Jungian Psychology Series: Dreams and the Afterlife (part II)

In In part I of this series I shared a number of dreams in which the dreamers felt they had witnessed the spiritual presence of a deceased relative or friend. Although it is true that the other people in our dreams–living or deceased–usually represent a part of our personality that is like that person, it was pointed out that some dreams and visions may represent actual spiritual visitations.  A strong sense of the deceased person’s presence is one possible indicator of a visitation dream/vision. Another indicator is the timing of the dream’s occurrence, as shown below.

On the night of her best friend’s death a 63 year-old woman dreamed: “I go to visit Suzanne in the hospital [Suzanne was dying of liver cancer], but she is mostly unaware that I am there. I am holding her hand and notice how dry her skin has become. I get some lotion to moisturize her skin, but as I gently rub the lotion in, her skin begins to dissolve. I get frightened and go to call for a doctor, but Suzanne calls me back. She says, ‘Just stay with me and keep putting lotion on my skin.’ I tell her, ‘I can’t, it’s making your skin disappear,’ but she says, ‘that’s ok, I don’t need it anymore; it’s irritating me.’ So I sit back down next to her and continue to use the lotion on her skin, and it continues to disappear. Music is playing softly in the background; it’s her favorite song by her favorite artist, “In the Garden,” by Elvis Presley. It is a totally peaceful time, we are so at ease with one another. I continue rubbing the lotion onto her body until she has disappeared. I then get up and walk out the door.” The dreamer adds, “I knew the next morning when I awoke, and before I got the call from her husband, that Suzanne had died. The dream had been our final goodbye.”

There are a couple of ways we can look at this dream. The skin, as outer covering to the body, is a common symbol for the persona, our “public face.” Suzanne may represent an aspect of the dreamer’s persona which needs to change, or be let go of. From another perspective, the dream’s occurrence on the night of Suzanne’s death also suggests the possibility of a pre-death visitation. The gentle rubbing away of Suzanne’s skin may symbolize the shedding of her earthly body. The lyrics to the song, “In the Garden,” are consistent with this hypothesis, for they describe the reunion of a soul with its creator.

On the night her brother died a woman dreamed, “I see a dark, veil-covered face and shoulders in front of me. It is too dark to make out the face.” This is a brief but intriguing dream, and an uncommon dream image. Despite its uniqueness, it might have faded from the dreamer’s memory had it not occurred on the night of her brother’s death.

A veil is an interesting object. It is something that reveals and conceals at the same time. From an historical religious perspective, veils function as protective boundaries between the sacred and the mundane, between God and man. They allow us a glimpse into the mystery and majesty of the sacred, but not so much that we become psychologically overwhelmed. Given the timing of the dream it is fair to inquire about its relationship to her brother’s death. Might the veiled figure represent a spirit from the afterlife coming to prepare her for the news she would soon hear? Was it the spirit of a deceased relative come to fetch her brother, stopping by to see her while he or she was “in the neighborhood”? Could it have been the spirit of her brother–already “beyond the veil”–coming to say goodbye? At this point we can only speculate. But, given the timing of the dream, such speculation is certainly reasonable.

Sometimes visitation dreams are suggested because the themes of the dreams do not meaningfully reflect the dreamer’s psychological process. (Or, if they do coincide with the dreamer’s process, the circumstances and elements of the dreams suggest that this process is in some way shared with the deceased.) By way of example, a psychotherapist related to me: “Ten years after my brother Tom died I began having dreams of him that were unlike any I had had of him before. Tom tended to be a workaholic and somewhat controlling with his kids and wife. I could be this way as well, and when I was I would often dream of Tom. His appearance in my dreams helped me to become aware of how I was being compulsive in my work or domineering with my family. But a few years ago I had a unique series of dreams involving Tom. There were six dreams over the course of 18 months, most of which involved his surviving wife, Michelle, and the building or remodeling of a house.”

Four dreams representative of the series are given here chronologically. Dream #1: “I dream Michelle is showing me around a house that Tom is building for them. It seems like it is by the Pacific Ocean [Michelle and Tom always lived in the Midwest]. The room we are in has blue trim and a cold breeze comes in through a room vent. I point this out as a potential problem.” Dream #2: “I am visiting Michelle and Tom. Michelle is telling me that she is angry with Tom about something. At first I think that she is joking and she gets mad at me. I listen more closely as she tells me about how his constant remodeling of the house, and how the blue tarps he put up to contain the dust keep getting in her way and interfere with family life.” Dream #3: “I am at a house Tom has built in a forest. He has horses on the property, contained in a small fenced area that goes around the house and gives the horses no place to run. I tell him I think that he should give them a larger corral.” Last dream of the series: “I am with Tom, Michelle, and their children in a home he has on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I am helping him to plant a circle of pine trees–a windbreak–around the property. It is a sunny day and there is a certain sense of significance in the completion of this project.”

At first glance these dreams may seem of passing interest. However, if we look at the images as symbols, a deeper meaning rises to the surface. The house that is being built is a “soul-house.” The soul-house is home to a man’s feminine nature, or a woman’s masculine nature. We all have a soul-house and the construction of this “house”–poorly or well built, cheaply or lovingly built–will be reflected in the way we live our lives and the quality of our relationships. For example, a man who neglects, belittles, or impoverishes his own soul will manifest similar attitudes towards the women in his life. Through the medium of the dream it is possible that Tom is seeking guidance from his brother on how to relate more authentically and harmoniously to his own soul. [Interestingly, Carl Jung describes a similar experience when, five months before the death of his mother, he dreamt that his deceased father came to him for marriage counseling. Jung felt that his father–the husband in a troubled marriage while alive–was preparing for the imminent reunion with his wife.]

Through the course of the dream series progress is suggested by the “completion” of the house, as well as by its movement from the west to the east (from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic). Since the sun rises in the east, the Atlantic Ocean would symbolize both new life and new consciousness.  The windbreak around the completed home symbolizes a living and protective boundary to the soul-house. The possibility that these dreams represent spiritual interactions with the deceased is indicated, in part, by the fact that the same woman, Michelle, is used as a soul image in each dream. Typically, the people used to symbolize a dreamer’s soul will change over the course of a dream series.

In two dreams subsequent to this series, it was the dreamer who was receiving assistance from his deceased brother in addressing some challenges in his life. If these dreams and those of the series represent actual visitations, then a couple of ideas are suggested. First, knowledge and relationships may continue to evolve across the veil of “death.” Second, communication between the two worlds often utilizes the symbolic language of dreams. It seems that dreams are like veils, drawing us ever further into life’s mysteries.

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