DREAM ADVICE COLUMN: WOLF SYMBOLISM IN DREAMS
I keep a dream diary when I remember to but, the other day, I had a particular dream that felt significant. I wrote it down as soon as I woke up and thought about it a few times since then. I am 30, primarily single (I would define myself as ethically polyamorous) although I am exploring some very lovely relationships with people that I very much care about. The last year has been a significant one, I ended a four-year relationship (engagement) and been making changes in my lifestyle that have brought me to where I am now. I have concentrated on my yoga practice, challenged how I see relationships and love, explored kink and desires, opened up about dating female-presenting people and questioned sexuality in general, made a conscious effort with self care and reflection, and started a journey to being a more open person. I feel at ease with myself for the first time in so long, I keep getting an almost overwhelming feeling of LIFE and it is wonderful.
The dream felt significant as it seemed to conflict with how I was feeling. I had a particularly great day before heading off to sleep, one of those evenings where I sat and reflected on how thankful I was for certain things in my life.
I was with a group of people, all dressed in dark clothes. I felt familiar with them yet I didn’t recognize them as significant people from my waking life. We all seemed to be searching for something, perhaps hunting, there was lots of running around and hushed talking about where we might find it, almost like whispers that came telepathically rather than being spoken to.
We arrived at a clearing in some woodland. I remember the grass being brown. It was nighttime, yet the moon lit the clearing. In the middle sat a beautiful creature, a wolf or dog, I think. It had black silky fur and was sat facing away from us. I felt a lot of tension and the dream changed, everyone felt nervous (but curious) about the creature. As the creature turned around I felt in danger. Fear made me step backwards and I flew up into the sky to get out of the creature’s reach. It followed my gaze, not breaking eye contact and without any effort followed me and attacked me, biting my ear. At this point I woke up startled and out of breath.
When I thought back about the dream I could remember feeling intense fear.
It’s courageous of you to take stock of the contrast between how good you’ve been feeling in your waking life and the visceral fear you encountered in your dream life. I hope my response can help illuminate the potential meaning of this discrepancy and how to address it.
Jungian psychology regards dreams as teleological, a term stemming from the Greek teleos meaning entire, perfect, complete, end. In contrast to Freud, whom Jung studied under, whose dream theories are more closely oriented toward the past to unearth meaning in the present, Jung was more attuned to the growth seeking momentum of
dreams in the service of individuation. We partake in this journey via the mediation of our conscious awareness with our unconscious content, which is made known to us via our symptoms, neuroses and dreams. Here’s where things get tricky — the unconscious is oriented, not in line with our conscious intentions, but instead, in Jung’s own words:
…[the unconscious]contrasts strikingly with the conscious material, particularly when the conscious attitude tends too exclusively in a direction that would threaten the vital needs of the individual. The more one-sided the conscious attitude is, and the further it deviates from the optimum, the greater becomes the possibility that vivid dreams with a strongly contrasting but purposive content will appear as an expression of the self-regulation of the psyche.
In other words, while the waking ego identifies with a particular position or attitude, it simultaneously dis-identifies with other positions which remain unconscious and make themselves known via our dreams. Dreams as compensation for the conscious position is a central theme of Jung’s theory of dream analysis.
For example, it’s not uncommon for docile and compliant young women to dream of a serial killer on the loose, or a high-power exec who has to routinely don a business mask to dream of being exposed or seen in a different way. Thus compensatory dreams challenge the ego to develop greater capacity to relate to what it’s rejecting, all in the service of individuation. Jung advocates not an imperative to integrate these counter-positions, but to be able to hold a relational dialogue between ego and unconscious content. Let’s come back to this idea later, as I bet you and the wolf have a lot to talk about!
As I sat with your dream, the compensatory nature of it became more and more apparent. This dream feels like an ominous warning to look straight in the eyes of what’s been neglected. As you said, this past year has been an important period of growth and change, from the ending of your engagement to your partner of four years, to your expanding attitudes toward sexuality and desire, and your cultivation of introspection and gratitude. While this year has been an exciting one, it has also been full of upheaval and endings. Perhaps you’ve been feeling so good, more painful feelings of loss and guilt are exorcised out of awareness. The myth of Icarus comes to mind for me, how you’re flying higher and higher, but ultimately the wolf bites you in the end. While you’re accumulating elevated reaches of love and light, a dogmatic adherence to this goodness can be used defensively to keep out what’s perceived as badness, putting undue stress on your psychic equilibrium.
My association to the the opening scene of your dream — I was with a group of people, all dressed in dark clothes, I felt familiar with them yet I didn’t recognize them as significant people from my waking life — registers to me like you’re in the realm of the shadows, or a space that has been rejected in your waking life. Then — we arrived at a clearing in some woodland. I remember the grass being brown, it was nighttime yet the moon lit the clearing — sounds like a space counter to that which is lit up by the sun, or the conscious position, and this dream so beautifully reveals to you the moon position, in the belly of the woods. That’s where you reach the beast at the center of it all. I imagine your waking ego almost wishes you reached out to pet the wolf in peaceful communion, but instead you were met with something much more vicious and terrifying.
Something I learned in grad school that has always stuck with me (or haunted me), is that a revelation from the unconscious to consciousness doesn’t sound like “oh good” — it’s more like “oh shit.” Psychic growth inherently bruises the ego as it exposes blindspots. While painful and humbling in the short term, the greater psychic landscape will be in better working condition, and the ego will adapt. What a gift it is that your messenger arrived in the form of a wolf!
Dreams like yours, that wake us up in the night, also have the potential to wake us up to what we’d rather turn a blind eye toward. My advice is to try and sit down with the wolf and actively dialogue with it. Ask the wolf what it wants to tell you, what is it you’re not looking at, and what it’ll do to you if you keep up your current pace. Let the wolf teach you about your own capacity to be insatiable and destructive, while also deeply fierce and loyal. Then meditate on how your sense of identity and your narrative about yourself aligns and contrasts with the dream wolf’s message.
I often find that what, on the surface, appears to be the monster is more accurately only experienced as monstrous by a sense of identity that’s too narrow and rigid. Picture Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Two separate characters? Perhaps…or two halves of the same principle fractured in two, as if strangers from each other. Red is the “innocent” girl split off from her aggressive impulses, and the Wolf is the predatory “monster” disembodied from her, wandering alone in the woods at night, ready to bite.
 Jung, C. G. (2014). Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press
 Vannoy Adams, M. and C.S.W, Michael. (2000). “Compensation in the Service of Individuation—Phenomenological Essentialism and Jungian Dream Interpretation: Commentary on Paper by Hazel Ipp.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues. 10. 127-142. 10.1080/10481881009348526.
*DISCLAIMER: Dreamwork is a collaborative process that relies entirely on the associations of the dreamer to create a dream meaning. Without the dreamer’s input, I can only describe my personal associations and amplify the dream images as they exist symbolically on a cultural level.