The Great Mother and Creation Mythologies

Active Imagination -or- Conscious Dreaming

As a university student, I took an active imagination course with a Jungian Professor. In one of the in-class exercises all the students were asked to meditate on the image of a beach. This interpretation is about that experience of conscious dreaming.

"The sun was shining brightly...I was walking along the beach, the waves gently lapping the shore. There was a gentle breeze, my hair blowing in the wind (read IIDR interpretation). Suddenly the sand opened before me and I descended down a staircase. Somehow going down the way was dimly lit, until I reached a place where the rock turned to molten lava. Then my own body turned into lava and I became one with the flow. The flow continued until I felt that the river of lava was ascending. I continued upward until the lava spilled over, what I then perceived as being a volcano. The lava (which I was part of) flowed down the mountain, where it came into contact with the cool water of the ocean. The lava was heating the water and I transformed into steam and ascended this time to the sky where I became part of a cloud. The cloud became saturated and I descended as a rain drop into the ocean. I was washed to the shore to find the beach and the footprints from where I had first started."

The Great Mother -or- Anthropomorphizing Nature

After I had told the whole story of this waking dream, the professor appeared visibly moved by my narrative (a point I will return to later). Barbara Hannah Encounters with the Soul: Active Imagination as developed by C.G. Jung provides some insight into the nature of my conscious dream. Hannah tells her readers about conversations with the "Great Mother". The Great Mother is a collective unconscious archetype of nature. The active imagination I had was nothing more and nothing less than the anthropomorphization of nature's forces. Hannah does not refer to Erich Neumann, who literally wrote the book on the Great Mother: An Analysis of an Archetype. Neumann was interested in the developmental psychology of consciousness, creativity and ethics.

For Neumann the Great Mother is personified by the great round, also known as the Uroborus (snake biting its own tail). In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Neumann researches the nature of consciousness and creation mythologies. From an artistic and literary perspective Neumann's ideas are closely connected to my own, in that he understands that the archetypes are always "related to the cultural canon of the time." For Neumann the cultural mythological canon is closely associated with the sublimation of the archetypal hero myth. Metamorphoses or the symbolic creation and the mythic transformation of the individual and cultural canon is installed archetypally into the human psyche in every new generation.

It was a puzzle for some time as to why the Professor was visibly moved, yet remained silent. Some time past when I came across a book by Soren Kiekegaard Fear and Trembling that helped explain the response to my story. The Professor most likely saw and read into the story what Rudolf Otto The Idea of the Holy called the "numinous". One aspect of the numinous is the feeling of "mysterium tremendum" (fear and trembling) towards creation. From the beginning, such feelings of awe have come natural to me, they still do. They represent the individual and collective foundation for the sublime.

Many have lost that innate sense of fear, awe and reverence for the beauty of nature and the world around us. The experience of this numinous feeling is not dependant on our faith or non-faith. Instead, the experience is an ability of truly seeing the world of creation, in the words of William Blake Augeries of Innocence; "To see the world in a grain of sand, And a Heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in and hour." In Depth Psychology and A New Ethic Neumann was painfully aware of the need for a depth psychological based ethic if our species and Mother Nature is to survive.  

Literature of interest;

  • Patricia Garfield Creative Dreaming
  • Mary M. Watkins Waking Dreams
  • Robert Moss Conscious Dreaming
  • Hugh McKay/P.R. Smart use your imagination
  • Erich Neumann  Art and the Creative Unconscious
  • Joseph Cambell Creative Mythology 


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.