My First Remembered Dream (1955)

In Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, Carl Jung talks about his first dream and his decades long discovery process, with a key piece coming to him 50 years later. This got me thinking about my first remembered dream and my own unanticipated opening in understanding 50 years later. The shift in my appreciation of its energy and meaning stems from the idea dreams offer both a look backwards, bringing forward the earlier conditions, a reductive function, as well as glimpses into our anticipated future developments, the prospective function; reductive and prospective. I believe I was four or five at the time.

The dream (1955): “I was very happy and excited about my first day on as a fireman. After dinner it was time to get some sleep before our first call. We all processed upstairs to get into our beds. They were neatly organized in two rows, opposite each other. My assigned bed was on the far end of the bunk house. Each fireman’s gear, overalls with boots attached, was positioned at the end of his bed, just right for jumping into them and sliding down the fire pole at the far end of the room. I stood next to my bed, taking in the order and the importance of what we were doing. It was a wonderful moment. As we all sat down on our beds, it seemed everyone was looking at me. I was very happy. Then, as if choreographed, each fireman reached under his chin and in one movement, all pulled off their human masks, revealing their true identities: they were actually vibrant wolves, grinning with exceptionally long snouts full of big sharp teeth! In that instant, I thought they were going to make a meal of me! Terrified, I woke myself up screaming. Both of my parents, startled awake by my screams, came running into the room. They tried to comfort me, reassuring me it was only a nightmare.

I don’t remember ever talking about the dream with them again.

In my 20’s and 30’s, working with psychiatric inpatients and psychiatrists’ inclined to interpret dreams from a Freudian bent, I revisited this dream from the perspective of age appropriate unconscious rivalries with my father and mysterious imaginings of my mother (See: castration anxieties and vagina dentata). This psychoanalytic perspective reflects the reductive aspects of the dream.

50 years later, I received a lovely gift: The Wolf Ritual of the Northwest Coast, an ethnography published in 1952.  As I reflected on the role and meaning of the Wolf Ritual for these peoples, from my own now direct knowledge of rites of passage, I was struck with the profound notion that what I had experienced as a nightmare at the time could also be seen as a dream time encounter with the Wolf Clan elders. Surprised and delighted, I pictured them coming to welcome me into the powers! This interpretation is an example of the dream’s prospective function. From this perspective, my young witnessing ego, terrified by the hiddenness of their true natures revealed(?), their toothy wildness(?), assumed the worst. Surely they were now going to eat me. However, in the manifest dream they didn’t make a move to threaten me. They did reveal their true natures. They were relaxed and smiling. They were full of power. Had a wise elder presence been available to guide me in accessing my imagination, might I have been able to see past my initial terror and begin to see them as allies in Nature? What if in dreaming the dream onward, I had been able to identify with my wolf nature?

What if, as Carl Sandburg proclaims in opening of Wildnerness:

“THERE is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood-I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go….”

Sandburg goes on to claim a whole menagerie of wild creatures, because “the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go…”

For a beautiful shapeshifting image variation on this theme, see the the Inuit poem Magic Words:

“In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to and an animal
could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language…(continues)”

It is interesting to consider this dream from these very different, both and more perspectives.

From the prospective function perspective, the dream foreshadows my relationship with nature, alerting me to the Wolf Clan. For a macro level perspective on opening to this transrational world, see Jerome Bernstein’s formulation on Borderland consciousness.

Ernst, Alice Henson, The Wolf Ritual of the Northwest Coast, University Press, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, 1952.

Explore posts in the same categories: Communications from the Dream Time

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