One challenge in determining if a particular dream relates to the approaching death of the dreamer is the fact that the psyche treats death much the same as it treats any other major life transition. Death and rebirth imagery is used in both cases. Death of the body is treated by the psyche no differently from the more symbolic deaths we pass through in the course of a lifetime, such as the death of one’s dependency on parents in adolescence, or the death of a familiar role/identity at midlife. The psyche does not treat physical death as something final. It portrays it as just another stop in the ongoing process of psychological development.
The following dream occurred nine months—almost to the day—before Lila (not her actual name) died of cancer and seven months before she knew she was ill.
Xavier (Lila’s boyfriend of many years) and I are on an ‘outing’ in a desert setting. We go to where there is a group of people honoring ‘new life’ outside. Most of us are in long coats—muted colors of grays, brown and black. The wind is blowing. We are huddled in little lines like pews in a church. There are three priest-like men leading this group in the dedication of a special plant which has to be tough to be planted out here. It is about four feet tall and bushy. They are going to film this dedication and they want someone to assist in the ritual. Everyone backs away from me a little, even Xavier. But he is still close by. The tallest of the three men came up to me while everyone backs away. Everyone had gloves on. I was not scared because there was an atmosphere of fun and joy. There were three mammals on the ground that they also wished to film. The creatures were possum-like and had intense black eyes. They stayed together as they walked by us in a straight line. Xavier and I were there by ‘accident’ and I thought they should film one of the regular people there. Everyone was quiet but joyful. The film crew kept changing their minds on how and where to film this event and what direction. The three mammals would go by in a straight direction and they would look at me. At every film direction we seemed to wait a long time after the main man would walk me there by holding my gloved hand. The group of people would turn and walk accordingly. The man, who reminded me of Father C, took my gloved hand and said they’d better get it right this time. He smiled and gave me a small laugh. The three mammals go by again. The sun is shining and it is still windy. It all seemed church-like and I felt compelled to tell this man that I was not Catholic. He laughs and tells me it is ok. The plant was dedicated. Xavier was with me. Everyone is happy and we all start leaving.
This is a strange dream. Whether it related to her coming death is uncertain but worthy of consideration. Lila reported that the night before the dream she spoke with a friend who encouraged her to marry Xavier rather than just live with him. Lila wondered if perhaps the dream referred to a potential marriage between herself and Xavier. Certainly the image of a joyful gathering presided over by a priest resonates with the feeling of a wedding ceremony. Counter to this perspective, however, are a couple key points. 1) The people are wearing long coats of dark hues—brown, gray, and black. That is clothing more evocative of a funeral than a wedding. 2) The other people are backing away from Lila, including her boyfriend. This suggests something she is doing by herself; she is not joined by Xavier until after the ceremony is completed.
Interestingly, a theme that frequently appears in the dreams of people who are approaching death is that of a “death wedding.” The unconscious links the image of a wedding with death because it views death as a new beginning and a union of opposites—e.g., the masculine and the feminine, the finite and the eternal, ego consciousness with the soul. Amplifying this theme is the fact that in ancient Greece the innermost chamber of the coffin was called the thalamus, or bridal chamber. Similarly, the walls of Etruscan tombs communicated the sense of a wedding celebration through scenes of music, dancing, and feasting.
A bush is being planted in the desert. Lila is involved in a ritual, a dedication and commemoration of new life. Vegetation is a common symbol in the iconography of death, often appearing on gravestones and tombs, for example. Jungian psychologist Marie Louis von Franz states that:
Vegetation represented the psychic mystery of death and resurrection…all vegetation is characterized by the fact that it draws its life directly from so-called dead, inorganic matter, from light, air, earth and water. For this reason it is an especially appropriate symbol for the miracle that out of “dead,” gross substances new life can arise. Now, man’s dead body also consists of inorganic matter only, and indeed—or so one hopes—a living “form” could arise from it again, as the vegetation imagery indicates. [p. 37]
Three animals and three priests lead the ceremony. The priests symbolize guides to the spiritual realm and the animals to the instinctive. The dream may be suggesting that a healthy negotiation of the death/rebirth process involves both spirit and instinct.
It is interesting that the whole event is being filmed, with repetitions of the dedication ritual until it is just right. Is the psyche helping Lila prepare for the central role she will be playing in her own death/rebirth drama? Her memorial service was led by a pastor wearing black, involved family and friends sitting in rows, honoring and celebrating the life she lived.
Interestingly, Lila died on Easter, a Christian holy day associated with spring, renewal, and life after death. Two weeks later, her ashes were placed in the desert soil of a Nevada cemetery. And as for the filming of the ritual, perhaps Lila’s unconscious anticipated the retelling of her psychological journey of death and rebirth through this series of articles.
1) von Franz, Marie-Louise. On Dreams and Death. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.1987.