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Liverpool Tree

Dreamed 1927/1/2 by Carl Jung

I found myself in a dirty, sooty city. It was night, and winter, and dark, and raining. I was in Liverpool. With a number of Swiss--say, half a dozen--I walked through the dark streets. I had the feeling that we were coming from the harbor, and that the real city was actually up above, on the cliffs. We climbed up there. It reminded me of Basel, where the market is down below and then you go up through the Totengässchen (Valley of the Dead), which leads to a plateau above and so to the Petersplatz and the Peterskirche.

When we reached the plateau, we found a broad square dimly illuminated by street lights, into which many streets converged. The various quarters of the city were arranged radially around the square. In the center was a round pool, and in the middle of it a small island. While everything round about was obscured by rain, fog, smoke, and dimly lit darkness, the little island blazed with sunlight. On it stood a single tree, a magnolia, in a shower of reddish blossoms. It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and were at the same time the source of light.

My companions commented on the abominable weather, and obviously did not see the tree. They spoke of another Swiss who was living in Liverpool, and expressed surprise that he should have settled here. I was carried away by the beauty of the flowering tree and the sunlit island, and thought, "I know very well why he has settled here." Then I awoke.

Jung then painted a mandala based upon this map:
A mandala by Jung based on a dream of the world-tree standing in a park in Liverpool. Click to enlarge.
He attached great significance to this dream, commenting later:
This dream represented my situation at the time. I can still see the grayish-yellowish raincoats, glistening with the wetness of the rain. Everything was extremely unpleasant, black and opaque, just as I felt then. But I had had a vision of unearthly beauty, and that was why I was able to live at all...

Sources: Dream, Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1989 ed.), p198. Commentary, Jung's Red Book (Liber Novus), p217. Mandala, Red Book, plate 159.


Jung himself saw Liverpool as a pun: a pool of life. In a dark world there's an oasis of light where the World-Tree grows.

Jung's later writing about mandalas (such as his suggestion that flying saucers were mandalas hallucinated by people seeking wholeness in a schizoid Cold War world) gives to the casual reader the impression Jung himself dreamed or saw lots of mandalas. Nope! The vast majority he drew are "active imagination"--unplanned, but consciously induced, his rationality just as active as his unconscious--he wanted to stay in charge. But in this mandala--his last, and my favorite--he maps a real dream: dream streets, dream pool, dream tree. It records an experience first; he lays lots of ideas and symbolism on its back, but that's okay; its back is strong. He stays grounded by the powerful feel of a dream he never forgot.

My take-away insight? Show the dream. Use your artistry, but stick to the dream. Or you'll cloud it up with airy-fairy ideas from your head not your heart. Or soul.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: mandalas - symbols, icons, logos - night - rain - trees - light - Jungian dreams - Jung's own dreams - dream paintings - dream maps & map dreams - dreamwork - Liverpool - 74 years later, Al Davison dreams of the World-Tree just before 9/11, in Ground Zero

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