Snakes show up all the time in dreams. Full of rich, symbolic significance, their meaning in a dream often touches upon the deep secrets of the body and of life and death. In this dream, the snake seems to be associated with the dreamer’s mid-life initiation.
Following is a transcript of the dream discussed in Episode 229 — Hatred: A Way to Hide our Secrets.
Today’s dreamer is a 53-year-old woman who works as an adjunct lecturer, and here’s the dream.
“I am walking and find a door that leads to a stairway. I am entranced by the stairs as they look like winding, ancient stone castle steps like in the movies. I enter and see that lining the walls up and down the stairs are cages – each cage contains a snake. As I walk down the dimly lit stairs, the snakes come alive and begin slithering, dancing, and reaching their heads up and out until a good third of each snake is out and getting closer to me. I am surprised to realize that the holes in the cages are big enough for the snakes to escape, but I am not afraid. I know the snakes will not escape completely or harm me, and I wonder why the snakes have cages at all. As I get to the bottom of the stairs, I am in a large room with books, jars, shelves, and tables. It is wonderous room, like Merlin’s workshop mixed with Dumbledore’s office. There is an older, tall man standing next to a younger woman, and they are looking at a book. I have interrupted them, they were not expecting me, but neither is startled. They both look at me with curiosity. I know I have nothing to fear but also don’t understand why I am there or where, exactly, I am. I am then standing next to them, and the young woman cries, “It has drawn blood! There is blood! Blood is drawn!” The man says nothing and calmly looks at me. I raise my hand and see a few drops of blood on my palm and know that I have been pricked by a needle. I didn’t feel the prick, and it does not hurt; I am surprised to see the blood. I suddenly know that the young woman is excited as the blood indicates that it’s her time to move on to the next level and that I am to take her place as this man’s apprentice. All of this knowledge washes over me as I look at the blood. I then become woozy, and my knees fail as I faint and fall gently to the floor.”
So, this seems like a very large archetypal dream, presumably at I would imagine a moment of significant transition. I mean, she’s beginning to move into the empty nest stage. I thought it was interesting that in the life context, she only mentioned her children. So, I imagine that her children have been very important to her. This next phase that she is embarking upon really is different. Once you’re getting ready to send one off to school and the others just starting high school, you’re in the home stretch.
So, to me, it seems like it’s a dream of female initiation. The sign of blood that indicates it’s time to move on is also the onset of menstruation. The bit of blood that says it’s a whole new world now. So, she’s walking down into an ancient cave reminiscent of the Eleusinian Mysteries. She’s going into the underworld, into the feminine mysteries. Serpents in that mythic system often represent resurrection in as much as serpents cast off their old skin and seem to have shed their old lives and have become new again. So, there’s this passage through the primal female symbolism of the serpent but also the casting off of old skin. She comes down into this alchemical laboratory of some kind. We might imagine the wise old man, which I think of more as a father figure, and the young woman interact and something happens that demonstrates first blood.
Now, some aspect of her feminine is preparing to move on maturationally. But the ego believes, at least in that moment, that she is going to take up the position of the acolyte -which I feel ambivalent about actually; I have mixed feelings around it. Is it a submission to some archetypal father figure or a submission to some new version of the Animus? Often, in its third iteration, the Animus can become a kind of wisdom figure. But it’s not clear that we know enough about him. The feeling that she and this figure are now trapped under the earth until fate sends the replacement down could suggest the onset of a creative depression. Being brought into the underworld and kept there while the libido is redistributed in some unprecedented way, while a different part of her gets to go to the surface. We’re in that world of Demeter and Persephone. One part of the feminine is going to be able to return to the surface, another part of the feminine is now underground.
You know, Demeter and Persephone, or Inanna and Ereshkigal, because it’s almost like the woman who has been trapped underground has needed a replacement, which is what happens in that Sumerian myth.
I’m so aware of this initiation and the feminine mysteries of the Eleusinian rites underground in the dark, and a descent, and that’s in the Persephone Demeter myth and Inanna and Ereshkigal, and so I’m linking, Joseph, to what you said about a creative depression, and the fact that blood has to be drawn, but this time, it’s from her hand, which is often a symbol of our agency. We give people a hand, somebody had a hand in it, hands-on, hand it over — hands represent agency. There’s a wound that she doesn’t know how it occurred, and it doesn’t hurt, but there’s a wound to the sense of agency, which I think really adds to and amplifies your sense of something underground. She is undergoing an initiation of blood letting, blood as the life source. She is undergoing an apprenticeship to this archetypal Merlin-like figure, and there were stages of development around the Animus that I can’t recall entirely in this moment. First we’re attracted to an amorous figure, then we’re attracted to a heroic figure, and then finally, we’re attracted to a wise man who has access to all this sort of alchemical knowledge. But she’ll have to serve her time there as his apprentice and acolyte, and there’s a loss in that too. A real loss of agency. Sorry, yeah, this is it for you now. She faints.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. She goes unconscious. So, I had a couple of thoughts, Joseph. I, too, really appreciate what you’re saying about the the feminine initiation. Even the language that her finger was pricked. It’s so interesting that she was pricked by a needle, and not a snake’s fang, or something else. It’s like there’s this mysterious needle that comes out of nowhere. But it reminds me of that moment in “Sleeping Beauty” where she pricks her finger on a spindle and then falls asleep. So, we’re also in a kind of Sleeping Beauty place here, and of course, that image from the fairy tale is such a powerful image of her meeting her destiny. Spinners and weavers and perhaps also tailers have to do, mythologically, with a sense of destiny. So then the needle, perhaps, has that role or something that is about discernment. Needles can go in very tiny places. But I want to say that I’m having a kind of feeling reaction to the dream that maybe Joseph you’ve alluded to already. She’s not concerned about the snakes. The first thing she says is it’s like a movie, and there’s, you know, Jolly Dumbledore at the bottom, and at no point is she afraid, and I’m thinking you might want to be a little afraid. The approach to the unconscious is a little bit — there’s something a little naive about.
And your reference to Sleeping Beauty, I think, is just perfect, and Sleeping Beauty is naive; you know her family have protected her and gotten rid of all the spindles in the kingdom because of the terrible prophetic destiny.
Yeah, they were the first snowplow parents.
Helicopter parents! On her 15th birthday, by-golly gee-whiz, she wanders the castle and finds the one and only remaining spindle in the kingdom and how on earth do you manage to prick yourself with a spindle really? And yet, of course, the other side of that, as you pointed out, is it’s about weaving and spinning. So, the injury in some way is in the service of that kind of archetypal feminine creative task of spinning and weaving, and that’s right, you know, down the steps, she goes and snakes, and that’s okay, and everything is kind of magical and mythical and she gets pricked.
Robertson Davies has this quote that I just love, “One always learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.” So, this may be in the territory of the dream.
That also was a very sweet way of talking about what we were saying around hatred. That the hated are holding a secret that’s been projected into them, and one has to give up one’s naivete in order to discover the secret that we don’t want to know. I’m also wanting to just lean a little bit into this idea of, “It has drawn blood! There’s blood! Blood is drawn!” That’s often a declaration, in more ancient times, that the end of the duel has happened. You can fight until first blood is drawn. You can fight in a war until death, but if it’s a duel, as soon as blood’s been drawn, whoever is the one who was pricked is the loser. So, I’m also wondering if it’s a sign that some kind of a duel, some kind of a conflict has finally come to a resolution because first blood has been drawn – stop, now we move on.
That’s great. That’s great. I like that a lot.
And maybe also a kind of necessary defeat.
Which she submits to at the end by fainting, which seems a very appropriate.
And she’s going to be accepting this state of learning from whomever the wisdom figure is. We hope he is a wisdom figure inside of her. She’s been relativized; she’s been made lowly in relationship to whatever he represents.