Robert Clarke on dreams and symbolism

Some years ago, I contributed to a monthly on-line magazine called The Meta Arts. It occurred to me, it may be worthwhile to share the columns that appear particularly relevant to our time today.

Robert Clarke on dreams and symbolism

My friend Robert Clarke died in late October [2009] in his hometown in England, a merciful transition from life with a cancer-ridden body. Though he and I only met twice he was a valued friend, in the long-distance way so many of us have friendships these days. I firmly believe that he in  his life, like Carl Jung before him, found a valuable key for the rest of us. Though he lived in obscurity, he had a rich inner life that included, by his estimate, 30,000 dreams that led him through the individuation process.

Here are two articles he wrote for his local newspaper that I think are of wider interest. The first he sent to me on April 4, 2008:

The Mythological/Religious Symbolism of Dreams

We all have dreams, though some people fail to remember them. Often our dreams are about everyday concerns, our hopes, fears, desires, and ambitions, but now and then strange contents appear that impress us deeply, whether pleasantly or otherwise. This latter type of dream is what primitive peoples call “big dreams”, and if we take note of these over a sufficient period of time they are found to form processes, which, much to our surprise, can only be said to be mythological/religious in nature.

They cover a vast range, from the lower instinctual level (dragon depths etc.) to the higher spiritual, and anyone who follows the inner processes comes to realise that another spirit/soul reality exists behind the conscious/physical universe and that it speaks to us in symbolic language in dreams. Or it may come through to us in deep meditation, or occasionally even break through the veil as outer visions.

I personally have been studying dreams and their symbolism for thirty years, humbly following in the giant footsteps of the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who discovered these basic truths of unconscious/spirit reality almost a century ago. Jung came to realise that the same symbolism is to be found in myths and religious texts all over the world at all times, and indeed, that they always form the solid foundations of culture. If, however, these foundations are lost, then sooner or later the culture falls into chaos (a situation to which we are perilously close in modern society).

Finding that certain contents of his patient’s dreams matched ones in myths and religious texts led Jung to the study of these subjects, but he later concentrated on alchemy, which was also largely dependent upon dreams – the alchemists themselves tell us so. For my part, I directed my studies towards the royal line of Western religious experience, which runs from early Egypt, through the Bible up to Christ, and then to the Holy Grail, Philosopher’s Stone, and Holy Ghost mysticism of the Middle Ages. All of these involve quests through the collective unconscious to what Eastern philosophy calls the Higher Self, the immortal figure of wholeness to which all mortal beings are spiritually attached, otherwise called the Daemon, Logos, or Word, of which Christ is an example.

The timelessness of dream symbolism was demonstrated to me one day when a woman I know told me of a dream that had disturbed her for some years. At the dead of night she looked out of her bedroom window to see a huge fish in the garden pool. The full moon beamed brightly above as the fish, a Mother-Fish, gave birth to seven young crocodiles, while a number of goldfish, probably seven again, stood upright around the rim of the pool at the back. There was more to the dream but this is the basis of it.

Julie had never heard of any of this symbolism in waking life at all, but I immediately recognised it from early Egyptian mythology, where Neith, as Mother-Fish, gives birth to seven crocodile sons. As to the seven goldfish, these are far more common in mythology than seven crocodiles, and often there is one main fish with seven followers, expressing its constituent parts. My godson, also knowing nothing whatsoever of the subject, dreamt of one fish and then seven others, precisely the same formation as the ancient archetype, but obviously still very much alive today.

This is actually a symbol of the Higher Self as 1 + 7. The first symbol of Christ was not the cross but the Saviour-Fish, called the Ichthys, and when Christ cooks fish for seven disciples in a boat at the Sea of Tiberius this again symbolises the same archetype. Other 1 + 7 Saviour-Fish were Enki in Sumeria, Ea in Babylonia, Vishnu in India, Oannes in Greece, and Nu in Egypt, the latter being in a boat with seven companions (from whom Noah with seven companions in the Ark is taken.) As for the connection with Julie’s dream, Sebek, the crocodile Saviour as son of Neith, led the other crocodile sons. A follow up dream of Julie’s was of a sort of crocodile dragon-horse, and Sebek appears as this in a certain myth. (The crocodile was positive and sacred in this particular Egyptian cult.)

Julie has since dreamt of a golden dog, another symbol of the Higher Self in Egypt, and also of the colours red and white, which have always symbolised masculine and feminine spirits that need to be unified. Red wine and white bread were symbols of the opposite spirits in Egypt and through the Bible, and were continued, of course, as symbolism of the Church Mass. The Grail Knight wears red armour while his ladylove is called Blancheflor, which means “white flower”, and the Red King and White Queen represent the male/female opposites to be united in alchemy. All of this archetypal symbolism, and much other, comes through in our dreams, and has done so for thousands of years, the collective unconscious being a timeless other reality.

I have had two books published in America concerning the meaning of archetypal dream symbolism.  The first, The Four Gold Keys, is the record of my own inner quest through thousands of dreams, while the second, An Order Outside Time, explores the deeper symbolism of the Bible and in the mythology of the ancient world.

Robert sent another article to me later that same month, on April 27-08, saying, “I keep thinking of the whole might and power of the universe, of all universes, the whole kit and caboodle, and how one tiny speck of love, the minutest iota, is worth more than all of the might and power. Another reality comes into being with love, another living dimension, that might and power totally lacks. I think of the tiny speck as up in the darkness of the universe, totally alone, and yet glowing in a way that is impossible for the physical universe. Anyway, I thought you might like to read my latest article for the local paper (attached).”

The Symbolic Meaning of Religion

I once had a dream in which a tattered old Bible lay on the pavement. People passing by were kicking it out of the way as worthless. When I picked it up and opened it, however, I found that every page was made of the purest gold. That is what the unconscious, or the spirit through the unconscious, thinks about the Bible. It teems with processes of the spirit, experienced largely through dreams, that are symbolic in nature, and which matches similar symbolism found in myths and religious texts around the world. As the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, myth is not fiction, but rather expresses truths largely of another reality experienced through the unconscious.

When Moses slays the Egyptian, flees to the land of Midian, and sits by a well, the seven daughters of Jethro appear. Moses then immediately goes up the mountain, experiences the burning bush, in which there is an angel, and God speaks. In the religious Mysteries of mankind water symbolises feminine spirit and fire masculine spirit, so in his movements from the well to the burning bush Moses is unifying these opposite spirits, the main goal of the spiritualising processes through the unconscious, called the Sacred Marriage.

The seven daughters of Jethro represent sevenfold feminine wisdom of the unconscious, a well-known archetype, and when Moses marries one of the daughters, he is unifying with that feminine wisdom. As for the angel in the burning bush, this actually represents what Eastern philosophy calls the cosmic Self, the Logos that is always mediator between man and God. (When in the Gospel of John Christ tells the people they are part of him, while he is part of God, this is expressing the same truth.)

Later in the Old Testament the prophet Daniel sees ‘in the night visions’, i.e. dreams, a Son of God connected with fire and a Son of Man connected with water. Here again fire represents the higher spirit of God, with water the lower spirit of the Earth, hence Son of God or of the Father, and Son of Man or of the Mother. In mythology generally there are often two divine Sons, one predominately from the Father, one predominately from the Mother.

I had better explain that the name ‘Mary’, the mother of Christ, derives from ‘Miriam’, or ‘Meriam’, sister of Moses, which in turn comes from the Egyptian Meri, Goddess of the Waters. Meri was a form of Hathor, mother of Horus, the divine Son who equals Christ, though meri was also an Egyptian word for water itself. Mare is the Latin for ‘sea’, while the French is mer, and we have the word ‘mere’, meaning ‘lake’, all from the same root. The Virgin Mary has long been the patron saint of sailors because of her connection with the sea, and the symbol of Christ in this aspect is the Fish, because as Son of Mary he symbolically comes from the waters.

In the New Testament Christ changes water into wine at the marriage at Cana, the spirits from above and from below being represented by wine and water here. But the deeper meaning is that the Earth is being spiritualised by Christ with the higher spirit of God, again the Sacred Marriage. If the meaning is taken literally, that water is actually being changed into wine, just so the guests can get tipsy, there is no spiritual meaning to it. It would merely be an act of magic that any third rate sorcerer could accomplish. So only with the symbolic meaning, Christ transforming the Earth with the divine spirit of God, are the sacred and the holy implicated.

In the first few centuries AD, as well as the orthodox Christianity of the Church, there were also many other sects that we today call Gnostic – ‘Gnostics’ means ‘knowers’. In other words, the Gnostics didn’t just believe, they knew by direct inner experience, mostly through dreams. They realised that the biblical texts are symbolical and that when understood in this way they can be better accepted as sacred truths. The majority of people today, who find they can no longer accept the biblical texts as being literally true, can themselves come to believe again if they understand the meaning to be deeper and symbolical. Even some of the early Church Fathers, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Valentinus, Marcion, etc. taught that the Bible must be understood symbolically, which by no means lessens its sacredness, rather the opposite. (Valentinus had a dream in which a divine child appeared, saying, “I am the Logos”, meaning the Word, a title of Christ.)

This is not to say that those who do take the religious texts as being literally true are necessarily wrong. In fact, it works because the spirit is still able to recognize its own symbolism even when the texts are taken literally. Indeed, the Church Fathers mentioned above instructed those who went deeper into the Christian Mystery not to criticize those who understood it on the shallower level. They said it is still the same great Mystery and that every person should follow it at whatever level suited them.

For the past two hundred years man has been investigating the true nature of matter, a necessary step in the evolution of life itself. The problem is, he has become one-sided, believing now that matter is the whole of full reality itself. This is a gross mistake that in the end can only lead to the stagnation of life. But to paraphrase Jung, man does not tolerate indefinitely the nullification of his soul, and many of the signs today are that the next step in the evolution of life will be to respiritualisation, to a new understanding of the workings of the spirit in interaction with matter. This is really seeing the meaning of full reality as basically religious, which is how man always viewed it in any case, until, that is, the psychic/spiritual dissociation of our modern age.

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