Dreaming the faceless ones

I first discovered the concept of archetypes in the early seventies, when I was starting to try and understand my dreams. At that time, there were few books about symbols, and most of them were not very accessible to the general reader.

My symbols dictionary gave ‘archetype’ meanings for some symbols, which I found completely puzzling. Why did some symbols have two definitions, and which one should I apply to my individual dream?

‘Rat = the diseased… someone the dreamer unconsciously thinks of as “a rat”… the devouring and therefore the Terrible Mother (Archetypes)’
Because my dictionary only offered archetypal meanings for certain symbols, I thought some symbols were archetypes and some were not; it was only a decade later that I began to understand the archetypal as a layer of meaning behind everything. Just as behind every object in waking life there are layers of personal symbolic significance, so beyond that there are layers of group/cultural/universal meaning.

Jung said you could not understand archetypes in a theoretical way; they were ‘pieces of life itself’, which you could only understand through direct experience. My first experience of archetypes was in my dreams.

The individual face concealed

I thought of them as the faceless ones, because they seemed to have no individual identity, they were generic – an old man, an old woman, a baby; a doctor, a teacher, a guide. These dream figures had a different quality about them – I felt drawn to them because of their mystery.

I gradually understood that these faceless figures represented the pure spirit of , say, wisdom or adventure, healing or learning. Meeting them showed me how the archetypes worked in more ordinary dream figures – if I dreamt about a friend who was a doctor, for example, he would be appearing both as himself, as what he personally represents to me and also as the universal figure of the healer.

The faceless ones gave me experience of archetypal energies at work in my dreams, and this layer of meaning brought deeper resonance to every dream experience, and every part of daily life.

The encounter with the archetypes is a spiritual experience, and I’ll be exploring that idea in my post next week.

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12 thoughts on “Dreaming the faceless ones”

  1. Love your idea of archetypes as ‘the faceless ones’. Very often in dreams or even when I’m writing, I have the sense of the person but it’s hard to visualise them in detail. You’ve made me realise that when I write I can lose so much of a character by only focusing on one level instead of delving down into the layers. Fascinating!

  2. You’ve reminded me of the artist, Modigliani, who paints faceless people. I wonder if his inspiration came from a similar source. I don’t remember most of my dream people’s faces, but their clothes and hair are generally memorable. I think, as you say, they are archetypes and are symbolic more than anything. Another thought-provoking post, Jenny.

    1. Yes, Modigliani – how interesting! I’m sure visual artists, as much as writers, must be influenced by their dreamworld whether they are conscious of it or not.

  3. I often have the care of dream babies that seem to change face and age throughout the dream – sometimes they cling to me, other times I lose them. I’ve always thought of them as my many precious new beginnings, the dreams coincide with new projects and characters in my writing and help me decide what is worth pursuing.

  4. ‘my many precious new beginnings’ – I love that! One of the wondrous things about these dream babies is that they bring awareness of the endless process of opportunity and renewal. Sometimes, I’ve had to rescue a dream baby, and I’ve felt my attention has been brought firmly back to the preciousness of, say, a tender new plan or idea.

  5. Wow, just came across this blog now, I love the title “writing in the house of dreams”, and of course the content. The title makes me feel so at home! The content makes me think about my own dreams. I’ve often wonder how I could turn my dreams into writing that would be worthwhile/makes sense to others. I dream a lot, usually 4-5 a night that I can remember. I’ve roughly slotted it into 3 categories.
    (1) the problems or excitements of our day that our brains try to sort out.
    (2) ouch, these some of you might not like. the lifes I’ve might have had before, I had different looks/gender/ages/times. It’s so real, the pain and pleasure, I was there.
    (3) These are the most fun and informative. I feel as if I meet people in my “dream world”, discuss topics with, attend classes, and much more.

  6. Hello and welcome! I’m so glad you like my blog. You’re obviously, as you say, at home in your dreamworld. I like your categories too – they describe why interpreting a dream isn’t always possible, and could be misleading, unless you wake just knowing that it links with whatever’s going on in your waking life at the time. I’m looking at archetypes this month, and the spiritual side, which may be yet another kind of dreaming?

  7. Yep, absolutely. I’ve read so many “dream books” since I can remember to try and make sense of my many dreams. I felt none of the books make sense, my dreams were too personal, meant for one soul, not all souls.
    The “spiritual side” forms part of my 3rd category, the most fun and informative. I 1st felt symbols and archetypes were just for people having nothing much better to do with their thinking (sorry, just being honest), then I realised there’s much that I don’t know, much much more, that I can’t even imagine to understand.
    It’s like being 5 years old and getting to understand 1 + 1 = 2.
    Now in a world of only Integers, how do you explain the answer to 1 + 1 + a half to that same 5 year old? Is that 2 or 3 ?
    I cannot wait to read all your previous posts! I’m open for new ideas!

  8. Yes, yes – that’s it exactly! Opening to what you can’t understand, instead of only valuing what you can. It’s the mysterious shape-shifting nature of dreaming that excites me, as much as the opportunity for insights and new understanding.

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