You’ve Interpreted Your Dream — Now What?

Make it real with ritual — Jungian dreamwork, step four


“Doing a physical act has a magical effect on dreamwork. It takes your understanding of the dream off the purely abstract level and gives it an immediate concrete reality. It is a way of putting your dream into the here and now of your physical life.” — Robert A. Johnson, Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth

Your Inner Life is a Relationship

In this dreams, dream interpretation, and Jungian psychology series you’ve discovered that dreams are more than random neural firings in your brain. They’re a language. The entity sending you nightly messages in this nonverbal, symbolic dream language is your own unconscious mind. You’ve learned that most of who you really are is unconscious, and that recording and analyzing your dreams is one sure path to meeting and befriending your larger unknown self. You’ve learned to explore your personal associations to your dreams, to apply archetypal amplification, and to recognize your dream characters in yourself.

You have learned to interpret your dreams.

But dream interpretation is a one-way street. It’s like one partner in a marriage talking, while the other listens attentively but never responds.

Your inner life is a relationship, and every successful relationship requires two-way communication.

Your unconscious mind speaks symbolically in dreams. To establish a successful two-way relationship between your conscious and unconscious minds, you must learn to respond to your dreams with symbolic acts of ritual.

What Ritual Is (and Isn’t)

Many today associate ritual solely (and negatively) with organized religion, with religious rituals they view as rote and empty.

That’s not what I’m recommending here. Jungian ritual is a much simpler process aimed at establishing two-way communication between your conscious and unconscious minds.

Your ritual in response to a dream can be any physical action you choose to perform in acknowledgment of your dream’s message. The unconscious doesn’t rely on words, so neither can you. You must express your ritual in the symbolic image-language of dreams.

Once again, Robert A. Johnson:

Each ritual must be custom made out of the raw material of your own inner self. It flows out of the same inner place that produced your dream, your associations, and your interpretation… every expression of the unconscious, whether dream, imagination, vision, or ritual, proceeds from the same reservoir, deep within. And everything, therefore, works together.

A Couple of Examples

In Inner Work, Johnson describes a young man who dreamed he was at a shopping mall. There, he ate junk food that made him sick. Friends wasted his time gossiping and talking about nothing. Every item he bought, once he got it out of the store, turned into useless junk he didn’t want.

He decided the dream was saying too much of his life was devoted to “junk food.” Eating literal junk food, of course, but also wasting time in shallow relationships, pointless consumerism, watching TV, surfing the internet. The dream’s message was that his superficial lifestyle was wasteful, unsatisfying, and needed to change.

His ritual response was to visit a burger joint and order the largest cheeseburger on the menu, plus a supersized order of fries. He dug a hole in his back yard and buried that junk food with funereal ceremony. He read a eulogy to his empty life, said his final goodbyes and turned solemnly away.

With this highly symbolic ritual act, he sent a powerful message to his unconscious mind, acknowledging receipt of the dream’s message and communicating his commitment to change.


In my interpretation of “The Owl Dream,” explored in What Are Your Dreams Trying to Tell You and The Mythic Meaning of Your Dreams, I concluded that dream had a similar message:

In some part of my life where I ought to be taking in energy, strength and vitality, I am instead pursuing addictive pleasures with the potential to harm me… The owl wants me to come outside and fly away — to go beyond the fence, beyond the house, to be as “Free as a bird….”

Let’s say that, upon deeper reflection, I determine that the thing I ought to be doing to increase my energy, strength, and vitality is write. Writing feeds my soul. It’s the primary way I connect consciously with my inner world.

But lately I’ll use any excuse not to write. I especially use social media to distract myself from writing. For every hour I spend putting words to paper, I waste three or more hours scrolling Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even Medium. I tell myself I’m promoting my work and networking with other writers — but really, I’m mostly just playing around and squandering my time and creative energy. The archetypal owl is my muse, my unknown self, calling me to see through my self-deception, to break my social media addiction and join her in the open blue sky of inspiration…

How might I ritually respond to this dream message?

I could walk out of my kitchen and stand physically in my yard, at the spot I dreamed the owl was perched. There, I could, with great ceremony and intention, one by one delete every social media app on my phone. I could visualize them being swallowed by the earth, then myself rising up in a flurry of wings and flying away with my muse.

I might take my ritual to the next level and physically embark on that flight, traveling far from home to attend a writer’s workshop or literary festival in affirmation of my commitment to heed the dream’s warning.

Knowledge Informs Us, Relationships Change Us

“Rituals provide us a way of taking principles from the unconscious and impressing them vividly on the conscious mind. But rituals also have an effect on the unconscious. A highly conscious ritual sends a powerful message back to the unconscious, causing changes to take place at the deep levels where our attitudes and values originate.” — Robert A. Johnson, Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth

The dream interpretation techniques in this series grant one-way knowledge regarding your unconscious, unknown self.

Responding to your dreams with conscious ritual establishes a two-way inner relationship with the power to transform your experience of yourself and the world.


Thanks for reading!

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