Carl Jung’s First Dream: The Man-Eater

Jung narrates his first dream, when he was three or four years old:

In the dream I was in this meadow. Suddenly I discovered a dark, rectangular, stone-lined hole in the ground. I had never seen it before. I ran forward curiously and peered down into it. Then I saw a stone stairway leading down. Hesitantly and fearfully, I descended.

At the bottom was a doorway with a round arch, closed off by a green curtain. It was a big heavy curtain of worked stuff like brocade, and it looked very sumptuous. Curious to see what might be hidden behind, I pushed it aside.

I saw before me in the dim light a rectangular chamber about thirty feet long. The ceiling was arched and of hewn stone. The floor was laid with flagstones, and in the center a red carpet ran from the entrance to a low platform. On this stood a wonderfully rich golden throne. I am not certain, but perhaps a red cushion lay on its seat.

It was a magnificent throne, a real king’s throne in a fairy tale. Something was standing on it which I thought at first was a tree trunk twelve to fifteen feet high and about one and a half to two feet thick. It was a huge thing, reaching almost to the ceiling. But it was of a curious composition: it was made of skin and naked flesh, and on top there was something like a rounded head with no face and no hair. On the very top of the head was a single eye, gazing motionlessly upward.

It was fairly light in the room, although there were no windows and no apparent source of light. Above the head, however, was an aura of brightness. The thing did not move, yet I had the feeling that it might at any moment crawl off the throne like a worm and creep toward me.

I was paralyzed with terror. At that moment I heard from outside and above me my mother’s voice. She called out, “Yes, just look at him. That is the man-eater!” That intensified my terror still more, and I awoke sweating and scared to death.

Jung comments:

For many nights after, I was afraid to go to sleep, because I feared I might have another dream like that. This dream haunted me for years…

…this dream seems to be a subterranean God “not to be named,” and such it remained throughout my youth, reappearing whenever anyone spoke too emphatically about Lord Jesus. Lord Jesus never became quite real for me, never quite acceptable, never quite lovable, for again and again I would think of his underground counterpart, a frightful revelation which had been accorded me without my seeking it.

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5 Responses to Carl Jung’s First Dream: The Man-Eater

  1. I have never seen ‘God’ as the benevolent ‘Father’ that the New Testament Christian scriptures are based on. The Old Testament ‘God’ seems closer to the truth…..

    Awesome dream, looking into the the terrible face of ‘God’. I think perhaps these things are only terrifying because of where we stand in relation to them, how we understand them, that perhaps we aren’t quite ready to integrate them into our psyches. I know that is true from my own perspective. It is like looking into the existental abyss, we just can’t hold that image within us for too long. I think people who have tried too early or too hard sometimes simply die, like the artist Yves Klein…..But there are those who train themselves to hold these images comfortably, like in some of the esoteric traditions.

  2. As far as I know Klein’s spiritual beliefs were heavily influenced by Rosicrucian philosophy as well.

  3. Michelle —

    I wasn’t familiar with Yves Klein — for other readers also not familiar, this is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

    Klein’s work revolved around a Zen-influenced concept he came to describe as “le Vide” (the Void). Klein’s Void is a nirvana-like state that is void of worldly influences; a neutral zone where one is inspired to pay attention to ones own sensibilities, and to “reality” as opposed to “representation”. Klein presented his work in forms that were recognized as art—paintings, a book, a musical composition—but then would take away the expected content of that form (paintings without pictures, a book without words, a musical composition without in fact composition) leaving only a shell, as it were. In this way he tried to create for the audience his “Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility”. Instead of representing objects in a subjective, artistic way, Klein wanted his subjects to be represented by their imprint: the image of their absence. Klein’s work strongly refers to a theoretical/arthistorical context as well as to philosophy/metaphysics and with his work he aimed to combine these. He tried to make his audience experience a state where an idea could simultaneously be “felt” as well as “understood”.
    Klein apparently died a year after Jung, in 1962 — of a heart attack at the age of
    34. I have to wonder if his subject matter — the void, the ethereal — was a pre-cognitive/artistic awareness of his early death.


  4. “…made of skin and naked flesh, and on top there was something like a rounded head with no face and no hair. On the very top of the head was a single eye, gazing motionlessly upward.” phallus. n’est ce pas

  5. I had almost exactly the same dream, when I was in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1978 as a 16 year old-120 miles north of where he had his. And 100 years later.

    The setting was a bit more “primitive”-just a rough-hewn stone cavern with torches flickering on the walls. But the Thing in the middle of the room…exactly the same as it was for him. I had been suffering from a bad case of jet-lag, hadn’t really slept in 2 days, which must have allowed this archetype to bypass my normal conscious (or even dreaming) filters. And I definitely shared the terror, too-the Thing was breathing slowly and ominously. Half-awake, I simply HAD to get out of that hotel room, so I hurriedly pulled on my jeans, and stumbled out to find my family, who were eating dinner in the restaurant.

    I fully woke up only after I had found their table-only then noticing that I had tried to put on my younger sister’s jeans, covering them with a towel when it was clear that they wouldn’t fit.

    I seriously doubt that there was an sensory leakage-while I was a fairly well-read young man, I would have only found out about his dream from a biography, which I am virtually sure I had never read before that.

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