If a lover sent you a letter, would your first task be to figure it out? In opening ourselves to the images of the dream it can be very useful to receive the entire thing as a private letter from the unconscious. Each detail is the best possible image to show you how the unconscious sees things.
The archetypes are not the images in our dreams. The dream image is the means by which the ego perceives the archetype. The image is how archetypes manifests in consciousness. Therefore, Carl Jung makes a distinction between the archetype which is unknowable, and the archetypal image which represents it. Jung often uses the word symbol because the archetypal image points to and represents a reality that is unknowable.
Archetypal images appear like these: “I saw a spider in my dream.” “You should have seen the volcano in my dream last night!” “There was this woman, but I don’t know who she was.” And a process of exploration that takes into account the feeling tones, associations and possible amplifications all help the dreamer hear the message the dream is conveying.
For years I have been observing and investigating the products of the unconscious in the widest sense of the word, namely dreams, fantasies, visions, and delusions of the insane. I have not been able to avoid recognizing certain regularities, that is, types. There are types of situations and types of figures that repeat themselves frequently and have a corresponding meaning. I therefore employ the term “motif” to designate these repetitions. Thus there are not only typical dreams but typical motifs in dreams. Carl Jung, “The Psychological Aspects of the Kore,” CW 9i, par. 309.
It can be argued that relating to psychic contents as images allows us to respond in a mode that is more primitive, pre-rational: archaic. It is as if the imagery forces us down out of the collective rational attainments of the enlightenment. Dreams make us play by their rules and our rational predispositions can get often get cranky. “I have no idea what this could mean,” is a common statement in the consulting room.
Dreams become elusive if we are primarily interested in figuring them out. To do so seeks a solution. To figure something out, like a problem on a test, is to be done with it. Dreams, on the other hand, are a path that draws unknown parts of ourselves closer to consciousness. To truly receive a dream requires a posture of relatedness toward the unconscious and a bit of art.