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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  • Dear Kay and Mats,

    Jumping back in here after a weekend of other obligations requiring my attention, which may feel a little like going backward for you two since you've obviously continued with some fascinating discussions. But I wanted to at least make a few comments on your responses to me.

    First of all, thank you for your thoughtful comments. You've given me some things to think about given that I am intimately aware of the context in which this dream presents itself.

    I especially resonated with a few things. Kay, your comment regarding the shapeshifter changing itself as a means to hide its true nature was an interesting idea. This would mean that while a transformation is occurring on some level the true nature of the entity being changed is still the panther. This has some personal meaning for me. Also, your thoughts on the image of awakening from a previous sleep and a having to let go are of course right on. But Mats was correct in noting that I’m not overly attached to what I’m letting go--attached yes, through love. But in fact, I am letting it go because I love it and I know and accept at a very deep level that this aspect of me is changing and developmentally ready to go off. In fact I think it is coming to love this aspect that makes it possible to finally let go.

    Mats’ idea that the dream signified the death of the cat and its ascension in another form was especially resonant. I have been working with great intention to make a developmental shift. The description of having to “grapple” with great earnest with the unconscious in order to come outside into the light and say yes to life in a new way feels particularly apt. I too am an introvert, more comfortable with being feminine, inward, and dark than extroverted, outward, and light. This is one of the balances working to occur in my psyche.

    Finally, I am questioning the idea of having to get rid of the cats. I’ve heard this wisdom before and because it’s coming to me now will ponder it further, but when any animal comes to me in a dream I feel honored. The fact that it continues to show may likely mean that I haven’t yet understood why it continues to visit but carrying them out or getting rid of them seems a missed opportunity to be gifted by these honorable visitations.

    Thank you both for participating in the discussion and for treating my dream with respect.



  • Does Eastern psychology regard love as a form of attachment, really? Or is it the same difficulty here, namely that we understand the word differently? As I understand it, the Buddhist Bodhisattvas stay in samsara out of love and compassion, in order to save other beings.

    In Western thought, love is an absolutely central concept. Plato is called the "Philosopher of Love", since the principle of Eros, as the foremost Form, works to regain wholeness by unifying the opposites. Men must have love in order to lead a spiritual life. The original Christian message of love refers to a psychic capacity of living in sympathy with the surrounding, drawing on an inner spiritual flame, a sense of wholeness that goes beyond the ego. Devotedness and love of God also lies at the heart of the mystical path. One's heart should not be emptied, but one should pierce the Cloud of Unknowing, in which God dwells, with "arrows of longing love". The legend of Christopherus (which means Christ-bearer) points at the centrality of the eros child:

    "Christopherus was a man of giant stature who vowed to serve only the strongest master. He did service for a king, but when the king was shaken at the mention of the devil, Christopherus realized this man wasn't so strong after all. So, eventually, he went as far as offering his services to the devil. But when the devil shuddered at the sight of the cross that stood by the wayside, Christopherus decided to abandon him, too. After many years of repentance, and the daily toil of helping people across the river, he one day heard a child's cry from the wood. He went out to search for it but could not find it. Only when the child cried for the third time he managed to find it. The little child needed help to get across the river. But as the child rode on Christopherus's shoulders it got heavier and heavier, and Christopherus felt like he carried the whole world on his back. He came close to drowning in the torrent, when his head went under the water. Yet, he continued to struggle, and finally managed to get across. At the other shore the child revealed that he was Christ Pantocrator. The Christchild told Christopher to plant his staff in the earth, and the next day it carried leaves and bore fruit. Christopherus realized that he had finally found the strongest master."

    Without devotion, one cannot succeed in retaining focus on the faint spiritual energies. Without love, and the heartfelt urge to invest one's time in the spiritual child, the whispered messages of the spirit cannot be perceived, with all the "bats" swirling around in one's head. Christopherus carries the Christchild through the river Styx, representing the Dark Night of the Soul. It depicts the proper way of individuation. Everything else is just vegetative life and a waste of time. What motivates Christopherus in this story and makes him endure, is love. It's a great tragedy when the archetype of love, as the Christchild, is left alone in the the dark wood and his faint voice goes unheard. Talk about indispensable concept! This is not what we mean by attachment. If Hindu philosophy disregards this power, then there is no way that the East and West can come to a mutual understanding in these issues.  

    Mats Winther

  • I agree that the ego is the root of most misery and woes. The Fall from Grace, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge, means the rise of the ego. Before this, prior to becoming self-aware, mankind "knew not death". But, St. Augustine calls the Fall of Man a felix culpa, fortunate fault. God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom, which is the Redeemer's Incarnation. The ego is a felix culpa. Consciousness is both a blessing and a misfortune.

    But Indian and Buddhist psychology have a different notion of 'ego', I believe. The egoless state in Hindu psychology doesn't mean the same as in Western psychology. In the latter, the egoless state is more radically understood, and it isn't realizable, other than in temporary mystic experience. However, in Hindu and Buddhist psychology, the egoless state is understood in the sense of a detached(?) state, when the ego has divested itself of all its expansive ambitions. In the Western tradition, this state would be called piety, godliness, grace, holiness, etc., but the ego can never be abandoned, neither in Western theology or in Western psychology. I don't claim to wholly understand  what Eastern psychology means by the transpersonal egoless state, but the notion clearly has a different meaning than in the West. Here, an egoless state would be the same as psychosis or regression to instinctual unconsciousness.

    Mats Winther

  • I'd argue that she isn't attached to the bird because she loves it, so she lets it fly away. Attachment isn't love, is it? I think attachment is about dependency, to have an outlet for one's libido, or it's a question of power. In The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht, the loving mother lets go of the child because she loves it. The Buddha and the Bodhisattvas have overcome the attachment to the world, that's why they have a beneficial influence on the world and humanity, in that they radiate love. I don't claim to know what love is, but this is how the phenomenon is understood in theology, I believe. 


  • M-L von Franz says that the spiritual drive is perhaps even more powerful than sexuality, so it is apty symbolized by a Sarcosuchus. As a besides, the story of how they found a complete skeleton of a Sarcosuchus is baffling. The researchers thought they could find one in the Amazonas, so they went straight out into the forest, and soon stepped on the head of the monster that peeked out of the riverbank. They could easily have missed it. Such luck is inexplicable.

    In Christian theology, since the Fall from grace, mankind is diseased. In fact, to even have an ego is to have "bats in the belfry". It's as if the egoic condition is pathological in itself. However, what can alleviate this condition is to retain contact both with animal nature and with the world of the spirit. People who do this can claim a degree of "normalcy". But these worlds are both located outside the ego domain, places where modern people don't like to go. I think that's why there are so many nutcases around these days. Instinctual and spiritual atrophy gives rise to neurosis, as people lead their lives wholly within the domains of the ego. In the end, they have manufactured a cocoon in which they reside, like in a mother's womb. This is the horrible condition of the neurotic, in which the world is defined according to the preferences of the ego. It's like they project their own reality on the inside of their transparent cocoon. Thus, one cannot really communicate with such people. Everything is already perfectly defined, as there really is no existence outside the ego. Arguably, narcissism is the worst plague that has befallen mankind.

    The mother's appearance in my dream can be explained in this way. It wasn't my mother, I only thought it was. But it's as if the once proud and beautiful lion has the tendency of becoming an old mother. One clings to one's accomplishments, achieved in the "heroic" conquest of consciousness, to the effect that they risk becoming like a mother complex that keeps one fettered and chained. The dream seems to say that if the lion isn't allowed to turn into a forceful reptile, then I will end up in a state of artificial life, kept alive by a respirator empowered by a contingent mother complex. Jung says in the autobiography that if he had not broken free from the gravity of his childhood milieu, then he could easily have remaned in such a comfortable artificial condition of life, as it contains so much libido collected during the centuries, cumulated in all the olden things, etc. Of course, such an attitude is very un-American, but I think many a gifted European has wasted his life this way.

    Mats Winther

  • Thank you Mats and Kay. I recognize, of course, that my specific dream could not be discussed without the actual contents of the dream being presented. I was simply attempting to initiate a general  discussion on this image of one thing becoming another--not so much looking for someone to interpret my dream for me--seeking other ways of imagining what this could be for me. Being new here, I was admittedly reticent to include the dream in an effort to avoid "assigning a constant meaning to a symbol such as the lion." I feel strongly that a dream doesn't have a final meaning.

    I very much appreciate the discussion that is ensuing. Your ideas are indeed thought provoking and so I feel enticed to share the whole dream:

    I'm in a bedroom standing between the bed and an open window. I don't see any more of the room than this perspective but through the open window I see the ground, I'm on the ground floor apparently. It is a sunny, pleasant day, the grass is green. The bed is messy as though someone had been sleeping in it recently. At one point I look at the bed and see a small black panther which I pick up and hold in my arms. I put it on the window sill and it becomes a white bird and I'm quite surprised. This next part of the dream is a bit hazy but I have the sense that this happens three times. I don't so much remember three panthers but remember the process occurring three times resulting in three birds. Then I'm sitting outside the window on the ground holding one of the birds--which now seems more like a small dog. I have the sense that all of these birds are developmentally ready to fly off. I feel incredible love for the one I'm holding, coming to the realization that its leaving is not negotiable and I'm surprised that after only one small flight here it's already ready to go. I feel very deep grief for having to let this thing go and tell it," I am going to miss you so much."

    At the risk of making this story too long, the black panther has been an imaginal ally for many years who has served as a shamanic animal in other situations involving active imagination. I have of late, however, a recurring theme of wild cats of various types and also another recent dream of seeing a white hummingbird.

    Again, thank you for engaging in this lively discussion and for witnessing this dream.



    • It seems to signify the death of the cat, since a white bird that goes to heaven often symbolizes the soul of the deceased. So it could mean the end of a stage in your life during which you have grappled with the unconscious, symbolized by the black cat. Accordingly, you move from the inside, where the cat is, to the sunny outside, where the tripartite soul of the cat now appears in the form of the birds. It reminds me of how philosophers Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore reacted to their own repudiation of idealist philosophy, according to which the worldly things have only subjectively acquired qualities, and we cannot really know the ouside world, in itself. They were elated, as they realized that the grass was really green, and the sun shone from a blue heaven, contrary to what they had been taught.

      Life consists of opposites. If subjective engagement and introversion is commendable, then the opposite is also good. I think that the love felt for the birds illustrates the attitude needful to say "yes to life". I know this problem, since I am very much like an "introverted idealist philosopher". (But this obviously means that I risk projecting my own psychology on your dream.) I dream, for instance, that I ought to "be like Pan for a while". This means to say "yes" to the green grass, and the whispering trees, thus to embrace the natural world, like the nature deity Pan would do. This attitude is rooted in instinct, as this is what a dog or a cat always feels. I have noted how dogs sometimes don't like to return home, but try to convince their owners to remain outside in the fresh breeze, among all the interesting fragrances and sounds. Love for art and music is conceivably rooted in the same Pan instinctuality. Pan, who played the syrinx, was a wonderful musician.

      Mats Winther

  • I wonder if maybe your animal companion has some wisdom to share with you--and is changing form to find the right one to share the wisdom.  That it may be leaving you may suggest it's not quite ready yet.  I suspect it will be back.  Good wishes.

    • Certainly. I wouldn't have posted the dream if I didn't tolerate people's views


    • Hi Kay, Thanks for your interest in the dream! I have many very personal associations with the animal figures in the dream which range from personal totem to religious/spiritual meaning along with a long, developed relationship with one of the animals. I didn't give all the details of the dream because I was a little worried about having it "interpreted" because my own preferred method is to--for the most part--be "worked by" the dream rather than to "work on" the dream or to "figure it out." I was, however, curious about what others--through a depth psychological/mythological lens might view the experience or process of one thing becoming another, wondering what others thought of this type of image occurring in a dream or a fairy tale. I confess that this too is an intellectual rather than experiential approach to at least one aspect of the dream but the academic in me couldn't resist the possibility for discussion. Perhaps the the "shapeshifting" theme is still personal to the dreamer--just wondering if others have had this experience and what it meant for them.

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