Updated July 2022 – added and reordered some of the Jung quotes.
Updated October 2022 – reworded some of the rules.
For the past five years, I’ve been working on my dreams in a systematic manner: I write the dream down with no self-censorship, go through each symbol while noting the spontaneous associations that come up, and then spend some time describing the personal context of the past day(s).
With these out of the way, I focus on the story of the dream, each scene representing a personal dynamic. I feel into them as if they were interactive paintings representing the objective state of my psyche as seen from the unconscious. I get many impressions and compare them to the personal context until something ‘clicks’, that is until I get an emotional or somatic reaction. Then I know I am on the right track.
At some point, I bring all these elements together, come up with an interpretation and test it against three criteria. The interpretation must be 1) totally new, 2) humbling for the ego, 3) about myself and my inner world (and not others in the outside world). If the interpretation still feels right after being scrutinized, I incorporate these insights moving forward and modify my course of action accordingly.
This method has proved itself many times and so I have done my best to put these guidelines on a single A4 sheet that you can download here:
As shown above, the document is meant to be printed and folded in half so you can have it in a dream journal. I’ve also added two appendices: one made of quotes from Jung about dreams and an interpretation of one of my own dreams using the template.
I want to point out that I do not consider these guidelines to be the final word on dream analysis. I’m very well aware that some dreams resist all attempts at interpretation. This does not invalidate the framework because—if my personal experience is anything to go by—the guidelines are helpful in 95% of cases.
One thing I do claim is to follow the efforts of Robert A. Johnson, as they are laid out in his book Inner Work. But there is a lot of other material available. A small selection include:
- Dreams by Carl Jung, including The Art of Interpreting Dreams, Carl Jung’s 9 Rules of Dream Interpretation
- The Way of the Dream by Marie-Louise von Franz, Fraser Boa (extract)
- Robert A Johnson – Dream Work
- Jungian Dream Interpretation by James A. Hall
If you have more success with any other authors or method, let other people know in the comments what worked for you.
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I’ll have to give this a go. I have just been writing dreams down in a train-of-throught manner fairly consistently for a while now, and some things have happened recently that have made me realise I missed out on some inner advice