Last time I shared a dream from over 20 years ago titled “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” So what did that dream have to do with “real” life? Actually, dreams ARE real life. They happen to everyone, even some animals. They are facts. We do not make them up. They come from a place beyond Ego’s control: the unconscious. Our unawareness of the unconscious does not negate its reality; each dream proves its existence. When we trust it and explore its nightly dramas, ordinary life is transformed into the greatest adventure of all: living our own myth.
This is my all-time favorite dream and I’m still processing its message. It arrived shortly after I finished my first book about the inner life, The Bridge to Wholeness. I had quit college teaching to follow my passion for writing, birthed my precious child, nurtured it through months of revisions, and was looking for a publisher. At a time when I was particularly vulnerable, this dream affirmed my choices and bolstered my courage to continue on my new path.
It is a mythic allegory about the psycho-spiritual initiation of my immature Ego (the little green snake) which had unconsciously identified with my culture’s masculine/Animus values. It said that my destiny was to take the individuation (tree) journey through a dark and unknown way to integrate my Soul (brown female snake) into consciousness.
The first stage of initiation was a slow awakening to Spirit through a lengthy immersion in the spiritual realm (hole). This corresponded with the first half of my life when I escaped internal conflicts by immersing myself in church, the Bible, and masculine-oriented religious teachings.
The second stage began when the little green snake left the safe womb of conformity and ventured out on its own. This was the right choice (right) for me, even though it opened me to the dangerous influence of the unconscious (left). The outer world equivalent to this plot development is that at age 37 I finally acknowledged my unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, overcame my inertia, and returned to college for my doctorate.
Act III featured an encounter with my earthy feminine Anima/Soul (brown female snake) who lived in the opposite, unconscious side of my psyche. Suddenly, her differing needs demanded equal time with Spirit.
In waking life I had come face to face with a moral dilemma, both sides of which were equally compelling, yet intolerable. Fearful of making a terrible mistake that could have disastrous consequences, I tolerated the tension of their slow simmering in a Dark Night of the Soul for nine long years. Listening to the dialogues between Reason and Emotion, Conscious and Unconscious, Animus and Anima, Spirit and Soul, Ego and Self without giving in to my Ego’s desperate wish to escape was my salvation, for in the process, the alchemical vessel of my psyche was strengthened and empowered.
Fascinated by the strange image of the female snake biting down on the head of the little green snake, I looked for associations in Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker says that the serpent was originally identified with the Great Goddess and many ancient religions told stories about a male snake deity who was the Goddess’s consort. Walker writes:
[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess. The image of the male snake deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion about the sex life of snakes, reported by Pliny and solemnly believed in Europe even up to the 20th century: that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him [italics mine] p. 904.
Bingo! This mythic image which I had never encountered before is an archetypal symbol of fertility, transformation and renewal! It appeared in my dream as a natural consequence of years of inner work and mirrored a life-changing transformation in my personality. This is why the last scene of the dream pointed not to death, but to new life. An apparent catastrophe was transformed into something sacred (rainbow) by the snakes’ bizarre embrace. The result was a more maturely individuated Ego and Animus (cowboy) and a deeply meaningful spirituality.
So my answer to,”What do dreams have to do with ‘real’ life?” is, “Everything that truly matters and is deeply real.” They show us who we are: our greatest fears and deepest desires, our wounds and wishes, weaknesses and strengths.They tell us where we are and how to get where we want to go. They help us forgive our flaws and learn compassion for ourselves and others. They encourage our individuality and reward our healthy choices. They satisfy our soul’s yearning to be known and loved.
I still struggle daily to understand and accept myself, but thanks to my dreams and the writing through which I pour out my vital essence, I’m still evolving. And beneath my ubiquitous self-doubt rests a solid foundation—laid by 25 years of recording and working on #4,552 dreams to date—of peaceful knowing. My dreams tell me: You are making a contribution only you can make. This is enough for me.
Your destiny is the result of the collaboration between the conscious and the unconscious. Carl Jung, Letters Volume I, p. 283.