An Astrological Approach to Dream Interpretation
When I first began recording my dreams and trying to interpret them – many years ago – I thought they were so absurd and strange and seemed to follow no apparent rules, that I often despaired of ever finding any meaning in them at all. Occasionally I would give up, but the dreams would inevitably call me back.
At the same time I threw myself into reading about dreams and other symbolic systems and found that the language of images began to make sense to me. I was especially fascinated with the flexibility and depth of the astrological symbols and the way the Zodiac so elegantly portrayed the evolutionary experience of existence.
It was only after several years of working both systems separately that I began to experiment with combining them. Jung once said that you could not work with dreams without a solid knowledge of mythology; for me, a solid knowledge of the astrological archetypes turned out to be a key that opened up a treasure chest of dream symbolism. All three systems are different ways of expressing meaning in story and image – like parables – and the planets are really astrological representations of the Gods of myth as well.
Astrology lends itself well to dream work because the same basic archetype can be discerned through different levels of interpretation: as an object or event; as an emotion or psychological state; and as a spiritual lesson (see “Levels of Awareness in the Structure of Astrology”, M. Mateus). Therefore, objects and events in dreams also often contain within them a psychological state and emotion, and the spiritual lesson which correlates with both.
Personal Strategies and Method
When I work with my dreams, I always use a hierarchical approach that starts with the more general and moves inward toward the more specific details. The first thing I do after writing down the dream in my journal is to give it a short title that best describes its content. This not only helps to index it in your journal and identify repeating themes, but it also helps you figure out what the focus is of the dream.
Structure of the dream
After giving it a title, I move to the next level and look at the whole structure of the dream. How many scenes are there? Where does the story start and where does it end? What is the skeletal framework of the dream? Often the action of the dream will tell you how the energy is flowing and in what direction. At this point I deliberately avoid describing any symbols or details. What I am more concerned with here is with the nouns and verbs of the dream.
For example: I am in a house, I have a conflict, and I am then in a train station. In this dream there are 2 scenes, the conflict being the point at which one scene develops into another. This is important as a change in scene often denotes a change in psychological state in the interpretation of the dream.
While dreams do not contain a sense of absolute time as we know it, they do have a capacity to depict development and evolution – in other words, change. Sometimes the whole dream takes place within one scene. In this case, movement and energy flow has to be looked at within that scene.
For example: I am in a house, then a man enters the room, then he yells at me. If the dream is a static one, such as: I am looking at a tree that is in bloom – and that’s all there is to it – then the skeleton can be more descriptive of what is in the image. But even in this case, the outline should have as few details as possible.
Once I have established the outline, I then select one or two of the most obvious symbols of the dream. These will usually be the nouns featured in the title. I would not pick out any of the people in the dream unless it centers around one person, such as in a nightmare where you are being persecuted by a menacing character throughout the whole dream.
People in dreams are usually (though not always) personality aspects of ourselves, while dream objects are symbolic of states, situations and themes. If there are scenes that are completely different, even though one scene led into the next, I would select a key symbol from each scene, so that if in one scene you are trying on shoes and in the next you are on an escalator in the department store for example, I would select the shoes and the escalator as the 2 symbols I’d work on first.
There are two approaches to symbol work that I use: one is astrological, the other is psychoanalytical. The psychoanalytical approach is the method used by Jung and Freud. In this technique, we think of what comes to mind when we think of a symbol and explore that association and any others that relate directly to it. The associations have to be meaningful to us in some way. Associating to a symbol is not the same as free-associating to it, as is often depicted on in popular culture.
It is not as simple as saying “sunrise” that reminds me of “sunset”, which reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof, which reminds me of Jewish people, etc. You could go on like that indefinitely. The association has to be meaningful and personal: I saw slides of beautiful sunsets at my girlfriend’s house yesterday and we got into an argument over them. That symbol would then be associated with an experience of conflict that would most likely tie into the dream interpretation in some way. The association can also go back to an experience that happened years earlier or in childhood but it might have been triggered recently by some other association that links the two. Ex: I dreamt of a little girl in a red coat.
When I was young I had a red coat that I hated, but that my mother made me wear. But, last night I also watched Schindler’s List where a girl appears wearing a red coat. In both cases, the symbol is tied to feelings of subjugation, control and persecution. Perhaps this person was feeling persecuted in some relationship at present. This symbol was bringing her back to those feelings via two different routes. It was this feeling that triggered the use of that symbol because they are synchronous. Synchronous events and their symbols are rooted in meaning.
This is where astrology comes in. There is a natural affinity (synchronicity) between certain objects or events and the different signs of the Zodiac. While there are compendiums of these astrological associations on sale, usually with some perceptive intuition you can figure out what the sign is by its function in the dream and also by the other circumstances in the surrounding scene. So in our shoes example above, let’s say that in the dream they are green and there is also some dispute with the sales clerk about the price.
Even if we do not know what archetype correlates with shoes, we know that Taurus is the sign that represents money and items of material worth. We also might know that green and brown are both colors associated with this sign because Taurus is the first sign of the earth element and stands for nature, the earth, stability, and grounding. The shoes would most likely be associated with this sign as well, because they are what provides our contact with the earth, they are our foundation and what physically grounds us. Incredibly,
I have found that there is a tremendous amount of internal consistency between the symbols within a dream scene; the same sign will often show up under various guises. I would use the same process for the main symbol in any other scene.
So what good is knowing what sign associates with a dream symbol? Knowing what sign is involved automatically tells us the psychological context of that scene. It is most likely that a dream or scene about Taurus will involve issues of security, peace of mind, comfort and/or money, even if all you see is a bull rushing at you from a green pasture. The astrological approach is invaluable when you can’t associate to a symbol from a personal perspective, which often happens with archetypes. Archetypes are part of the collective unconscious, rather than the personal one. I think we tap into both in our dreams.
The collective archetypes are cast into our dreams at times in which they are relevant. All dream content is context dependent. That is, the meaning derived from them always relates to the present circumstances in our lives and in our psyche. What we dream is the psyche’s interpretation of these events and life situations, so a dream interpretation has to be made within the context of our waking life, much like the waking life reflects the psyche’s interpretation of it. What is within mirrors what is without and what is without is a reflection of what is within.
This is also true astrologically – since the planets and signs are a synchronous representation of what is within the psyche. In fact, the symbols chosen in the dream – which relate to a psychological context – are most likely associated with those natal planets, signs or houses in the dreamer’s birth chart being transited at the time of the dream. Often, looking at the transits for the date of the dream can clue you in to the area of the chart that is being worked on in the waking life. The personal chart and the Zodiac illustrate the themes, while the dream itself offers the details and developmental impetus. Together – Astrology and Dreams – they are great tools for self-awareness.