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Children’s Dreams Seminar

[Carl Jung on the significance of the dreams of children]

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 anticipation of 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.

f 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

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. ~Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams, Pages 1-4.