Carl Jung Depth Psychology Facebook Group

The Way of the Dream by Marie-Louise von Franz

Dr. von Franz, falling is a very common dream motif. We’ve all fallen in dreams. What is its symbolic meaning? Is it true that if we hit the ground in a dream, we’re dead?

I have experienced falling and not being dead, being caught up or waking up before I hit the floor.

But, according to superstition, if you hit the floor, you are supposed to be dead.

No, no, no. It simply means a shock collision with reality. If you have dreams of falling, it means that somewhere you are too high up. Perhaps you have too high an opinion of yourself, or you have romantic, unreal ideas, or you are living in a make-believe world, or in a theory. Somewhere you are not in touch with reality. Sudden-fall dreams generally coincide with outer, deep disappointment when one is suddenly faced with naked reality as it is. That can be a deadly shock to the ego. One can be, so to speak, blotted out by it for a while. The ego is out. It has nothing to say. That is death by hitting the floor.

I remember a dream in which I was shot dead, stone cold dead, with one shot right through the heart. But my murderer fired four more shots. Each bullet he fired killed me anew. I remember thinking in the dream that it was pointless for him to continue, for I was already dead. He’d killed me with his first shot. What does it mean when the dreamer actually dies or is killed in a dream?

It always means that the ego attitude as it is at that moment has to go. I have had many dreams in which I was officially executed, generally by being beheaded. They stated very clearly that the head had to come off, that some intellectual attitude had to be sacrificed. But if you are shot, that’s rather like being hit by something and means you need a shock to wake you up. The death of the dreamer in dreams means a radical, complete change where absolutely nothing of the old person or the old attitude is left. So if one dreams of being killed, executed, or shot or hanged or whatever the form of death, it always points to the coming of a radical change.

Rather than pursuing the meaning of various individual motifs, could we approach this sub;ect of symbols by first examining one particular symbol in depth and then demonstrate how that symbol communicates the unconscious in an actual dream. Let’s focus on one of the ma;or symbols of our culture, the star. What aspect of the psyche has mankind pro;ected onto the stars to make them symbolic?

The realm of the stars was always looked at as the realm of eternal, divine beings. Therefore, in many parts of the world there is the folklore tradition that, when you see a star shoot down, that is the moment the soul comes to earth and the child is born. In China and in the old Roman Empire, when a remarkable personality died, the astrologers looked at the sky for a new star because they thought that the dying soul would return to the heavens and once again become a star.

Moreover, in the Egyptian death ritual, the prayer goes, “Let me become one of the unsetting stars which circles around the North Pole.” The goal of the dead person was to become one of the never­ setting stars.

Also, in Egypt, the immortal, spiritual part of the psyche was represented by the so-called Ba, which was born either as a bird or as a star. It symbolized that part of the personality which outlasts death and after death accompanies the Sun God over the sky as a never­ setting star. So the star has to do with the eternity of the uniqueness of the personality. That has been projected into a star.

Does the star of Bethlehem have the same symbolic meaning?

That fits exactly into that context; namely, that when a remarkable, outstanding personality is born, a new, bright star appears in the sky.

That is how the Magi, the three kings, interpreted it at once. When they saw the star of Bethlehem, they knew that some outstanding, important personality was born on earth, and that is why they went to see the child. That fitted the general viewpoint of the time. A new star meant that somewhere somebody-an emperor, a great ruler, or a personality who would change the whole fate of mankind-had come to earth.

Now let’s look at a dream in which the star is the central image. This dream comes from The Gilgamesh Epic and is one of the oldest recorded dreams of mankind. Gilgamesh was king of the Sumerian walled city of Uruk. He was a powerful ruler in the ancient world, and his dream was considered important enough to be inscribed in stone. Here is the dream of King Gilgamesh:

In the middle of the night I walked proudly up and down among my people. There were stars in the sky. Suddenly, one of the stars of the sky-god Anu fell upon me. I tried to lift it, but it was too heavy for me. All Uruk assembled around this star, and the people kissed its feet.

This dream is about forty-six hundred years old. Still today we can find modern parallels, for the language of the unconscious has changed much less than the language of human consciousness. So if we interpret this dream from a modern standpoint, we could say that up to the moment before the star fell upon Gilgamesh, he fulfilled the collective role of the king. He was the hero-king. He is typical of a man who ambitiously and successfully follows a collective pattern. Nowadays, he might be a great politician or a movie star-a man who has followed up certain collective alleys and reached a goal. Looked at from within, such a person reacts in a very collective way fulfilling a collective role of power. They are not generally very individual.

The star, on the contrary, represents his uniqueness-every soul has one star in heaven. We can say that up to the appearance of the star Gilgamesh, with all his collective power achievement, had not done anything unique. On the contrary, he had only fulfilled the typical pattern of a hero-king. Then, probably about the middle of life (because that’s when it most frequently occurs), something changes.

While he is walking around among his subjects, proud of his own power position, a star falls from the sky onto his back. It turns out to be a very heavy load. That is the moment when his unique destiny befalls him, literally falls on his back. That means that just as Christ had to carry his cross, Gilgamesh now has to carry the burden of having to become the unique, chosen individual he was meant to be, a task which he has avoided by being an ambitious, collective man.

Now the star also means the immortal soul of man. For instance, in Egypt that part of man which survives after death is the Ba soul and is drawn as a star. It is the eternal kernel of the human psyche and has always represented the unique, eternal man within us. And so he has now to follow his unique destiny instead of fulfilling a collective role. And this proves to be no glorious call, but a heavy burden to him.

Until the star fell upon him, Gilgamesh thought he was a great man. He was a king, he was a hero, he .was the fortress of his people. But now he has to see that that is not much. What the people worship is that star stone, that greater thing in him and not his collective power. In the dream, the people kiss the star’s feet and not the feet of Gilgamesh. They prostrate themselves before the star, which is his true greatness. So that in the dream there is also a little teaching for Gilgamesh: “Don’t take all the honor and all the compliments the people give you for yourself. It is that star upon. you they worship. It’s your necessity to become a unique individual. That’s what they worship in you-not you. And that is your heaviest load. ” And so from then on in the epic, Gilgamesh becomes the servant of his unique, heroic task, which is the search for his immortality.

Why is it that so few people follow their own star? Why is the star such a heavy burden?

Because following your own star means isolation, not knowing where to go, having to find out a completely new way for yourself instead of just going on the trodden path everybody else runs along. That’s why there’s always been a tendency in humans to project the uniqueness and the greatness of their own inner self onto outer personalities and become the servants, the devoted servants, admirers, and imitators of outer personalities. It is much easier to admire a great personality and become a pupil or follower of a guru or a religious prophet, or an admirer of a big, official personality-a president of the United States-or live your life for some military general whom you admire. That is much easier than following your own star.

What type of person attracts the projection of the star?

If a person has by birth some outstanding qualities, intelligence or some other talents, he or she often attracts the projection of the star. These gifted people are subject to projections, and the devotion of others created a temptation for them to develop an inflation. Now, an inflation means an overestimation of oneself. Instead of saying, “My talent isn’t me and my intelligence isn’t me; I have been born with a good computer and that’s all there is to it-there is no merit,” such people would tend to identify with their gifts and get blown up. Inflation means to be blown up like a balloon. Whenever people have a success, you see inflation on a minor scale, for they afterwards display arrogant, condescending mannerisms. Naturally many people who have made history were inflated. Some Roman emperors, for instance, suffered from what one calls the madness of Caesars.

Infiation, then, is having an unrealistic opinion of oneself. But is it possible not to be infiated? Can people accurately estimate their own self-worth?

Well, the difficulty is that nobody has by nature a very good estimation of his own value. Nobody knows how much or how little he or she is worth. I mean, ask anybody, “Now, honestly, are you a great person or are you a small person? How small or how great are you compared to others?” Anybody would have to admit that he has no idea. It is a subjective feeling. Either one has an inferiority feeling and feels oneself the least worm on earth, or one has a superiority complex and feels oneself elected far above the average. Most people switch back and forth between these two. In neurotics it’s extreme, and in normal people it’s less extreme, but everybody has days when one feels below the weather and a nobody, and days when one feels on top of the world. That is the natural swing back and forth, and one could call a personality normal when the estimation of oneself approximates who one is, what one has achieved, how the surroundings appear, and so on. But it’s a very indefinite thing, really.

Any lack of balance in this respect, either too far below or too far above the mark, has an irritating effect upon the surroundings. To know if one has an inflation, a person has only to see if he or she gets on other people’s nerves. If so, one is probably a bit overestimating oneself, or underestimating oneself, for with an inflation a person may have·feelings of either superiority or inferiority. Feelings of inferiority are just a veiled inflation. If one feels inferior, that’s really ambition; a person wants to be more than one is. One wants to be a great person and knows one isn’t. Inferiority is also inflation and therefore gets on people’s nerves.

Sometimes people come in and say, “Oh well, you know, I can’t do it. How do you think I can do this? You know, I’m not capable, I’m so stupid, I can’t think,” and so on. Then I say, “Now, stop that nonsense. Get on with your job.” They are really making a conceited dance out of calling themselves inferior and incapable. It has a very irritating effect. So the only measure one can have, in the last view of life, before God, so to speak, is that nobody knows who is important or who is not important.

We’ve talked about the danger of infiation for the person who attracts the pro;ection of the star. But what happens to the person who does the proiecting, who pro;ects his or her own star onto someone else, who pro;ects the Self onto another person?

Let’s first see the positive side. If the Self is projected, one falls into a tremendous state of admiring the person onto whom one projects the Self, a kind of incredible fascination and devotion to that person, and that can have the advantage of learning from it. If one projects the Self onto somebody who is really wise or superior, one can learn a lot. That is the secret of many miraculous cures; people project the Self onto a healer personality, and by the incredible fascination and faith they have in that healer, they are cured of all sorts of psychological or psychosomatic illnesses. So it serves as a vehicle for healing the individual. Much more frequently, however, this fascination is nega­ tive and leads to an infantile giving up of oneself, and being, so to speak, flat on one’s belly before the other person, worshiping the great leader, or the great spiritual guru, or whatever. By this projection one loses oneself in an infantile way and remains infantile. Such people are often very fanatical in their admiration, defending that person against enemies, and basking in the glory of their master through an identification. The projection saves them from making an effort them­ selves.

The great man or the great woman out there is going to do it all for them, and their task is only to applaud and admire. They have to make no effort to become more intelligent or wiser or more independent themselves. Such a projection can just annihilate the personality. Naturally it also depends upon the person onto whom the projection of the Self falls. If that person has an inflation and misuses the power to breed admirers and followers, it has disastrous consequences. But I know that in the Far East there are masters who know about the dangers of infantile dependence and won’t accept the projection. They send those novices and pupils back to their own inner task.

The psychology of an individual is oen re’fl.ected in a society. What happens, then, when an entire group collectively pro;ects the Self onto one individual?

Well, then you have monarchies or dictatorships. The kings of all countries, down to the chief of a primitive tribe, are carriers of the symbol of the Self. The advantages are that such a tribe or population has a unifying symbol which holds them together. It is a deeply rooted need in man to project such a living symbol of the Self. That’s why a king has to be very virtuous and generous. He has to display all the qualities of a superior man. Whether he can or can’t is another question. But that’s what’s expected from him. And if you look at the history ofkingship it goes much deeper. In primitive tribes they believe the king, or what we usually call the chief, is the actual life of the tribe and therefore, if the chief becomes impotent, he is killed. Otherwise the whole tribe would become impotent and the fertility of the fields would stop. He is the guarantee of life.

If a primitive chief falls ill, he is executed, because one cannot have a sick king. He is the life principle. He is the incarnation of the divine, totemic principle of the tribe. That is, a projected symbol of the Self. And because there is this need, when the monarchies were largely abolished, dictators like Napoleon or Hitler received the projection. This shows that people need to project the Self onto some leader figure, But this is an infantile gesture and occurs because we want to remain children. We don’t want to take the responsibility.

Democracy is a very difficult task, because it puts political responsi­ bility on the individual and most people don’t want to take it. Here in Switzerland, only about twenty-five percent of the population vote. The others do not want to be bothered. They don’t want to wrack their brains; they prefer to think that the father state will do it for them .

“After all,” they say, “we do have a group of leaders, and they are father figures, and they are the Self, and they will do it all right. ” It’s simply just mental and psychological laziness.


When people try to evade problems, you first have to ask if it is not just laziness. Jung once said, “Laziness is the greatest passion of mankind, even greater than power or sex or anything.” ~The Way of the Dream, Page 42-54