Dream Thoughts & Myth Interpretation

Dream thoughts are common phenomena many cannot understand. In this narrative, its dream-like character is quite noticeable. On what does it depend? Evidently the Parable must bear marks that are peculiar to the dream. In looking for correspondences we discover them even upon superficial examination.

Most noticeable is the complete and sudden change of place. The wanderer, as I will hereafter call the narrator of the parable, sees himself immediately transported from the place near the lion’s den to the top of a wall, and does not know how he has come there. Later he comes down just as suddenly. And in still other parts of the story there occurs just as rapid changes of scene as one is accustomed to in dreams. Characteristic also is the fact that objects change or vanish; the shift of scene resembles also, as often in a dream, a complete transformation. Thus, for instance, as soon as the wanderer has left the wall, it vanishes without leaving a trace, as if it had never been. A similar change is also required in the garden scene where, instead of ] the previously observed enclosing-wall, a low hedge appears in a surprising manner.

What Does Science Say about Dream Thoughts?

Further, we are surprised by instances of knowledge without perception. Often in a dream, one knows something without having experienced it in person. We simply know, without knowing how, that in such a house something definite and full of mystery has happened; or we know that this man, whom we see now for the first time, is called so and so; we are in some place for the first time but know quite sure that there must be a fountain behind that wall to which for any reason we have to go, etc. Such unmediated knowledge occurs several times in the parable. At the beginning of the narrative the wanderer, although a stranger, knows that the lovely meadow is called by its inhabitants Pratum felicitates.

He knows intuitively the name of one of the men unknown to him. In the garden scene, he knows, although he has noticed only the young men, that some young women (whom on account of the nature of the place he cannot then see) are desirous of going into the garden to these young men. One might say that all this is merely a peculiarity of the representation inasmuch as the author has for convenience, or on account of lack of skill, or for brevity, left out some connecting link which would have afforded us the means of acquiring this unexplained knowledge. The likeness of the dream thoughts, therefore, would, in that case, be inadmissible. To this objection, it may be replied, that the dream does exactly like the author of the parable. Our study is chiefly concerned with the product of the fancy and forces us to the observation (whatever may be the cause of it) that the parable and the dream life have certain “peculiarities of representation” in common.

In contrast to the miraculous knowledge we find in the dream a peculiar unsureness in many things, particularly in those which concern the personality of the wanderer. When the elders inform the wanderer that he must marry the woman that he has taken, he does not know clearly whether the matter at all concerns him or not; a remarkable fluctuation in his attitude takes place. We wonder whether he has taken on the rôle of the bridegroom or, quite the reverse, the bridegroom has taken the wanderer’s. We are likewise struck by similar uncertainties, like those during the walk on top of the wall where the wanderer is followed by some one, of whom he does not know whether it is a man or a woman. Here belong also those passages of the narrative introduced by the wanderer with “as if,” etc. In the search for the gardener’s house he chances upon many people and “it seems” that he has himself done what these people are there doing.

Quite characteristic also are the different obstructions and other difficulties placed in the path of the wanderer. Even in the first paragraph of the narrative we hear that he is startled, would gladly turn back, but cannot because a strong wind prevents him. On top of the wall the railing makes his progress difficult; on other occasions a wall, or a door. The first experience, especially, recalls those frequent occurrences in dreams where, anxiously turning in flight or oppressed by tormenting haste, we cannot move. In connection with what is distressing and threatening, as described in the precipitous slope of the wall and the narrow plank by the mill, belong also the desperate tasks and demands—quite usual in dreams and myths—that meet the wanderer. Among such tasks or dangers I will only mention the severe examination by the elders, the struggle with the lion, the obligation to marry, and the burden of responsibility for the nuptial pair, all of which cause the wanderer so much anxiety.

Among the evident dream thoughts, the anology is finally (without, however, completing my list of them) the peculiar logic that appears quite conventional to the wanderer or the dreamer, but seldom satisfies the reader or the careful reasoner. As examples, I mention that the dead lion will be called to life again if the wanderer marries the woman that he recently took; and that they put the two lovers that they want to punish for incest, after they have carefully removed all the clothes from their bodies, into a prison where these lovingly embrace.

Dream thoughts vs. Reality

So much for the external resemblances of the parable with the dream life. The deeper affinity which can be shown in its innermost structure will first appear in the psychoanalytic treatment. And now it will be advisable for me to give readers not intimately acquainted with dream psychology some information concerning modern investigations in dream life and in particular concerning psychoanalytic doctrines and discoveries. Naturally I can do this only in the briefest manner. For a more thorough study I must refer the reader to the work of Freud and his school. The most important books are mentioned in the bibliography at the end.

Modern scientific investigation of dreams, in which Freud has been a pioneer, has come to the conclusion, but in a different sense from the popular belief, that dreams have significance. While the popular belief says that they foretell something of the future, science shows that they have a meaning that is present in the psyche and determined by the past. Dreams are then, as Freud‘s results show, always wish fantasies. [I give here only exposition, not criticism. My later application of psychoanalysis will show what reservations I make concerning Freud’s doctrines.] In them wishes, strivings, impulses work themselves out, rising to the surface from the depths of the soul. When they come in waking life, wish phantasies are sometimes called castles in the air. In dreams, we have the fulfillment of wishes that are not or cannot be fulfilled.

But the impulses that the dreams call up are principally such wishes and impulses as we cannot ourselves acknowledge and such as in a waking state we reject as soon as they attempt to announce themselves, as for instance, animal tendencies or such sexual desires as we are unwilling to admit, and also suppressed or “repressed” impulses. As a result of being repressed they have the peculiarity of being in general inaccessible to consciousness. [Freud speaks particularly of crassly egoistic actuations. The criminal element in them is emphasized by Stekel.]

One not initiated into dream analysis may object that the obvious evidence is against this theory. For the majority of dreams picture quite inoffensive processes that have nothing to do with impulses and passions which are worthy of rejection on either moral or other grounds. The objection appears at first sight to be well founded, but collapses as soon as we learn that the critical power of morality, which does not desert us by day, retains by night a part of its power; and that therefore the fugitive impulses and tendencies that seek the darkness and dare not come forth by day, dare not even at night unveil their true aspect but have to approach, as it were, in costumes, or disguised as symbols or allegories, in order to pass unchallenged. The superintending power, that I just now called the power of morality, is compared very pertinently to a censor. What our psyche produces is, so to speak, subjected to a censor before it is allowed to emerge into the light of consciousness. And if the fugitive elements want to venture forth they must be correspondingly disguised, in order to pass the censor. Freud calls this disguising or paraphrasing process the dream disfigurement.

The literal is thereby displaced by the figurative, an allusion intimated through a nebulous atmosphere. Thus, in the following example, an unconscious death wish is exhibited. In the examination of a lady’s dream it struck me that the motive of a dead child occurred repeatedly, generally in connection with picnics. During an analysis the lady observed that when she was a girl the children, her younger brothers and sisters, were often the obstacles when it was proposed to have a party or celebration or the like. The association Kinder (= children) Hinderniss (= obstacle) furnished the key to a solution of the stereotyped dream motive. As further indications showed, it concerned the children of a married man whom she loved. The children prevented the man separating from his wife in order to marry the lady. In waking life she would not, of course, admit a wish for the death of the embarrassing children, but in dreams the wish broke through and represented the secretly wished situation. The children are dead and nothing now stands in the way of the “party” or the celebration (wedding). The double sense of the word “party” is noticeable. (In German “eine Partie machen” means both to go on an excursion and to make a matrimonial match.) Such puns are readily made use of by dreams, in order to make the objectionable appear unobjectionable and so to get by the censor.

Dream thoughts and the psychoanalytic approach

The psychoanalytic procedure, employed in the interpretation of dreams of any person can be called a scientifically organized confession that traces out with infinite patience even to the smallest ramifications, the spiritual inventory of what was tucked away in the mind of the person undergoing it. Psychoanalysis is used in medical practice to discover and relieve the spiritual causes of neurotic phenomena. The patient is induced to tell more and more, starting from a given point, thereby going into the most intimate details, and yet we are aware, in the network of outcropping thoughts and memories, of certain points of connection, which have dominating significance for the affective life of the person being studied.

Here the path begins to be hard because it leads into the intimately personal. The secret places of the soul set up a powerful opposition to the intruder, even without the purposive action of the patient. Right there are, however, so to speak, the sore spots (pathogenic “complexes”) of the psyche, towards which the research is directed. Firmly advancing in spite of the limitations, we lay bare these roots of the soul that strive to cling to the unconscious. Those are the disfigured elements just mentioned; all of the items of the spiritual inventory from which the person in question has toilsomely “worked himself out” and from which he supposes himself free. They must be silent because they stand in some contradictory relation to the character in which the person has clothed himself; and if they, the subterranean elements still try to announce themselves, he hurls them back immediately into their underworld; he allows himself to think of nothing that offends too much his attitudes, his morality, and his feelings. He does not give verbal expression to the disturbers of the peace that dwells in his heart of hearts.

The mischief makers are, however, merely repressed, not dead. They are like the Titans [On this similarity rests the psychologic term “titanic,” used frequently by me in what follows.] which were not crushed by the gods of Olympus, but only shut up in the depths of Tartarus. There they wait for the time when they can again arise and show their faces in daylight. The earth trembles at their attempts to free themselves. Thus the titanic forces of the soul strive powerfully upward. And as they may not live in the light of consciousness they rave in darkness. They take the main part in the procreation of dreams, produce in some cases hysterical symptoms, compulsion ideas and acts, anxiety neuroses, etc. The examination of these psychic disturbances is not without importance for our later researches.

Psychoanalysis, which has not at any time been limited to medical practice, but soon began with its torch to illumine the activity of the human spirit in all its forms (poetry, myth-making, etc.), was decried as pernicious in many quarters. [The question as to how widely psychoanalysis may be employed would at this time lead us too far, yet it will be considered in Sect. 1, of the synthetic part of this volume.] Now it is indeed true that it leads us toward all kinds of spiritual refuse. It does so, however, in the service of truth, and it would be unfortunate to deny to truth its right to justify itself. Any one determined to do so could in that case defend a theory that sexual maladies are acquired by catching a cold.

The spiritual refuse that psychoanalysis uncovers is like the manure on which our cultivated fruits thrive. The dark titanic impulses are the raw material from which in every man, the work of civilization forms an ethical character. Where there is a strong light there are deep shadows. Should we be so insincere as to deny, because of supposed danger, the shadows in our inmost selves? Do we not diminish the light by so doing? Morality, in whose name we are so scrupulous, demands above everything else, truth and sincerity. But the beginning of all truth is that we do not impose upon ourselves. “Know thyself” is written over the entrance of the Pythian sanctuary. And it is this inspiring summons of the radiant god of Delphi that psychoanalysis seeks to meet.

After this introductory notice, it will be possible properly to understand the following instructive example, which contains exquisite sexual symbolism.

“I dreamed I was riding on the railroad. Near me sat a delicate, effeminate young man or boy; his presence caused erotic feelings in me to a certain extent. (It appeared as if I put my arm about him.) The train came to a standstill; we had arrived at a station and got out. I went with the boy into a valley through which ran a small brook, on whose bank were strawberries. We picked a great many. After I had gathered a large number I returned to the railway and awoke.”

Dream of Mr. T.

Supplementary communication.

“I think I remember that an uncomfortable feeling came over me in the boy’s company. The valley branched off to the left from the railway.”

From a discussion of the dream it next appeared that T., who, as far as I knew, entertained a pronounced aversion to homosexuality, had read a short time before a detailed account of a notorious trial then going on in Germany, that was concerned with real homosexual actions. [In consciousness, of course. In the suppressed depths of unconsciousness the infantile homosexual component also will surely be found.] An incident from it, probably supported by some unconscious impulse, crowded its way into the dream as an erotic wish, hence the affectionate scene in the railway train. So far the matter would be intelligible even if in an erotic day dream the image of a boy, considering the existing sexual tendency of T., had been resolutely rejected by him. How are the other processes in the dream related to it? Do they not at first sight appear unconnected or meaningless?

And yet in them are manifested the fulfillment of the wish implied in the erotic excitement in the company of the boy. The homosexual action of this wish fulfillment would have been insufferable to the dream censor; it must be intimated symbolically. And the remainder of the dream is accordingly nothing but a dextrous veiling of a procedure hostile to the censor.

Even that the train comes to a standstill is a polite paraphrase. [Paraphrase as the dreamer communicated to me, of an actual physical condition—an erection.] Similar meaning is conveyed by the word station, which reminds us of the Latin word status (from stare, to stand). The scene in the car recalls moreover the joke in a story which often used to occur to T.

“A lady invited to a reception, where there were also young girls, a Hungarian (the typical Vienna joker), who is feared on account of his racy wit. She enjoined him at the same time, in view of the presence of the girls, not to treat them to any of his spicy jests. The Hungarian agreed and appeared at the party. To the amazement of the lady, he proposed the following riddle: ‘’One can enter from in front, or from behind, only one has to stand up.’ Observing the despair of the lady, he, with a sly, innocent look, said, ‘But well then, what is it? Simply a trolley car.’ Next day the daughter of the house appeared before her schoolmates in the high school with the following:‘’Girls, I heard a great joke yesterday; one can go in from in front or behind, only one must be stiff.’ ”

[A neat contribution, by the way, to the psychology of innocent girlhood.] The anecdote was related to T. by a man later known to him as a homosexual. T. had been with few Hungarians, but with these few, homosexuality had been, as it happened, a favorite subject of conversation.

In the above we find many highly suggestive elements. The most suggestive is, however, the strawberries. T. had, as appeared during the process of the analysis, a couple of days before the dream read a French story where the expression (new to him) cueillir des fraises occurred. He went to a Frenchman for the explanation of this phrase and learned that it was a delicate way of speaking of the sexual act, because lovers like to go into the woods under the pretext of picking strawberries, and thus separate themselves from the rest of the company. In whatever way the dream wish conceived its gratification, the valley (between the two hills!) through which the brook flowed furnishes a quite definite suggestion. Here also the above mentioned “from behind” probably gets a meaning.

The circumstance that the dream has, as it were, two faces, with one that it openly exposes to view, implies that a distinction must be made between the manifest and the latent material. The openly exposed face is the manifest dream content (as the wording of the dream report represents the dream); what is concealed is the latent dream thoughts. For the most part a broad tissue of dream thoughts is condensed into a dream. A part of the dream thoughts (not all) belongs regularly to the titanic elements of our psyche. The shaping of the dream out of the dream thoughts is called by Freud the dream work. Four principles direct it, Condensation, Displacement, Representability, and Secondary Elaboration.

Condensation was just now mentioned. Many dream thoughts are condensed to relatively few, but therefore all the more significant, images. Every image (person, object, etc.) is wont to be “determined” by several dream thoughts. Hence we speak of multiple determination or “Overdetermination.”

Displacement shows itself in the fact that the dream (evidently in the service of distortion) pushes forward the unreal and pushes aside the real; in short, rearranges the psychic values (interest) in such a way that the dream in comparison with its latent dream thoughts appears as it were displaced or “elsewhere centered.”

As the dream is a perceptual representation it must put into perceptually comprehensible form everything that it wants to express, even that which is most abstract. The tendency to vividly perceptual or plastic expression that is characteristic of the dream, corresponds accordingly to the Representability.

To the Secondary Elaboration we have to credit the last polishing of the dream fabric. It looks after the logical connection in the pictorial material, which is created by the displacing dream work. “This function (i.e., the secondary elaboration) proceeds after the manner which the poet maliciously ascribes to the philosopher; with its shreds and patches it stops the gaps in the structure of the dream. The result of its effort is that the dream loses its appearance of absurdity and disconnectedness and approaches the standard of a comprehensible experience. But the effort is not always crowned with complete success.” (Freud, “Traumdeutung,” p. 330.) The secondary elaboration can be compared also to the erection of a façade.

Of the entire dreamwork Freud says (“Traumdeutung,” p. 338) comprehensively that it is:

“not merely more careless, more incorrect, more easily forgotten or more fragmentary than waking thought; it is something qualitatively quite different and therefore not in the least comparable with it. It does not, in fact, think, reckon, or judge, but limits itself to remodeling. It may be exhaustively described if we keep in view the conditions which its productions have to satisfy. These productions, the dream, will have first of all to avoid the censor, and for this purpose the dream work resorts to displacement of psychic intensities even to the point of changing all psychic values; thoughts must be exclusively or predominantly given in the material of visual and auditory memory images, and from this grows that demand for representability which it answers with new displacements. Greater intensities must apparently be attained here, than are at its disposal in dream thoughts at night, and this purpose is served by the extreme condensation which affects the elements of the dream-thoughts. There is little regard for the logical relations of the thought material; they find finally an indirect representation in formal peculiarities of dreams. The affects of dream thoughts suffer slighter changes than their image content. They are usually repressed. Where they are retained they are detached from images and grouped according to their similarity.”

Briefly to express the nature of the dream, Stekel gives in one place (“Sprache des Traumes,” p. 107) this concise characterization: “The dream is a play of images in the service of the affects.”

A nearly exact formula for the dream has been contributed by Freud and Rank,

“On the foundation and with the help of repressed infantile sexual material, the dream regularly represents as fulfilled actual wishes and usually also erotic wishes in disguised and symbolically veiled form.”

(Jb.; ps. F., p. 519, and Trdtg., p. 117.)

In this formula the wish-fulfillment, following Freud’s view, is preponderant, yet it would appear to me that it is given too exclusive a rôle in the (chiefly effective) background of the dream. An important point is infantile in the dream, in which connection we must mention the Regression.

Regression is a kind of psychic retrogression that takes place in manifold ways in the dream (and related psychic events). The dream reaches back towards infantile memories and wishes. [Sometimes this is already recognizable in the manifest dream content. Usually, however, it is first disclosed by psychoanalysis. Strongly repressed, and therefore difficult of access, is this infantile sexual material. On the infantile forms of sexuality, see Freud, “Three Contributions to Sexual Theory.”] It reaches back also from the complicated and completed to a more primitive function, from abstract thought to perceptual images, from practical activity to hallucinatory wish fulfillment. [The latter with especial significance in the convenience dreams. We fall asleep, for instance, when thirsty, then instead of reaching for the glass of water, we dream of the drink.] The dreamer thus approaches his own childhood, as he does likewise the childhood of the human race, by reaching back for the more primitive perceptual mode of thought. [On the second kind of regression the Zurich psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, has made extraordinary interesting revelations. His writings will further occupy our attention later.]

Nietzsche writes (“Menschliches, Allzumenschliches”):

“In sleep and in dreams we pass through the entire curriculum of primitive mankind…. I mean as even to-day we think in dreams, mankind thought in waking life through many thousand years; the first cause that struck his spirit in order to explain anything that needed explanation satisfied him and passed as truth. In dreams this piece of ancient humanity works on in us, for it is the germ from which the higher reason developed and in every man still develops. The dream takes us back into remote conditions of human culture and puts in our hand the means of understanding it better. The dream thought is now so easy because, during the enormous duration of the evolution of mankind we have been so well trained in just this form of cheap, fantastic explanation by the first agreeable fancy. In that respect the dream is a means of recovery for the brain, which by day has to satisfy the strenuous demands of thought required by the higher culture.” ff.)

(Works, Vol. II, pp. 27

If we remember that the explanation of nature and the philosophizing of unschooled humanity is consummated in the form of myths, we can deduce from the preceding an analogy between myth making and dreaming. This analogy is much further developed by psychoanalysis. Freud blazes a path with the following words:

“The research into these concepts of folk psychology [myths, sagas, fairy stories] is at present not by any means concluded, but it is apparent everywhere from myths, for instance, that they correspond to the displaced residues of wish fantasies of entire nations, the dreams of ages of young humanity.”

(Samml. kl. Lehr. II, p. 205.)

It will be shown later that fairy stories and myths can actually be subjected to the same psychologic interpretation as dreams, that for the most part they rest on the same psychological motives (suppressed wishes, that are common to all men) and that they show a similar structure to that of dreams.

Abraham (Traum und Mythus) has gone farther in developing the parallelism of dream and myth. For him the myth is the dream of a people and a dream is the myth of the individual. He says, e.g.:

“The dream is (according to Freud) a piece of superseded infantile, mental life” and –

“the myth is a piece of superseded infantile, the mental life of a people”; also, “The dream then, is the myth of the individual.” Rank conceives the myths as images intermediate between collective dreams and collective poems. “For as in the individual the dream or poem is destined to draw off unconscious emotions that are repressed in the course of the evolution of civilization, so in mythical or religious phantasies a whole people liberate itself for the maintenance of its psychic soundness from those primal impulses that are refractory to culture (titanic), while at the same time it creates, as it were, a collective symptom for taking up all repressed emotion.”

(Inz-Mot., p. 277. Cf. also Kunstl., p. 36.)

A definite group of such repressed primal impulses is given a prominent place by psychoanalysis. I refer to the so-called Œdipus complex that plays an important rôle in the dream life as also in myth and apparently, also in creative poetry. The fables (sagas, dramas) of Œdipus, who slays his father and marries his mother are well known. According to the observations of psychoanalysis there is a bit of Œdipus in every one of us. [These Œdipus elements in us can—as I must observe after reading Imago, January, 1913—be called “titanic” in the narrower sense, following the lead of Lorenz. They contain the motive for the separation of the child from the parents.] The related conflicts, that in their entirety constitute the Œdipus complex (almost always unconscious, because actively repressed) arise in the disturbance of the relation to the parents which every child goes through more or less in its first (and very early) sexual emotions.

“If king Œdipus can deeply affect modern mankind no less than the contemporary Greeks, the explanation can lie only in the fact that the effect of the Greek tragedy does not depend on the antithesis between fate and the human will, but in the peculiarity of the material in which this antithesis is developed. There must be a voice in our inner life which is ready to recognize the compelling power of fate in the case of Œdipus, while we reject as arbitrary the situations in the Ahnfrau or other destiny tragedies. And such an element is indeed contained in the history of king Œdipus. His fate touches us only because it might have been ours, because the oracle hung the same curse over us before our birth as over him. For us all, probably, it is ordained that we should direct our first sexual feelings towards our mothers, the first hate and wish for violence against our fathers. Our dreams convince us of that. King Œdipus, who has slain his father Laius and married his mother Jocasta, is only the wish-fulfillment of our childhood. But more fortunate than he, we have been able, unless we have become psychoneurotic, to dissociate our sexual feelings from our mothers and forget our jealousy of our fathers. From the person in whom that childish wish has been fulfilled we recoil with the entire force of the repressions, that these wishes have since that time suffered in our inner soul. While the poet in his probing brings to light the guilt of Œdipus, he calls to our attention our own inner life, in which that impulse, though repressed, is always present. The antithesis with which the chorus leaves us See, that is Œdipus, Who solved the great riddle and was peerless in power, Whose fortune the townspeople all extolled and envied. See into what a terrible flood of mishap he has sunk. This admonition hits us and our pride, we who have become in our own estimation, since the years of childhood, so wise and so mighty. Like Œdipus, we live in ignorance of the wishes that are so offensive to morality, which nature has forced upon us, and after their disclosure we should all like to turn away our gaze from the scenes of our childhood.”

(Freud, Trdtg., p. 190 f.)

Believing that I have by this time sufficiently prepared the reader who was unfamiliar with psychoanalysis for the psychoanalytic part of my investigation, I will dispense with further time-consuming explanations.

What do you think about dream thoughts? Do you have dream thoughts often?

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