For example, consider this dream and the experience of the dreamer:
I am sitting in a circle of 10-12 people, holding some papers in my lap,
perhaps leading a discussion. We are in a contemporary cabin in the
mountains, and the fall day is sunny and beautiful with a hint of change
in the foliage. Slowly I become aware of a sound in the distance—some-
thing approaching! It sounds like the whirling blades of a helicopter—no,
more like the loud flapping of wings! This seems impossible: the bird
would have to be a very large one. Suddenly, a very large eagle appears
outside our closed sliding glass door. The drapes are open, and we can
clearly see the eagle whose wing tips tap on the glass as if it wants to
get inside. Startled, we jump up from our seats and stare at the eagle,
afraid to move any closer. The eagle slowly backs away from the door
and retreats about 100 feet from the cabin where it hovers 20 ft. or so
above the ground. We slowly open the door, move outside and stand
with our backs to the cabin. The eagle's head changes to that of a human.
I hear a voice speak: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell
you it's alright. There is more." Then the head changes back to an eagle's
head as it turns and flies away over the horizon to my left.
Where and when does this dream occur? Who is the dreamer? What is the pressing question on the dreamer's mind? What is the setting of the dream?
To begin, the season of the year must be fall as there is awareness of a change in the foliage of the mountains. Awareness of the world outside the cottage suggests it is daytime. A group of people has gathered for some unknown purpose, a study group, a business meeting, or an educational seminar. We know the state of the world generally: The Vietnam war is winding down, the Watergate crisis in government is being resolved with several high-level officials receiving jail sentences, and the social/political uneasiness in the country tilts toward peace.
Here, at this time of what seems like a transition, the dreamer bolts upright in bed, startled awake by the dream, feeling as if somehow he has been visited by a strange, mysterious guest he had not invited nor anticipated.
In the dark of the night, he sits upright in bed, waking his wife, and tells her he just had the strangest dream. "A nightmare?," she asks. "No, not a nightmare," he says. "Then what," she wants to know, still in a groggy state. "I don't know," he slowly gets the words out of his mouth and continues, "but my life will never be the same."
And it was not. Why? The disturbing dream could not be associated with the external events of the dreamer's world. Nor could he locate the dream in his personal life as a minister in a progressive Protestant church that had provided him a meaningful and fulfilling life in the pastoral duties of caring for people throughout the life and death events that make up the duties of all care-givers whose occupation is cura animarum, the ancient Church's care of souls.
Against the backdrop of the dreamer's personal life and pastoral responsibilities, the dreamer searched for some clue to understand the eagle's appearance and its mysterious message, "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you it's alright." The dreamer could think of no helpful clue. Except for one.
There, in the middle of the night, his heart still racing and his mind scrambling through the events of his life, he remembered a group he attended a few times. The group focused on the psychology of Carl Jung and recommended a resource for the study of symbols. The dreamer passed the night finally falling back to sleep but not before writing the dream with as much detail as he could remember and then searching through his journal for the name of the book on symbols. A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot, published by the Philosophical Library of New York.
At the time of the dream, there was no internet service, nor did the library possess the book. Several days went by before Cirlot's book finally arrived, a relatively brief time that felt like an age for the dreamer who could not turn loose the eagle and its message. Then finally came the book and its reference to the symbolism of the eagle with these words: "A symbol of height, of the spirit as the sun, and of the spiritual principle in general. ... Similarly, in Christianity, the eagle plays the role of a messenger from heaven."
There it was! In the dreamer's mind and throughout ecclesiastical history the eagle has appeared as a messenger. How could it be that a dream image, the eagle, appeared as it had appeared in the ancient history of the Church as well as in other legends, myths, and religions? He had never encountered an eagle in his waking life and knew of the eagle's symbolism only in a limited way, most generally as a symbol of freedom, strength, and courage, and most importantly as the national bird of the United States, spreading its wings on the Great Seal of our country since 1782, against the protest of Benjamin Franklin who lobbied for a turkey!
As for the eagle's symbolism in Christianity to which Cirlot refers, the dreamer knew of the eagle lecturn in churches on which the Bible rests, symbolizing the Word of God to be carried to the far reaches of the world. Also, the dreamer recalled occasional references in scripture to the eagle, such as Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11. In addition, the Gospel of John has historically been associated with the Eagle because its language connotes spiritual heights rather than biographical or historical details.
However, in the dream, the eagle and its message do not conform to any specific religious or nationalistic imagery. Rather, the eagle alerts an indistinguishable group from an indefinite point over the horizon with a most specific message that is not located in scripture, history, mythology, legend, or the humanities. In the dream, the eagle's head changes to that of an unrecognized human, speaks plainly and simply, and returns over the horizon from which it came.
What did this dreaming experience come to mean to the dreamer? How did it transform his life? What might this dream and other such dreams mean to us today? What role do they play in human consciousness and transformation? This will be the topic of my next writing. There is also another fundamental question: Is the dreamer sharing the truth of this dreaming experience? Can we trust him? To which I can only say, I do. I am the dreamer.