Electric Dreams

 Jung and Amplification

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1997 February). Topics in Dreamwork Series: Jung and Amplification. Electric Dreams 4(2). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

The full application of Jungian dream therapy involves an understanding of Jungian Depth Psychology. But his ideas have been assimilated into Humanistic Psychology and the Human Potential Movement in ways that have led to a proliferation of techniques now commonly used, though rarely acknowledged. We will see them emerge as we explore other dream techniques after Jung.

Here I would like to focus on one group of techniques that show some Jungian principles and include several popular contemporary trends, such as mythology, wholeness and establishing the center of authority as oneself in matters of meaning and value.

o Amplification

Amplification, as the name implies, is an unfolding and bringing out of a small image its full richness and depth, the associations that someone else in the culture might make to the image and the meanings that might apply to those us independent of our particular culture, such as concerns about birth, death, marriage, success and aspiration.

Note: "Image" is not just the visual picture. It is used more in the sense of "Give me an image of what happened." In this sense, it might include all the senses, but the issue is not so much the sense data but an *understanding* or *perspective*. When you give me an image of what happened last night at dinner, I get visual and other sensory ques, but what is at issue here is the *understanding* that you give me.

James Hall (1983) identifies 3 levels of Jungian association to a dream image:


The Personal Level. This is a little like free association, except the dream image is kept in mind and only a little wandering is allowed. The personal level is what you feel and think about the image. Do you like it? Does it make you feel joyful, sad, frightened, angry? Was it an object from your past? Are you familiar with it? What was the mood of the dream?

The personal level might also include quick associations to the image, but each time you would come back to the image. Sometimes this is referred to as directed association. It is often called circular or thematic association, as it circles around the image and our relationship to it.

Exercise: Pick an image in the dream and say what it is out loud. Then give one association to it, say whatever comes to mind. Say the name of the image again, then give another association. Repeat this for a minute or two, going back and forth, or circling around the image.

Write these down as your say them. Underline three or four that have the most feeling, even if they don't make sense to you.

If you come up with nothing or draw a blank, this is significant too and make note of it. Though we don't have time in this class to explore Jung's idea of the Complex, a note here may be of interest. Jung , very early in his career, used a GSR (part of a polygraph, lie-detector) and asked patients to associate to various words. He noticed that people would show various response times depending on the words. Further investigation revealed that the words people stumbled over indicated underlying unresolved issues. Later, Jungians would simply ask the analysand a few question (usually about mother or father) and the underlying complexes would be readily apparent without a machine.


The Social/Cultural Level. These are the associations that anyone might give to the image - president as leader, red light as stop, white as a bridal color, ect. While this may seem a reductionistic approach if its the only one, it creates a very poetic layer when multiple associations are allowed to exist. One can take, for example, a functional approach and say, what is a book? something to read. What is a refrigerator? A place to keep things cool. What is a car? A vehicle to get us someplace.

Exercise: Translate the elements of the dream into multiple cultural associations. That is, assign meaning to parts of the dream as your neighbor might. What is the car for, what is most significant about a billboard? If you run into difficulties, try the functional translation or say, what would my neighbor do with this or use this for? Gayle Delaney suggests explaining the dream to someone as if they were from Mars, so we can get at the cultural meanings from an outside perspective.

Example: "I was waking down a long hallway and saw an open window."

++Walking: A way to get myself somewhere on my own. Not as fast as running. Moving.

++A long hallway: A way to seperate space. A pathway. A singular connection to side rooms.

++An open window: A way to get fresh air and see outside, something that can be closed in bad weather.

Drawing these together, we might get that the dream is about how I am able to get around on my own, but have some distance between myself and the outer world.
Test this against the feeling and association from the first exercise.

The Archetypal Level.

"Many dreams can be interpreted with the help of the dreamer, who provides both the associations to the context of the dream image, by means of which one can look at all its aspects.

This method is adequate in all ordinary cases, such as those when a relative, a friend, or a patient tells you a dream more of less in the course of conversation. But when it is a matter of obsessive dreaming or of highly emotional dreams, the personal associations produced by the dream do not usually suffice for a satisfactory interpretation. In such cases, we have to take into consideration the fact (first observed and commented on by Freud) that elements often occur in the dream that are not individual and that cannot be derived from the dream's personal experience." C. G. Jung (pg 67 Man and His Symbols)

Note on Archetypes:

Archetypes are primordial centers of organization that transcend the psyche but are experienced by individuals in a variety of ways. (Hall, 1983) We can talk about them in the profound and moving experiences in life, in events such as Birth, Death, Marriage, Visions, as well as general characters that from time to time grab us all, such as the Fool, the WiseMan, the Mother, the Father, the Lover. Each is its own little world, and plays out differently. When these plays are occurring in and around us, there is often an uncanny feeling that little can be done about them. Try telling your daughter who has fallen in love that the relationship is clearly not right for her and you will get a sense of the power of these patterning structures have over reason. But Jung felt that we can learn, though dreams and other modes, to cooperate with them in a way that contributes to our wholeness.

To amplify dream imagery at an archetypal level, one really has to know the myths and fairytales and folklore stories of the world and that requires a lot of reading time. Its fine to show how a dream corresponds to a story or fairytale, but if you only know a few, that narrow bias will show up in your interpretations (Hall, 1983). Another issue often raised by Jungians in regards to archetypal amplification is the problem with collective fascination. If you take up dream work with the idea of Wholeness in mind and then fall into letting collective stories determine your meaning and value in life, the path of individuality has been missed. On the other hand, this is really were Jungian theory shines and unfolds its vast richness as a system.

With these warnings up, let us go on and have some fun with Myths and Folktales.

Exercise: A. Nursery Rhymes: Let us move a dream around a little by using childhood fairy tales, nursery rhymes and myths and having a comparison. Pick a dream. Go through the dream or replay it to bring it into mind. Now name two nursery rhymes, any nursery rhyme you might know. Decide which one its closer to, or how it fits one in some ways and the other in other ways. If the tale doesn't fit, come up with some more rhymes and decide which one its like more. Keep this up until there is some sense of the tale being similar to the dream. Use the rhymes you know to explore the dream. How is the dream the same, how is it different? Make some notes on your themes and stories.

Example: "I look down a long hall and see and open window"
Two of my favorite nursery rhymes are Jack be Nimble and Humpty Dumpty. Comparing the dream to "Jack" I feel there is a connection with travel and achievement. For Jack its the leap, but for me its the walk down the hall. Sort of a "Richard, don't stall, walk down the Hall". When I overlay the dream against Humpty Dumpty, the feeling that some of the opportunities of the open window may be hard to reverse if I take them. Like Humpty Dumpty's unfixable pieces, I may not be able to return once I go down the hall or out the window.

The nursery rhyme overlays have how opened up the dream image into two new areas that are in the dream image. Further comparisons are sure to bring out more parallels.

B. Do the same thing again, but with Fairy tales. If you have forgotten all the tales are were somehow deprived of these during you childhood, I suggest pick up a copy of _Grimm's Fairy Tales_ or check the online Grimm's Fairy Tales FTP site.


Re-write your dream as a fairy tale, and exaggerate and embellish as your dream .....Once upon a time, there was long, long hall, and at the end of the hall was a open window....

Note: How was it different between nursery rhymes and fairy tales? Was the feeling tone different? Did these bring up memories from different parts of your past?

C. And finally, try this with a mythological story. If you are not familiar with myths, check the bibliography for Books on Myths and online resources. Is your dream more like, for example, the Greek Hero Heracles, stomping around and bashing things, or are you lost, like a character in a maze or labyrinth?

Mythology Online:


Myths have many levels. Often they are seen as primitive explanatory stories for the nature of the world. But as those who study Myths have found, they are also stories that weave sacred and profane meaning together on many levels.

What differences do you notice using myths as overlays on your dreams?

Re-write your dream as a myth or poem.. Experiment with capitalizing different words, doubling them, repeating them, as if you were working or re-working a poem. Give yourself or the characters in the dream some fancy Greek or Roman sounding names.

Example: The Myth of the Open Window. Richardosus peered down the Long Hall until his eyes beheld the Window, the Window. Eyes staring down the hall, the Open Window. The Hall, the Hall, and at its end the Open Window.

Or The Myth of the Long Hall. Once there was a time before Halls, and people would had to walk right from one room into another...

For Jung, the individual strives to both find him or herself by both understanding our connection with larger meaningful stories, while at the same time separating ourselves from these myths to create our own unique story.

By becoming skilled with all three levels of association, (personal, cultural, mythological) we create a window that allows us to see into our personal depths as well as our collective heights. The above exercise is only one of many that develop along this line.

Note that amplification is used in therapy to bring the individual into feeling that what they are suffering is suffered by humanity at large and we are all struggling with these things. Its also used to understand the archetypes at work in the individual psyche. The significance of amplification outside of the analytic encounter will more likely have a focus more on insight and understanding.


Burkert, Walter (1985). _Greek Religion_. US: Basil Blackwell

Campbell, Joseph (1959). _The Masks of God_. Vol 1-4, New York: Viking Press

Campbell, Joseph (1972). _Myths to Live By_. New York: Bantam Books.

Edinger, Edward (1972). _Ego & Archetype_ . Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Eliade, Mircea (1978)_A History of Religious Ideas_ Vol.1-3, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Hall, James, A. (1983). _Jungian Dream Interpretation: A handbook of Theory and Practice_. Inner city Books: Toronto, Canada

Jung, C.G. The Collected Works (Bollingen Series XX). (1953-1979). 20 vols. Trans. R.F.C. Hull.(Ed.) Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1984). _Dream Analysis: Notes of the seminar given in 1928-1930_. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Universtiy Press.

Jung, C. G. (1933 ). "Dream Analysis and its practical application." In _Modern Man in Search of a Soul_. W. S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes (Trans). New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Jung, CW (1964 ). _Man and His Symbols_. New York, NY: Doubleday. See esp. pg. 67-68, "the archetype in dream symbolism"

Whitmont, Edward C. (1987). "Jungian Approach". In Fossage and Loew (eds) , _Dream Interpretation: A Comparative Study. New York: PMA Publishing Corp.

von Franz, Marie-Louise (1975). _ C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time_. William H. Kennedy(Trans). New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons.