The patient, whom I’ll call ‘Wendy’, presented with a bad case of anxiety dreams. ‘In the dream,’ she said, ‘I’m lost and have to get home urgently, but I haven’t a clue where I am or need to go. I’m always in unfamiliar streets and there’s a horrible feeling of panic. I dream the same thing nearly every night.’
Knowing that I was familiar with the psychoanalytic technique of dream interpretation, Wendy asked, ‘What does this mean?’
I’ve moved on since my interest in psychoanalysis, having discovered that magick is a far more powerful (if more volatile) therapeutic tool. I advised her to find the dream’s meaning for herself by making a resolution each evening that if she dreamed it again she would wake up inside it and recognise there was no need to panic. ‘If you can recognise within the dream that you are dreaming,’ I said, ‘then perhaps the underlying issue – if there is one – will present itself.’
Two days later she phoned me in excitement. The dream had come to her again the previous night. She had found herself once more on unfamiliar streets, wondering where she was with that urgent sense of needing to get home. ‘When all of a sudden,’ she said, ‘there was a kind of a rush and a ping, and Nina stood in front of me.’
Nina is a friend of hers, a mature woman whom Wendy has known for many years.
‘But it wasn’t really Nina,’ Wendy continued, ‘because she wore a short dress and tights and she had curly hair piled on her head.’
‘What happened next?’ I asked.
‘Nina told me, “I’ve seen Miriam. She’s over there.” And then the dream stopped. Nina stood right in front of me, blocking my way, as if she was preventing the dream from continuing. For the first time in ages I went back to sleep without feeling anxious at all.’
So Wendy had attained the result I’d hoped, from making a resolution to become aware inside the dream. This wasn’t full lucidity but it was significant progress.
‘I don’t know why Nina looked so strange,’ Wendy remarked. ‘And why on earth did she mention Miriam?’
At this point I supposed there was no harm in using psychoanalysis to uncover some of the dream’s meaning, now that Wendy had succeeded in realising her intention not to allow herself to be drawn into it.
‘Did Nina look like anyone else you know?’
‘She reminded me of Beatrice,’ Wendy answered after a moment’s reflection.
Over the previous weekend Nina had helped Wendy with a certain, quite demanding task. Over that same weekend Wendy had also met up with Beatrice, a younger woman whom she hadn’t seen in some time. Unexpectedly, Beatrice also expressed an interest in the task that had occupied Wendy and Nina. To Wendy’s delight, Beatrice proved her interest by paying Wendy a visit on the day before the dream. Nina’s outfit and hair in the dream were features that actually belonged to Beatrice.
According to the psychoanalytic theory, when a figure in a dream is a composite of more than one person then there is an idea that all the parts share and it is this idea which is finding expression (Freud 1900: VI A, 399f). For instance, Nina and Beatrice were both interested in Wendy and eager to help her. Furthermore, Beatrice had paid a visit unexpectedly. The figure in the dream, composed from elements of both Nina and Beatrice, was indeed someone interested in Wendy, had indeed proved helpful, and had appeared unexpectedly (with ‘a kind of a rush and a ping‘). Yet this was not simply the meaning of the figure in the dream. By blocking the anxiety, this was what the figure had accomplished; it was what the figure was.
‘Why did Nina say to me in the dream, “I’ve seen Miriam. She’s down there.”?’
‘Was Miriam having some kind of crisis over the weekend?’ I asked.
‘You know Miriam,’ Wendy said. ‘She’s always in a state of crisis.’
‘Possibly your concern for Miriam is a contributing cause to the anxiety in the dream,’ I said. ‘More likely, I think the Nina-figure was telling you that the streets in the dream belong to people who are in crisis. Miriam, as always, is in a crisis, so she’s “down there”, but you don’t have to be. The Nina-figure was saying that if you continue down that street you’ll find yourself in a state of crisis like Miriam, but – on this occasion, at least – you were shown that you didn’t need to do that.’
I advised Wendy to continue with her resolution to wake inside the dream, and predicted that although she might not be as successful as this every time, in the longer term she would continue to assuage the anxiety that was ruining her sleep.
Wendy’s resolution seemed to have summoned to her aid and astral helper who prevented the anxiety from unfolding. Psychoanalysis, in this instance, had found a different use from that to which it is normally applied. Instead of decoding the dream’s contents by relating them to Wendy’s waking life, it proved useful in deciphering the speech and appearance of the being that had come to Wendy’s aid. Although the true nature of this being may have been ultimately formless, it had clothed itself in Wendy’s thoughts and ideas. Psychoanalysis is a useful tool for engaging with how ideas organise themselves in the human mind. But, as Freud himself acknowledged, what enters the unconscious sometimes originates from beyond the confines of the senses and of personal experience:
It would seem to me that psychoanalysis, by inserting the unconscious between what is physical and what was previously called ‘psychical’, has paved the way for the assumption of such processes as telepathy. (Freud 1933: 85-6)
Sigmund Freud (1933). ‘Dreams and Occultism’, in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.
Sigmund Freud (1900). The Interpretation of Dreams. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.