Mandalas as archetypes of the unconscious*

Type of dream mandala

According to CG Jung the Swiss psychiatrist and a founder of Analytic Psychology a mandala in a dream represents the individual’s total personality or Self. As such these images symbolize the individual’s psychological health and spiritual well-being. He also saw the mandala (translated as a “magic circle”) as an archetype that shows up in the dreams, literature, and mythology of all humans. Many therapists believe that any circular object in a dream (or that keeps showing up unexpectedly and/or significantly in one’s waking life) can be a mandala.

Archetypes are believed to be innate tendencies that we all share in our unconscious mind that influence and shape what we believe, how we act, and think, ethically, morally, religiously, and culturally. In short, archetypes are inborn tendencies that shape our behavior.

Flying saucer as archetypal mandala image

The presence of these mandalas in our dreams reflect what Jung calls the “two-mind confrontation” and our current state of wholeness or lack thereof. They are symbols of the unconscious attempting to bring the conscious mind (the ego us) into balance with the unconscious. Some think that a mandala created by the individual (through a dream, a meditation, or as an art project **) can be an echo of their soul, or soul expression.

Many religions use the mandala to represent the spiritual journey starting from our outer self to our inner core, the essence of ourselves. These mandalas are often used to induce a state of consciousness conducive to getting in touch with our inner self and to connect our inner and outer aspects.

Frisbee as mandala image in dream

*To read more about mandalas and archetypes check out the book, Morpheus Speaks: The Encyclopedia of Dream Interpretation


My Archetypal Soul

These words came to me as I sat watching a pastor talk with children

She asked if they had any questions for her

Each in their turn asked questions that we all might ask

And she answered with aplomb and assuredness

Until one little girl asked a question

That shook the pastor who stumbled through an answer

The question, “what is your Spirit animal?”

I am both authoritarian and democrat

I am loyal to both in their time

I am an animal friend of the raven the bird of magic and messenger of the spirit

I am Both fool and wise one that balances the wolf in me

I am able to bring light out of the darkness

I often enter the void to stir the energies of the creative forces of my darker side.

I am the eagle flying between heaven and earth 

I am of the psyche at its zenith and its nadir

I roam between two worlds at the center of their four aspects

I soar amongst the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical

I am the healer, creator, alchemist, spirit, and purifier.

I am the wolf, the wild spirit of true freedom

I prowl the sacred lands

I am an animal of family and children

I am not a fighter unless provoked and will make short work of my adversary.

I am of the animal speak

I speak through they of the earth and the heavens

I share both realms as I roam.

I am the totems of the earth and the sky

I am connected to the known through the unknown.

I am the soul of nature

Well, that’s stupid!

Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story

I was talking to a neighbor one street over last week when her hubby came out and she introduced him, and he and I began to talk as she headed back into the house. Somehow, we got to talking about fossil fuels and he insisted that coal has never been a problem and doesn’t pollute or cause any climate warming. He also claimed that nuclear power was never a problem, but a lie perpetrated by Al Gore.

I kept my comments to a minimum when I realized that facts were not this person’s strong suit. Eventually I excused myself from the conversation and as I walked away, I thought to myself, “what a stupid person he is!”

As I rounded the corner toward home a voice seemingly coming from nowhere intruded on my thoughts. “Stupid?” it said, “We’re all stupid! That’s what we humans do. We do stupid all the time. It’s stupid to think otherwise. You think that we shouldn’t be stupid. That’s a stupid thought! Don’t worry about stupid, just be human. Do stupid with joy and a little grace and try not to hurt anyone with your stupid.”

I smiled and remembered an old quote, “Don’t believe everything you think, and have the courage to have your own wisdom being seen as stupidity”. “Amen”, I thought and mentally skipped on home.

What is the meaning of Fairies in dreams?

A Fairy by–Sophie Gengembre Anderson

What does a fairy mean in dreams? There are many legends and stories about fairies. There are fairy rings that are mushrooms that grow in a ring. It was once thought that these mushrooms grew where fairies had danced the night before and if one were to step within, they ring the fairies would whisk them away never to be seen again.

Before modern medicine fairies were often blamed for all kinds of sickness.

There is fairy fire that glows at night but is actually bioluminescent fungi on a rotting log.

In some Native American tribes and various indigenous peoples throughout the world include stories of little people, some are kind and giving while others were seen as mischievous, and some are downright mean. These wee ones loved music and dancing.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 William Blake

In stories there are fairy godmothers, the tooth fairy, fairy kings and queens, fairy trees, and all are magical in various ways.

In old France Faieire was a land of enchantment whereas the English and the Scotts called these the land of Fay. The term Fairy was often used to describe a variety of magical creatures such as gnomes, goblins, sprites, and brownies. Some knights were known as fairy knights.

Wikipedia suggests that some folklorists and mythologists have variously depicted fairies as: the unworthy dead, the children of Eve, demon, or an older race of humans, and fallen angels.

But let’s get back to the original question, “What is the meaning of Fairies in dreams?” *

Often, they are symbols of something beyond the everyday. If captured by a fairy perhaps you are longing to be set free and become more independent. It is also possible that this image is referring to a feeling of being trapped by something e.g., an old feeling, fear, some attitude or prejudice or circumstance that’s restraining your free expression or holding you back. Maybe you’ve said or done something that you can’t figure out how to get out of.

Fairies can also be symbolic of fantasy, something not quite real or not what it seems. Fairies and fantasy can speak to illusions or the imagination and refer to out-of-the-box solutions. Fantasy or fairies can also be suggesting the need for being more realistic or practical.

Sometimes fairies are a symbol for one’s soul or the feminine aspects of oneself. As a soul a male fairy might be in the dream of a female while a female fairy might show up in a male.

These creatures can also represent intuitiveness (or the need to listen to your intuition or hunches), compassion, and/or acceptance of something or someone.

An injury to a fairy might be speaking to a hurt that you have suffered in the past or currently the needs to be healed.

Evil fairies in dreams can sometimes represent the negative feminine e.g., someone being controlling or overly indecisive.

If a fairy tale shows up it may have something to with your need to explore your limits or need a little enchantment in your life. Fairy tale dreams can also represent your need to be rescued or the need for romance. Are you being too serious in your life?

What the fairies are doing can give you insights to what the dream is trying to tell you about yourself and/or your circumstances.

*These interpretations come from the book Morpheus Speaks: The Encyclopedia of Dream Interpreting.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

– Carl Jung

Another take on the Cross

Bearing our own cross

In the science of psychological transformation it has been said that in order to move on, to grow, to transform ourselves into something bigger and better we need to die to our current way of being. In short, psychological alchemy requires that we dismantle our system of protecting our separated and fragmented egos. But instead of doing that many cling to a Christ who does it for them which in effect absolves them from having to do the hard work of transformation.

As humans we are both good and evil, yet we reject the evil either by suppressing it or projecting it onto others who are then incarcerated for their evil leaving us to hide from our complicity and to bask in our avoidance of it. By designating someone as evil or allowing someone to take the heat for us (Jesus?) we can ignore our own thus giving sustenance to the split between our parts and keeping us less than whole.

We all know that we are not fully good, that there are parts of our nature that are dark and rejected. We strive for this goodness by rejecting the bad and telling ourselves that this is not us. But we cannot be the good, the loving self, that we pledge ourselves to be if we are not willing to embrace our dark sides. We cannot be love if we are not willing to love all parts of ourselves. We say that God loves us completely, then why cannot we love ourselves in the same way? And if we cannot love everything about ourselves, how can we pledge our love to those outside of us? If God can love us in spite of all our imperfections, why can’t we do the same? 

In the process of transformation from fragmented to wholeness God loving us isn’t good enough. We cannot transform ourselves into that love that God has for us without doing the hard work on ourselves and that hard work includes naming the evil that is in us and learning to accept it without trying to ‘lock it up’ and hope that it will somehow miraculously transform. We have to learn to work with it, not against it.

One needs to die to this splitting (good vs evil) way of being with themselves, one needs to die to the idea that there is any difference between those they label criminal and themselves, one needs to do the hard work of personal redemption and not leave it up to God or his prophets. We need to carry the burden of our own crosses and climb onto the crucifix with Jesus and to suffer and die with him in order to do the hard alchemical work of transforming ourselves.

Alice in Therapyland

John Tenniel (1820–1914), “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” (The Mad Tea Party), 1885, Hand-colored proof.

It could be said that Alice Liddell in her adventures in Wonderland took a road trip through Therapyland. During her time there she experienced a dream of transforming significance that helped her transcend some of her waking life stresses. As with many of our own dreams Alice experienced what seemed to be nonsensical and unreal but that eventually led her to what is real. In all our dreams we are often confronted with images of transformationtranscendence, and the morphing of creatures great and small and like therapy help us to discern the mysteries of our waking life.

Transformation: Signifying a change in one’s character or nature. Alice did this when transforming herself into a big self and then into a little self. She also rejects the dream world and thus symbolically does the same with the illusions of her waking world by brushing away the animated deck of cards like they were no more than a pile of dead leaves.

Transcendence: Is an image of going beyond the limits of the ordinary to achieve something greater than the usual. Alice’s wonderland is all about transcending the ordinary and embracing the bigger self.

Morphing: Is symbolic of turning into something new, changing from one way of being to another or looking at things from different perspectives. The Cheshire cat morphs from being solid to being indefinite, from being real to being tenuous, from being whole to being fractured, while the grin being all that’s left is like a false smile for it isn’t reflecting anything substantive. It’s also a metaphor for deception or a coverup (which shows up again when the deck of animated cards paint the white roses red or when the walrus and carpenter con the oysters so that they can eat them, or when the Mad Hatter cons Alice with the riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” for which there is no answer (many of us chase after riddles in life for which there are no answers). Many things in life are a deception that we are conned into believing are real. 

Like the Cheshire Cat it is also in our nature to hide, to hide from others and to hide from ourselves. What are we hiding? We hide our failures, our hurts, the parts of our personality or nature that is less than ideal. We hide our mistakes, and sometimes we hide the parts of ourselves that make us stand out good or bad. Like the caterpillar we drug ourselves with high sounding philosophies or like the door mouse suggested to feed our heads with drugs or be like the Hatter and just give in to our madness and use it to drop out and as an excuse to no longer play the game. 

Though most of the dialog in Alice’s Adventures didn’t seem rational, one of the hidden gems in Alice’s dream was the suggestion that to conquer life required the acceptance of both the rational and the irrational. In the Door Mouse’s cry, “feed your head” he could have been referring to the need to open one’s mind to discover the real purpose of life.

Part of transforming ourselves through our dreams is to discover these hidden parts or deceptions and to see beyond them to the bigger picture i.e., to transcend our ordinary selves to see who we really are.

What can Peter Pan teach us about our shadow selves? (with apologies to James Barrie)

It can be said that you mean something if you cast a shadow, you exist and have substance, you are visible, you have purpose and reason. There are others who suggest that one’s shadow is the visible part of one’s soul. All of this may be why James Mathew Barrie’s Peter Pan was so desperate to reattach his shadow.

Along with our outer shadow we each have an inner shadow that serves the same purpose as Peter’s, but unlike a light from outside ourselves being the cause of our corporeal shadow we are the source of the casting of the formless inner shadow. It is the source of our creativity by being the origin of the chiaroscuro (light and dark) of life.

We cast this inner shadow when we judge another person, act out of jealousy or envy, when we get angry, confront others, avoid certain issues, try to look, act, or be better than we really are or defend ourselves against perceived slights. We project our internal shadow when we reject the behaviors of others and of ourselves as well. We also project this shadow when we try to deny it as though we didn’t have a shadow. This shadow denial can happen to any of us as individuals or as a society. But, the shadow is part of who we are and cannot be rejected without us losing who we are and becoming something and someone entirely different.

Though shadows often reveal the existence of something they can also hide things from sight. In humans our inner shadows can hide things we rather not look at or rather that others did not see. But our shadows can also enlighten by highlighting our inner selves. In this way our darker self becomes a beacon that shines a light on who we’re being.

The Lost Boys of Peter’s world represent all of us who have lost touch with the feminine aspect of our being and its compassionate, caring, inner wisdom. In the story of Peter Pan, it is Peter’s acceptance of the feminine aspect represented by the character Wendy that makes Peter whole again by her reattaching his wayward shadow. Though Peter initially rejects her help he eventually lets go of his resistance. This may be another way of saying that it is the acceptance of the disparate parts of ourselves that makes us whole.

The lack of wholeness showed up in Peter’s world through the continuous battles with all the other denizens of his world. At the end of the story Peter couldn’t embrace his other half and remained stuck in his shadow world of Neverland while the Lost Boys returned home with Wendy. This may be another way of saying that we can never really return to the peacefulness of home until we are willing to embrace all aspects of ourselves even the shadowy aspects.

The Alchemy of dreams: A dream of reconciliation of inner conflict

In last night’s dream I built a rectangular box-like structure about the size id a large doghouse with a flat roof. A friend is inspecting it and doesn’t like the roof neither the way it’s designed or covered. I suggest some other roof materials, but none seem satisfactory. I’m feeling anxious, frustrated, and wanting to please but fear that I won’t.

As I began my process of interpreting this dream, I begin to see some connections.

My first thoughts were that perhaps I needed to rethink something or search for a new way of thinking. Perhaps my ideas/ideals/expectations/judgments were being or need to be challenged and changed to something mor4e agreeable.

Next, I wondered if I needed to shift my goals and thinking to something higher, more elegant, acceptable, and positive. I also wondered if I was letting something, or someone dictate my feelings, goals, or thoughts. Are my own thoughts unsatisfactory?   

In waking life my thoughts have become more disturbing, and I want to “fix” them so as to make them more agreeable.   

I then noticed that my friend and I in the dream represented two poles that seem to be striving for reconciliation i.e., looking for a oneness. It was then that the alchemy of the dream shifted in meaning into what I call a dream of individuation where I am trying to reconcile an inner conflict of opposites e.g., the desire to grow, be vital, to expand, be outgoing and extroverted, expressive, and outside myself versus the desire to go inward, be introspective, let go, and to quieten.

At my age I am experiencing a crossroads in life where my earlier my striving has been outward directed to where it is now more inward directed, self-reflective. It’s the struggle of growing old which comes with a quieting, self-reflecting, contemplative, and less physical aspect. It’s about trying to emotionally and psychologically balance starting and ending while avoiding becoming stagnant. The conflict is threatening to change my self-identity and what I see my self as being.

Fundamentally, I’m having, and even wanting, to give up the things of my youth for something new while still desiring many of the youthful qualities. The mind desires but the body can’t always accommodate. 

Reconciliation of the inner conflicts of life is not easy, reconciliation of these conflicts forced by change is a bitch and at this point is as the dream suggests not very satisfying.

Yet this is part of the message of the dream i.e., that reconcile I must or run the risk of fracturing where neither side of my being is satisfied.

Psyche’s Dream

Where all seems madness

The soul rests 

The ego rejects and

Makes rules where life

Has no rules

Within the irrational and illogical

Lies the magical

Embracing the chaos of the dark

Brings forth this light

In Psyche’s Dream a young man confronts ignorance and gives access to the knowledge of the world soul. By embracing the ensuing chaos, he transforms an ordinary life into something extraordinary and magical.

Our nightmares come to us for our health and well being

Being attacked by self, events, and/or others
can leave us feeling helpless, angry or depressed.

A sea urchin with no spines is attacked by an ugly toad intent on the urchin’s destruction. But the seemingly defenseless urchin sends out tentacles from beneath and wraps them around the toad’s neck. I am appalled and grossed out as I watch this aggressive dream.

“What is going on?” I wonder as I awake from this nightmarish scene.

As I review this dream trying to gain some insight to its meaning aggression and conflict seem to be the main theme. I am both the urchin and toad, the attacker and the attacked, the aggressor and the victim. The usual suspect comes to the fore i.e., my penchant for self-punishment. But it’s more than this same old, same old story. 

As I watch helplessly the political realities of certain egos plotting to dominate the government with little or no regard for people’s lives, countries making invasion plans for no other reason than to dominate and make themselves important, random mass shootings for the same reason, and in my own tiny corner of the world a violent incident that has pitted well-meaning people against each other I am feeling overwhelmed with things that I can do nothing about but watch.

Add to all that my own self-criticism for not living up to my own standard for being and I create the inner turmoil that this dream represents. The dream brings to the fore what I try to ignore, the feeling of helplessness and depression that keeps me angry at the world and at myself.

For some reason facing this anger helps me to settle, for the truth is I have a right to be fearful and angry but need and want to also face the fact that am not totally helpless in that I can change what I do with that fear and anger. I can resist the tendency for my emotions to take me over and still do what is right to do with what is in front of me. In short, I need to be gentle with myself in all things and not give evil for evil.

As I finish up this blog, I am reminded of the poem by Max Ehrmann, the Desiderata.


GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

By Max Ehrmann © 1927
Original text

I hope that you can keep peace in your soul,