Archetypal Dream Interpretation (part two)

Archetypal time travel

In my last post, I laid the groundwork for today’s discussion, and we left off by talking about how a complex gets triggered in daily life…

…and when this happens, it can flood the ego with archetypal energy.

A common experience of this is finding our thoughts or feelings suddenly imbued with the energy of ABSOLUTE RIGHTNESS or ABSOLUTE WRONGNESS.

“This is just how things are done!”

“I’ll never be good enough.”

“Everybody knows x.”

“This will never change–it’s pointless to try.”

Because archetypes are so damn massive compared to our finite egos, their presence carries an overwhelming sense of THIS IS SO…

…and whatever is influenced by their energy can feel like THE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL.

(And for examples, see just about every political battle throughout history.)  

So in daily life, perhaps what begins as a mildly cringy feeling of embarrassment, one we could easily manage and laugh off, activates a complex

…flooding us with archetypal energy. And now, suddenly that cringy feeling starts to grow…and linger…

…and then here we are, still replaying the embarrassing thing we said at 2 in the morning.

And over breakfast the next day… 

And now there’s a nagging, building suspicion that maybe we’re just shit and no one will ever let us move past this for as long as we live.

We find ourselves recounting all of the other times we’ve embarrassed ourselves, and completely shutting down and bottling up our authenticity seems like probably the only logical way forward…

…and down and down the spiral we go. 

By the way, this can easily travel the other way, too, where we start out with something we feel passionate about…

…only to find archetypal energy flooding us into a state of grandiose inflation where we feel immune to risk and accountability, and we careen off into the sun like Icarus with his rapidly melting wings. 

Okay, let’s bring this back to dreams and our two-faced guide, Janus. 

In modern chemistry, there’s something known as a Janus molecule, which is a compound that can be toxic or beneficial–it’s all about proper dosage. 

Archetypes, too, can be “toxic” (i.e. splintering) to the ego due to their vastness, but they can also be extraordinarily beneficial. 

One archetypal gift is being filled with inspiration. Great art of any kind is a channeling of the archetypal into tangible form. 

Archetypes can also show us our future.

The reasons are complex, but here’s the nutshell version: 


The collective unconscious is a realm of creation, as in, things coming into existence.

Archetypes are the framework of the collective unconscious, so they’re intimately tied with things that are coming into being, i.e. the future. 


Archetypes appear in our lives in response to an as-yet-unconscious need.

In other words, we conjure them up from the depths when, deep in our unconscious, a compelling need arises.

Thus, if we pay attention to the archetype, we can deduce the unconscious need that will soon be bursting into conscious awareness, influencing our waking life.

Quick example:

Before I consciously realized I needed to make a dramatic shift in a family relationship, archetypes connected to this relationship’s themes began populating my dreams, indicating that big change was approaching in this area. 

When archetypes appear, we can be certain that elements within us are preparing to mobilize in that direction.

We might not know the specifics at first, but the more we pay attention, the clearer things will become.

(And if we ignore these signs, they’ll start showing up with increasing intensity–and sometimes downright destructiveness–in our waking life.)

And third:

Archetypes unfold in patterns.

Fairy tales are a great example of this. Not only are they populated by archetypal characters, such as the Witch and the Helpful Animal, but the events occur in an archetypal order

For example, a colleague of Jung’s, Marie-Louise von Franz, recognized that whenever helpful animals appear in a fairy tale, if the heroine accepts their aid, she is assured of success. 

In more ordinary terms, when the “helpful animals” of our instincts gift us with guidance, if we know how to honor these messages, we are assured success in our endeavors.

But if we ignore them and rely solely on intellect, we get eaten by the troll.

So in dreams (and waking synchronicity), when an archetype appears, it gives you a potent clue as to what theme of occurrences you’ll be experiencing next…

…and by looking at the context of the dream, you’re given further clues as to how you’re being called to respond. (More on this below.)

For fellow tarot nerds:

Check out the Major Arcana, which is a map of archetypes.

Does one of these figures relate to the archetypes showing up in your dreams? If so, what cards come before and after it? These are clues as to where you’ve been and where you’re headed. 

In my case, Janus is ushering in a period where I need to pay extra attention to where I tend toward “ego splitting”…

…refusing paradox in myself and others, grasping for either/or certainties at the expense of psychic integration. 

And the context in which Janus appeared in my dream gives me additional clues.

For instance, he manifested in relation to food and nourishment and also to seeing what others around me cannot or will not see.

It’s beyond this post to sketch out the particulars of my dream, but based on my journaling, meditation, therapy, and other tools of self-inquiry over the past few months, these clues make sense to me. 

In the same way, you can interpret elements in your dreams…

…that carry a known mythological significance, like Janus (this is where reading myths and fairy tales is a very useful witchy habit, indeed)…

or things that feel numinous to you, personally. These are the dreams that carry a higher-than-usual emotional charge; perhaps they’re harder to wake or disentangle yourself from the next morning, or you find yourself thinking about them at “random” times.

You might also experience daytime synchronicity: meaningful coincidences related to the dream’s theme. 

Pay close attention.

Start journaling these things and any personal associations that come to mind so you can recognize the developing picture. 

Our primary task when archetypes appear…

…is finding a way to personalize them, to translate their collective energy into something useful in human, lived experience.

You aren’t integrating them into your psyche (archetypes are simply too massive and collective for the ego to integrate and stay sane)…

…instead, you’re being called to learn new ways of productively channelling their energy into your life. 

For example, my dreams are not calling me to become Janus, as this would lead to a psychotic break.

But I can answer his invitation to embrace paradox and duality, to see both sides while remaining whole, to cross into new ways of thinking and being by holding multiple truths.

Thus, it will be useful for me to get curious when I’m feeling the urge to create tidy categories of right/wrong, and treat them not as finalities but as thresholds to an expanded reality.

Now, interpret your dreams:

What are the prominent archetypes in your more emotionally charged dreams right now?

What personal associations come to mind when you think about or research these archetypes?

What contextual clues does the dream offer regarding how or in what life areas these energies are influencing you?

What are you feeling called to learn or embrace as you move into this next archetypal phase?

By working with your dreams in this way, you’re opening up to unconscious messaging while it’s still a guiding whisper…

…rather than forcing it to reach a yelling crescendo in waking life in the form of unwanted circumstances and chronic patterns.

This allows you to work with, not against, your inner tides, which naturally seek to balance and support you in all things.

Not only does this make life a helluva lot easier…

…it gifts you with a deeply embodied knowing that your Wise Self, in every moment, has your back.

You’re never alone.

You are guided, you are loved, and the wisdom is always within you.