‘Follow the animal’ is an idea put forth by James Hillman the preeminent founder of Analytical Psychology. Animals in dreams like animals in the waking world reflect what is going on in our deepest selves. In waking life an animal such as your dog will often know that something is wrong with you before you’ve noticed yourself. Animals can sense illness, fear, or desire (like a horse “reading” its rider).
Animals are often analysts of our unconscious mind, they can read our moods and our rhythms and even our bodily health that’s why they’re often used clinically for both psychological and physical therapeutics.
Basically, animals in dreams represent our instinctual feelings or behaviors. Some therapists have suggested that animals will attack us in our dreams as a means of bringing our attention to those instincts we’ve ignored or neglected.
So is it so strange when animals show up in our dreams, when the unconscious is trying to speak to the conscious through the dream image of an animal? Animals can be our guides to not only our inner realms, but to our souls as well.
Alice didn’t even hesitate to follow her rabbit into the tunnel that led her metaphorically into the depths of her inner psyche–down into the Earth where the soul of the world dwells, what Carl Jung referred to as the Anima Mundi, the world soul.
When next an animal visits in a dream, be curious and follow it. I’d say whenever curiosity beckons, follow it and do or be available to the extraordinary in your life. Take the shamanic journey of Alice into that “curiouser and curiouser” wonderland world of your soul.
The White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland lived between two worlds–the upper or conscious world and that world at the bottom of the tunnel–the world of the unconscious, the realm of the dream. The rabbit represented a guide to both. And as Virgil in the Aeneid pointed out the hero needs a guide within the underworld. Several centuries before Virgil, Homer in the Odyssey also required help within the underworld in order to find his way home e.g. back to the soul.
Alice as the youngest child in her family represented the child in all of us, not the childish, but the child-like wonderment that is required to explore our inner selves. Jesus knew of this: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 NIV)
Buddha talked of the child mind, the beginner’s mind that was open to everything. Within the context of Hindu yoga mindfulness a practitioner needed to free the mind of all notions and thoughts.
Following your animal down the metaphorical hole into your inner self can be symbolic of creating something new, letting go of old ways, exploring new ideas, transformation, and of new potentials.
As with Alice your animals can show you many aspects of yourself that will amaze and enchant you. So follow your animal self and learn more of what you are.
“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well. Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”
–Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Though Alice entered her psychic realm through the rabbit hole, in the Archipelago of Dreams Robert found his way into the unconscious psyche by crossing a darkened lake whose depths suggested many unknowns. Both Alice’s world and that of Robert’s were curious representations of what lay beneath the realm of the consciousness in all of us.
Now, I know that this so-called dark “underworld” of which I speak is a scary place to most people. But perhaps that’s because you aren’t yet familiar with it, you have yet to bring it to consciousness. As Alice discovered the fearsomeness does not lay in the unconscious at the bottom of the tunnel, but in the unenlightened consciousness at its entrance. It wasn’t as though her enlightenment was without pain for she had to confront the absurdities of her life that she had been trained to lean on. But the nonsensical soul rejoices in what seems the impossible:
“There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things.
I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
It is possible to think the impossible and to follow its unreality into reality. Where do you think all the world’s great ideas, great accomplishments, and great stories come from?