The Wizard of Oz, released way back in 1939, tells the story of Dorothy, a girl who is carried off by a tornado that strikes her home in Kansas. She finds herself in a new and magical land where she is given a quest by a mighty wizard. She makes friends and encounters adversaries, whimsical characters all, as she pursues her quest. Eventually, she fulfills the quest and is able to return home. The last scene of the movie reveals that Dorothy’s amazing adventure was just a dream. She wakes up at home in Kansas recognizing that the imaginative characters of her dream are the people she knows in waking life who had been transformed.
This is an epic dream.
The ones we usually have, if we remember them at all, tend to lack this kind of detail. When we do recall a dream, though, we may remember some high drama or intricate plot that changed fluidly and consequently made no sense. People we know show up in unexpected places or play roles that don’t fit them. We can be ourselves one moment and become our best friend the next. We can be the student who asks the question and the teacher gives the answer. The “I” we know ourselves to be in waking life is hard to pin down in our dreams.
Most of us are curious about our dreams and what they mean. If we weren’t, many a business and whole psychologies based on dream interpretation would not exist. Steiner, too, is interested in dreams, but he indicates that it’s not the events that we should focus on, but the emotions that the dreams evoke. For example, since terror is such an intense emotion, we often remember our nightmares. Understanding that we are afraid is the point. We need to figure out the source of our fear, which probably is not of being attacked by wolves or losing our locker combination.
Let’s see what Dr. Steiner has to say:
Dreaming is an intermediate state between waking and sleeping. To thoughtful consideration, dream experiences consist of a colorful intermingling of images in a world that conceals an element of regularity and lawfulness within it, although at first glance this world seems to reveal an often confusing ebb and flow. In dreaming, we are released from the laws of waking consciousness that fetter us to sensory perception and to the rules that govern our power of judgment.
… We dream, for example, about driving off a dog that is about to pounce on us. We wake up to catch ourselves in the unconscious act of throwing off the covers where they were weighing on an unaccustomed body part and starting to bother us. Our sleeping life allows what our senses would perceive in the waking state to remain fully unconscious for the moment, but it does hold fast to one essential thing—the fact that we are trying to get rid of something. It spins a pictorial process around this fact. The images as such are echoes of our daily waking life, but there is something arbitrary in the way they are borrowed from it. We have the feeling that although the same external provocation might also conjure up other pictures in our dream, these would still symbolically express the sensation of wanting to get rid of something. Dreams create symbols; they are symbolists… The dream makes an image out of what sense-perception would offer if we were awake.
We see that as soon as our sensory activity comes to a halt, something creative asserts itself in us. During dreams, [the astral body] is separated from the physical body in that it is no longer connected to our sense organs, but it still maintains a certain connection to the ether body. That we can perceive the astral body’s processes in image form is due to this connection. When it ceases, the images immediately sink down into the darkness of the unconscious, and we have dreamless sleep.
Excerpt from: Occult Science: An Outline, Lecture III: Sleep and Death. 1910.
Dreams, both those resulting from physical occurrences intruding into our sleep and those resulting from emotions caused by current or previous life events, tell us about ourselves through imaginative pictures. Perhaps one way to begin understanding our own dreams is to identify the symbolism within them. We can isolate the physical cause that woke us and contemplate the symbolism our dream created to explain the event. We can reflect on the events that make us feel afraid or vulnerable and learn to see ourselves with more understanding and compassion.
Dorothy felt misunderstood; she was afraid and angry. She felt lost and desperate. And then the cyclone hit. The symbolism of The Wizard of Oz can be seen as the human path toward development, and the various characters as symbols of the emotions and values with which Dorothy, and all of us, struggle. The Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City, the Scarecrow longing for a brain, the Tin Man wanting a heart, and the Lion wanting courage, are all powerful elements of being human. And all of those elements were inside her.
Maybe we don’t need outside dream interpreters as much as we need to look at our inner lives more closely. Not that we should dismiss the stuff of our dreams, but we could allow them to tell us about our waking struggles. If nothing else, the message that is clear from The Wizard of Oz is that we already possess everything we need to “walk the path” just as the Scarecrow obviously had a brain, etc. We just need to understand the lessons that both waking life and dreamlife are trying to teach us, and that takes a lot of effort over a lot of time.
Brian Gray lecture: Sleeping and Dreaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhdvd1_bNek
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the novel by L. Frank Baum. (Project Gutenberg)
Phyllis Goldfarb, Teaching Metaphor, USC: