Children’s Dreams Seminar

[Carl Jung and the most essential causes and conditions of dream processes.]

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.

  1. 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.

Examples of this kind have often led to the opinion that such a dream, in which one has a clear sense of time, takes place in a very short time-span.

I remember, for instance, such a dream from my own adolescence. As a university student I had to get up at half past five in the morning, because the botany lecture started at seven o’clock.

This was very tough for me. I always had to be awakened; the maid had to pound at the door until I finally woke up. So, once I had a very detailed dream.

“I was reading the newspaper. It said that a certain tension between Switzerland and foreign countries had arisen.

Then many people came and discussed the political situation; then there came another newspaper, and again it contained new telegrams and new articles.

Many people got excited.

Again there were discussions and scenes in the streets, and eventually mobilization: soldiers, artillery.

Canons were fired—now the war had broken out”—but it was the knocking on the door.

I had the clear impression that the dream had lasted for a very long time and come to a climax with the knocking.

As evidence for the view that dreams have no temporal dimension but take place only at the moment of the acoustic stimulus, it might be helpful to quote the extremely complex perceptions of a person at the moment of a fall.

During the few seconds of his fall in the mountains, the well-known Swiss geologist Heim7saw his whole life in review.

The same is told in the story of a French admiral. He fell into the water and nearly drowned. In this short moment, the images of his whole life passed before his eyes.

It has to be stressed, however, that such moments are of an immense intensity.

You can have an overall view in them that is not successive at all. During sleep there is no such intensity. That is the problem.

That is why such cases give no explanation for the lack of a temporal dimension in dreams.

To be frank, I always think of another possibility, which is of course equally quixotic: that there is something going on in the realm of the unconscious with the notion of time, that time comes apart a little in the unconscious, that is, the unconscious always remains beside the passing of time and perceives things that do not yet exist.

In the unconscious, everything is already there from the beginning.

So, for example, one often dreams of a motif that plays a role only the next day or even later.

The unconscious does not care about our time or the causal interrelation of things. This can also be observed in dream series.

The series does not form a chronological, consecutive order in the sense of our temporal order. That is why it is so difficult to tell what comes first and what later.

If one tried to characterize the nature of dreams, one could say that they do not form a chronological series as in a b c d, with b following from a, and c from b.

We rather have to suppose an unrecognizable center from which the dreams emanate. This idea can be illustrated as in the figure.

Because dreams enter into consciousness one after the other, we conceive them with the help of the temporal category and relate them to one another in a causal way.

It cannot be excluded, however, that the true order of the first dream enters into consciousness only much later.

The seemingly chronological series is, as it were, not the true series.

If we conceive of it this way, we make a concession to our concept of time.

There are dream sequels into which another motif suddenly inserts itself, only to be left later to make room for an earlier motif.

The actual arrangement of dreams is a radial one: the dreams radiate from a center, and are only later subjected to the influence of our time.

In the final analysis, they are arranged around a center of meaning.

In the unconscious we have, after all, to reckon with other categories than in consciousness; this is similar to quantum physics, where facts are altered by the act of observation, as, for example, in the observation of the atomic nucleus.

It seems that difficult laws apply in the microphysical world of the atom than in the macrophysical world.

In this respect, there is a certain parallelism between the unconscious and the microphysical world.

The unconscious could be compared to the atomic nucleus.

In everyday life, too, it can be observed how the unconscious anticipates things.

Often these are quite harmless things without any further importance, as for instance the following phenomena: you walk on the street and believe you see an acquaintance.

It is not he, but later he does come by. Such strange “near-miss perceptions” are very frequent. But they are so insignificant and carry so little weight that one usually overlooks them, thinking, “Such a coincidence!”

But there are also quite fabulous examples.

I have experienced such an example with a friend at the university.

He was a natural scientist. His father had promised him a trip to Spain if he did well on an exam. Right before the exam he had a dream that he told me on the spot.

He is in a Spanish town and follows a street to a square into which several streets lead, and which is defined by a cathedral.

He strolls across the square and turns right, as he first wants to have a look at the cathedral from the side.

As he is turning into that street, a carriage with two Isabella horses is coming. Then he wakes up.

The dream made such an impression on him, he told me, because the image was of such great beauty and brilliance.

Three weeks later, after his exam, he traveled to Spain. From there I received the news that the dream had come true.

In a Spanish town he came to such a square. At once he remembered the dream, and said to himself: “Now, if the horses in the side street also came true!”

He went into the side street—and the horses were there! He was an absolutely reliable man, is now in a position in the civil service, and was otherwise never known for such things but, on the contrary, for his proverbial dryness and sobriety.

I have not heard anything similar from him again.

This case is not exceptional. There are numerous experiences of this kind.

When you treat many patients with neuroses, you can frequently make such observations; over time you realize their typical character and can alert people beforehand that something will happen.

In these cases I usually say, “Attention now, something’s going to happen!”

The following dream is an example: A female patient of middle age. For some time, her dreams dealt with a certain problem.

Suddenly there comes a dream, with no connection to anything else:

She was alone in a house. Evening fell. She went through the house to close all windows.

Then she remembered a back door that she also had to lock. She went to the door and saw that it had no lock. She wondered what to do and started to look for pieces of furniture or boxes to put in front of the door.

While she was doing this, it grew ever darker, ever more uncanny.

All of a sudden the door flew open, and in shot a black bullet, right into the middle of her body. She woke up with a scream.

It was the house of an aunt living in America. She had been there once, twenty years earlier. After a quarrel, the family was completely torn apart, and with this aunt in particular she was on absolutely bad terms.

She had not seen her for twenty years nor kept in touch with her at all. She did not know if that aunt still lived in that house or, for that matter, if she was still alive.

I inquired of the patient’s sister about the correctness of this information, and she corroborated it.

I told the patient to write up this dream and its date. Three weeks later a letter arrived from America saying that this aunt had died. And she had died on the very day on which the patient had had that dream. This is a typical dream.

Such effects—of whatever kind—often have the character of shots. I remind you of the famous “witches’ shot.”

The same ideas can be found among the North American Indians: the medicine man can “shoot” you with something—for example, a so-called icicle—to make you ill.

Similar ideas are found in an English book about the mystic Anna Kingsford.She believed that she had the same capabilities and would be able to achieve such effects.

The yogis in Tibet are said to be able to exert evil influence on others.

What they send out is of an oblong shape. It is beyond our knowledge what is at work here, but the consensus gentium speaks of it.

The Tibetans certainly know nothing about English literature, nor my patient anything about Tibet. But there must exist a common source for this assumption, and it must lie in a peculiar psychical factor that we cannot explain for the time being.

I am all against superciliously ascending the throne of scepticism and declaring it a swindle. What interests me is that everywhere these things are said to be so.

This idea is as common and widespread as, for instance, the one that the dead do not know they are dead, and have to be enlightened about it to find rest.

Independent of one another, these ideas are found among spiritualists and primitives, and in Tibetan texts. In the Bardo Thödol you find an instruction concerning how to enlighten the dead person that he is really dead.

The interesting question here is: How can this be explained? Which primal factors are in existence here to which these statements refer?

  1. Now there are not only physical events that cause dreams, but also psychical ones.

It happens that certain psychical occurrences in the environment are perceived by the unconscious.

In my collection of dreams there is a case in which a child between the ages of three and four dreams that two angels are coming, are picking up something from the ground, and are sending it up to heaven.

Another child dreams that the mother wants to kill herself. Crying, the child runs into the room of the mother, who is already awake; she is just on the point of committing suicide.

In this way, important psychical occurrences in the environment can be perceived. Moods and secrets, too, can actually be “scented” unconsciously.

In these instances, one does not know at all how the unconscious comes to perceive this.

The strange thing is that these are not always impressive cases at all, as in the dream of the mother’s suicide, but sometimes quite insignificant ones. And we can understand
even less how one can “scent” completely insignificant things.

Let me give you an example of this, too: It is the case of a businessman who was, however, interested in telepathic phenomena.

He very much wanted to experience something himself. Once he sat in his office; it was three o’clock in the afternoon, and he had dozed off.

He saw the postman pull the bell of his house—he lived in the suburbs and his office was in the city—and saw how his maid opened the door and took a package of newspapers and letters from the postman. There was a yellow letter lying on the package.

He saw very clearly how big it was, and what it looked like. He came to with the feeling of having slept a bit.

Then he suddenly thought: “This was a vision!” He went home at four o’clock and inquired about the letters. The package, as he had seen it, lay on the bureau in the hallway outside, but there was no yellow letter on it.

He thought he had drawn a blank. Fourteen days later, the servant came with a yellow letter. It had fallen behind the bureau.

He then opened the letter, thinking it contained heaven knows what. But it was a business pamphlet, something completely insignificant!

In my experience I have often come across such cases. The silliest things can enter into dreams and be foreseen, and the identity cannot be disputed at all.

This happens far too often to be ignored. There are certainly “illegitimate” sources of dreams.

There are things one should not know or is not supposed to know, and yet one does know them, as if one had a nose going through walls. It seeps into one through the atmosphere.

I had a colleague who was somehow peculiar, but had interesting ideas. He lived in a house in the countryside, with his wife, two children, and a maidservant.

He wrote down all dreams dreamed in his house, also those of patients he had accommodated there.

It was simply astonishing how the patients’ problems appeared in the dreams of the servant, the children, and the wife.

Such phenomena are experienced not only in dreams, but also in society: someone enters the room, for example, and suddenly there is a chill everywhere.

Something emanated from this person, one does not know what.

  1. Until now, we have mentioned somatic sources, and physical and psychical events in the environment as causes of the dream processes. Now past events can also come into dreams. Should you come across this you will have to take it seriously.

When a historical name of possible significance appears in dreams, I am in the habit of looking up what the name stands for in reality. I check what person is meant by it, and what his environment was, for in this way the dream can be explained.

Strangely enough, I had such a case only today. A lady, having settled too much in the upper stories, living too much in the head, and on a poor footing with the underworld, recounts the following dream:

There was a very dangerous-looking circle of lions. In the middle there was a pit that was filled with something hot. She knew that she had to go down into the pit and dive into it. So she went in and was somehow burned in the fire. Just one shoulder of her jutted out. I pressed her down and said: “Not out, but through it!”

This dream illustrates very clearly the problem that she had always evaded. Together with the dream, she mentioned a fragment in which St. Eustache was said be her patron saint.

The legend of St. Eustache indeed fits nicely: Eustache and his family had converted to Christianity. He died the martyr’s death around a.d., together with his family. He was thrown to the lions. The lions, however, did not want to devour the holy family. So they heated a brazen bull until it was red hot, and roasted them to death in it. This is something the patient did not know.

The occurrence of these past events in dreams is extremely hard to explain. It is just as if this patient had hunted out the calendar of saints in my library.

It is also possible, however, that this is a case of cryptomnesia,that the patient had in fact read the legend and does not know it any longer.

There are famous instances of such cryptomnesias.

We will come back to this later. For the moment we are interested only in occurrences in which it can be proven that one had not read something specific, because one never came near these matters.

These cases exist, and it is always worth checking in the books to become oriented about its objective content.

A particularly impressive case, which I proved, was that of a mentally ill person who produced a symbolic connection before the text of a Greek papyrus had been deciphered.

This sounds miraculous indeed, but we have to get used to the idea that such things exist, that elements which in some strange way or other correspond to historical facts can be reproduced from the unconscious.

The explanation is to be found in the fact that these are archetypal contents. It belongs to the nature of the archetype that it is capable of reproducing again exactly the same
images in an identical way.

This is often denied, but mostly by people who are not familiar with the matter at all and are in no way able to give an explanation. Ignorance makes it easy to deny these things, as you can see from the following two examples:

When an agent of Edison first presented the latter’s phonograph in the Académie in Paris, a professor of physics is said to have taken him by the throat and called him a “ventriloquist.”

Galileo challenged his adversaries to look through the telescope and to convince themselves of the existence of Jupiter’s satellites. But they didn’t want to look!

At a Later Session [8 November 1938]

Professor Jung: Last time we left off at a discussion of the various causes of the dream processes. A further group of causes can be found in dreams that, although having originally had a connection with consciousness, have long lost it, so that it seems as if this connection never existed.

Let us turn to these contents that have lost the connection to consciousness. Therefore, the contents of these dreams cannot be reproduced.

Persons, faces, situations, buildings, parts of buildings, furniture, or fixtures can appear that were once conscious in childhood, but have fallen into complete oblivion over the decades.

I remember such a dream that I had years ago. I saw the face of a man. After I reflected for a long time, there came a memory from my earliest youth, when I was about ten years old. It was of our neighbor, a little peasant, long since under the grass.

I had completely forgotten his face. In this dream, it emerged again in its original freshness.

Consciously, I would not have been able to reproduce it. And when, two days later, I recounted that dream, I was again completely unable to reproduce that face. It had vanished again. The remembered image had been too weak.

In dreams, therefore, cryptomnesias may appear, that is, impressions, elements, thoughts, a piece of knowledge that the dreamer once had, which then vanishes completely and cannot be reproduced, until it suddenly reemerges in its original form on some particular occasion.

I found such a cryptomnesia in Nietzsche.

The passage in Zarathustra on the descent into the underworld, in which the captain goes ashore to shoot rabbits, caught my attention.

I asked Mrs. Förster-Nietzsche, the only person able to supply information on the childhood of her brother, if Nietzsche had not taken over this motif from the Blätter aus Prevorst by Justinus Kerner, where it is actually found. She told me that he definitely had read this book with her before his eleventh year in the library of their grandfather.

Théodore Flournoy, the well-known psychologist and philosopher from Geneva, provided evidence of similar cases in his work, From India to the Planet Mars. The title may be fantastic, but it is a scientific book.

Flournoy describes Hélène Smith, who had created a sensation in Geneva with her somnambulism. It is about a great animus love story.

The glossolalia in this case—Hélène Smith spoke several unknown languages—was also due to cryptomnesia. She frequented a society that owned a small dictionary of Sanskrit. We do not know whether she actually used it, but it can hardly have been otherwise.

  1. A final group of causes can be found in dreams that anticipate future psychical aspects of the personality, which are not perceived as such in the present. So these are future events that are not yet recognizable in the present.

These aspects point to future activities or situations of the dreamer that have no basis at all in the dreamer’s present psychology.

In children’s dreams in particular, crucial future events are anticipated in a surprising way. Doubtful are those cases in which, for example, someone dreams beforehand that he will die in a railroad catastrophe, and then is actually killed. It could be a miraculous telepathic anticipation.

Sometimes future formations of the personality, which appear to be quite alien in the present and cannot be explained by it, are anticipated in developmental processes.

If those dreams are impressive, they will indelibly remain in memory, sometimes for one’s whole life.

A middle-aged woman, between forty-five and fifty years old, told me the following childhood dream that she had had in her fourth year: She is being pursued by a drunk old woman wearing a red corset. Nothing like this had actually happened in that lady’s environment.

She came from a distinguished family, in which this was quite out of the question. Nor did she live in London, where one could have seen something like this in plays, but in the country, in a highly protected environment.

At the age of seven she had the second impressive dream: She has to wash white linen, in a tub filled with blood. Here you have the red color again.

From the age of seven there was a stereotypically recurring anxiety dream: She is in a kind of hall in a private house. There is a small door on the side that has to be passed quickly. This door has to be avoided. She knows, however, that she actually has to enter there and descend a staircase into a dark basement.

Then, in a dream, it really happens: She is on the stairs and wants to go down. Anxiety seizes her. Vaguely, she sees a ghost and wakes up with a scream of anxiety.

She was a person leading a spiritual existence; she also never married. Only at the age of forty-five did she become aware of the fact that she had something called sexuality.

It did not exist before; she was completely unconscious of it. She only became aware of it when she had to be treated for having been afflicted with a severe neurosis.

A persecutory dream always means: this wants to come to me. When you dream of a savage bull, or a lion, or a wolf pursuing you, this means: it wants to come to you.

You would like to split it off, you experience it as something alien—but it just becomes all the more dangerous. The urge of what had been split off to unite with you becomes
all the stronger. The best stance would be: “Please, come and devour me!”

Working with such a dream in analysis means to familiarize people with the thought that they should by no means resist when this element faces them.

The Other within us becomes a bear, a lion, because we made it into that. Once we accept this, it becomes something else. That’s why Faust says: “So this, then, was the kernel of the brute!”

It is his devil, Mephistopheles. Until that moment, Faust was split off from it, unconscious of it.

When the situation becomes unbearable, he is driven toward suicide. He has to descend in order to find his shadow. He has to turn around once to look at himself from the other side.

This patient also had the task of realizing that she was split off from her underworld. For one thing, she had to face the factuality of blood, for “Blood is a quite peculiar juice.”

It is the instinctual substance, what is alive in man. It expresses fire and passion. The anxiety dream clearly pointed to this; it was like an admonition: “Go down the stairs
now and take a look at what’s there!”

Had she listened to this, she would have encountered the other side. She would have had to say to the ghost: “Oh here you are, come and show yourself!” And with this she would have gained a chance to approach her totality.

Now we have difficulty in assuming that a four-year-old child is already familiar with such a problem. This is hardly possible. After all, we cannot credit a child with the psychology of an adult.

Strangely enough, however, unconsciously the child already has all the psychology of an adult.

As it is, from birth onward—one could even say already from before birth—the individual is what it will be.

In the disposition, the basic blueprint is already there very early. Such early dreams come out of the totality of the personality, and that is why they allow us to see a great deal of what we later miss in it.

Later, life forces us to make one-sided differentiations. But that is why we get lost to ourselves and have to learn, again, to find ourselves.

When you are whole, you have discovered yourself once again, and you know what you have been all the time.

I would like to tell you another dream of a child: It is the dream of a girl between the ages of three and four, recurring three times during that year and staying burned into her memory ever since:

A long tail of a comet swishes over the Earth; the Earth catches fire, and people perish in that fire. The child then hears the terrible cries of the people and awakens from them.

This is one of those dreams called cosmic childhood dreams. Such dreams are like alien phenomena, leaving one perplexed for the moment.

From where does the child have the idea of the end of mankind in a firebrand? It is a completely archaic image: the terminal fire of the world that destroys the world.

What does it mean that the little child produces such an image? Actually this can’t be interpreted at all.

An ancient dream reader would have said: “This child has a special destiny, one day these cosmic ties will make themselves felt.”

When adult persons had such dreams in antiquity, in Athens they gave notice of them to the Aeropagus, and in Rome to the Senate. Primitive men, too, sat together to listen to those dreams, because everybody felt that they were of general significance.

We, too, have to try to grasp such a dream, in the first instance, with regard to its general significance. It is as if the dreamer should be prepared for a collective part.

These persons find their destiny in the collective. Such a collective role bodes ill for a happy family life. One is torn apart by the collective destiny.

The six points mentioned earlier are the most essential causes and conditions of dream processes. ~Carl Jung, Children’s Dream Seminar, Pages 8-14.