I grew up on a lakefront. Our house was about thirty feet from the lake’s edge, and two docks stood on either side at water level, one with a small rowboat turned upside down on it. When my sister and I were small, our mother would strap lifejackets on us and set us afloat in the water by the south dock. The notion was that the lake would be a perfect babysitter, but in reality, Mom was always nearby, watching to ensure that we were upright and OK.
As we paddled, bobbed, and floated on those lazy summer afternoons, sometimes a water snake would surface and head our way. We would scream and splash until it would change course and eventually submerge. Soon after it was out of sight, I would feel something touching my leg, and of course, I was convinced it was the snake. I would panic and kick and splash, swimming toward the dock as fast as I could. As I got older, I came to understand that the bumping was either my imagination or a small fish nibbling at me underwater.
I have spent virtually all of my adult life, from twenty-three years old forward, recording my dreams. Soon after I began to do so, I dedicated several pages of my dream journal to dreams that I remembered from my childhood. The project sounds daunting, but I was able to recall only four from my early years. Just four short dreams stuck in my mind from my awakening days as a toddler until I graduated from college.
The first dream is set at the lake where I lived, and in it, the water is teeming with snakes. The mass of serpents completely fills the lake’s basin, and floating on their tangled backs about halfway to the island is a canoe. Jesus stands serenely in the bow of the canoe holding a basketball. I awaken startled by the vividness of the dream, and I cry out to my mother to come to the door of my room.
Whenever I had what I then referred to as a bad dream, my mother would appear at my bedroom door and assure me that everything was all right. Sometimes, when a dream perturbed me greatly, my parents would allow me to crawl into bed with them. In the morning, though, I would always wake up in my own room with no memory of having been transported there.
My father was also supportive when I had nightmares, but he would simply call out that things were OK and expect that I would calm down and fall back asleep. In the evenings before going to bed, he would instruct me to tell myself not to dream during the night. He promised that if I did so, no dream would materialize. I tried it, and from that point forward, I remembered fewer dreams. As an adolescent and young adult, I remembered none at all.
The second dream is of a mixture of species of large dinosaurs, and they are chasing me on the road that runs on the top of the dam along the lake’s southern shore. I scream with terror, looking back as they gain ground on me, and my legs become weak and feel as if I am slogging through thick mud. I wake up before the monsters catch me, and I don’t know if my mother comes to my door that time. I remember few details about the dinosaurs’ aspects, but I clearly recall the paralyzing fear and my overwhelming weakness as I flee.
Dream three’s action takes place in my bedroom and probably affects me for a longer time than the others. I dream that I am lying awake in bed and a demon about my size creeps out from under the bed and peeks over the edge at me, smiling. I awaken with a start, call out to my mom with trepidation, and huddle under the covers until she appears at the door.
From then on, I would check under both sides of my bed each night before crawling in. Inspecting the side against the wall always was a traumatic experience. Sometimes, I would wait until one of my parents was in the hallway outside my room before looking quickly over the edge and jumping under the covers. I lay facing the door and was careful not to turn toward the wall, just in case I had missed spotting the devil in my search.
The fourth dream’s drama occurs in an empty room. The ceiling is high, and I am near the door, which is wooden and engraved with figures I cannot identify. I decide to leave, but as I move toward the door, I turn and see a spot high on the opposite wall, and immediately, a deep fear of the spot overcomes me. I panic, scream, and fly directly at the spot as I awaken. My mother does not save me this time, and the spot makes more of an immediate impression on me than anything that appears in the other dreams. I remain awake for a long time before falling asleep again.
One problem with not recording my dreams as a child is that now that I would like to examine them more circumspectly, I cannot say with certainty in what order they occurred. Fortunately, the sequence may not matter, because many dreams are timeless and allow us to digest them in any order. My perception is that these dreams came to me over a period of several years and in the order that I relate them here.
One theme of the last three dreams is fear. A professional dream analyst might focus on something entirely different, but fear, in my view, is central to the dreams. Interestingly, the dream of Jesus in a boat on a snake-filled lake is the earliest and the one that contains the least fear. Jesus is unaffected by the snakes, and I, the dreamer, awaken with mere revulsion at the idea of so many of them filling our wonderful lake. Three dreams display extreme fear, and one shows a lack of it.
I believe, however, that the true common denominator of these four dreams is not fear, but rather their display of archetypal elements. What could be more basic to one’s psychic makeup than serpents, monsters, devils, and unidentifiable sources of fear? The reason these dreams are so memorable for me is that they extend deep into my psyche to a place where archetypes reside. They deal with subjects that have little to do with my day-to-day life at the time.
An experienced analyst present when I recounted these dreams as a child would have felt no need to ask me or my parents about my outer-world experiences during that part of my life. These dreams are sufficient in themselves and require no waking personal information to make them complete.