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The Occupation

Dreamed before 1985; the initial dream of a patient of Jungian therapist Peter O'Connor


This anonymous dreamer was a 49-year-old man; a family counselor whose own second marriage had just failed. Depressed and shaken, he entered therapy. He rarely recalled dreams, so after his first session with Dr. O'Connor he was surprised to find he remembered this complex dream.


I was passing through a series of underground caverns on some sort of sightseeing tour. There was a lot of jocular exchanges as if we were teenagers. A young woman placed herself in my arms with me standing behind her. In spite of my puzzled feeling and reluctance she pulled me into a warmer, closer physical contact with her and seemed to be very affectionate and enjoying the contact. I was puzzled but enjoyed the contact myself. A young man, perhaps her brother, was looking at us very askance and there seemed to be an impression that she belonged to another.

The scene then changed and I found myself in an elevated position looking down on a sloping back yard. There were a series of pitheads indicating where the underground caverns were that I had just been through.

The scene changed again. This time I found myself in a series of underground bunkers in the jungle hiding from the Japanese (knew this, although I couldn't see it). Women in tattered clothing emerged from the jungle into a clearing. They began setting up camp on the surface above our hidden bunker. I knew that that would give away our position and I asked one of them 'You're not going to camp there, are you?' The women paid no heed.

One woman carried a centipede-like creature and arose to withdraw into the jungle to cook and eat it. Another woman had a mouselike creature with an elongated body and a mouse's head. She laid it on the ground and took out a two-pronged meat fork (the one in my kitchen!) and plunged it repeatedly into the body of this creature. It accepted this without pain, protest or a struggle. I knew somewhere that it had to be sacrificed for food but it wasn't dying. The fork then passed through the creature's head pinning it to the ground. It accepted this with only a mild flinch of the eyes. I found myself watching with a mixture of horror and fascination. Then I seemed to lose consciousness as the creature died.

I awoke with surprise that I had been asleep. That was a dream!


...the one consistent theme is the contact with the feminine side of himself...

The first segment... points to a teenage level of development, and one could speculate... that the loss of contact with a feminine soul happened somewhere around the early teenage years, because he has a feeling that she 'belonged to another'.

The second scene, when he is looking down from an elevated position at the series of pitheads, indicates to my mind that... this is the over-development of his rational thinking side, which is now looking down at the inferior side still buried in the unconscious.

The third scene, hiding from the Japanese, [suggests] hiding from his own unconscious, since that would personify foreign parts of himself. The women in tattered clothing emerging from the jungle could perhaps be seen as the anima emerging from the jungle into the clearing. The fork going through the elongated mouse creature can, I believe, be seen symbolically as the necessary suffering and pain having to be inflicted in order to disturb and temporarily waylay his rational functioning in order to allow this man to make contact with his feminine Self. The outer world situation of this man would tend to confirm the fact that he had great problems with his anima, which was the conveyor of the feeling of his personality.

SOURCE: Understanding Jung, Understanding Yourself by Peter O'Connor, 1985, pp. 138-9.


Some of O'Connor's ideas seem like unhelpful Jungian generalities.

Part 1: Well, maybe he lost his feminine side in his teens, as O'Connor says. But this girl firmly sticks with him! He hasn't lost his anima; she's found him. I'd read the scene as: his anima has great hopes for therapy! His jitters may hint that he fears attacks from some male (a brother, interestingly, not a dad) if he gets sexual OR even lets his anima out, shows his feelings. The dream may be waving its arms at the therapist here--look at siblings and peers not parents.

Part 2: I'd read this not as a warning he's hyperrational, but as an image of therapy. The dreamer looks down in the open air to get an overview of the underground maze. It's easier from above than in the dark! He's using his rationality rightly. Therapy requires perspective, and I think this scene, like #1, suggests the unconscious supports the cartographic expedition.

Part 3 explores problems ahead. The Japanese, to an Australian who lived through WW2, might mean an "occupation" (horrible pun, but... it could mean the man's 'occupation' as a counselor makes him hide his own feelings) or, I admit, a zillion other things--men, violence, politeness, who knows? You'd have to ask him. If O'Connor did, he's not telling.

"Women in rags emerging from the jungle could be seen as the anima emerging from the jungle..." Pff! Tautological Jungian blather true of any female in any dream, anywhere, ever. "The cow with a cellphone popping from the cake could perhaps be seen as the anima with a cellphone popping from the cake." Undeniable! But unhelpful. Why a cow, a phone, a cake?

Ragged women eating centipedes and mice in the jungle don't look like generic animas to me. Refugees--or resistance fighters! Fleeing (or resisting) what? Whatever the hell the Japanese Army means! It's neither obvious nor archetypal--it's individual to this dreamer. Ask him!

Camping on top of him and thus giving him away to an enemy who hasn't even appeared? This dreamer sure is scared of... who ARE those guys? These women either don't know the Japanese are coming (innocents who need warning?), or know the Japanese aren't coming (women keep secrets from him? women know his fears are all in his head?), or they just don't care (women ignore him? are deaf, reckless, mean, what?) This bit hints at the dreamer's possible doubts about women after two breakups--or doubts that caused two breakups. But O'Connor's generic 'anima' blather covers the scene like soft snow, makes a dreamworker (whether therapist or client) think 'known element' and move on--just where I got curious.

Killing and eating jungle creatures: yep, sounds like the unavoidable pain faced in therapy. The resignation of the mouse suggests he's firmly committed despite grim expectations. But the mood's creepy, and I'd watch for trouble in future sessions. Passivity, martyrdom as resistance? "If I just suffer enough, I won't have to change behavior, right?" Or is this how his family taught him men handle pain in general? Either way, alarm bell!

It's a dam-busting dream. Some bits in the flood need no interpretation. Some do, and are suited for Jungian, archetypal treatment. And some do, but need more exploration--what Japan, brothers, his job, resistance, centipedes & mice mean to him. Even if nothing comes clear, trying may provoke follow-up dreams with more hints. But until you've exhausted individuality, avoid Jungian universality! O'Connor goes archetypal too soon.

--Chris Wayan

INTRO: Melbourne - breakups - grief & depression - therapy - initiations - Jungian dreams
EMBRACE: underground - flirting & making out - animas - happiness - bullies & threats - siblings?
OVERVIEW: viewpoints & mountaintops - mapping & navigation - dreamwork - therapy again?
HIDING: war - hunted! - food - bugs, worms & mice - violence & pain - family values?
RELATED: an O'Connor client's simpler initiatory dream: Mom in the Driver's Seat - a dream of a positive Shadow!: Envying Lynn

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