I have had the distinct pleasure over the past few months of immersing myself in some wise and erudite books on dreams. Here, rising to the top of the pile, are two books that I consider essential to the serious study of dreams in history and practice.
The first is by Dr. Kelly Bulkeley, former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and author of many worthy books on dreams. Dreaming in the World’s Religions: A Comparative History (2008, New York University Press) is a book that finally answers the basic question: how did people in ancient cultures view dreams?
I call this a basic question, because anyone who spends a significant amount of time working with their dreams inevitably wonders how it was done in the past. In your religion, in other religions; by your ancestors, by other people’s ancestors. Dreams call us to understand our place in the world, and Kelly’s book answers the call because it addresses the problem with both comprehensive scholarship and also a deep love and appreciation for dreams.
In the book’s first three chapters, Kelly covers Hinduism, the religions of China (mostly Confucianism and Taoism), and Buddhism. He then branches out to the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Judaism), the religions of Greece and Rome, then Christianity, and Islam. In the final three chapters, we learn about the religions of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. A whirlwind tour to be sure, but with Kelly’s flair for laying out a clear overview combined with meticulous attention to detail, one is left after each chapter with the feeling of having had an excellent introduction to a fascinating, and ever-changing subject.
This book is required reading for my class at Cherry Hill Seminary on using dreams in spiritual direction. It gives the student of Pagan religions a valuable sense of perspective, and the student of dreams a glimpse at the rich possibilities for dream interpretation and understanding in the continuing evolution of our dreaming minds. I highly recommend it.
The second book is not new at all, but is certainly new to us. Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936–1940 (Princeton University Press, 2008) is the English translation (finally!) of a seminar conducted by Carl Jung with some of his more advanced pupils, and is the most accessible, understandable presentation of Jung’s dream theories Â that I have ever read.
Here we have the master in action, explaining his theories and then showing in great detail how he applies them, using examples of his patients’ earliest remembered dreams. In the first chapter, Jung lays out all of his methods of dream interpretation, which is invaluable in itself but also helps focus the later chapters, as each dream analysis follows the steps first introduced here.
Each of the later chapters include his students (among them Marie-Louise Von Franz, Aniela Jaffe, and Jolande Jacobi) presenting a dream or dream series, then analyzing them using Jung’s rubric. Jung makes comments, clarifies ideas and answers his students’ questions. The conversational style highlights Jung’s skill as an educator, and reading it one has the sense of witnessing the development, there in that room, of the practice of analytical psychology. It is a fascinating and inspiring ride.
This beautiful English edition of Children’s Dreams was a project of the Philemon Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing into book form Jung’s unpublished works. The Philemon Foundation also facilitated the publication of Jung’s Red Book last year; they do beautiful work. Children’s Dreams will make you realize just how much of your ideas about dreams are from Jung, and at the same time will show you just how little of Jung you really understand. I find the combination exhilarating; I am sure you will too.