Dreams about Barach Obama; Dreams about Sarah Palin

At the 2009 International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in Chicago, author Richard Russo presented a talk on a play that the Northern California Dream Institute had presented on people’s dreams of Barack Obama.

It is my understanding that the dreams were taken primarily from the website, “I Dream of Barack: Real dreams real people have of Barack Obama.” Comments about these dreams and a link to a content analysis of the dreams can be found at a companion website.

The presentation, one of the best at the conference, captured the hopes people had about the new President, and clearly captured the projections that people had on him.

Kelly Bulkeley, one of the major researchers and commentators on dreams and politics, had this to say (in 2008) after he looked at the 100 dreams about Hillary and Barack:

The dreams also reveal the flaws and weaknesses people perceive in the two candidates. In several of the Hillary dreams the dreamer feels compelled to lie to Hillary, to hide from her the dreamer’s true feelings, sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of pity. This can’t be a good sign of the trust and honesty people feel in relation to her campaign. With Barack, people’s fears revolve around his failure to live up to their expectations; in some dreams he disappoints them, leaving the dreamer feeling deflated and alone. The soaring idealization of Barack’s candidacy carries the risk of precipitous disillusionment as he attempts to make real the mystical aspirations of his supporters.

I would note that Slate Magazine(in 2008) presented an article on dreams of Sarah Palin that also gave the flavor of what people were projecting on her. (This article apparently received e-mails saying that liberals complained about the article because it was about dreams, which are apparently “frivolous.”)

Dreams as Reflective of Culture


One of the mistaken assumptions that many people trying to interpret their dreams make is that dreams are only reflective of their own psyches. The previous post on the Third Reich of Dreams is an example of how dreams also reflect the cultural psyche.

Jung had repetitive visions and dreams of catastrophic events and blood flowing all over Europe; in his words, he thought he was “doing a schizophrenia.” He was “relieved” when he realized they were visions of World War I, after the war broke out.

Jungian analyst Meredith Sabini and dream author Richard Russo run the Northern California Dream Institute, where the major emphasis is on how dreams are reflective of the culture.

The next post will give an example of their work.


Dreams as an expression of the Culture: “The Third Reich of Dreams”

In the 1930’s psychoanalyst Charlotte Beradt recorded and collected people’s dreams during Hitler’s rise to power: The Third Reich of Dreams. The material had to be smuggled out of Germany in code. In his essay at the conclusion of the volume, published in 1966, Bruno Bettelheim remarked that it was a shocking experience reading this book of dreams and seeing how effectively the Nazis murdered sleep, forcing its enemies to dream dreams that showed that resistance was impossible and that safety lay only in compliance. (Source)

This is one of the dreams. (It’s lengthy, but one gets the idea pretty quickly about how closely dreams can echo the dynamics of the culture and time.):

The author of the dream was told by the Nazi authorities to report to the Berlin Railway Station on a Sunday morning to collect money for the Party. Before leaving he said to himself, “What the heck, I won’t be bothered.” So he brought along a pillow and blanket – no collection box – and took it easy.

After about an hour Hitler appeared, wearing high patent-leather boots, dressed as a comical cross between a circus clown and a lion tamer. The dreamer watched Hitler use exaggerated, artificial gestures to win the hearts of schoolchildren. Then he adopted a stern attitude as he lectured a group of older boys and girls. At last he turned to impress a group of old maids by acting coquettish. Suddenly the dreamer began to feel uncomfortable under his blanket. He grew afraid that Hitler would notice that he had no collection box – he might be recognized as one of “the group of those who pretend to sleep.” If caught, he imagined confronting Hitler and telling him that he doesn’t approve of concentration camps.

Hitler continued his appearances around the station with different groups of people, and the dreamer was amazed to see that no one seemed to be afraid of him. He noticed that someone even kept a cigarette in his mouth while talking with him, and many more were smiling! After completing his stint at the station, he picked up his pillow and blanket and went down the main stairway in the station. Then the dreamer saw Hitler standing at the top of the stairs, concluding his appearance with a song from the imaginary opera, Magica, making extremely theatrical gestures, which had the crowd mesmerized. Everybody applauded. He bowed and then went tearing down the stairs, looking foolish in his purple trousers and holding his trainer’s whip. Hitler passed by with no bodyguards and stood in line at the cloakroom like everyone else, waiting patiently to get his coat. At this point the dreamer thought, “Maybe he’s not so bad after all. Maybe I needn’t take the trouble to oppose him.” All at once he realized that instead of a pillow and blanket, he was carrying a collection box.

This is a comment on the dream and the book:

This dreamer sees Hitler as a manipulator par excellence – an animal trainer – and yet the big act that Hitler puts on works in the end: the dreamer begins to feel that things are not half bad and maybe he doesn’t have to worry about Hitler after all. Winston Smith, sipping his Victory Gin with tears of gratitude in his eyes, reached a similar conclusion about Big Brother, although he got there by a different route. The average person struggling with their conscience in the face of dehumanizing conditions, is, like Orwell’s hero, “a hero who is basically neither good nor bad, up against the effects of a political system which in the end leaves open but one direction in which he can move – the one toward the movement.” Individuals are embedded in a repressive psycho-political system, unable to act independently or resist the forces that are propelling the motion of society in the direction of Nazi domination.

The Third Reich of Dreams is a book that tells a compelling and revealing story about the hidden side of WWII. It portrays how the German subconscious mind was invaded by totalitarian fear as the Nazi’s plans reached fever pitch during the 1930’s. The grooming of Hitler and his evil cadre, the rise to power of the Nazi State, and the mobilization of the country for Total War, were all carried out with cold-blooded determination and ruthless precision by human beings whose very souls had been violated and whose minds were controlled.

Beradt collected hundreds of dreams during 1933 through 1939, referring to them as “diaries of the night,” providing a view into the inner world of fear and confusion people were feeling as their personal integrity disintegrated and their lives fell apart. The dreams she selected for the book are drawn from the lives of ordinary people who found themselves confronting the mental terror of The Third Reich during the early years of the Nazi regime. These dreams show that this was a war on the human spirit. It was secretly about capturing inner ground and blowing apart the national psyche, destroying all the ground gained over centuries of psycho-spiritual development, doing away with a whole generation of artists, writers, and scientists, and burying the work of these creative people underneath the rubble and ruin of Total War.

One of my pet peeves in this world that is on the brink of destruction is the high cost of paying for some magazine articles that may hold clues about about to prevent the culture from going off a cliff. This is one you currently have to pay for:

Bulkeley, Kelly. Dreaming in a totalitarian society: A reading of Charlotte Beradt’s The Third Reich of Dreams. Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams. Vol 4(2) 115-125, Jun 1994.

(Bulkeley is one of the premier researchers and writers about dreams, politics and culture.)