The symbols of death or the fear of death can be: sunset; evening; a crossed river or falling in a river, a skeleton; snarling dogs; sleep; anaesthetic; gravestones; cemetery; blackness, or something black; ace of spades; a fallen mirror; stopped clock; a pulled tooth; an empty abyss, the chill wind; falling leaves; a withering plant; an empty house; a lightning-struck tree; coffin; struggling breaths; the dead animal in the gutter; the rotting carcass, underground; the depths of the sea; the Void.
What lies beyond death is conjecture, but the archetype of death we are considering is not completely about physical death.
It is about our observation of it in others; our conceptions of it gained from our culture and our impressions; the feelings which generate around our experiences and thoughts; our attempts to deal with our own aging and approach to death, plus what material the deeper strata of our unconscious release regarding it.
It is about how our sense of conscious personal existence meets the prospect of its disintegration.
Unless we can come to terms with what is behind the haunting images of death we meet in our dreams, we fail to live fully and daringly, we are too haunted by death lurking in the shadows of injury and the unknown. Images of death and the associated emotions, carried within for years, can have a negative influence on our health. Coming to terms means the courage to feel the emotions of fear or chill and discover them for what they are—emotions. They are certainly not death, only our feelings about it.
The differences shown in the two following examples illustrate the avoiding and the meeting. Example: 4So to get to the bedroom I had to jump across this gap. I tried to jump but missed and I fell and hit the bottom.
The next thing I remember was I was floating up. I looked down and saw myself lying face down with arms spread out and I suddenly realised I was dead. I was so frightened that I woke up. I had the feelings of fear of dying, but I felt no pain’ (Cath). Example: “Suddenly I was in a huge underground cavern. It was hundreds of feet high and as wide. It had two great statues in it, both to do with death.
The whole place overpowered me with a sense of decay and skeletal death, darkness, underground, earth, the end. I cried out in the dismal cave, “Death, where is your sting! Grave, where is your victory!” I immediately had the sense of being a bodiless awareness. I knew this was what occurred at death. Fear and the sense of decay left me’ (Andrew).
Summarising these and many other dreams, it is not only the accumulated images of death, but also bodilessness and loss of power and identity which bring so much fear. There are two antipodes of human experience. At the tip of one is focused self-determining self consciousness. At the tip of the other is unfocused void without identity. Strangely enough we experience both each day in some degree—the first while awake, the second when we sleep. Yet to face the second with consciousness feels like all the horrors of death and loss. Yet facing it is important, especially to the second half of life.
The symbols of rebirth are: the cave; an egg; spring; the tree; the cross; dawn; emerging out of the sea; the snake; the bird; a seed; arising from the earth or faeces; green shoot from a dead branch; phoenix; flame; a pearl; the womb. Rebirth is as difficult to face as death. It holds within it not just the memones of the struggles and difficulties of our own physical birth and growth, but also the challenge of becoming the unknown future, the dark possibility, the new.
The dream of Andrew in the underground cavern is an example of positive rebirth. After realising himself as bodiless awareness he emerges from the cave and finds himself near a tree. Example: ‘A tremendous jolt of power poured into me from the tree. I saw that we had arrived at a place where a line of trees, about a 100 yards in length, stood very close together in a slight semicircle on the top of a bank.
The trees had great spiritual power and the place was a holy temple. Two spiritual beings were there—an ancient Earth Being, and Christ’ (Andrew).
The next example is of a dream typical of meeting memories of physical birth. As can be seen, the experience is powerful enough to cause physical shaking. Example: All I can see of what I enter is a very narrow space with a light showing through. But immediately I enter I realise I have made a mistake for I am being forced swiftly through a dark, very narrow tunnel. I feel pain as I am dragged along and I hear loud banging noises which frighten me, but although they are loud they seem to come from inside my head. I feel terrified and breathless and very relieved when I wake before reaching the end of the tunnel. In fact as I write this account I am shivering” (female, anon). ... A Guide to Dreams and Sleep Experiences