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Carl Jung on the Process of interpreting Children’s Dreams.

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Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936-1940 (Philemon Foundation Series)

Professor Jung: We are dealing here with children’s dreams of a particular kind, which are very often not understood correctly, because it is thought that these dreams are being observed in children—that is, are directly recorded by the father or the mother.

We are not dealing with such dreams, however, but with children’s dreams that have been remembered by adults.

So a selection of these dreams has already been made.

These are dreams that have stood the test of time and persisted.

If someone had written down the dreams of your childhood, for instance, and you read these notes again later, they would be completely foreign to you, and you yourself would not be able to remember them.

But some of the dreams have lingered on, as fresh as on the first day.

This is the kind of dreams we are dealing with here.

Partly I have collected these dreams myself, partly they have been told to me by participants in the seminar.

As soon as the problem of a dream is no longer acute, that is, it is solved and outgrown, the dream vanishes from memory.

If it still persists in memory, however, the problem has not been solved, or the dream touched on something that one perhaps still hasn’t understood yet, or never will.

Phenomena and contents are touched on that are completely unconscious for ordinary mortals.

And these things exert an enormous influence on the shape of subsequent destiny and, therefore, get stuck in memory.

Such dreams are of special importance, because in a way their content anticipates a problem of later life.

These dreams in particular make us understand why the ancients attributed a pronounced prognostic meaning to their dreams.

Throughout the whole of antiquity, and to a large extent still in the Middle Ages, it was believed that dreams foretell the future.

Our consciousness is directed only outward, light only falls onto this world, but it throws no light backward, on the thinker of the thoughts and the doer of the deeds.

If consciousness does do it, however, it throws light on the basis of consciousness, on the unconscious, and there things may be brought to life, just as we can enliven reality by observing it.

As far as the work with the dream is concerned, we first of all structure the dream as a story, as a course of events; the dream is a drama taking place on the inner stage, and a true drama of course always has—like any course of action—a beginning, a middle, and an end.

So, to begin with, we determine the exposition of the dream, in which the specific place, the time, specific persons, and a specific problem are exposed.

Usually you can already find it in the first sentence of the dream.

For you have to break down the text into sentences and thus work out the problem—it is about this and that.

This is the first part. The second part is the development of the problem.

This means: the problem stated at the beginning starts to have an effect, it gets complicated, the plot thickens, a certain development occurs.

This leads, in the third place, to the peripateia, a certain escalation that may become truly dramatic: it leads to a climax in which the turn of events then happens.

The latter constitutes a change—it can be a decision, for example, or something occurs that throws a completely different light on the problem.

This leads us to the fourth part, the lysis, the result of the dream that, of course, is not final or complete as in a conscious drama.

Most of the time, the end is somehow enigmatic, not really satisfactory to our taste.

But, in any case, this is the result for that moment. In series, the end usually presents a new problem.

One is dead, or somebody else is dead, or something completely out of the way has happened.

This then remains as a question.

Some impossible situation presents itself, and then we have to ask ourselves: what will happen next? What can be done?

An answer is given by the next dream, perhaps the same night, after a hiatus.

The second dream takes the problem up again in a different form.

Once this structuring has been done, we can start to truly work on the dream, that is, to look for the corresponding context for each motif.

This is not the same as free association, which just leads you from one thing to another; one doesn’t need a dream for that, but one might as well let someone associate about a button, and one will of course also arrive at the complexes.

This does not prove at all that these complexes are also represented in the dream.

By free association we won’t know yet what the dream means; because the dream does not consist of the complexes, but represents the way in which they are dealt with.

It represents what the unconscious does with the complex and how it tries to solve the dilemma.

Our look at the complex is a look at the associative connections to the dream image.

We have to know what it means for somebody to dream of an elephant, not what I as an analyst think about an elephant, but what connections it has for the person who had the dream.

Perhaps one had been to a zoo the evening before, the other had been in the wilderness and had an experience with an elephant, or a third had been told by his wife: you are such a clumsy elephant, and so on.

For each of them the elephant means something different.

You have to carefully inquire about the events of the previous day.

In recording these contexts, you have to encourage the person whose dream you analyze not to make free associations, but always to stay with the image.

For the dream image is nothing accidental, otherwise we’d have to say that anything in nature is accidental, a chaos, and that there is no explanation.

We have to assume that the dreams take place in a world according to laws, that there exists a certain causality, not just pure arbitrariness.

There are specific reasons why the dream is precisely what it is, and not something different.

Now when you investigate the single dream images with regard to the context, you will find that certain contents—not in all dreams by far—are of an archetypal nature, meaning that these latter forms of ideas are of a collective nature and can be found everywhere.

Naturally, you will not be able to recognize them if you aren’t already knowledgeable about such ideas.

One has to have the corresponding material at one’s fingertips in order to recognize archetypal figures.

This gives the dream an additional, very special character.

You can then determine into which depths the dream reaches.

The archetypes always appear as mythological figures or motifs.

The final act consists in the interpretation: one formulates a hypothesis about the possible meaning of the dream.

This formulation has to be concise.

You have to insert, in other words, the expressions you found into the dream text, to reformulate the dream, but this time with the found expressions.

Then you will find the meaning of the dream. ~Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams Seminar, Pages 379-382.