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Understanding Dreams & Psychedelics through Archetypes

I want to begin by sharing a dream that I recently had which impacted my life in a massive way. In this dream I find myself at the front of a classroom full of students. I am trying to write and draw onto the chalkboard a layout with different sections on it, perhaps best analyzed as a framework into which other information could be filled in. I can hear (and become immediately self-conscious of) the students in the class mocking my belabored attempts to create structure onto the board. I argue with the students (who seem in some way familiar to previous unsuccessful employees from previous jobs I’ve managed) trying to get them to see the reason in what I am doing, but each time it seems as if I have convinced one, another one pops up unconvinced. At the same time that I am debating the students, I notice that the janitor is cleaning off the chalkboard, effectively erasing all of my progress. I begin to argue with the janitor, who seems as if he cannot understand me and seems to say “I am just doing my job!” All of the figures in this dream are male. After this I wake up.

For the moment, I'm going to put that dream aside for us to come back to later.

Let's grab a quick definition of what an Archetype actually is before we talk about WHY they are relevant to psychedelics and dreams, and HOW they apply here.

An Archetype, in it's most basic sense, is a representative example of a person or thing. When we break the word into it's component parts, we get Arch, being a fundamental piece of architectural structure, and we get Type, which is self-explanatory. An Archetype is, therefore, a structural high level category of something. The Jungian sense of the word pairs nicely with what we just unpacked. Carl Jung viewed Archetypes as primitive mental images inherited from our earliest human ancestors.

In the context of this workshop, it is best to think of Archetypes as biological and cultural hand-me-downs. They are highly distilled templates for modes of being that are either; A) Productive and generally successful, or B) Destructive and generally unsuccessful.

Let's now quickly pick up some tools that will help us to build the understanding of this concept more fully.

Evolution acts in extremely powerful ways over the course of centuries.

Take, for example, a lizard. At some point in it's evolutionary history certain environmental pressures were exerted upon it, causing it to be a cold-blooded, land-treading, egg-laying creature. Lizards don't really raise their offspring in any way we would perceive as “parenting”. However, a baby lizard is born with an inherent set of instincts, which guide it into the world.

You could consider these extremely rudimentary instincts as Archetypes in the world of the lizard. They aren't very high resolution, “see fly, flick tongue, eat fly”, however they are inherent to the animal, and NOT taught by the parent.

As we raise the relative level of consciousness, the parental interaction increases. In great apes for example, there is quite a long period where the baby is being nurtured and taught by the parents. They are a much more complicated, self-conscious species. As such, the level of the instincts and fundamental Archetypes as they exist for a great ape are increasingly abstract.

Raising the level of relative consciousness once more, we arrive at humans. With a much longer period of parental nurturing and teaching, multiplied by the technology that is spoken and written language, we have developed extremely complex systems, patterns, and symbols with which we have learned to navigate the world. Humans have a unique ability to logically analyze things, a quirk of what we would consider to be the conscious mind.

However, as with all other animals, we also have instincts. The realm of the subconscious mind is translated in the language of instincts and emotions. Even more, we all have a fundamental access to the ancestral language of Archetypes.

Carl Jung once said “Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.” That is to say, your dreams bring about messages and stories which you have forgotten or repressed in your waking, normal life. Similarly you could conceive of the intentional psychedelic state in this way, as a “dream”. Ayahuasca, for example, has often been referred to as the 'waking dream'. In fact a 2019 study published in Scientific Reports showed that in the Ayahuasca produces similar brainwave states to that of someone who is dream, except, of course, that the subjects were awake the entire time!

As we approach psychedelic experiences and dreams in relation to Archetypes, it is important to understand two things. First is that these Archetypes can manifest seemingly “spontaneously”. Put simply- you can have an experience of an Archetype without any prior knowledge of it. In much the same way that you grew a hand without any conscious direction or thought, so too have you grown an (often subconscious) Archetypal framework. Think back, have you ever found yourself tearing up at a certain point in a movie but couldn't quite put your finger on why? Chances are you brushed up against an archetype.

The second point to understand, and the key to unlocking the puzzle that is the psychedelic and dream state experience, is that your subconscious mind inherently speaks the language of Archetypes AND that your subconscious mind is trying to send you messages about ways to live your life more wholly integrated. Jung called the process of bringing the subconscious and unconscious into awareness the process of individuation. Its a process of integrating the different parts of yourself into the fully unique, conscious version of yourself.

So, as a simple example, lets say you experience a dream of an angry man. He's raging and raging and can't be calmed down. With a little bit of relaxed intentional thought about that dream maybe you discover that you've been harboring secret resentments for all of your roommates. The angry man represents the inner part of yourself that knows it isn't healthy to repress those emotions. Perhaps you realize that the path forward to integrating this dream is not anger, but actually sitting down with your roommates and expressing what you are feeling.

This example is useful for a couple of reasons, first, it represents how the dream language works. Rather than coming right out and telling you what you are supposed to do it speaks to you in metaphor and imagery. Second, its good to note that the dream is not giving you “advice” per se, but rather giving you a directional representation of where your work is. It's a compass, not a map, the determining of the route to integrate the dream is up to you.

The first level is simply the felt experience of the dream, the psychic texture if you will.

The feeling permeating the entirety of the dream was a feeling of “who am I to be teaching this class?” This has some obvious correlations to my current ventures of holding retreats and coaching, where some part of me feels like I am ‘not qualified’ or out of my depth. Classic imposter syndrome here.

The second level of the dream is best analyzed through its primary actors. As I noted before, they are all male, and I believe them to all be representative of different parts of my subconscious mind.

The image of me at the chalkboard is the generative or world-structuring piece of my psyche. This piece is the creative, work-producing self. Then we have the students in the class, mocking and calling into the question the generative self. These characters are pieces of my psyche which were “frozen in time” at various points in my life where I either experienced failure or non-completion of a project. The echoes across time of these pieces perform the function of calling into question the validity of anything I am working on now. The final actor in the screenplay of this dream is the janitor. He is the embodied representation of my addictions, which erase the work of the generative self. Because he is not a part of my psyche in the traditional sense, but rather a reaction to other painful parts, when I try to argue with him in the dream he doesn’t understand me and seems to say he is “just doing his job”.

The third and final level of analysis is the archetypal.

The first and clearest archetypal force at play here is that of the three-headed sea beast, the Hydra, represented by the students in the classroom. For those not familiar with the mythos of the Hydra, there are a few attributes it carries which are of great interest in the context of this dream. Number one (and the most well known) is that when you cut off one head of the Hydra, two more heads spring up in its place. In the dream when I seem to “cut off the head” by winning an argument with one of the students, there immediately is another student that rises to take the first students place. The second attribute of the Hydra is that its teeth can raise skeletons from the dead. The teeth, represented by the criticisms from the students' mouths, resurrect from the dead the skeletons of my past failures, traumas, and avoidances. The final attribute of interest to us is the Hydra’s ability to spit a deadly acid from any of its three heads. The acid, representing revivification of past failures, would kill the generative part of me if I allowed myself to be covered in it. (Ruminating endlessly on past mistakes)

The second major archetype at play here is that of the Magician. This is represented by the generative or “true” self who is writing on the chalkboard. The Magician archetype has the primary objective to contain and channel power or knowledge for the good of all. In this dream sequence this is represented by my efforts to structure and contain arcane knowledge onto the chalkboard in front of the students (the “all”).

There are also two pieces of the shadow side of the Magician that come into clear focus in this dream. First, in the interactions with the students, is the Detached Manipulator. The Detached Manipulator is characterized by its attempts to control others through deceit or witholding information. This facet of the shadow Magician becomes apparent in my attempts to argue with the students in an effort to “win” rather than an effort to understand and enlighten. I am seeking to simply manipulate and control their behavior, rather than help them understand.

The second facet of the shadow Magician is that of the naive Denying Innocent. This is the janitor erasing the chalkboard. Archetypally the naive Denying Innocent is there to keep us from opening our eyes and seeing reality more clearly. The Denying Innocent is also noted as having a fear of being “discovered” for his lifelessness and lack of responsibility. The janitor (my addictions) is cleaning the chalkboard (self-knowledge and clarity of thought) in an attempt to bury the Magician (generative self) beneath layers and layers of coping for fear of seeing painful truths.

So let's bring the entirety of the dream into all three levels of analysis.

I, as the Magician archetype (being my generative, world-structuring parts of self), am trying to channel and contain knowledge which I feel is “beyond” the scope of what my past (the criticizing students) shows is possible. Past traumas or failures (many heads of the student-Hydra) are raised from the dead (skeleton-resurrecting teeth of the hydra) through spitting their critiques which cover me in deadly acid (the generative self rendered dead from rumination on past mistakes). In light of this painful truth my addictions (the janitor, the Denying Innocent) seek to extinguish the hurting through absolving all responsibility by erasing the chalkboard (my gained self-knowledge and clarity of thought).

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Good read.

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