Shapeshifting dream

Hello Dreamers,

This is the first time I'm joining a group so please bear with me if I'm not quite doing this as per protocal. I had a dream last night that involved an animal (which happened to be a long time very significant image for me) turning into a different animal. It has me thinking about the various possibilities for this type of shapeshifting process. For example, the concept of "becoming" or a transformation from one way of being to another. I also considered that this long time imaginal animal companion may be leaving me now. I am interested in how others think of this type of dream occurrence and how it came to have meaning for you.

Thanks, Carol

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  • I'm not a shaman. I didn't believe in any of it until my hypnotherapy training, during which I had some pretty amazing experiences that felt so real and powerful that I chose to believe in them. I consider myself an open minded skeptic. In my opinion, it doesn't matter if it's real or not if you are receiving authentic healing/information from it. :)

    There's a box on the bottom right of the page that works for Instant messaging. When a member is available to chat, you click their name, type a message and hit enter. I know there's a way to send an email to another member, but I can't remember where I saw it. I think it was on the personal profile page. 

  • Hi Carol!

    Many of the shamanic systems of belief value presence of animals in dreams (and in waking life). Each animal represents a "medicine," or what the animal represents and is bringing to your life and awareness. Depending on which animal it is, you have been given the assistance it can provide. There are sites on the internet that will define what each animal means, if you're interested, or you can dive into your own personal meaning for the original animal and the one it transformed into. 

    Power animals, in the shamanic tradition, are animals that are with you for guidance, protection, and/or other things you need in your spiritual life. They can change when your needs change. So, shamanically, if you have transcended your original needs, your original power animal might change too. If this is the case, it's kind of cool. Your dream could be telling you that you're progressing. 

    If you have some sadness over the original animal you identified with, say thank you and let it go. Then allow yourself to understand what this new animal will represent for you as you grow in a new direction.

    • Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for your post. In fact, I met the black panther on a shamanic journeying several years ago--before I knew much of depth psychology or even shamanism. We've had a very rich relationship since and it's medicine has been a profound gift. Since that dream and the discussions around it, I've come to feel that in fact I am in the process of saying goodbye to this power animal and the period of my life in which it journeyed with me. I feel immense gratitude --and sadness--for its leaving and the "me" that died with it. I will be honoring this shift in a ceremony because I believe enactment through ceremony has a significant affect on psyche and honors the "reality" of the spirit helpers.

      I appreciate also looking at the dream from a shamanic perspective. Thank you again.

    • Black panther is my power animal as well. It's very powerful and I can imagine you are feeling grief if panther is leaving you. I think the idea of a ritual to celebrate this "changing of the guard" is wonderful! I wish you all the gratitude, strength and closure this will bring.   

      You can always journey to visit the panther. It's not a closed door. :)

      Since we have this in common, please feel free to message me if you'd like to chat or for some extra support as you move into this new place.

    • Wendy, I think I'd like that. I am, admittedly, a bit skeptical of "neo-shamanism," but also can't deny my personal experiences and would love to chat more---but I don't know how to message or chat here :-)  Do you know?

  • Hi Carol (and Kay and Mats),

    Sorry to come late to the party, but I've read your ongoing exchanges with great interest. I think this is such a rich discussion for a very intriguing dream! I would just add another thought or two if you're open. I'm currently in Michael Conforti's Dream Patterning training and that particular methodology (which sticks to the science of archetypes and resists random projection from the dreamer) insists you must first look at the actual thing (in this case, the black panther cubs and the white birds) and learn everything you can about what the actual laws of nature say about them and see how that applies. I'm not very experienced in the methodology yet, and of course there are many methods out there that are completely different from each other and all still valuable, but one example of this process might be that you can't necessarily assume the bed is about sleeping (--though that's definitely one possibility I would consider as well!). While beds are often used for sleeping. If you simplify further to the basic essence of the thing, a bed is a piece of furniture intended to be comfortable (so you CAN sleep presumably). But you can also use it for other things that require a comfortable place that is not the floor.

    Holding this in mind, I googled black panthers and found this link to a page which states:

    The mother (cat) has to stay at the den all the time during the first few days after the birth to rest and nurse the newborn baby panthers.  Meanwhile cubs spend most of their time sleeping and nursing on their mother’s rich milk. About ten days after their birth, the cubs open their glazed eyes and get their first glimpse of the world.  While the cubs still lack of mobility, the mother leopard have to leave her cubs unattended as she travels far from the birth den to find food for her family.  This is the period when the defenseless cubs are most vulnerable to predators; therefore, the choice of a site for a birth den is so crucial to the safety of baby black panther cubs.

    I don't know if there's anything there that connects to something in your life, but the idea of the bed being the birth den--(a safe, comfortable place for the cubs to come to life), and the cubs being vulnerable at that early stage of life while the mother is away hunting might be of interest.

    As for the shifting to the white birds, when I researched white birds a bit, I found out there are no naturally occurring species of all-white birds in North America. Thus, the only way white birds occur is if they are albino or have a genetic mutation called leucism. While white birds are still birds and can fly, perhaps giving them more options and capacity to view things from a greater perspective, their are a few downsides. One site states: 

    "birds with the condition face special challenges in the wild. Lighter plumage may rob the birds of protective camouflage and make them more vulnerable to predators such as hawks and feral cats. Because plumage colors play an important role in courtship rituals, birds with leucism may be unable to find strong, healthy mates. Melanin is also an important structural component of feathers, and birds with extensive leucism have weaker feathers that will wear out more swiftly, making flight more difficult and eliminating some of the bird’s insulation against harsh weather. White feathers also reflect heat more efficiently, which can be fatal for birds that rely on sunbathing and solar radiation for heat in northern climates"

    Anyway, all this to say, while I can't offer you a personal interpretation,in addition to all the great insights offered by Kay and Mats, perhaps by looking into the naturally-occurring laws, patterns, and fields associated with each element, you will land on something that resonates with you.

    If this were my dream (and knowing what's going on in my life), one way I might interpret it for myself is having to do with making a decision or a change that seems like a good choice or a safe bet as a way to move out into the world, something where I feel I would be better off or more protected, only to realize there are a whole new set of vulnerabilities associated with my choice and therefore different rules will apply and new adaptations will need to be made. I could go on--I'm really curious about the strong feelings of love (and protectiveness?) you felt toward the creature you were holding as well....

    Good luck with it!

    • Hi Kay,

      You've done a significant amount of research on my behalf. Thank you for your interest.

      I'm well familiar with the symbolism you've described here, particularly the black panther since, as I mentioned earlier, I have a long relationship with this animal. I'm wondering what you make of my previous post's mention of Hillman's notion that we do a disservice to the dream animal if we reduce it to a finalized symbolism?

      The type of dream work I've been studying lately does no interpretation and very little association. Rather the method is to re-enter the dream and re-experience the animals, landscape, and activities of the dream, thus allowing these elements of the UC to work onthe ego rather than have the ego work on the dream images. I've found this method to be very useful for keeping the dream alive and for reducing the possibility for the ego to do what it tends to want to do and that's control the UC, particularly by assigning meanings and definitions. It also helps to reduce the likelihood of the ego's resistance to what the dream is presenting it.

      Just some additional thoughts.


    • Hi Bonnie! Thanks for jumping in and what an interesting contribution you're making. While not familiar with Michael Conforti's ideas of dream patterning, I do tend to adopt a Hillmanian attitude in not reducing a dream image to a symbol. At a discount bookstore recently I picked up his book called, Dream Animals, he's pretty adamant about not reducing the animal to something else--similar to what you're describing. For example, he argues,

      "a snake is not a symbol! For instance, a black snake comes in a dream, a great big black snake, and you can spend a whole hour of therap with this blcack snake, talking about the devouring mother, talking about anxiety, about repressed sexuality, and all the other interpretative moves that we therapists make. But what remains after all the symbolic understanding is what that snake is doing, this crawling huge black snake that's sliding into your life. The moment you've caught the snake in an interpretation, yyou've lost the snake. You've lost its living movement. Then the person leaves the therapeutic hour with a concept about 'my repressed sexuality' or 'm cold black passions' or 'my mother'--and no longer with the snake."

    • You can't reduce a dream image to a symbol, but you can do the opposite. Hillman's standpoint is very, very extreme. People here are too uncritical of him, I think. His "The Soul's Code" is the weirdest, most subjectivistic, literature that I've ever read. "The calling from the eternal world demands that this world here be turned upside down, to restore its nearness to the moon; lunacy, love, poetics" (p.282). He really doesn't belong in depth psychology because he is rooted in New Age. In fact, he has at many occasions repudiated psychology.

      Concerning "symbols", D. Sharp says in the Jung Lexicon that "[t]he symbolic attitude is at bottom constructive, in that it gives priority to understanding the meaning or purpose of psychological phenomena, rather than seeking a reductive explanation [...] The formation of symbols is going on all the time within the psyche, appearing in fantasies and dreams. In analysis, after reductive explanations have been exhausted, symbol-formation is reinforced by the constructive approach. The aim is to make instinctive energy available for meaningful work and a productive life.

      The images of the unconscious do have something factual behind them, namely archetypal meaning. This does not mean to say that they are graspable by the intellect. The symbol can transcend the capacity of consciousness. The Trinity, as a symbol of God, carries meaning, but it can never be wholly understood. To say that dream images are symbolic does not imply a reduction. A cat, for instance, has a symbolic meaning, besides being a living "spirit". If we argue that the images of the unconscious don't mean anything, and thus aren't interpretable, then they have lost their meaning to us. Hence they lose their potentiality and their numinosity, like when religious symbols lose their meaning to people. But Hillman argues just this, that they are mere images, so his paradigm is the aesthetic and artistic, a purely phenomenological psychology that implies a devaluation of the unconscious. But images are amplifiable and they have consciousness-transcending symbolic properties.

      When the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich had diverted into New Age and Eastern mystical techniques, psycho-dramatists, and what not, M-L von Franz saw no other option than to abandon it and found her own institute, reclaiming some form of firmness in the psychological notions. I suppose Hillman was partly responsible for the degeneration that took place(?). It is necessary at some time to abandon the puer aeternus mindset, which is Hillman's hobby-horse. A little critical thinking doesn't hurt.

      Mats Winther

    • ...I accidentally published the reply before I was finished (and before I could fix my ailing keyboard's problems with the letter "y."

      Incidentally, the panther in my dream was not a cub, it was just of a small size. I was  a little surprised that no one found it relevant that I already have a personal relationship with the panther. It was also interesting to me that upon waking I realized the white birds were not of a specific type--unlike the white hummingbird of a previous dream--however, they certainly resembled doves. While I was in the dream, the kind of bird didn't seem as relevant as say, the hummingbird did when I realized while in the dream that I was seeing something unusual--a white hummingbird. I did look up that phenomenon after the hummingbird as you are suggesting and learned that there is such a thing as a white hummingbird as you've noted, some are albino and others are leucistic. In that dream I had the sense that the bird was from the "spirit world" so I'm wondering how the dream patterning would apply to this situation.

      Thanks again Bonnie, fun discussion!


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