The Artful Question: A Dream Interpreters Code

A Dream Interpreters Code

Wake up with more than your to-do list.

Dreamwork brings another dimension of self-awareness into the day. The gradient of dreamwork begins at remembering our dreams, eventually blending into wakeful digestion, and then to embodiment: allowing the dream to inform our movement through life.

One of the things I want to address is discernment in choosing a dream that is “worthy” of the work. No dream is essentially unworthy, it’s perfect as is, but after many years of group dreamwork, I’ve found it most beneficial when we bring forth our dreams of power.  We all have the mundane dreams…you know the ones, where we can’t find our wallet, we’re working, doing something rote, or just kind of stuck in some kind of strange loop.

We simply cannot work with every single dream, so we are discerning. Like alchemists, we sift through the mundane dreams to find the ones that hold that precious potency. Simply, we  ask:

Is the imagery powerful?
Does it invoke strong emotions?
Are there any strong sensations?
Is there a heightened level of intensity?

Dreamtelling as an art form.

A dream carried forth into the waking life becomes, in essence, a story. When we watch a movie or read a book, we find instinctual pleasure in a well-lit story arc: otherwise known as the hero’s journey. Just as each psyche contains all the archetypes, like the fool, the mentor and the villain, we contain the hero’s journey, which is an actual archetype itself. When all the notes of the hero’s journey are hit just right, we feel the harmony of it like a song. If an essential note is not struck or is off, there’s dissonance, and we’ll innately feel that we’ve missed something essential to the whole.

So sharing a dream is a storytelling craft, and when the hero’s journey is infused into it coherently enough, all involved in the telling and listening are able to assimilate the information more deeply. It becomes digestible in the most primordial, universal sense.



We’ve all done it, right? ….googled the meaning of a dream.


Of course there’s obvious value in researching elements of a dream, from real world events, to etymological and mythological connections. It gets a little weird, though, when a person takes someone they’ve never met’s flattened interpretation of a dream symbol as their truth, rather than intuit their own personal meaning. It’s a form of giving away our personal power. So part of what I call the Dream Interpreter’s Code is that we never rely on dream dictionary style interpretations. Each dream is honored as a fluid, living experience that is as unique as a fingerprint.



Feel, Amplify, Imagine, Reflect.

When as a society, we’ve not been trained or initiated in the dreamways, we have to learn to power up and actively engage our imagination, intellect and intuition to perform these excavations. One of our most precious tools is the artful question. We can start to build a toolkit of questions that are designed to coax out our dreamer intuition, and therefore the dream’s personal meaning. Petal by petal, question by question, the dream can bloom before us.

“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends.”

C.G. Jung

Lets heed the call of one of the greats, James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology and prolific myth and dream authority: Do not flatten the dream with the day world ego. We walk a fine edge when we interpret dreams, because we predominantly wield our dayworld minds to do so. And, suffice it to say, the mind is not always our truest ally. As western humans, we tend to go straight to the meaning making…

For instance, we dream of a snake: It’s exceedingly easy for the mind to turn the snake into a symbol, like “the devouring mother” or “rebirth and transformation.” Then, the end result is that it somehow teaches us about what we might be undergoing in waking life, or perhaps something we’ve omitted. In doing this, however, we’ve inadvertently flattened this beautifully alive being that has it’s own reasons for coming, into a symbol for our own benefit.

Even if it seems beneficial to our own growth, this is a sad thing. Instead of seeing the beauty of the serpent (how very lucky we were that she would appear to us in the exact way she came), we’ve yet again dominated the animal kingdom by our own derogatory cartesian-christian egoic devices.

So I ask of all dreamers, pause before beelining to the symbolic meaning of an animal dream. Sit and watch them as they’ve chosen to appear to us. Track their movements. Take note of their behavior, how they interact or don’t interact with us. Be witness to their beauty and receive the message by way of their aesthetic:

“To read an animal, to hear it, requires an aesthetic perception for which psychology has yet to train its senses. We feel grateful that the animal is even there, that it lets itself be seen, that it is a power that has come into a dream, and that this visitation is a momentary restoration of Eden.

What if they come because they fear the loss of kinship? That they have already been excluded from the next ark, in which virtual realities replace the smell of panther’s breath and sheen of a thoroughbred’s flank. Maybe they fear the Gods have deserted them so they have become a misplaced tribe–merely an ecological “problem” for administrative solutions and charitable pity. Imagine–pity for an eagle!

We cannot know what they come for until we first start to wonder. Beauty may be the key. Do the animals come that we may still see beauty in the given shapes of living forms, perhaps even to save beauty and the animal eye that sees it first? For how does an animal recognize another animal if not by its aesthetic display? It is an aesthetic phenomenon that an animal tells us who it is, what it’s name is.”

– James Hillman, Animal Dreams

This “momentary restoration of Eden” is, I believe, what we might call our archetypal home within the human-animal psyche. We are animals. Our intellect has tricked us into thinking we are not. However, in dreams, we return to this home truth.

Photo by Edward Clynes
In communion with a lion, whether it be running our fingers through his mane or being devoured by him and having our bones licked clean, we’ve somehow reconciled our natural place within the Anima Mundi, the ensouled world, which makes up all the animal, plant, mineral and elemental kingdoms.

A doorway has opened and the deep aliveness of this vital reality is somehow renewed. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.

Some artful questions we can offer when working with an animal dream:
What is their need, their reason for coming into our sleep?
What ways of this animal could I benefit from learning?
Do they seem like “animal guardians”, as totemic cultures would say?
What stands out most about their appearance?
Did they do anything that surprised me?
What are they doing in the dream?
How am I feeling toward this animal in the dream?
Can I embody some of their qualities in myself?

Photo by Juliana Bernstein, Get Tiny
Almost all nightmares pass the dream alchemist’s test by their very nature, in that they take precedence in the hierarchy of what most needs to be dealt with.

The irony is that they also tend to be the dreams we least want to face.

The great untold mythos of the Night Mare, is that she is the polarity aspect of Pegasus, the white winged steed who flies us into the upperworlds. But the Night Mare’s medicine is powerful… She is a creature of the Underworld and she brings to us face to face with our shadows.

Carl Jung coined the term Shadow as discarded aspects of self. Jung believed that a major, if not ultimate, function of dreaming is Individuation, whereby we piece all the fragments of the psyche into one wholly functioning Self.

A nightmare is such an incredible opportunity, one which lucid dreaming is the perfect companion to. But we’ll explore that another time. We get to get super real with ourselves when she pays a visit. I think the natural unraveling of dreamwork is that it expertly illuminates the things we’re holding onto (or repressing, ignoring, afraid to see) which don’t allow for optimal self love and expression.

Oftentimes, our shadow figures are our truest allies waiting in the wings, but at some point in our journey of fragmentation, we’ve relegated them to the underworld of our being, starving them of our much-needed love and acceptance.

Photo by Deviant Spectrum Photography
This is all fine, because it is what has been. But the Night Mare is a reclaimer and a revealer. Oh my, how beautiful her dark magnetic offering. If we are wanting to soar in the upperworlds of enlightenment, we must also be willing to mount and ride the Night Mare of our fears; as she is a gatekeeper.

Instead of avoiding the shadow in dreams, I encourage dreamers to invite it in as a herald of essential information for the next level of your hero’s journey.

Some questions we can wield when working with the Night Mares:
What is the most heightened emotion?
What is the most vivid image I remember?
What feels like it’s the most distorted?
What is the scariest or creepiest part of the dream?
Is there any part in the dream that hints at resolution?
What do I imagine I could have done differently?
What can I do to create resolution with this dream?

Photo by Edward Clynes
Perhaps one of the most common dreams we have are of relationships, love and sex. This night dream lover might sometimes be our inner opposite, what Carl Jung calls the animus and anima. It could also be some personified aspect of ourselves that we are attempting to merge with in a deeper sense, or come into resolution with. The reasons for these dreams are as varied as the dreams themselves.

Dreams of the Lover seem to have a heightened influence over us, and usually come with a palpable range of emotions or sensations, making them some of the best dreams to work with. With the added note that we as a species deeply value love and companionship, as a very essential piece of our being that needs wholeness to flourish.

Yet, because of the intimate, sexual and intense nature of some of these dreams, and maybe even residual or ancestral shame around sexuality, most of them remain untold or undigested.

The opportunity afforded to us by Lover dreams represents big medicine. It’s a raw reality check on many of our most central human themes: our relationship with other, the other in another body, and the other within our own.

Photo by Gaby Esensten
We get to see, through this meeting with the anima/animus, what we’ve divided up in ourselves and what we’ve cast out by way of culture and gender. We see that which we have said, “I am not that.”

In the Lover dream, we re-emerge with a distinct image, maybe even perfect instructions, on what there is to integrate, to invite back in, to say “tat tuam asi,” I am that. Perhaps one of the most heroic things we can do is cultivate this inner ecology and master the grace and balance of the feminine-masculine dance.

Artful questions to pose to the Lover dreams:
Is this lover an aspect of me or someone in my life?
What are the attractive qualities about them?
How does my body feel with them?
Which part, if any, of this dream feels nourishing?
Which part, if any, of this dream feels distorted?
How do I feel with him/her?
Is there conflict in the dream?
If so, is this dream a call to resolution?
What might be attempting to come alive or be integrated in me?