth of the personality and, therefore, frequently represent an anticipationof the later destiny. Subsequent dreams of children become more and more unimportant, except when the dreamer is destined for a special fate. During puberty and until the twentieth year, dreams become more important again, then they lose importance, and finally they carry more and more weight again after the thirty-fifth year. This does not apply to all persons, but to the majority of cases. I would like to ask you to search your own memory if you can still remember the first dream of your life. Many remember dreams from their fourth year, others even from the third year. Maybe you could also ask your acquaintances and friends if they remember their first dreams. You should then also note what you know about the later lives of the dreamers, and also what you know about their families-if you know them-and whether you happened to notice any peculiarities among these.
Before starting our discussion of the individual dreams, I would like to make a few remarks on the method of dream interpretation.
As you know, the dream is a natural phenomenon. It does not spring from a special intention. One cannot explain it with a psychology taken from consciousness. We are dealing with a particular way of functioning independent of the human ego's will and wishes, intention or aim. It is an unintentional occurrence, just like everything occurring in nature. So we also cannot assume that the sky gets clouded only to annoy us; it simply is as it is. The difficulty is, however, to get a handle on that natural occurrence.
It seems best to be as unprejudiced as possible when we let things influence us. Yet anything we have to say about the event is still our interpretation. We are in the same situation as any natural scientist, who also deals with phenomena that do not reveal their meaning and conformity with a natural law. Any meaning given to what happens comes from us. We are facing the difficult task of translating natural processes into psychical language. To this end we have to use auxiliary and approximate terms for want of others, and make hypotheses.... But there always remains the doubt whether we have truly succeeded in giving a picture of what happens. One could, of course, argue that all of this has no meaning at all. If anything is subjective anyway, then one could as well say that nature does not conform to laws, that there is chaos. It is, however, a question of temperament whether to assume a meaning, even if one may not understand it yet, or to prefer saying: "All of this has no meaning anyway." But one can also be of the opinion that, although each interpretation may always be a human assumption about what is happening, one can still try to find out the truth about it. Yet we can never be sure to achieve that aim. This uncertainty can partly be overcome, however, by inserting a meaning into other equations and then checking whether the results of these equations are in accordance with that meaning. We can thus make an assumption about the meaning of one dream, and then see whether this attribution of a meaning also explains another one, that is, if it is of more general significance. We can also make control tests with the help of dream series. I would actually prefer to deal with children's dreams in dream series because when we investigate dreams in series, we most often find confirmation or corrections of our original assumptions in the following dreams. In dream series, the dreams are connected to one another in a meaningful way, as if they tried to give expression to a central content from ever-varying angles. To touch this central core is to find the key to the explanation of the individual dreams. It is not always so easy, however, to delimit a dream series. It is a kind of monologue taking place under the cover of consciousness. This monologue is heard, so to speak, in the dream, and sinks down during the periods when we are awake. But in a way the monologue never ends. We are quite probably dreaming all the time, but consciousness makes so much noise that we no longer hear the dream when awake. If we succeeded in making a complete list [of the unconscious processes], we could see that the whole describes a certain line. It is a very difficult task when done thoroughly.
The way we explain dreams is primarily a causal one. We are inclined to explain nature in such a way. Here this method meets enormous difficulties, however, because we can explain in a strictly causal way only when the necessity of a correlation between cause and effect can be proven. But this clear relation can be found, above all, in so-called inanimate nature. Whenever phenomena can be isolated and subjected to experiments, when, in other words, uniform conditions can be established, strict attributions of cause and effect can be made. In the case of biological phenomena, however, we are hardly able to ascertain a disposition that would lead, of necessity, to certain effects. For here we are facing such complex material, such a diversity and complexity of conditions, that no unequivocal causal connections can be maintained. Here the term conditional is much more appropriate, that is, such and such conditions can lead to such and such effects. It is an attempt to replace strict causality with an interwoven action of conditions, to extend the unequivocal connection between cause and effect with a connection open to many interpretations. Thus causality as such is not abolished, but only adapted to the multilayered material of life. We have to take into account that the psyche, like all biological phenomena, is of a goal-oriented, purposive nature. This does not at all contradict the previously mentioned opinion that the dream is something unintentional. There we laid stress on the fact that natural phenomena occur unconsciously, independent of consciousness. This does not preclude the developing forms of the psyche from being determined by unconscious purposiveness. We cannot but assume that the fundamental nature has always been there already, and that everything that occurs is only a purposive unfolding of this primal disposition. Even things that seem to be completely unpurposive in the psychical or biological fields can be examined as to their possible purposiveness. Ancient medicine, for instance, thought that fever is, in all circumstances, a symptom of illness to be fought against. Modern medicine knows that it is a complicated and purposive defense phenomenon, and not the noxa that causes the illness. In working with dreams, too, we have always to keep in mind this aspect of inner purposiveness of what is happening. In this sense, we may talk about the unconscious goal orientation of the dream process, in noting that these are not conscious goals, not intentions like those of consciousness, but purposive automatisms that, like cell reactions, cannot be other than purposive.
* * *
The dream is no unequivocal phenomenon. There are several possibilities of giving a meaning to a dream. I would like to suggest to you four definitions, which are more or less an extract of the various meanings I have come across that dreams can have.
1. The dream is the unconscious reaction to a conscious situation. A certain conscious situation is followed by a reaction of the unconscious in the form of a dream, whose elements point clearly, whether in a complementary or a compensatory way, to the impression received during the day. It is immediately obvious that this dream would never have come into being without the particular impression of the previous day. The dream depicts a situation that originated in a conflict between consciousness and the unconscious. In this case, there is no conscious situation that would have provoked, more or less without doubt, a particular dream, but here we are dealing with a certain spontaneity of the unconscious. To a certain conscious situation the unconscious adds another one, which is so different from the conscious situation that a conflict between them arises.
2. The dream represents that tendency of the unconscious that aims at a change of the conscious attitude. In this case, the counterposition raised by the unconscious is stronger than the conscious position: the dream represents a gradient from the unconscious to consciousness. These are very significant dreams. Someone with a certain attitude can be completely changed by them.
3. The dream depicts unconscious processes showing no relation to the conscious situation. Dreams of this kind are very strange and often very hard to interpret because of their peculiar character. The dreamer is then exceedingly astonished at why he is dreaming this, because not even a conditional connection can be made out. It is a spontaneous product of the unconscious, which carries the whole activity and weight of the meaning. These are dreams of an overwhelming nature. They are the ones called "great dreams" by the primitives. They are like an oracle, "somnia a deo missa." They are experienced as illumination.
Dreams of this last kind also appear before the breakout of mental illness or of severe neuroses, in which suddenly a content breaks through by which the dreamer is deeply impressed, even if he does not understand it. I remember such a case from before the [First] World War:
I was visited by an old man, a professor of canon law at a Catholic university. He made a dignified impression, like the old Mommsen. He had business to do with me and, when this had been dealt with, said to me, "I have heard that you are also interested in dreams?" I told him, "This is part of my business." I sensed that his soul was consumed by a dream, which he then actually recounted. He had had this dream many years before, and it preoccupied him again and again.
He is on a mountain-pass road, winding along a precipice. Below there is a canyon. The road is secured against the canyon by a wall. The wall is made of Parian marble with its antique yellowish tinge, as he notices at once. At this moment he sees a strange figure dancing downward on the wall, a naked woman with the legs of a chamois, a "fauna." She then jumps down into the precipice and disappears. Then he awakens.
This dream preoccupied him immensely. He had already told it to many people.
* * *
Another dream is from a thirty-year-old man, who consulted me because of neurasthenia, which had set in quite suddenly; he had been a prince's tutor and had had a nervous breakdown in this hard duty. I was intrigued by the fact that this neurasthenia-usually already present before in these cases, and then only getting worse over time-should have set in so suddenly. I asked him what happened at the time when he got the vertigo and the pains. At first he said that nothing special had occurred. I asked him about his dreams during that period. Then it surfaced that he had had a strange dream, whereupon the illness broke out.
He is going for a walk on a dune and suddenly discovers black shards on the ground. He lifts them; they are prehistoric pieces. He goes home, fetches a spade, begins to dig up the ground, and discovers a whole prehistoric settlement, weapons and tools, stone axes, and so on. He is immensely fascinated and awakens sweating with excitement.
The dream recurred, and then the patient broke down. He was a young Swiss.
In psychotherapeutic treatment, certain elements can appear already weeks or months or years earlier, not yet connected at all to consciousness; these are direct products of the unconscious.
As you notice, I differentiate dream processes according to how the reactions of the unconscious stand in relation to the conscious situation. One can detect the most various transitions, from a reaction of the unconscious determined by the elements of consciousness, to a spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious. In the latter case, the unconscious proves to be a creative activity, in which it lets contents ascend into consciousness that have not yet been present there.
One usually assumes that the content of the dream stands in relation to consciousness, assuming that, for instance, conscious psychical contents are associatively linked to unconscious ones. This is what gave rise to the theory that the dream has to be explained solely out of consciousness, and that the unconscious as such is a derivative of consciousness. But this is not so; actually, the exact opposite is the case: the unconscious is older than consciousness. Primitive man lives to a great extent in unconsciousness, and we too, by the way, spend a third of our lives in the unconscious: we dream or doze. The unconscious is what is originally given, from which consciousness rises anew again and again. Consciousness, being conscious, is work that exhausts us. One is able to concentrate only for a relatively short time, therefore, only to fall back into the unconscious state again; one lapses into dreams or unintentional associating. It is, in Faust's words: "Formation, Transformation, / Eternal minds in eternal recreation." Thus there are dreams in whose contents no relation to consciousness can be detected, and whose whole activity is located in the unconscious. Everything-the motive of the dream and its activity-springs from the unconscious and cannot be derived from consciousness. When you want to "force" such a dream and make it into a derivative of consciousness, you simply violate the dreaming of the dream, resulting in complete nonsense.
Dream processes follow from several causes and conditions. There are about five different possible sources:
1. They can stem from somatic sources: bodily perceptions, states of illness, or uncomfortable body postures. They can be bodily phenomena that, for their part, are caused themselves by quite unconscious psychical processes. The ancient dream interpreters made a great deal of the somatic source of stimuli, and this explanation is still frequently found today. Experimental psychology still takes the view that dreams always have to originate in something somatic. This is the well-known view of the dream: one ate too much before going to bed, lay on one's back or on one's belly, and therefore had that dream.
2. Other physical stimuli, not from one's own body but from the environment, can have effects on the dream: sounds, stimuli from light, coldness, or warmth.
I would like to give you an example from the French literature: Someone is dreaming: He is in the French Revolution. He is persecuted and finally guillotined. He awakes when the blade is sliding down. This is when a part of the frame of the canopy fell on his neck. So he must have dreamed the whole dream at the moment when the frame went down.
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