Dr's Jung and Tiso Exchange Dreams

The purpose of this essay is to explore the possibilities of using Jungian dream analysis as a platform for conducting psychotherapy between a white African therapist and a black African client.

Dr's Jung and Tiso Exchange Dreams: An Exploration of the Use of Jungian Dream Analysis in Psychotherapy with Black African Clients

August 1997

Paper submitted for the course "Cultural Diversities and Social Work Practice" run by Sr Connie O'Brien, in the Master's Degree Programme in Clinical Social Work at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in August 1997.

A condensed version of this paper was published in
the Clinical Social Work Journal, Vol 27 (2): 141-154.

A well-formatted pdf version of this document can be obtained at:

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The purpose of this essay is to explore the possibilities of using Jungian dream analysis as a platform for conducting psychotherapy between a white African therapist and a black African client. The essay is structured as two autonomous, but correlated papers. The first presents a Jungian perspective on dreams, particularly as constructed in a white, western world view. The second paper presents an African perspective on dreams, using material derived from Mongezi Tiso, a Xhosa igqira with whom Dr Vera Bührmann did much research on Xhosa psychotherapeutic/healing practices. This juxtaposition of Jung's views and Tiso's views (representing African views) demonstrates more convergences than divergences, suggesting that Jungian dream analysis may well provide a helpful psychotherapeutic framework for the white African therapist and black African client. The essay concludes with a brief guide to the technique of Jungian dream analysis, although it is not the purpose of the essay to equip the reader to conduct such analysis.




List of Figures

Dr's Jung and Tiso Exchange Dreams

The Western Psyche

Holistic View of Humanity


Big and Little Dreams

Subjective & Objective Interpretation

The Status of Dreams

The Gods and Ancestors

The Healing of Dreams

Loss of Dreams

Dream Examples

The African Psyche

Holistic View of Humanity


Big and Little Dreams

Subjective & Objective Interpretation

The Status of Dreams

The Gods and Ancestors

The Healing of Dreams

Loss of Dreams

Dream Examples

The Technique of Jungian Dream Analysis



List of Figures

"Symbol of the sacred in a ring of flames floating above the world of war and technology." Painted by C.G. Jung in 1920. (Jaffé 1979: illustration 57)

1. Mongezi Tiso: Xhosa Igqira/Diviner (Bührmann 1984)

2. Carl Gustav Jung: Analytical Psychologist (Jung 1963)

3. Mesopotamian Uroborous (Neumann 1954: illustration 2)

4. Girl's Drawing of Uroborous (Neumann 1954: illustration 5)

5. Viking Village Shaped as Mandala (Jaffé 1979: illustration 70)

6. Mandala by Patient of Jung (CW 9i: picture 13)

7. Nigerian Uroborous on Shield (Neumann 1954: illustration 6)

8. Paleolithic Sun Wheel (Jaffé 1979: illustration 61)

9. "This gold pendant (c.850BC) shows Osiris as a mummified king, flanked by Isis and his son Horus." (Willis 1993: 42)

Dr's Jung and Tiso Exchange Dreams

I have found great difficulty, in my clinical practice, working with black clients. Whereas with white clients I have been able to work psychodynamically, looking at personal and affective issues, with black clients we seem unable to connect on anything other than the most concrete of issues. Questions about feelings are typically met with a blank response, questions about internal thoughts or experiences with frank confusion. I found this exceptionally frustrating, and have tended to work only towards assisting with the most concrete of concerns, and perhaps, if I feel particularly energetic, to attempt to teach problem solving skills.

It is not that I believe black people do not have an interiority. Indeed, I believe that they probably have a greater capacity for emotion and expressiveness than my conservative, British white family. I am often reminded of a comment a priest once made to me that black Africans have no soul. He was not saying that they could not become Christians. He was saying that they had no capacity for spirituality or depth. I found this statement horrifying and have never been able to work out if he was being serious or provocative. Either way, it has stuck in my psyche, and when I work with black clients and experience the frustration, I begin to wonder whether there is not, in fact, any truth in what he said.

These thoughts and feelings have never sat comfortably in my mind. I believe that we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, racist. I am troubled by people who deny that they have racial prejudices, because this simply cannot be so in our world (Korber 1990: 49). But these thoughts and feelings that I have disclosed here reek of racism, and feel quite out of place in my sense of who I am. And so I was greatly encouraged when I heard Vera Bührmann give a lecture to the Association of Jungian Analysts a few years ago, about dream work amongst Xhosa people. For the first time I had a sense of some kind of resolution of my dilemma.

Figure 1. Mongezi Tiso: Xhosa Iqira/Diviner

I subsequently had a black client who was caught between two women - one whom he loved and the one his parents had made him marry. He was torn, in essence between self and culture (respectively). For the first time, I felt I was truly interacting with a black client. I asked if he had had any dreams, and he revealed that he had. He had dreamed that the two women had met in the street and were fighting over him. He was separate from them, watching, feeling bad and guilty, and longing for the woman he loved. This dream returned to him repeatedly and caused him great distress - he was becoming depressed. We were able to speak about the dream symbolism as a clash of two cultures: the one into which he was born and the one into which he was growing. While the dream did not directly resolve the conflict for him, it helped him to think more clearly about the nature of the conflict and the changes in his sense of self.

Holdstock (1979: 120) says: "It is essentially Jung's work with dreams, his process of individuation, and his concepts of the collective unconscious and archetypes which share a great deal of commonality with the principles underlying indigenous healing." It is true that no therapy can occur in a cultural vacuum (Kruger 1980: 25). Korber (1990: 49) quotes Schoeman (1985), "no matter how much one wishes to enter the other person's events, your interpretations and descriptions, are all codetermined by the consensually validated concepts and categories of thought of your own culture." Jung's theoretical framework and world view, however, offer the possibility of improved communication between white and black about matters of the unconscious.

Figure 2. Carl Gustav Jung: Analytical Psychologist

This assignment is an attempt to explore the points of convergence between these two world views. In effect, this is two papers, distinguished by the colours of the headings. The first is a Jungian discussion of dreams. Various non-technical aspects of dreams will be addressed, such as symbols, compensation and subjective interpretations. The second paper is an African discussion of dreams. Many of the foundational concepts of this article are drawn from Vera Bührmann's conversations with Mongenzi Tiso, a Xhosa Igqira, with whom she worked for many years. The same aspects of dreams covered in the first article will be covered here as well. The two papers can, therefore, be read separately and independently, or they can be read in parallel, making comparisons between the two world views. I will conclude with a few comments on Jungian dream analysis.

The Western Psyche

Adams (1996: 54) summarizes Lévy-Bruhl's work on the characteristics of "civilized" societies as follows:

"abstract concepts
detachment from sense impressions
intellect (thinking)
law of contradiction
subject-object duality"

Bührmann notes that western culture is heavily invested in technology, rationality, logic, individualism and linear causality. She writes that "the ego has developed at the expense of the unconscious matrix from which it was born. ... It has led to considerable impoverishment of the inner life of man and is largely responsible for the sense of meaninglessness which pervades our present-day Western way of life" (1984: 22).

Holistic View of Humanity

In contrast with much of twentieth century Platonic dualism (Russell 1979: 304), Jung's understanding of the psyche "denotes man as a whole, body, mind and spirit" (Harris 1975: 3). "Western medicine divides illness into the different categories of somatic, psychological and psychosomatic" (Bührmann 1984: 26). In contrast, Jung says, "A wrong functioning of the psyche can do much to injure the body, just as conversely a bodily illness can affect the psyche; for psyche and body are not separate entities but one and the same life" (CW 7: para 115). Jung is emphatic that psychological neuroses cannot be understood independently of the body: the two are inextricably interdependent (CW 16: para 83). Inasmuch as there is no fundamental distinction between body and mind, "Dreams, as a whole, are spontaneous expressions of our entire psychosomatic being, and show every indication of being the product of the central core of our being" (Broadribb 1990: 2).


Fundamental to Jung's theory of the mind is the collective unconscious, which is taken to be a universal, in-born structure in the psyche. The collective unconscious is probably "the most fundamental and distinctive concept in analytical psychology" (Hopcke 1989: 13). This psychic structure is unique in that "it is detached from anything personal and is common to all men, since its contents can be found everywhere, which is naturally not the case with the personal contents" (CW 7: para 103).

Jung discovered the collective unconscious when he noted the mythological character of the images in the dreams and psychoses of many of his patients. "When I first came across such contents I wondered very much whether they might not be due to heredity, and I thought they might be explained by racial inheritance. In order to settle that question I went to the United States and studied the dreams of pure-blooded Negroes, and was able to satisfy myself that these images have nothing to do with so-called blood or racial inheritance, nor are they acquired by the individual. They belong to mankind in general, and therefore they are of a collective nature" (Jung 1968: 41).

It is important "to distinguish between the archetype as such ... and the images ... that give it expression" (Brooke 1991: 16). The archetype itself "is like a mould into which individual and collective experiences are poured and where they take shape" (Hopcke 1989: 15). The archetype is unknowable, it was "never conscious and never will be" (CW 9i: para 266). Jung has argued that the archetypes, which comprise the collective unconscious, are universal.

"While the archetype itself is inherited [ie. innate], the image is not. Thus for any archetype there is a large variety of archetypal images, and this reflects the different cultural and historical settings in which the archetype is realised" (Brooke 1991: 16). Hersch (1980) posits that there is an intermediate layer between the personal and collective unconscious, which he terms the "ethnic unconscious". Bührmann, too, suggests an intermediate cultural layer (1984: 20) which Henderson calls the "cultural unconscious" (in Adams 1996: 40). Jung therefore states, "I analysed dreams of Somali Negroes as if they were people of Zurich, with the exception of certain differences of languages and images. Where the primitives dream of crocodiles, pythons, buffaloes, and rhinoceroses, we dream of being run over by trains and automobiles. ... What we express by the banker the Somali expresses by the python. The surface language is different yet the underlying facts are just the same" (1995: 70).

Nevertheless, Jung persists in demonstrating time and again that specific archetypal images emerge in the dreams of people who have never personally experienced or seen such images. This would indicate, paradoxically, that the collective unconscious contains not only the archetypes themselves, but the images to which they give rise. Two archetypal images which Jung found repeatedly to emerge in the dreams of many patients and informants are the uroborous and the mandala.

Figure 3 presents an archaic image of the uroborous, an image of the archetype of undifferentiated wholeness, typical of primitive humans and the neonate. This is a "bowl from the Mandaeans, Mesopotamia, c. 500 A.D.", and depicts a "serpent biting its tail, encircling an inscription" (Neumann 1954: illustration 2).

Figure 3. Mesopotamian Uroborous

Figure 4 presents a similar image, of a "snake going round the world and a boat," drawn "by a five-year-old English girl of working-class origin" (Neumann 1954: illustration 5).

Figure 4. Girl's Drawing of Uroborous

Figure 5 presents a mandala image from a "military camp of the ancient Vikings near Trelleborg, Denmark, at that time still with direct access to the sea. The camp was erected around A.D. 1000. A crossroads, to which correspond the four gates of the surrounding walls, divides the interior into four. In each quarter four buildings in the form of a ship are arranged around a courtyard" (Jaffé 1979: 79).

Figure 5. Viking Village Shaped as Mandala

Figure 6 is a mandala painted by one of Jung's patients. It contains the three primary images of wholeness, viz. the (concentric) circle, the quaternity and the snake.

Figure 6. Mandala by Patient of Jung

Big and Little Dreams

Jung observes that not all dreams are equal. Some dreams are more significant than others. "Looked at more closely, 'little' dreams are the nightly fragments of fantasy coming from the subjective and personal sphere, and their meaning is limited to the affairs of everyday. That is why such dreams are easily forgotten, just because their validity is restricted to the day-to-day fluctuations of the psychic balance. Significant dreams, on the other hand, are often remembered for a lifetime, and not infrequently prove to be the richest jewel in the treasure-house of psychic experience" (CW 8: para 554).

Jung goes on to suggest that these big dreams emerge from the collective unconscious, and have archetypal imagery, often unknown to the dreamer (CW 8: para 555). These archetypal images have a numinosity, that is a magical presence, which excites the unconscious and possesses the individual (Stevens 1982: 61). Despite Jung's extensive attention to big dreams, he notes that "the collective unconscious influences our dreams only occasionally" (in Mattoon 1981: 251).

Subjective & Objective Interpretation

One of the distinctions which guides the Jungian interpretation of dreams is between subjective and objective. "The whole dream-work is essentially subjective, and a dream is a theatre in which the dreamer is himself the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public, and the critic. This simple truth forms the basis for a conception of the dream's meaning which I have called interpretation on the subjective level. Such an interpretation, as the term implies, conceives all the figures in the dream as personified features of the dreamer's own personality" (CW 8: para 509).

Von Franz states, "Generally, I would say that about eighty-five percent of the dream motifs are subjective and therefore I recommend interpreting most dreams subjectively. One should always first ask, 'What is it in me that does that?' instead of taking the dream as a warning against other people" (Boa & Von Franz 1994: 38).

The Status of Dreams

The status of dreams has fluctuated over the ages (Bührmann 1977a). The current status of dreams in western society is hard to define. There seem to be, in my opinion, three main views on dreams today.

Firstly, some view dreams as mere psychophysiological products of the brain. The dream has no innate meaning, but is a kind of collage of images, memories and sense impressions gathered through the day, and blended with random associations in the neural web (Encyclopædia Britannica 1910: 559).

Secondly, there are those who view dreams as a code, to be broken. Each image in a dream has a direct and static correspondence to a meaning. So a tree signifies hope, a comb means moving home, a snake is a sign of eroticism. The number of dream lexicons or dream dictionaries currently on the market is indicative of this view of dreams (Broadribb 1990: vii).

Thirdly, there is the archetypal view of dreams, that dreams reflect in dynamic symbols the unconscious workings of the mind, drawing not only on the day to day imagery of the dreamer, but also on images from ancient civilization.

In this regard, Jung is quoted as saying, "Dreams provide the most interesting information for those who take the trouble to understand their symbols. The results, it is true, have little to do with such worldly concerns as buying and selling. But the meaning of life is not exhaustively explained by one's business life, nor is the deep desire of the human heart answered by a bank account" (in Boa & Von Franz 1994: 9). Elsewhere he says, "Dream analysis is the central problem of analytical treatment, because it is the most important technical means of opening up an avenue to the unconscious" (1995: 3).

In contemporary society there has been a rebirth of interest in Jungian thinking, perhaps indicating an unconscious collective urge towards rejoining with the symbolic life. In the midst of this, dreams have become increasingly important to everyday people, as well as to psychotherapists. We have much still to learn, and perhaps we can learn much from those cultures who have revered the dream all along (Holdstock 1979: 122).

The Gods and Ancestors

In ancient Greece, the gods were believed to visit people in their dreams. Patients, "having entered the temple or the halls especially built for incubation, lay down on the floor on a pallet. In these impressive surroundings, the god Asclepius revealed himself directly to everyone who needed his help. The god was seen by the incubant in a dream, whereupon the patient entered into personal contact with him, and he proceeded to heal the disease brought to his attention or advised a treatment to be followed" (Bromberg 1975: 10-11).

Jungians do not believe that God himself appears in dreams, but that in dreams one communes with the Self, an archetype of wholeness, often represented as a mandala. "Christ exemplifies the archetype of the self. He represents a totality of a divine or heavenly king, a glorified man, a son of God, unspotted by sin" (CW 9ii: para 70). One can never distinguish between a symbol of the self and a God-image; the two ideas, however much we try to differentiate them, always appear blended together, so that the self appears synonymous with the inner Christ" (CW 11: para 231).

Von Franz suggests that the Self visits us in our dreams, to guide and direct us, as if helping us down a path of divine destiny (Boa & Von Franz 1994: 27-28). She suggests that the Angel is an archetypal messenger of God/Self, and that the angel is a personification of dreams which may warn us of danger, much as a guardian angel would (ibid.: 63).

The Healing of Dreams

It is fundamental to Jungian thinking that dreams are healing. Dreams can be said to have diagnostic, prognostic, directive and healing properties.

In ancient times dreams gave doctors clear clues as to the nature of a patient's disorder. "Galen, the father of modern medicine ... used dreams for diagnostic purposes" (Bührmann 1977a: 16). Jung indicated on a number of occasions that he was able to diagnose some medical and psychiatric conditions on the basis of a dream, and says, "I take dreams as diagnostically valuable facts" (CW 16: para 304 & 350; Jung 1968: 73 [this particular dream is analysed in more detail by Lockhart, who provides a most interesting debate on psychosomatic links in dreams (1977: 9-10)]).

Dreams at the beginning of therapy often "reveal to the doctor, in broad perspective, the whole programme of the unconscious" (CW 16: para 343). I have made it a practice to always ask clients about their most recent dreams when beginning a course of psychotherapy.

Dreams can have prognostic value. "The prospective function ... is an anticipation in the unconscious of future conscious achievements, something like a preliminary exercise or sketch, or a plan roughed out in advance. Its symbolic content sometimes outlines the solution of a conflict. ... With regard to prognosis, therefore, dreams are often in a much more favourable position than consciousness" (CW 8: para 493). Jung is, however, careful to point out that one should not "overestimate this function" (CW 8: para 494), for danger of blindly following the apparent advice of a dream. Nevertheless, Jung recounts the dream of a sceptic, from which he determined that the man's life was in danger were he to continue mountain climbing. The man ignored Jung's caution and died on the mountain three month's later (CW 8: para 323-324).

Dreams can give the dreamer directions for living. Von Franz relates, "Sometimes we have a warning dream, and if we attend to it we can avoid all sorts of disaster. For instance, I would never take a flight if I had a disastrous dream the night before, because I think that, if the unconscious took the trouble to give me a warning dream, I should attend to it" (Boa & Von Franz 1994: 63-64). She also says that "the dreams are the letters which the Self writes to us every night, telling us to do a bit more of this, or to do a bit less of that, or to go ahead to the left, or to go ahead to the right" (ibid.: 27).

One of Jung's substantial contributions to dream theory was the concept of compensation, which replaced Freud's concept of wish fulfilment. Essentially, the dream reflects the unconscious attitude to the dreamer, so as to compensate for the conscious attitude. Jung relates a dream in which he saw one of his patients elevated, like a goddess. He then realised that he had been looking down on this woman. His unconscious used the dream to compensate for this attitude (CW 7: para 190).

The concept of compensation is grounded in a more fundamental belief in equilibrium. Jung says, "The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does. Every process that goes too far immediately and inevitably calls forth compensations, and without these there would be neither a normal metabolism nor a normal psyche. In this sense we can take the theory of compensation as a basic law of psychic behaviour. ... Similarly, the relation between conscious and unconscious is compensatory. ... When we set out to interpret a dream, it is always helpful to ask: What conscious attitude does it compensate?" (CW 16: para 330)

Finally, Jungian thinking teaches that dreams function to heal the psyche, not merely to communicate with the dreamer or analyst. Dreams bring the dreamer into almost immediate contact with the unconscious, which can result in a healthy realignment of the psyche and the restoration of balance or equilibrium (Neumann 1954: 372).

Von Franz suggests that dreams can heal us or make us mad. In order for a dream to be healing, the dreamer must "have a dialogue with it ... The dream world is only positive if it is in a living, balanced dialogue with a lived, actually lived, life" (Boa & Von Franz 1994: 16-17). This has much in common with Hillman's call "to befriend the dream. To participate in it, to enter into its imagery and mood, to want to know more about it, to understand, play with, live with, carry, and become familiar with - as one would do with a friend. As I grow familiar with my dreams I grow familiar with my inner world. ... Befriending a dream is the feeling approach to the dream, and so one takes care receiving the dream's feelings, as with a living person with whom we begin a relationship" (in Moore 1989: 241).

"The analysis of dreams, by bringing about interaction between conscious and unconscious [equivalent to Hillman's befriending], mobilizes psychic energy, liberates it from the symptoms, and, to a large extent, achieves its transfer from the unconscious to the conscious" (Cahen 1966: 141). In this way, the dream in-and-of-itself, and through conscious reflection, opens a channel between ego and Self, allowing for a glimpse of the divine.

Lockhart provides an anecdotal example of healing. "I met a patient recently who ... had widespread cancer and should not have been alive at all. But he had an unexpected encounter with his psyche in the form of several dreams which had such a profound effect on him that the term transformation is hardly suitable. It was like a conversion experience to the reality of the psyche. After this, the cancer began to regress" (1977: 20). What struck Lockhart was not the physical cure, however, but the depth of psychological metamorphosis that this man experienced through his dreams.

Loss of Dreams

Although many people believe that they do not dream, research indicates that all people dream several times every night. Von Franz says, "So, in fact, I have never met anybody who didn't dream. Except sometimes people in a very, very heavily depressed state have what I call dream constipation. They don't dream much and often feel better as soon as they begin to dream" (Boa & Von Franz 1994: 13). This suggests that the loss of dreams is a sign of great concern - at the lowest point in a depression, the psyche loses its connection with the dream.

One could argue the reverse, however, that when one loses one's dreams, one slips into a deep pit of depression in which there is no light or numinosity. It is as if one has been shut off from God, like Christ's cry, "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?" when He was severed from fellowship with God. When the dream begins to come back, however, the capacity for soul also returns, and the depression lifts.

Jung believes that dreams are an indispensable tool in the treatment of neuroses (CW 16: para 294). This is because the person's attitude towards the dream (and with it the unconscious and the Self) causes the neurosis. Or, to put it more teleologically, the neurosis comes to alert the person to the neglected unconscious. Von Franz (Boa & Von Franz 1994: 29) argues that inattention to the Self is the cause of neurosis, "The most general neurotic symptom today is restlessness. That isn't yet looked at as a neurosis because everybody is so restless, but it is actually. Restlessness is caused by a surplus of bottled-up energy, which makes us fuss around all the time because we are not connected with the dream world or the unconscious. Or that energy can take the form of an all-pervading anxiety, a fear that somewhere, something dark is lurking and might happen at any minute. Then one is anxious about nothing all the time. ... So we can say if you are not connected properly with your own dream life, then you are liable to develop some kind of neurotic behavior."

Fundamentally, Jung believes that suffering is linked to meaning. He said, "psychoneurosis must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning" (CW 11: 497). In contrast with religion, which seeks meaning in the cosmos, Jung seeks meaning within. "Meaning has no objective existence - it arises out of the inner world. Like all subjective experience (with the possible exception of love), it has been devalued in this rationalistic and materialistic age. ... Jung maintained that one's need for meaning - including reflection and religion - was a primary instinct, certainly as important as food or sex, and that God was not reducible to a displaced father or mother image" (Jaffe 1990: 70).

Dream Examples

Dream One. This is a dream of a woman who was later diagnosed with thwasa. "While sleeping I saw a gang of people who wanted to take me to the forest. I asked; 'What do you want with me?' They said: 'We want you to be our fool and play with you.' I said: 'Go away I don't like you,' - I was scared and poured urine round the house" (Bührmann 1978: 106).

Dr Bührmann's interpretation of the dream is as follows, "The gang of people coming from the forest, ancestors from the forest, represent archetypal images of her unconscious masculine side. Jung claims that the animus in woman usually consists of multiple figures. In this case it is contaminated by her shadow. The forest is an image presenting the collective unconscious. They invite her to play, i.e. to intercourse, to be made into a 'fool' as if to indicate how foolish her attitude is and also to demonstrate the power of the unconscious. She chased them away expressing her dislike, refusing to have intercourse with them. The dream also emphasises her real sexual attitude towards her husband. These attitudes of the patient resulted in fear and anxiety and she resorted to magic to erect a barrier between the ego and the unconscious areas of her psyche by pouring urine around the hut" (ibid.: 113).

Bührmann concludes, "My interpretation concerns itself with the separation of the collective unconscious into archetypes, naming them animus and shadow and indicating her inability to relate to them, thus seeing the problem and the way towards healing the split. Mine is more discriminating and analytic, his [Mr T's] more synthetic" (ibid.: 118).

Dream Two. This dream is from the same woman, but a number of years later, and once her treatment had already begun. "At Mr T's home all doing the inhlombe (a diviner's public function, with singing and dancing). There came Bushman doing their dance, with their skin clothing. Other Bushman said: 'My child, you must sing this song, Vumani, batshayi bomhlahlo' (a special diviner's song to hasten the coming of the spirit from whom he gets the information he is seeking). When it is black and darkness in the house I started to sing in the dream and woke up singing with the others in our beat"(Bührmann 1978: 108).

Dr Bührmann's interpretation of the dream is as follows, "At the house of the diviner, healer and her spiritual father, i.e. ina safe and protected environment, she can face the demanding task of integrating her shadow side. The Bushmen are the traditional enemies of the Xhosa. Here they appear in their primitive clothing, dancing their special dance. Dancing has considerable archetypal significance. It is in the service of the god, it generates power, is the ritual of fertilization and effects reconciliation. In the shadow side of the psyche, here represented by the primitive Bushmen, most valuable aspects of the personality are often buried. This dream confirms it. She is addressed as 'my child', and she is given a special song and wakes up singing. The 'skin clothing' could also refer to the skirt made of animal skins which the diviner is presented with at the end of his training to signify his qualified state" (ibid.: 115).

Bührmann concludes, "I saw this dream as an integration of the shadow without which no one is whole and healthy and cannot be a therapist or diviner. My comments using different language express the same ideas [as Mr T's], i.e. progress towards wholeness" (ibid.: 119).

Dream Three. Three black teenage sisters were seen in a trauma centre following several days of torture while in detention in South Africa. Just prior to their detention, their father, a chief and respected leader of the community, "was driven from his house, burned to death, and his genitals were hacked off. ... When we first saw the members of the group they were very agitated. They indicated that they were afraid to sleep and described a dream in which Chief Masela's spirit would appear to them and tell them that he would not rest and that he would not let them rest until they had restored his severed genitals to his body" (Straker 1994: 456-457).

Straker explains (ibid.: 457-458), "...within the framwork of PTSD, [the dream's] recurrence could be seen to be a direct result of the fact that the girls had suffered an event of such magnitude that it had surpassed their ability to regulate the flow of stimulation both at the boundary of the individual and the external world and at the boundary of conscious and unconscious. ... The dream itself ... gives expression to a need to make reparation and it should be noted that the fantasy of restoring the bodily integrity of those who have died is a common fantasy of children who have witnessed the murder of a parent. ... The dream made them feel that not only had they survived at the cost of Masela's life, but that now even after his death they could not carry out his wishes. ... Nevertheless, the dream contained within itself the potential for healing. It pointed to the conflicts that needed to be resolved before the mourning process could begin."

Therapy for these girls involved standard PTSD debriefing, which resulted in a catharsis of affect. Therapy then involved negotiating an agreed upon interpretation of the dream. Later, the therapist realised that the dream contained "an archetypal preoccupation that emerges in myths which pertain to the dangers and conflicts of war. One such myth is the famous North African myth of Isis and Osiris" (ibid.: 465).

"Isis was the greatest goddess in Egypt. Her siblings were Osiris, Seth, Arueris, and Nephthys. Osiris, her brother and later the father of her child, became the first king of Egypt. He was the creator of civilization, of laws and of a system of justice. Their brother Seth however was jealous of his virtue and killed him. Isis hid his body, but when Seth found it he tore it into fourteen pieces. After an extensive search Isis found all the pieces, except the penis. She, therefore, made a replica of Osiris's penis and after great ceremony placed it back with the body. She then revived Osiris, who became the Ruler of Eternity, the King of the Underworld, the world of the spirits of the dead. Under his rule order was restored and chaos was dispelled, largely facilitated by the fact that Isis did not allow any revenge to be taken against Seth who instead was made to serve the new order and contribute to it. Justice and order triumphed and harmony was restored between the spirit world and the material world.

"The aptness of the myth of Osiris, Isis, and Seth in the South African context is quite clear. In our particular case study, Masela may be seen as Osiris, who is attacked and killed by his brother Seth in the form of vigilantes who support the forces of chaos and injustice within the community. The corporate body is dismembered through such attack and loses its potency. The Masela daughters, through their dream, are invited to take on the role of Isis by helping to restore the integrity of the corporate body and to prevent the continuation of violence by their rejection of revenge, and in this way promote harmony and integration within the community and fulfill their father's wishes" (ibid.: 465-466).

The African Psyche

Adams (1996: 54) summarizes Lévy-Bruhl's work on the charactaristics of "primitive" societies as follows:

"concrete percepts
attachment to sense impressions
emotion (feeling)
law of participation
subject-object unity"

Bührmann notes that the African culture has retained a close relationship to the unconscious. She writes, "Our Black compatriots have the advantage of still living close to the world of the unconscious, where symbols are still alive and vibrant and where archetypcal images form a natural part of their daily existence and direct their behaviour in ways which sometimes seem irrational to us ... They function largely on the level of intuition and feeling, and image, not concept, is their main mode of apperception" (in Schoeman 1985: 9). Jung himself argues that the people of North Africa "live from their affects, are moved and have their being in emotion. Their consciousness takes care of their orientation in space and transmits impressions from outside, and it is also stirred by inner impulses and affects. But it is not given to reflection; the ego has almost no autonomy" (1963: 270).

Holistic View of Humanity

The African view of humanity is comprehensively holistic. There are no distinctions between body, mind or spirit. "In Zulu thought, when someone is sick, it is the whole person - body and spirit - that is afflicted. No fundamental distinction is made between a person's visible, physical being and his or her invisible spirit being" (Thorpe 1991: 39). As a result, healing of a physical ailment must entail a spiritual healing, and visa versa (Mtlane, Uys & Preston-Whyte 1993: 144). Jung found during his travels that "in Africa the 'without' and the 'within' were so interdependent that he spoke of it and remembered it all to the end of his days with astonishing detail" (Van der Post 1975: 50).

The integration of psyche and soma goes further, however, and includes the integration of the individual into the community and also into nature. "The Xhosa have a whole and unified concept of the individual, and they do not separate him from the environment, or relatives, clan or ancestors" (Bührmann & Gqomfa 1982: 42). Medicine, psychology and relgion are virtually inseparable (Hadebe 1986: 6). "In traditional societies, then, the sufferer is treated in a holistic manner, as if the body, the psyche, and, in fact, the entire society were suffering by extension" (Thorpe 1991: 123).

One result of this extremely holistic view of humanity, is that healers must be able to work holistically. "The indigenous healer is not only psychologist, physician and priest, but he or she is also the tribal historian" (Holdstock 1979: 119).


Jung "loved Africa, among other things, also because it had finally settled whatever doubts he might have had of the validity and universality of an area of the human spirit shared by all men, no matter how different their cultures, their creeds, and their races and colours, an area for which he had coined the term 'collective unconscious' " (Van der Post 1975: 48-49). Vera Bührmann's work repeatedly confirms the universality of the dream imagery emerging from the collective unconscious of Xhosa people (1982b). Donald has shown how the thwasa experience of indigenous healers in South Africa parallels the archetypal hero myth (1996). Other researchers have shown that the dreams of Australian aborigines also reflect archetypal imagery (Petchkovsky & Cawte 1986).

Two images which appear repeatedly throughout the world are the uroborous and the mandala. The uroborous is a circular snake or dragon, usually depicted biting its tail, and is a symbol of wholeness and undifferentiation, of stillness and unity (Neumann 1973: 10) "Although absolute rest is something static and eternal, unchanging and therefore without history, it is at the same time the place of origin and the germ cell of creativity" (Neumann 1954: 10) The uroborous represents the ego-consciousness in potentia, a "dawn state" characteristic of the young infant or archaic civilization, such as ancient Africa (Stevens 1982: 93; Neumann 1954: 11).

The mandala symbol, in contrast, while also representing the Self, depicts the self in the second half of life or in more recent civilization, where consciousness has evolved to a higher level (Stevens 1982: 93). "Like the uroborus, [mandalas] are basically circular in form, though the centre is emphasized and, in addition, they normally incorporate some symbolic representation of the quaternity (e.g. a cross or a square). They are age-old symbols of 'wholeness', 'totality' and 'deity'" (Stevens 1982: 93). "Detachment from the uroborous, entry into the world, and the encounter with the universal principle of opposites are the essential tasks of human and individual development" (Neumann 1954: 35). The mandala is a symbol which depicts the goal and result of this developmental process.

It is interesting to note that Bührmann's investigations show that Xhosa healing rituals and divinations take place within a mandala form (Bührmann & Gqomfa 1982: 48). Amongst the Navaho Indians of North America, "colored sand, pollen, etc., is strewn on the ground to make patterns, often in mandala form, for cultic and therapeutic purposes. ... The picture is used for the rites performed when someone has been struck by lightning or drowned, occassionally also when someone is hurt out in the field" (Jaffé 1979: 79). Sandner also notes the many parrallels between Xhosa mandalas and those of Navaho Indians (1982: 175).

"When a man is ill the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico make a sand-painting of a mandala with four gates. In the centre of it they build the so-called sweat-house or medicine-lodge, where the patient has to undergo the sweat-cure. On the floor of the medicine-lodge is painted another magic circle - being thus placed in the centre of the big mandala - and in the midst of it is the bowl with the healing water. The water symbolizes the entrance to the underworld. The healing process in this ceremony is clearly analogous to the symbolism which we find in the collective unconscious. It is an individual process, an identification with the totality of the person, with the self" (Jung 1968: 138).

Figure 7 is a replica of a brass shield from the Benin people of Nigeria. It clearly contains the uroborous image, symbol of undifferentiated wholeness and potentiality. The world snake is a powerful myth in Africa, "In the beginning, the serpent power coiled itself around the unshaped earth, holding it together, and it still has this function" (Willis 1993: 277).

Figure 7. Nigerian Uroborous of Shield

Figure 8: "Concentric circles (a sun wheel) carved into a cliff in the Transvaal, South Africa, during the Paleolithic age [ie. before 5000 BC] - one of the oldest pictorial representations created by man" (ibid.: 78). Jung notes that the wheel had not yet been invented in this age, and so concludes that it is an archetypcal image, a mandala (1968: 42).

Figure 8. Paleolithic Sun Wheel

Big and Little Dreams

Among black African people, and other third world communities, certain dreams have more significance than others. Jung comments that "primitives believe in two different kinds of dreams: ota, the great vision, big, meaningful, and of collective importance; and vudolta, the ordinary small dream [these are Swahili terms]. They usually deny having the ordinary dream, or if, after long efforts your your part, they admit such an occurrence, they say: 'That's nothing, every one has that!' Great and important dreams are very rare, and only a really big man has big dreams - chiefs, medicine men, people with mana. ... Our usual prejudice against dreams - that they mean nothing - is probably just the old primitive tradition that the ordinary dreams are not worth noticing. Explorers say that when a chief or anyone with mana had a big dream, he always called the village together, and they all sat and listened and waited and considered, and often followed the advice given" (1995: 4-5). [Similar findings are reported among Australian aborigines (Petchkovsky & Cawte 1986: 360).]

Subjective & Objective Interpretation

Bührmann, in her studies with Xhosa people, says "that one cannot strictly apply the concepts of objective and subjective dream interpreation in dealing with Xhosa dream material. Their approach on the whole is concrete and applicable to the real external situation [ie. objective], but it often reveals deeper meanings which they express symbolically [ie. subjective]. For example: 'It is very important to dream about the home. It means the place is yours, and you must keep it intact and not let it be spoilt by other things.' This can be seen as an awareness of the home as a symbol of the self which must be kept intact, and that it must be allowed to perform its rôle inside one's own psyche without interference from outside" (Bührmann & Gqomfa 1982: 51).

This objective viewpoint "holds that real people in the dream represent real persons [or ancestors] in the environment, and, especially, the relationship that the dreamer has with them, or, at least, how they are viewed and felt about by the dreamer. According to this viewpoint, dream inventions reflect relationships that are important to the dreamer. ... According to the objective viewpoint, dreams can give us objective information about other people and about the situations we are in" (Broadribb 1990: 27).

Straker holds that for western trained therapists to work with indigenous Africans, dreams must be accepted as objective, rather than as referring to intrapsychic or subjective conflicts, although thinking of the subjective meaning of the dream is helpful to the therapist (1994: 464).

The Status of Dreams

Dreams occupy a position of high status among third world people: for Xhosa's (Bührmann 1977a: 18), for Zulu's (Mtalane et al. 1993: 147), for Australian aborigines (Petchkovsky & Cowte 1986: 359) and for North American Indians (Hallowell 1966: 271). "The grandfather of one of my [American Indian] informants said to him: 'You will have a long and good life if you dream well' (ibid.: 282). Mr Tiso, a Xhosa igqira (diviner), said, "If they do not dream, I cannot treat them" (Bührmann 1984: 46). "Usually dreams are discussed between the parties concerned or discussed in general conversation. Those which are particularly obscure, anxiety provoking or for some reason regarded as particularly significant, are subjected to an intolmbe [ie. a healing ceremony]" (Bührmann & Gqomfa 1982: 41).

The Gods and Ancestors

Africans believe that their ancestors appear to them in their dreams, to rebuke, advise, guide and encourage. "It is expected that people will dream - in fact, it is cause for great concern if they do not. ... [Dreams] are normally considered to be a channel of communication between the departed and those still living in the visible community" (Thorpe 1991: 40). One study found that 62% of urban and 80% of rural Xhosa Christians had been visited by ancestors in their dreams (Pauw 1975: 152). The ancestors are not, in fact, considered to be dead, but a living, though invisible part of our world. "The distinction between the living and the dead is often not significant and often meaningless" (Schweitzer & Bührmann 1978: 16). "The authenticity and the meaning [of dreams] is never questioned, and the injunctions must be obeyed" (Bührmann 1978: 106).

Similar beliefs are held in other cultures. "Native Americans, like Asians and Africans, thought that dreams could be important sources of revelation. A typical scenario would be for an ancestor ... to appear in a dream with a warning, or a message of consolation, or a directive about how to act" (Carmody & Carmody 1993: 26).

Straker reports a case of three teenagers living in Soweto who were visited by the ancestor of their father after he was murdered (1994). Such cases indicate that a western therapist cannot work with the dreams of black Africans if they do not accept the reality of ancestral visits (Hadebe 1986: 5).

Neumann suggests that "because primitive man projects his unconscious contents into the world and its objects, these appear to him as drenched in symbolism and charged with mana" (1954: 368). Ancestral images in dreams, are, similarly, projections from the unconscious, imbued with numa, giving them a quality of authority and holiness (Bührmann 1979: 23). Weinrich (1989-90: 172) sees "the ancestral spirits as parent archetypes and as such they contain within themselves both the positive and negative poles of these archetypes."

Be this as it may, one cannot take away the ancestral figures of Africans, trying to convince him that they are 'merely' images from the unconscious (CW 8: para 524). The Jungian therapist will work at two levels: explicitly at a concrete objective level, which accepts that the images are indeed ancestors, and implicitly at a symbolic, subjective level which believes the images to be images of the parent archetypes. The end result is the same.

The Healing of Dreams

It is fundamental to African thinking that dreams are healing. Dreams can be said to have diagnostic, prognostic, directive and healing properties.

The ancestors are a fundamental part of the fabric of African society. They are attributed with bringing good luck and health. When they are displeased, however, they withdraw their protection and the individual and community suffer. The ancestors are, therefore, inextricably part of the aetiology of psychopathology (Hadebe 1986: 6). Ancestors primarily become angered as a result of tension or conflict between living people or when certain rituals are ommitted (ibid.: 19). Dreams typically reveal what is wrong in a person's life and so have great diagnostic value. Similarly, in the Mohave (Native American) culture, "in every illness the diagnostician promptly investigates the patient's dreams, so as to make the proper diagnosis and prognosis" (Devereux 1966: 222).

Dreams frequently provide clear directives to the dreamer regarding what needs to be done to restore balance to their and the community's lives. Since the phenomenological world of the African is holistic, with no clear distinctions between living and dead, human, animal and plant, individual and community, "balance or hlehlo is a pivotal concept" (Edwards 1987: 44). Ancestral dreams typically emerge as a result of such imbalance, and the shade will often direct the individual regarding what he or she needs to do to restore hlehlo (Pauw 1975: 155). When instructions are given, they are taken literally and are usually carried out by the dreamer and family (ibid.: 153).

Most typically, dreams result in the performance of a ritual, such as the slaughtering of an animal or the brewing of beer, which restores balance to the community of humans and to the relationships between the visible living and the shades. This is also true among Australian aboriginal dreams (Petchkovsky & Crowe 1986: 373).

It would be a mistake to say that dreams are the primary means of healing in African culture. Rituals take pride of place in the repertoire of healing activities. Neumann indicates that rituals fulfill the same function among African communities as dreams do in western communities, viz. to restore equilibrium and balance (1954: 372). Weinrich also suggests that because Africans are in such close contact with the unconscious psyche they need the rituals to serve a containing and protective function, preventing the unconscious from overwhelming the ego (1989-90: 177).

In Xhosa and Zulu cosmologies, the ancestors mediate between the human and God. The literature suggests that the ancestors are images of the parent archetype (Weinrich 1989-90) and that God is an image of the Self archetype (CW 11: para 231). We could suggest, then, that the dream visits from ancestors bring the individual (and therefore the community) into closer connection with the Self, with the core and totality of the collective unconscious. Such dreams can be expected, therefore, to have profound healing potential and great numinosity.

Many people who have been visited in dreams by ancestors report the healing power of the dream in-and-of-itself without having received any instructions from the ancestor (Pauw 1975: 156). Mxolisi, a South African therapist living in America, is reported to have had a dream in which she was visited by ancestors, which facilitated her repossession of her fogotten tribal identity (Zahner-Roloff 1990: 36-38).

Bührmann (1977b: 18) reports on the healing properties of dreams in the Xhosa culture, "One was impressed by the importance ascribed to dreams. In Mr T's [an igqira] practice they occupy a central place and he said 'I cannot treat people who do not dream'. He actually induces dreams by giving his patients a herbal extract to drink and to apply to their heads and bodies [much as was done in ancient Greece].

"They have a natural attitude of acceptance and respect towards dreams which is often absent from western man and which some people only acquire with difficulty during the process of psychotherapy. Dreams are dealt with by recording, relating to and discussing. The message of the dream is interpreted, often acted on, but mostly it is integrated into the conscious part of the personality, thus expanding and enriching the ego."

Elsewhere, Bührmann explains the power of dream work amongst Xhosa people (1979: 21), "It would not seem that 'insight' in the Western sense of 'conscious understanding' plays a significant role. Pfister, analysing the methods of the shaman, concludes that the unconscious of the medicine man speaks directly to the unconscious of his patient and thus circumvents consciousness.

"The medicine man touches omnipotent and magical layers and hence the resistance of conscious ego defence mechanisms, which can impede psychic shifts in the dynamic balance of unconscious forces, are avoided. The dialectic process of Western psychotherapy therefore does not occur."

Africans befriend their dreams, "Instead of analysing dreams in the Western way, they relate to the dream images, carry these around with them, getting to know them, sharing them with others (except in certain specific circumstances)" (Bührmann & Gqomfa 1982: 52).

Loss of Dreams

The dreams of black Africans are to be taken seriously. When the ancestors advise a dreamer he or she would be well-advised to carry out their instructions. Bührmann notes, "Once the dream message has been made clear and indicates what is required of the individual, the family or the clan, it must be acted on to prevent serious illness or misfortune" (1977a: 18).

There is greater danger to the black African than ignoring dreams, however, and that is when their dreams get lost (Thorpe 1991: 40). The loss of dreaming can be equated with the loss of Self, ie. a loss of connection between conscious and unconscious, or in African cosmology, a loss of connection between the individual and his or her ancestors. Hallowell notes the interconnections between the individual's balance and dreamlife and the community's balance and well-being (1966: 271). It suggests that when an individual loses their dreams, they lose their community, and when they lose their communtiy, they lose their dreams.

Because the African cosmology entails such a high level of integration and undifferentiation between individual and community, conscious and unconscious, living and dead, the separation of an individual from the group can have catastrophic effects on their hlehlo. Neumann explains that when the individual is separated from the collective canon, he or she loses touch with their unconscious (the ancestors) and becomes overwhelmed by rationality, which leads to neurosis (1954: 381-394).

It is well documented that the incidence of psychosis and mental breakdown among urbanized Africans is markedly higher than among other groups (DuToit 1986: 41; Weinrich 1989-90: 179; Holdstock 1979: 119). This acculturation effectively blocks the unconscious, which eventually must rise up in a destructive and dark tide, flooding the psyche and resulting in psychosis. Lockhart (1977: 15) suggests that cancer (which is little known in third world communities) is a form of psychic suicide resulting from loss of connection with the unconscious. He also states that "cancer has even been pictured as an alternative to psychosis." In this sense, psychosis among acculturated Africans can be conceived as a psychic suicide, resulting from disconnection from the unconscious, from loss of dreams. Thorpe (1991: 120) says that Africans "cannot exist alone. They are because they belong", implying that not belonging indicates death.

Some writers indicate that for healing to take place, the patient needs to be close to the ancestral home (Hadebe 1986: 2). One man reported the following incident. "While he was working in Cape Town, his dead father came to him and 'told me I should leave Cape Town and go home if I wanted to live well... I believed this visitation warned me against something bad that could happen. I told this dream to such of my clansmen who were there and left Cape Town.' The following year he came to Port Elizabeth where he is now living with his wife and children" (Pauw 1975: 158-159). Returning home suggests a reunion of the ego with the Self.

Dream Examples

Dream One. This is a dream of a woman who was later diagnosed with thwasa. "While sleeping I saw a gang of people who wanted to take me to the forest. I asked; 'What do you want with me?' They said: 'We want you to be our fool and play with you.' I said: 'Go away I don't like you,' - I was scared and poured urine round the house" (Bührmann 1978: 106).

The patient's indigenous doctor/igqira, Mr T, made the following comments, "There was a dirty spirit. This spirit can be removed by herbs. Sometimes there are ancestors and bad spirits in the forest (a reference to the fact that they came from the forest which is a place where ancestors normally reside)" (ibid.: 113).

Bührmann concludes, "Mr T. succinctly described the very essence of the collective unconscious, the forest, where there can be good and bad spirits. A cure for the 'dirty spirit' can be achieved by the use of herbs - a remedy from nature. The positive stance of the healer is present. ... [My interpretation] is more discriminating and analytic, his more synthetic" (ibid.: 118).

Dream Two. This dream is from the same woman, but a number of years later, and once her treatment had already begun. "At Mr T's home all doing the inhlombe (a diviner's public function, with singing and dancing). There came Bushman doing their dance, with their skin clothing. Other Bushman said: 'My child, you must sing this song, Vumani, batshayi bomhlahlo' (a special diviner's song to hasten the coming of the spirit from whom he gets the information he is seeking). When it is black and darkness in the house I started to sing in the dream and woke up singing with the others in our beat" (Bührmann 1978: 108).

Mr T made the following comments, "The arrival of the Bushmen at this ceremony mean that one day she'll make the inhlombe at her own home in her own skins. Bushmen live in the forest and they have come to fetch her to the woods. Ancestors can take people to the forest or to the river. ... [The song in the dream] is a song the Bushmen like to sing - it leads people on the diviner's path. Vumani means 'to sing'. There are diviners who tell everything and those that tell just a little bit. That is what umhlahlo points to" (ibid.: 115-116).

Bührmann concludes, "Mr T sees the arrival of the Bushmen (The opinion has been expressed that all good Xhosa diviners have Bushman blood. The Bushman, although their traditional enemy, carries a mystical aura.) as an indication that she will one day be a diviner in her own right and at her own home. She is being led on the 'diviner's path', i.e. the path of knowledge and enlightenment and is given her diviner's song" (ibid.: 119).

Dream Three. Three teenage sisters and their friends were seen in a trauma centre following several days of torture while in detention in South Africa. Prior to their detention, their father, a chief and respected leader of the community, "was driven from this house, burned to death, and his genitals were hacked off. ... When we first saw the members of the group they were very agitated. They indicated that they were afraid to sleep and described a dream in which Chief Masela's spirit would appear to them and tell them that he would not rest and that he would not let them rest until they had restored his severed genitals to his body" (Straker 1994: 456-457).

Straker explains (ibid.: 460-461), "From an African healing perspective the Masela girls' [PTSD] symptoms were characteristic of an illness of animistic origin, signalled by their dream. It represented a message from the ancestors indicating their involvement in the girls' current state. ... the dream also represented the crossing of a boundary ... between the natural and the supernatural world... In these terms the Masela girls' dream represented a real conversation between themselves and their father. His request to them indicated that he felt that they had a duty to perform in relation to him and their failure to do so was believed to be the cause of their feelings of dizziness and nausea. Within the African framework the insomnia and the dream itself would not be seen to be part of their illness. Rather the dream represented a direct communication concerning the cause of their illness and its potential cure. ... the cure would ... have to involve appeasing Masela's spirit by following his instruction."

The therapist suggested a ritual slaughter of a beast, which is usually necessary and sufficient to appease the ancestors. The girls, however, "felt that Masela was indeed calling upon them to remember and respect him but that because of the circumstances of his death this would not suffice to placate him" (Straker 1994: 461).

The therapist helped the girls describe the details of their father's death, at which point they "became nauseous and in fact vomited" Straker 1994: 462). This was interpreted as a "symbolic purification ... as in African healing traditions vomiting is often induced to accomplish purification" (ibid.).

The girls interpreted the dream initially as an injunction for revenge. With help from the therapist, however, they were able to see that their father would wish that they "take care of themselves and not that they act in ways that were clearly self-destructive" (ibid.: 460). They accepted that "the dream underlined the importance of maintaining the unity of parts and the importance of integration and wholeness" (ibid.: 463).

When it was suggested, therefore, that within the dream, Masela's body could represent the corporate body of the community, and that the dream in toto could represent his desire that the fragmentation of the community be healed so that its potency as a force of liberation be restored, it was possible for the girls to accept this meaning, despite their own desires for revenge. After two days of intensive work, the girls accepted this interpretation as an accurate reflection of the communication inherent in their dream, whereafter the dream in fact disappeared.

"The disappearance of the dream was taken by the girls to be a final affirmation that Masela's communication had been accurately received and responded to by them although they indicated that on their return home they would still need to engage in purification rituals" (ibid.: 463).

The Technique of Jungian Dream Analysis

The term "dream analysis" probably conjures up images of mysticism, even magic in the minds of many people. Jung's approach to dreams is, however, quite down to earth. He repeatedly states that with every dream the therapist should immediately say to him or herself, "I do not understand a word of that dream"(1968: 92). "The doctor should regard every such dream as something new, as a source of information about conditions whose nature is unknown to him, concerning which he has as much to learn as the patient" (CW 16: para 317). This is similar to Bion's assertion that therapists should maintain a state of 'not-knowing' (Casement 1985: 4; Symington & Symington 1996: 169). While this is appropriate for all clients, it is, perhaps, particularly salient for a white African therapist working with a black African client, since there may be a vast chasm between the two individuals in terms of their world view, value system and cultural foundation.

Within this framework of 'not-knowing', Jung explains that the therapist must understand the context in which the client finds him or herself. Dreams cannot be interpreted in a vacuum, and certainly not unilaterally by the therapist. "I want to emphasize that it is not safe to interpret a dream without going into careful detail as to the context. Never apply any theory, but always ask the patient how he feels about his dream-images" (Jung 1968: 123). Elsewhere Jung states, "When we take up an obscure dream, our first task is not to understand and interpret, but to establish the context with minute care" (CW 16: para 319). This requires that the therapist understand the current life events and experiences of the client, and that the therapist extend him or herself into the world of the client. The effective Jungian therapist works from an internal, not an external perspective.

The therapist then elicits the client's associations to the dream images. Each image is worked with, one at a time, and the client is invited to contemplate what each image means to her or him. This is not Freudian free association (CW 16: para 319), but a focussed working through of the personal meanings associated with specific images. If a client dreams of a "deal table," Jung would say, "Suppose I had no idea what the words 'deal table' mean. Describe this object and give me its history in such a way that I cannot fail to understand what sort of a thing it is" (ibid.: para 320). This approach results from Jung's attitude of 'not-knowing', and places the client firmly in the centre of the dream analysis, with the therapist merely facilitating a process. Furthermore, it creates space for the client to explicate her or his world view to the therapist.

Once the individual images have been contextualized, the therapist is ready to begin interpreting the dream, that is, exploring the meaning of the dream for the client at this moment in time. The previously discussed principles, viz. subjective interpretation and compensation, are central to many dream interpretations. Of course, as has previously been noted, most people (black and white) think of dream images as objective, and the therapist will need, where appropriate, to accept the client's objective conception of a dream image, particularly when it entails visitation from ancestors. Jung is reluctant to interpret individual dreams, preferring to work with a series of dreams, in which "the basic ideas and themes" can more easily be recognized (CW 16: para 322). Jung argues strongly that a dream interpretation is only valid if it is accepted by the client (ibid.: para 316). Cahen (1966: 140) states, "The successful interpretation of dreams represents an agreement between analyst and patient. It is not an intellectual fencing match." This is clearly illustrated in the third dream example above.

The therapists understanding of a dream or dream series can be enhanced by symbol amplification. "Having gathered the dreamer's associations and made various tentative interpretations of the meaning and purpose of the individual dream, Jung then looked to archetypal parallels for understanding the deeper levels of the dream symbols" (Hopcke 1989: 25). In order to do this, Jung draws on a rich and vast knowledge of mythology, legends, folktales and religion. I have found in my own practice, that the more I learn about legends and mythology, the deeper my understanding of dreams becomes. In the context of working with black African clients, it is important for the therapist also to have a knowledge of the client's "philosophical, religious, and moral convictions" (CW 16: para 339) as well as of the client's cultural history and folklore, for these images comprise the ethnic unconscious (Hersch 1980). The dream examples above illustrate this clearly. Jung cautions that "the patient's psychological state at the moment may require anything but a digression into dream theory. It is therefore advisable to consider first and foremost the meaning of the symbol in relation to the conscious situation" (ibid.: para 342). Nevertheless, a private understanding of the archetypal images in dreams assists the therapist in working with the client, whether or not such parallels are made explicit.


I have attempted to explore the question of whether there is any value in the use of Jungian dream analysis with black African clients. Weinrich argues that Jungian dream analysis will cause more damage to black clients than good, because they are already in too close contact with the collective unconscious and such therapy would precipitate psychological breakdown (1989-90: 179). I do not agree with her. This essay has clearly shown the many parallels between the Jungian and African world views. In both paradigms, dreams have a place of high status, are taken seriously and shape the life of the dreamer.

In South Africa, with the vast acculturation of black people into a white, western culture, the close rapport between dream and dreamer is under threat. Jungian dream analysis can assist black African clients in retaining a communion between themselves and their ancestors, between conscious and unconscious, which, far from precipitating breakdown, may prevent breakdown or psychosis. The rise in the number of isangomas / igqiras / diviners (Edwards 1987: 45) suggests, in part, that black Africans are experiencing an increased need for assistance in retaining hlehlo or balance, between conscious and unconscious. While I am not suggesting that the Jungian therapist would replace the igqira or even mimic his or her role, the Jungian therapist could offer additional assistance in maintaining hlehlo. Bührmann has repeatedly demonstrated this in her work.

Furthermore, and at a less dramatic level, dreams may offer a place of meeting and commonality between two individuals, with dissimilar cultures and life experiences. For me as a white African therapist, the dream is not only a road leading directly into the black African client's unconscious, it is also a road that can link us both, consciously, to one another. If this is so, the dream could be the forum that would enable dynamic psychotherapy to occur.

One of things that has become clear to me in preparing this essay, is the need for white African therapists to radically augment our understanding of African mythology, custom and religion. While this is true for all therapists, it is particularly true for the Jungian therapist, who incorporates such material into the fabric of therapy.

Figure 9. (R to L) Isis, Osiris and their Son


© Adrian D. Van Breda 1997.


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