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?
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.
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.