Did Carl Jung Underestimate the Significance of This Transformative Dream?

No prisons are more confining than the ones of which we are unaware.

– Shakespeare, The Tempest

In 1913, a frustrated thirty-eight-year-old Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, broke with Freud, who had been an important mentor for many years. It was a scary and traumatic experience for Jung. He was leaving the popular authority of his time; he was leaving a system of dream interpretation, a body of techniques, ideas, and theories of analysis. And he was leaving what surely must have felt like a father-son relationship with Freud along with understandable feelings of betrayal, for both Freud and Jung. Of course this break-up also marks one of the most significant transitions in Jung’s own process of individuation–a process of finding his own life, his creative spirit. Shortly after disconnecting his life’s work from Freudian psychology and setting out on his own, he had a dream-like vision while alone on a journey, a foreboding drama that seemed to predict a disaster.

In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.
Two weeks passed; then the vision recurred, under the same conditions, even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasized. An inner voice spoke. “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.” *
At first, Jung was concerned that his visions were predicting the onset of a psychosis. But on later reflection and world events, he believed they were warning him about the approaching world war, which began in August of 1914. Immediately after these disturbing images, Jung described going through a time of deep turmoil and self-reflection, attempting to find a way through the landscape of his own dreams, his fantasies, and their relationship to his life, to his work, and to political and social events unfolding throughout Europe. In his autobiography he wrote: “I was living in a constant state of tension; often I felt as if gigantic blocks of stone were tumbling down upon me. One thunderstorm followed another.” **

First we need to place Jung’s visions into the context of his life at the time. Jung was in a turbulent transition; he was leaving the “ordinary world” of Freud’s psychology and striking out on his own, beginning to enter the forest where there was no path. He was stepping into the unknown and into his authentic life, and then he has the visions.

Next we need to imagine the images and the geography in his vision as the ground of his psyche, the landscape of his life at that time. And, following Jung’s well-known admonition to “leave your theories at the door,” we will do our best to allow the images to speak for themselves. If you were to imagine being the “monstrous flood,” you are an elemental, powerful, unstoppable, natural force that some deep cataclysmic event has created a shock wave, a spiritual tsunami, moving up out and over the land. The ideological walls of convention cannot hold back or contain this aroused sea. From an alchemical perspective, the waters dissolve Jung’s former life so that a new being, a more authentic Jung can emerge.

For Jung, many of Freud’s constructs about the unconscious and dreams, the structures that had contained Freudian psychology were collapsing. Now the flood begins to feel more like Jung’s creative life and all that it contained being released, freed from the limitations of Freud’s psychology–opening the flood gates of his potential. The waters cover all the “low-lying lands,” which could mean all the common ground of popular psychology where nothing stands out; the areas of Jung’s life in which he felt he had to lay low, conform, remain on a level playing field with Freud were now in chaos.

Jung lived in Switzerland, his home and where, in his dream, the mountains “grew higher and higher to protect our country.” The dream’s growing mountains around Jung’s home-land might well be saying that by rising above the low-lying lands, by standing out with his own philosophy, that his “homeland,” meaning his life, his authenticity, and his creative potential will be protected. The flood is after the low-lying lands–conformity and the propensity in all of us to put down our creative ideas, telling ourselves, “That idea will never work. What makes you think you can make any difference anyway? We are afraid to go against the world’s accepted doctrines, to walk upstream against the current of popular ideas. So we “lay low,” keeping our authentic life in exile in the “low-lying” land. We are afraid to “exist,” which also means to “stand out.”

So how might we interpret the “floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands?” Here, we can see the dream referring to the collapsed structures of Freudian psychology that had contained Jung and, until he broke with Freud, had prevented Jung from fully living his own life. The “drowned bodies” most likely refer to the ideas, the inhabitants of Freud’s world. The waters sweep away “civilization,” everything that has been built on–put upon–the low-lying land. Dead bodies, a fairly common dream motif, would represent the death of old ideas that no longer fit into Jung‘s developing psychology–multiple deaths of ego-built structures based on Freud’s theories. For sure, the tremendous implications of this dream-vision would explain Jung’s troubled state of mind just after his split with Freud and finally setting out on his own.

This brings us to the blood: “Then the whole sea turned to blood.” If we imagine being a sea “turned to blood,” we would probably feel disturbed, bloodied, changed from some traumatic event, a massive dying, an ending that has released its lifeblood into the sea. We also have the symbolism of blood released from the death of “uncounted thousands” of old ideas and theories that can no longer contain Jung’s essential spirit. We could say that Jung’s lifeblood–his essential nature–that had been circulating through the body of Freudian thought, is now useful, a necessary experience, a valuable ingredient in the new psychological being that would now rise from the rubble of civilization, the internal chaos created by leaving the house of Freud. As the sea, I’ve been changed–blood, the vital essence necessary for life, has moved into me (the sea). And for Jung, I am the source of his life, the unconscious, the “zone of magnified power,” the mysterium, the special world. Jung’s passion, his life’s work that was “in his blood,” has been freed, perhaps also telling him that his work would be to explore the “sea,” the depths of the collective unconscious and its relationship to the individual psyche.

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