Dreaming the Anima Mundi: A Jungian Interpretation
The genesis of this paper occurred through a graduate class assignment. Specifically, the assignment involved getting connected to the Anima Mundi before going to bed and then inviting it into our dreams. The Anima Mundi is the world soul. It is different than the Great Mother, which is more universal and archetypal than the Anima Mundi. Unfortunately, Jung sometimes uses these terms interchangeably, but there is an actual distinction.
According to Hillman, Jung in his best moments recognized that the earth was a living entity. In other words, the world or earth soul was not merely a matter of projection. As such, some Jungians believe that archetypes such as the Anima Mundi are archetypal beings that can literally be instinctual and reactive.
In the case of the Anima Mundi, a number of Jungians might raise the point that the Anima Mundi could shake us off the earth like a dog might shake off bothersome fleas, if it wanted to. If that is true, then there may be more meaning than most people suspect behind certain natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. It may also be a point worth considering when we are choosing what our relationship to the earth and nature will be as a species.
In any case, I happened to have a dream related to the assignment above that I will outline below in detail. It didn’t feel like any other dreams that I’ve had and intuitively, I sense that I had contact with the Anima Mundi.
After outlining the dream itself, I will look at it from six different angles. Each of these steps would most likely be included in a classical Jungian approach to this dream. Specifically, I will look at my personal and cultural associations to the dream and some of the aspects of the dream we discussed in class. I will also look at the dream symbols and some of their possible meanings based on my own research. I will also place the dream in the context of my life, which will involve separating the parts I think are subjective from those that are more archetypal or objective. Next, I will look at how my dream fits in with the flow of the rest of my dream life.
Finally, I will include some observations and other integrative material in my discussion section. This section will serve to put all the pieces together and I will also share where I feel this dream theme might be going for me, my own reflections on Jung’s theory of dreams and how these relate to this particular dream.
The Dream, Dream Associations and Class Discussion
In my dream, I saw a neo-Nazi looking woman, with a shaved head, bronze skin covered with a thin layer of sweat and a dangerous air like a big wild cat. She was quite sexy and while I was attracted to her, I realized she was potentially dangerous and unpredictable. She moved like an animal and her skin gleamed from a thin layer of sweat. She was moving out of a sitting position with her knees to one side into a crawling position. Her direction of movement was at about a forty-five degree angle toward my direction, but her eyes were directed right at mine.
One of the most striking features about this dream image was a mark on her cheek, which was a filled in pentagram with an arrow through it sloping upward at about forty-five degrees. This was painted on with an unrefined paint like an indigenous culture might use. I got the sense that she couldn’t rub it or wash it off. In other words, it was a permanent marking of some kind and it had a numinous quality to it. By numinous, I mean that it had a high spiritual charge.
In terms of clothing and other physical attributes, the woman in my dream was fit and muscular with strong masculine qualities, but certainly quite feminine overall. There was an animal-like sensuality to her that was exciting, but it also provoked some anxiety in me. She was very scantily clad and barefoot. I noticed that she had a well-rounded attractive body, dark hair and light eyes that reminded me of a cat. Her eyes may have been green, but I am not exactly sure.
My strongest personal association with this dream was with the yellow star symbol that I described above as numinous. I associated this strongly with Native Americans, the sun and something transcendent. It had a strong spiritual charge and a sense of openness, spaciousness and beauty. It didn’t exactly seem to belong on her, but at the same time it seemed an integral part of her. I also felt there was something shamanistic about this symbol.
Some other personal associations I had were the neo-Nazi motif with an incident where I was in Paris and the neo-Nazi were demonstrating. There were police in the subways with machine guns and outside the Louvre. It was quite disturbing and seemed surreal. I also related the dream figures shaved head back to neo-Nazis as well as to Sinead O’Connor. The overall energy of the scene reminded me of a Sting video where Sting is moving inside a cage and there is a woman in earth tone shorts moving around on top of the cage.
As I discussed, there was a sexy, animal-like energy to this woman that seemed archetypal and vitalizing, but certainly not an energy that I would imagine for mother earth. It reminded me of an encounter I had with a mountain lion near Yosemite. During this moment, the lion and I surprised each other and our eyes met. I wasn’t scared, but I was in awe of the power, speed and beauty of this creature at the same time that I was aware of the danger I was in. I can’t say it was a bad experience overall and in some ways I was captivated by it in the same way as I was by this archetypal woman. There were two aspects to the experience in the dream just like the mountain lion encounter.
Some of the cultural associations that came up for me were the Nazis as the personification of evil, skin heads as anarchists, yellow star as a life giving sun, the arrow as indicating direction and the woman representing nature.
In class, some of the major themes that came up that seemed significant were that the woman was an Angela Jolie type, ancient animal drawings often had an arrow drawn through them in a similar fashion to the symbol on the woman’s face, the tree in Native American folklore as a pointer to the sun and the cottonwood tree cross section having a five-pointed star shaped pith. Other themes that came up were ascension, androgyny, and the sense that this woman was marked. Another very strong association was that the mark on the dream figures cheek corresponded to the opposite energy that is always present in the larger part of one half of the yin-yang symbol.
The most significant element I took away from this particular part of the dream interpretation was the yellow star with an arrow through it being a numinous, spiritual symbol somehow associated with the Sun. The second most striking element was the woman as a representation of nature in an angry or aggressive state, but with the potential to open up into its opposite as indicated by the yin-yang energy. The third aspect of the dream that hit me hard was the cat-like energy of the woman and how much she reminded me of the encounter I had with a mountain lion.
Archetypal Amplification of Symbols
As I mentioned above, the most powerful symbol in the dream for me was the yellow filled in pentagram with the arrow through it. The association to the sun, Native Americans and something spiritual was very compelling and even comforting. I was fascinated by this mark in the dream and I think it allowed me to be calm and feel safe in my encounter with this archetypal figure. Because of the limited length of this paper, I will largely limit my symbol amplification to these motifs.
The pentagram seems to have originated in Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago, probably as an astronomical plot of the planet Venus. I think it’s interesting that the associated planet is Venus and the figure is a female archetype representing nature. The meaning of this symbol through the ages has evolved, but it generally represents harmony, health and mystic powers. For the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures it was a stellar sign and the alchemists associated it with the five elements. Later the Christians associated it with the five wounds of Christ and it is also found in Native American culture.
Since my feeling in the dream was that the yellow star was associated with American Indians and the sun, I spent a lot of time researching this. Interestingly, several references came up that seemed to have some connection to my dream.
The first is from an Indian movement called the Ghost Dance. One part of the song that accompanies this dance is as follows:
The yellow star has noticed me.
Furthermore, it gave me
A standing yellow feather,
That yellow star.
The ghost dance is a ceremony for the regeneration of the earth and subsequently, the restoration of the earth’s caretakers to their former life of bliss. Interestingly, the religion experienced its height of popularity during the late 19th century, when devastation of the buffalo, the land and its Native American guardians was at its peak.
The second reference to the yellow star comes from the Pawnee Indians who lived on the great plains of North America. For the traditional Pawnee, the great world of nature and the spiritual aspect of the Universe were clearly woven together, in daily life and in the architecture of their homes. The mythic star gods of the Pawnee were represented by the four poles that held up their dome shaped lodges, which also served as observatories. The four star gods holding up the sky were unrelated distant stars – White Star was Sirius, Yellow Star was Capella, Red Star was Antares and Big Black Star was possibly Vega.
Unlike Pawnee earth lodges with their built-in cosmic connections, our modern homes inside or out don’t carry any sense of cosmic or spiritual connection. This is a point I took away from reading about the life of the Pawnee who are also incidentally nicknamed the star people because their whole life was driven by their connection with their star gods and close relationship to the larger cosmos.
Interestingly, almost all Native American Indians including the Pawnee did not use five-sided pentagrams to represent stars until their contact with outsiders. They took the five-sided star symbol from the U.S. flag and adopted it for their own purposes. There is, however, one exception to this general statement. The Lakota Indians used a five-sided star symbol that was taken from the shape of the pith of a cottonwood tree cut in cross section!
The Lakota Indians lived in the Black Hills area of South Dakota and in their culture trees were considered very sacred. Cottonwood trees had many sacred associations to the Lakota, but their most obvious one was their use in the sun dance ceremony. According to the Lakota, the cottonwood tree was used in the sun dance ceremony because its pith appears as a five-pointed star in cross-section and contains a sign from the star nations inside it.
This sun dance ceremony is very important to the Lakota Indians and they feel that man should emulate the tree, which reaches toward the sky and is always in prayer. They say a tree is also always growing and it prays as it moves with the wind. The “Tree of Life” that was used in the sun dance ceremony was a symbol for man’s communion with the universe. It was an expression of wholeness and unity where all life was one. It was said by these Indians that man could experience this unity only through his feelings. They also said that the star at the center of the tree is the heartwood where the seedlings are and that’s where change originates. Therefore, the symbolism of the pith is quite rich with many connotations. Further, I feel all of these connotations fit my dream quite well.
The sun dance is the predominant tribal ceremony of all Great Plain Indians. Contemporary indigenous people believe that unless the sun dance is performed each year, the earth will lose touch with the creative power of the universe, thereby losing its ability to regenerate. This ritual also symbolized the power of the sun as a manifestation of the Great Spirit.
Interestingly, the Lakota Indians also have a connection to the Ghost dance, which I mentioned earlier. They sent envoy’s to Wovoka the founder of the movement in 1889. This group brought the Ghost Dance back to their reservations, where it spread with a fury across the Great Plains. Blame for the Ghost Dance movement, which had the effect of uniting various tribes fell upon two people – Wovoka who was the founder and Sitting Bull the chief medicine man of the Lakota people.
An envoy was sent by the U.S. government to arrest Sitting Bull and he was killed in the crossfire between the army and his own people who were trying to protect him. Fourteen days after Sitting Bull’s fatal shooting, The U.S. Army sought to relocate and disarm the Lakota people, who failed to stop their Ghost Dance. On the frozen plains at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation, government troops opened fire on the overwhelmingly unarmed Lakota people.
As news of Wounded Knee spread throughout Native nations, the Ghost Dance movement died quickly. Wovoka’s prophecies were hollow and the land would not be returned from the white man through divine intervention. With the suddenness of its birth, the Ghost Dance disappeared.
The songs of the Ghost Dance are silent today and the dream of Wovoka vanished in the harsh light of reality. Christian principles which were laced throughout his theology were brutally ignored by the soldiers and settlers who claimed allegiance to Christ and yet destroyed the Native way of life with a brutality unknown in the Gospel teachings.
For me, the connection of the yellow star in the dream with the Lakota people is very strong. Also, I associate this symbol strongly with the sun dance and more specifically the sun.
The sun is the dominant symbol of creative energy in most traditions and it often worshipped as the supreme god or is seen as a manifestation of his all-seeing power. Surprisingly, despite the geocentric basis of ancient astronomy, some of the earliest graphic representations of the sun show it as the symbolic center or heart of the cosmos. As the source of heat, the sun represents vitality, passion, courage and eternally renewed youth. As the source of light out of darkness, it symbolized knowledge, intellect and Truth personified. It is this second meaning which seems to have the most significance in my dream.
Another interesting thing to note about the sun as a symbol is that it was an imperial yang symbol in China. This is an interesting association because of my felt sense of the yellow star on the dream figure’s cheek being associated with the small yang circle on the yin half of the yin-yang symbol.
It is also interesting to note that the sun was a considered a feminine energy in Native American cultures. Shamans drew on this energy in the Sun Dance by dancing in a circle around a forked world axis pole, staring at the sun and tearing from their chests cords binding them to the pole. The associations between the sun dance, the eventual slaughter of the Indians, Christ dying on a tree and the five points of a pentagram representing the five wounds of Christ (according to many sources) are very interesting to me. The cottonwood is also considered the “Tree of Life” to the Lakota Indians, which is often how the cross is referred to in Christianity when used as a symbol of Christ or resurrection.
In shamanistic cultures, arrows our often an ascension symbol and in the case of my dream, I believe this is true. There are other meanings for an arrow, but this is the one that best seems to fit my dream. Another that has some resonance is the parallel to the heart of St. Theresa of Avila being pierced by an arrow of divine love that gave her both intense pain and ecstasy.
Life Context and Dream Correlations
I had this dream during a period of my life when I was integrating more of the sacred feminine into the way I lived in the world. Earlier in the year, I made a collage, which had Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion, at the center and natural scenes all around her. To me, this indicates an earlier ongoing movement toward integrating the sacred feminine and nature. Perhaps it was also a compensation for my often overly masculine and sometimes driven way of being in the world. I also have a strong felt sense to this ongoing movement.
In other areas of my life, I have been meeting an unusual number of indigenous people or people who live like they are indigenous. Also, my awareness of nature has been heightened and I have been spending a lot more time outdoors. A recurring day dream of mine is of camping at Lake Tahoe under the stars when they were very bright and numerous like powder sugar. Sometimes I use this image to open a loving-kindness meditation because of the relaxing, spacious and loving feeling it evokes in me.
In the case of my dream symbols, I feel they were coming more from an objective rather than subjective level of the psyche. While in some ways I was projecting my anima, I think most the energy was archetypal. The projection of my anima in the form of the dream figure being sexually attractive was probably a way for my psyche to grab my attention.
With respect to my dream life in general, there have been a number of feminine archetypes appearing. Just a few nights ago, Lilith the demonic first wife of Adam according to Hebrew legends made an appearance. Lilith may have been derived from the Mesopotamian fertility goddess Ninlil, which is interesting fact when one considers that the pentagram first appeared in Mesopotamian culture and the figure in my dream has a lot of the energy of a modern, sexy version of a fertility goddess.
In the more distant past, I’ve had a number of dreams about being a Native American Indian. Some of them have been very lucid and felt like past life remembrances. I have not had one in a long time, until a similar energy came up in this dream when I tuned into the yellow star symbol.
In short, I feel that the woman in this dream represented the Anima Mundi in a somewhat aggressive posture. The mark on her cheek represented the opposite side of her nature, which corresponds to the Indian’s way of living in harmony with earth, which has now receded to the background in modern times. That is why I believe she is showing her opposite face in the dream, sort of as a warning. This is where the mountain lion energy came in for me.
Certainly, dream interpretation is very tricky business and I don’t believe that this analysis is the final word. What I do think is that having the intention to work with the dream, keeps the content close to consciousness. Even if I didn’t interpret the dream, just writing it down probably helps my psyche to integrate whatever information my deeper self is trying to convey.
In my case, I think this dream is headed toward a further integration of the sacred feminine and a closer connection to nature. I am open to it unfolding in whatever way it wants to and I sense that I will learn a lot by keeping the symbols in this dream alive in my consciousness.
According to Jung, a dream is a self dramatization of the actual state of the unconscious. In this sense, it is like an x-ray of the unconscious that helps you to understand what the deep unconscious Self is doing to help you. It is like a production that is put on by the Self for the benefit of the waking ego so that it can grow in some way.
However, Jung also believed that dreams could have objective content that comes from a deeper and more collective layer of the psyche. In other words, objective content is not personal. This is the domain of the archetypes, which are like magnets or organizing fields that attract similar types of images. In my dream, the woman is an archetypal image and I believe the content of my dream was strongly objective.
Dreams are valuable to us because they are an entry point into our unconscious. Since they also have a compensatory function, looking at our dreams can give us real insight into where we might be out of balance. Also, according to Jung, keeping the contents of dreams near consciousness helps us to assimilate their lessons and individuate. I believe this is true and I often read over a log of my dreams for this reason.
Finally, I would like to make the point that dreams live in the unconscious realm and that they are like living entities. While dream interpretation is useful, a dream is never fully interpreted because the symbols have many layers of meaning and the dream itself is part of a chain of dream material that is ongoing. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded and not kill the life of a dream by jumping to conclusions or believing you have fully figured anything out. I have found that curiosity and humility represent a much safer path to self-knowledge.