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The Unconscious World of Dream

Metaphor and Symbols
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What Is Metaphor?


Metaphor, from the Greek for "transference," is the use of language that designates one thing to designate another in order to characterize the latter in terms of the former. Nominal metaphors use nouns in this way, as in "My daughter is an angel." Predicative metaphors use verbs, as in "The dog flew across the back yard." In addition to single words being used metaphorically, phrases, sentences, and more extended texts can also function as metaphors, as in the assertion "Bravely the troops carried on" to refer to telephone operators who continued to work during a natural disaster. Sometimes a metaphor can be recognized because it is literally false. When a proud father says, "My daughter is an angel," no one believes that she has wings. But a metaphor need not be literally false. The opposite assertion -- that one's daughter is no angel -- is literally true; she does not have wings. Yet this is not likely to be the speaker's intended meaning, nor is it likely to be a hearer's interpretation. In each of these two cases, hearers must go beyond the literal meaning to arrive at the speaker's intention -- what the hearer is intended to understand.

It was discovered in the late 1970's that the mind contains an enormous system of general conceptual metaphors -- ways of understanding relatively abstract concepts in terms of those that are more concrete. Much of our everyday language and thought makes use of such conceptual metaphors. This paper claims, first, that the system of conceptual metaphor that functions in ordinary thought and language is also used, first, to provide plausible interpretations of dreams and, second, to generate dreams.

See also Definitions of:
How Metaphor Structures Dreams {PDF}
Medieval Theories of Analogy

See also:
Dreams & Morphogenesis

What Are Symbols?

Communication element intended to represent or stand for a person, object, group, process, or idea. Symbols may be presented graphically (e.g., the cross for Christianity, or the light/dark halved circle for yin-yang) or representationally (e.g., Uncle Sam standing for the U.S., or a lion standing for courage). They may involve associated letters (e.g., C for the chemical element carbon), or they may be assigned arbitrarily (e.g., the mathematical symbol for infinity or the dollar symbol). Symbols are not a language of and by themselves; rather they are devices by which ideas often too complex or highly charged to articulate in ordinary language are transmitted between people sharing a common culture. Every society has evolved a symbol system that reflects a specific cultural logic; and every symbolism functions to communicate information between members of the culture in much the same way as, but more subtly than, conventional language. Though a symbol may take the discrete form of a wedding ring or a totem pole, symbols tend to appear in clusters and depend on one another for their accretion of meaning and value.

Symbols & Ritual

In native Australian religion, a ritual object that is a representation or manifestation of a mythical being. They are symbols of communication between humans and the Dreaming. Most tjurunga are used in men's secret and sacred rituals, though some small objects figure in women's rituals and still smaller objects in men's love magic. At initiation, a boy is introduced to the rituals and tjurunga of his local descent group. Later, he receives his own tjurunga, with which he has a personal bond. At a person's death, the tjurunga is sometimes buried with the corpse.

Myths, Imagery & Symbols

Carl Jung (1966) called the images that we see after waking from a dream "archetypal." He also coined the term "collective unconscious" for the level of awareness from which this imagery springs, because he felt it was common to all human beings. According to Jung, the archetypes, or archetypal potentials for image-making found in the collective unconscious provide the basis for worldwide myths, imagery, and symbols. Myth follows certain identifiable tendencies and takes form in similar shapes because humanity at all times and places has shared a common unconscious fund of experience (Birenbaum, 1988).

Developing a personal mythology involves using a body of personal myths to form a system for organizing one's conception of reality and guiding day-to-day behavior. By using cross-cultural myths, fairy tales, and folklore, a teacher can help his or her students bring their personal mythologies into clearer focus and inspire them to use their own or other people's myths in creative writing. (For suggestions for creative writing, see "Notes from Beyond the Cognitive Domain," edited by Alice Brand and Dick Graves.) In this way, students can gain a more global perspective on their lives and an expanded sense of their place in the universe. As language educator Nancy King (1990) says, "working with myths to stimulate images and stories (metaphor and memory) enables students from cultures around the world to discover more about who they are and continue the lifelong process of 'making themselves."


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