Water: a powerful, multi-faceted symbol, often vital to the meaning of dreams, as interpreted by Jungian therapy.
I couldn’t possibly catalogue all the symbollic and psychological meanings of water in dreams! But here are some of its many aspects.
Bodies of Water and the Unconscious
Often in dreams, large bodies of water (oceans, lakes, pools) symbolize the unconscious. As with bodies of water, we often see the surface, but cannot easily see into the depths.
Also, the vastness of the ocean symbolizes the vastness of the unconscious mind. Jung observed long ago that the unconscious mind was much vaster than the conscious portion. His insight has been confirmed by fascinating developments in neuroscience, where new technologies, such as particularly sophisticated MRIs have enabled brain scientists to see that the unconscious processes in the brain dwarf the conscious mind in magnitude.
In those regions of the brain/mind lies the meaning of dreams. Jungian therapy is always aware that, for each of us, much goes on in the depths of those oceanic waters…
One of the most frequently encountered of water symbols in dreams is the river. One of the most impressive characteristics of a river is the power of water flowing in a definite direction.
The river as symbol embodies the flow of life: the “teleology”, as Jungian therapy says, or goal-directedness of the psyche. It also embodies the fatefully powerful direction of that flow — the flow of our lives.
Water as Rain — Fertility
In dreams, we also encounter the symbol of water as rain, blessed bringer of fertility to earth, crops, vegetation and ultimately all animal life — a crucial aspect of our experience of water. In many cultures with limited rainfall, there is a god of rainfall, who is often a key member of the pantheon — such as Chac, the Mayan god of rainfall.
For such cultures, rain is the quintessential symbol of fertility, streaming down onto the earth. This symbolic fertile abundance is often part of the meaning of dreams.
The Water of Life
One of the most important aspects of water is that we basically are water. It’s essential for life, a fundamental human need. Most North Americans don’t regularly live with thirst. However, this relentless yearning should not be underestimated. Many in the world know its power all too well.
A famous scene from the movie “Ben Hur“ provides a gripping illustration of the symbolism of the “water of life” in both its physical and psychological sense. Whether you accept the Christian premise of the movie, or not, William Wyler’s depiction is powerful.
The water of life for which we yearn relates directly to the waters of the unconscious. Often, only by coming to terms with the meaning of dreams embodied in the unconscious can we find the vitality for which we yearn.
Jungian therapy is aware that the meaning of dreams is concerned with approaching and taking in this reality. How does the symbol of water appear in your dreams, or imagination?