Might apocalyptic dreams serve a function for the
dreamer similar to that served by apocalyptic visions for an entire culture?
Just as apocalyptic visions have been common to religions for thousands of
years, so too do such dreams appear in individuals. What do these dreams mean?
Might therapists use these dreams for diagnostic purposes? Dr. Mortimer Ostow, a
New York psychiatrist, believes so. He recently published a history of
apocalyptic visions and compared them with the dreams of his patients who were
suffering from schizophrenia, borderline personality disorders, manics, and
Apocalyptic visions share many common elements. They view the outcome of life
as "a violent struggle between good and evil forces." This struggle is
perceived as the last days of the world as we know it. Often there is some
foreshadowing of catastrophic earth changes and upheavals. Apocalyptic visions
are revelations, usually given by an omniscient source, to serve as a warning
and show the eventual outcome of the human condition. Any potential redemption
is offered by some messianic figure, angels, or demons. Finally, there is the
promise of a prolonged or eternal peaceful time where those who have struggled
will be rewarded. Out of death and destruction comes some form of rebirth, the
phoenix rising up out of the ashes.
Dr. Ostow describes correlations with these patterns to several
apocalyptic-type dreams of his patients. These dreams might be an attempt to
regulate the disturbances within the psyche. The alternating images of de-struction
and con-struction correspond to the process of trying to regulate conscious
control within the dreamer. A patient might be aware of an internal struggle,
whose feelings surface through a dream showing the patient's psyche struggling
with a sense of doom and destruction, followed by a scenario for recovery, yet
oftentimes finishing by giving up, being swallowed by the catastrophic forces.
A particular case example demonstrates how one patient's dream relays a scene
of complete destruction, followed by a sense of hope for the future, yet
concludes by giving in to the catastrophe. A suicidally depressed woman dreams
that a tremendous flood sweeps away the entire world. She tries to save herself
by staying on a boat, complete with a kitchen stocked with food. The end of the
dream, however, focuses on all the people drowning and their various reactions
to this plight. Dr. Ostow determined that this patient was aware of her present
depressive state, attempts to save herself from this "flood" of
depression, and yet suppresses the attempt at recovery and slips back into a
Apocalyptic dreams have widespread occurrence, but for a variety of mental
illnesses these dreams have a special function. From a psychiatric point of
view, apocalyptic dreams might be an important source for doctors to ascertain
what types of medication, if any, might be most appropriate for their patients,
as well as relaying the progress of the psyche in its process of healing.
Apocalyptic dreams don't have to mean the end of the world, but may outline the
transformation of an unbearable inner condition.
Source: "The interpretation of apocalyptic Dreams," _Dreaming: The
Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams_, Vol. #2, No. 1, 1992, pp.
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1995 March 30). Commentary:
on "Apocalyptic Dreams." Electric Dreams 2(5). Retrieved July 31, 2000
from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
How might we at Electric Dreams convert these clinical suggestions to our
use? One idea that occurs to me is to particularize the general notion that
apocalypse involves the disintegration of the whole personality or self
structures. That it may only be a small and quite manageable part of us that is
*feeling* like its all over. How many of us had to extend this kind of thought
to, for example, our teenage daughters when they have been humiliated at school
by a pimple or public embarrassment and weep about how their life is over? My
feeling is that dreams too can inflate their given situation and for most of us
it is more likely (or more usefully seen as) the disintegration of an old habit,
relationship or value.
Given this transition to apocalypse of the particular, what else might we
derive from clinical studies? One notion I want to pick up on in Henry Reed's
article is the polarization he mentioned that seems to be a thread in these
If the individual is leaving and old meaning, value or relationship - it is
going to leave a *gap* in the area that used to mediate the opposites and we can
predict from this a clash of the now unmediated sides. We see the dark self and
can no longer live that way anymore, the old world collapses.
The daughter who up to that time has relied upon her innocence and the
goodness of others has been given a glimpse and that world is now gone. Thank
goodness we have an even more interesting world(s) to offer her!
And so, as Reed has suggested, these dreams may be used as maps to our
traversing unbearable conditions. In this sense the images hold an contain us
through the transition, providing mediation both in the old value system we
might be leaving as well as the new one we might still be trying to enter.
Creative Spirit Studios
Flying Goat Ranch
3777 Fox Creek Road
Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
1-800-398-1370 voice and fax