The Black Panther and Melanoma

A patient had come to him with a terrifying dream in which a black panther had attacked him and sunk its claws into his back “between my shoulder blades just to the left of my spine.” Dr. Royston was nonplussed when the man later developed a melanoma (melanos means “black”) in precisely that same spot.

Healing Dreams, Marc Barasch; Riverhead Books, page 66.


Once again I came across the theme of aggressive animals, blackness, and cancer.

This particular dream was told to Robin Boynston, M.D., a Jungian analyst in England. After he heard this dream, he started collecting other dreams related to illness. He reportedly has collected approximately four hundred dreams related to illness. He told Barasch, "These are not ordinary dreams, but big dreams, archetypal dreams, so laden with powerful emotional affect that the dreams is forced to take them seriously."

If you have any dreams that foretold medical conditions, please contact me.

The Dream of Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau: The Dream; 1910, The Musuem of Modern Art
6'8" by 9'9"

I am writing in response to your friendly letter to explain to you why the couch in question is where it is. The woman asleep on the couch is dreaming she has been transported into the forest, listening to the sounds of the instrument of the enchanter.

Letter from Henri Rousseau to Andre Dupont, 1910


This blog has focused up to now on the diagnostic aspects of dreams, with some particularly disturbing vivid dreams and nightmares.
Dreams also contain tremendous healing imagery, and the blogs soon will focus more on the dreams and healing.
Henri Rousseau was considered a "naive" artist. In spite of his lack of formal art education, his paintings convey a powerful immediacy of experience, as if he is painting from the level of the Unconscious.
Art has to do with making the invisible visible far more than it has to do with perfect technique. Painting from dreams, whether "naive" or not, can be both healing and powerful. Images drawn from dreams will be featured in latter sections of this blog.
Henri Rousseau Images
Draw your own Rousseau

The Nightmare

Johann Fussli: The Nightmare; 1781, Detroit Institue of the Arts
The Old English word mare ('spirit'), from which the latter half of 'nightmare' is derived, eventually came to mean 'succubus'. The connection with the modern notion of a terrifying dream arises from the idea that the nightmare (or night hag, as she was sometimes called) was actually a succubus or an incubus (depending upon the sex of the dreamer) which sat on the breast of the sleeping person and induced such dreams. The etymology of the word has frequently been misunderstood, for the latter half has been taken to refer to the equine 'mare'. This has given rise to images of the nightmare as a demonic horse or horserider.”
Dictionary Of Demons, by Fred Gettings
Most of the dreams reported so far in this blog relating to severe physical illness have taking the form of nightmares; however, just because you have a nightmare obviously does not mean that you have a physical illness.
The average person has one or two nightmares a year. About five percent of the population have frequent nightmares. (Frequent and recurrent nighmares are also a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Again, as mentioned in an earlier blog, there is a Naitonal Nightmare Hotline, run by the folks of Cydreamwork:

Attacking Dogs and Cancer

Cerebrus and Hercules (Sebald Beham, 1545)

A illustration of recurring nightmares comes from the professional practice of a Jungian analyst, Dr. Hal Stone.

Cancer patients, who were engaged in medical treatment, were often referred to Hal by progressive physicians for his dream work, as it might be helpful to their patients in their healing.. One patient was a woman who was being treated for stomach cancer…After suggesting to the patient that she begin recording her dreams, she replied, “Oh, I’ve been recording my dreams for years.”… Dr. Stone and his patient began to look for patterns in the past, as well as revelations in the present.

To the patient’s surprise, for the meaning of it had never occurred to her, they discovered a recurring nightmare that began about two years prior to the clinical diagnosis of stomach cancer. The recurring nightmare was of a dog tearing at her stomach!

Healing as a Sacred Path, L. Robert Keck Ph.D; Chryslis Books; page 248.

This is the third dream that I have come across and written about in this blog of an animal tearing at the stomach area that preceded a diagnosis of cancer. Additionally, these cancer dreams tend to be repetitive nightmares. (I would suggest that having three nightmares about the same thing is a fairly strong message.)

Why would dog attacking the body be a symbol of cancer? Dogs are usually loyal, positive creatures; it is a betrayal of the body for the internal dog to turn on its owner.

Cerebrus was the three-headed dog/monster that guarded the entrance to Hades; Hercules twelfth task was to kidnap this beast. However, the god Pluto told him he could only do this if he did not use any weapons; Hercules wrapped his arms around the dog and wrestled him to ground. Cancer is indeed a type of hell, a battle for the soul, perhaps something that can only be faced heroically.

Rust, Cancer and the Kitchen

Cancer of the colon is shown as mutated and usually slow moving animals. Often they are shown in a dead forest or forest in fall. Snakes or worms under the cooker in the kitchen or rust eating into a kitchen appliance indicate the same thing. Crows or rats eating into the back door of the house indicate cancer of the rectum (the back door of the body).

This is the most detailed description of dreams and cancer I have come across. (Note the similarity between his desciption here and the Darth Vader dream mentioned three blogs ago.) Michael Sheridan has a radio show in Ireland where he interprets dreams. He is astoundingly matter-of-fact about his interpretations.

It would be critically important to see this type of material as “evidence-based medicine," which is the new watchword for medical practice. The evidence right now is mostly anecdotal; what are the chances of doctors both asking about your dreams and starting to do medical research about them?

Evidence Based Medicine

Photo credit

Dream Images of Cancer

Some time ago, an old man came to me because of my interest in dreams and cancer. His wife had just died of cancer, and he wanted to tell me something that he thought might be important. Prior to his wife's diagnosis, she began to have terrible nightmares filled with conflagrations and vicious, pursuing animals. She woke in the night screaming in response to dream images of dogs tearing at her stomach, fires burning her flesh, and other horrors. These nightmarish experiences lasted about two weeks. Several months later she was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. and within three months she was dead. The old man told me: "You know, those dreams were the beginning of it. The cancer was announcing itself. I felt the truth of it in my bones. But people won't listen to an old man."

Cancer in Myth and Dreams; Russell A. Lockhart, in Psychotherapeutic Treatment of Cancer Patients, edited by Jane G. Goldberg, Page 18.


Similar to other diagnostic dreams mentioned in this blog, there are images of vicious animals, terror, fire often associated with serious disease.

,A Russian psychiatrist, Dr. Vasily Kasatkin, reviewed ten thousand dreams form 1200 subjects. These were his findings regarding common features produced in dreams by physical illness:

  • Illness is associated with an increase in dream recall

  • Illness causes dreams to become distressful and to include nightmarish or violent images of war, fire, blood, corpses, tombs, raw meat, garbage, dirty water, or references to hospitals, doctors, and medicines.

  • These dreams generally appear before the first symptoms of the illness.

  • Dreams caused by illness are longer than distress dreams caused by ordinary annoyances and persist throughout the night and throughout the duration of the illness

  • The content of the dream can reveal the location and seriousness of the illness.

(Cited in Our Dreaming Mind, by R. Van De Castle, page 363.)
Kasatkin's Theory of Dreams, published in 1967, has never been translated into English. Again, how is it that the medical world is ignoring this important source of information? Could there be something missing in the medical model and treatment of illness?

Three Black Ravens

Three ravens are pecking away at the pink insulation of my house.

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
Black occurs most often in negative dreams, but sometimes black represents the unknown in a positive sense. A general rule regarding black is "Black color in your dream = waking feeling of danger or mystery."
The Universal Dream Key, Patricia Garfield, p. 13.
Black: The unconscious realm. Moving into darkness = suppression, “death of the ego” (first stage of transformation). Beautiful shiny black = a positive view of the unconscious from which a new self and new potentials emerge.
Working with Color in Dreams, Bob Hoss
The blackness in my friend's dream of Darth Vader reminded me of this dream of the ravens, which occurred before I was diagnosed with a blockage in a coronary artery and needed a stent. (See
And what about the pink? Is this the pink of my heart? Am I not in the pink of life?
One of the guidelines in dream interpretation is that every element in the dream is important: clearly, the black color in this raven dream and in the Darth Vader dream convey a certain ominous tone.
However, another guideline in dream interpretation is that each element of the dream needs to be understood uniquely, that there is no universal translation of a dream element. This is why many of the "dream dictonaries", where you look up a particular symbol to see what it means, can be very misleading. They may be useful in providing ideas, but to take these dictionary symbols as true for one's own dreams is to miss the uniqueness and the individual meaning of the dream.

Darth Vader

I had this recurrent nightmare three times…

I am dreaming Darth Vader is on the back porch of the house. It is night. He is dressed in his typical manner in black with the helmet. I awake and feel extreme threat. The hair on the back of my neck is up. I am frightened. I go over and over it in my mind. What is the threat? Does it have to do my wife? My marriage? Is it from my house? The nightmare was never about me.

Six months after the first nightmare I was diagnosed with rectal carcinoidcancer. I had a surgical cure. They found the cancer (which was not otherwise amenable to treatment) over half way through the rectum.

(This was the nightmare of a then forty-seven year psychologist and close friend.)


Darth Vader, the figure from George Lucas Star Wars saga, has become a stable figure in scary dreams. With his dark armor, dark visor, and black cape, he epitomizes the dangerous bogeyman for many people…. The similarity between the word death and the name Darth is registered by the movie watcher, perhaps only subliminally.

The Universal Dream Key, Patricia Garfield, Page 13


I don’t think my friend talked to me about this nightmare at the time, although I do remember him telling me of dreaming of alligators that were out to get him during that time period. He also did not consult anyone about this recurrent nightmare or tell his doctor. (Similarly, I did not take my dream, in the first blog, about the crashing red airplane seriously enough.)

It is not a particularly obscure symbolic leap to see the connection between the back porch and the rectum, or death and Darth Vader.

Repetitive dreams are particularly important; the Unconscious is trying to get the message through, but the information is being ignored and needs to be repeated, often in scary terms.

This reminds me of the line from Ghostbusters -- When you have a nightmare, Who you gonna call?

Actually, you can call the Nightmare Hotline:



This is a twenty-four hour service run by the good people of Cyberdreamwork. These trained people are not going to do therapy or interpret the dream for you, but they will listen generously to you and help you debrief from it.

That Gnawing Feeling

A forty-year old man who had a recurrent dream about a rat gnawing in the lower part of his abdomen was eventually diagnosed as having a duodenal ulcer. After a successful operation for the ulcer, this dream no longer occurred.

Our Dreaming Mind, Robert Van de Castle, Ph.D. p368
(Citing E. Mitchell, "The Physiological Diagnostic Dream, New York Medical Journal 118, 1923, p417)
Physical health appeared to be the most frequently incorporated waking life characteristic in people’s dreams. Those with lower levels of physical health and physical functioning reported more of the following in their dreams:

-- Bodily misfortunes and injury
-- Injuries and illness
-- Medical themes
-- Body parts
-- More mentions of the head

This list of items is evocative of a preoccupation during dreamtime with the physical body and its weakening or deterioration….

The finding that individuals with more pain displayed more animals in their dreams reflects no known previous research. It is speculated that the experience of pain may result in more primitive dreams involving animals.

The Relationship Between Dream Content and Physical Health, Mood, and Self-Construal, David King and Teresa DeCicco, Dreaming, Vol. 7 No. 3 127 –139.


So far in this blog series we have come across a minute mastodon, a horse jumping out of a window, and a gnawing rat. (On a positive note, Asclepius had his healing snakes.) It seems that one needs to pay careful attention as to just what animals are up to in ones dreams.

You may well ask, How often does the average person dream of animals? The ground-breaking classic work in categorizing dreams is The Content Analysis of Dreams by Calvin Hall and Robert Van de Castle, published in 1966. (The average male has animals in 6% of his dreams; the average female has animals in 4% of their dreams.)

There is a vast literature on the symbolic meaning of animals in dreams. Although these links provide some initial suggestions about what the symbols may mean, always keep in mind that the meaning of each dream and each symbol is an individual one.

Web Links

Animals in Dreams

Calvin Hall

A Horse Jumps out the Window

A seventeen year old girl dreams:

I was coming home at night. Everything is as quiet as death. The door into the living room is half open, and I see my mother hanging from the chandelier, swinging to and fro in the cold wind that blows in through the at night. I get up and discover that a frightened horse is tearing through the rooms. At last it finds the door into the hall, and jumps through the hall window from the fourth floor into the street below. I was terrified when I saw it lying there, all mangled.

Jung’s comments:

The gruesome character of the dreams is alone sufficient to make one pause. All the same other people have anxiety dreams now and then. We most therefore look more closely into the meaning of the two main symbols, “mother” and “horse”. They must be equivalents, for they both do the same thing, they commit suicide. “Mother" is an archetype and refers to the place of origin, to nature, to that which passively creates…. It also means the unconscious, our natural and instinctive life… The word “mother" which sounds so familiar, apparently points to the best-known, the individual mother, to “my mother.” But the mother-symbol points to a darker background which eludes conceptual form…

If we apply our findings to the dream, its interpretation will be, “The unconscious life is destroying itself.”

It is evident that “horse” is an equivalent of “mother,” with a slight shift of meaning. The mother stands for life at its origin, the horse for the merely animal life of the body. If we apply this meaning to the text of our dream, its interpretation will be, “The animal life is destroying itself.”

Both dreams point to a grave organic disease with a fatal outcome. This prognosis was soon confirmed.

Dreams, C.G. Jung, pages 106 – 109.


Similar to the dream of the minute mastodon in an earlier blog, Jung predicts a serious organic problem that becomes confirmed at a later time (although in this case there is no indication of what the disease actually was).

The interpretation of this dream is not as obscure as the one about the mastodon; both, however involved symbolic animals that were in trouble. The images of a mother hanging herself and a horse jumping out a window do not forebode well, whether or not one does a detailed analysis of the dream.

What is particularly interesting and valuable about Jung’s method of interpretation is that he goes far beyond the individual idea of the individual mother, and relates the dream to the archetypal level of the mother -- the origin of life which is destroying itself.

Again, I find these dreams that are diagnostic of medical conditions quite astounding, and continue to wonder why dreams are not more part of the medical model of working with patients. Is there something missing in the model?

The Curative Chamber of Aesclepius

[300 B.C.]
N.N. from Argos, epileptic. The man during sleep in the curative chamber saw a vision: he dreamed that the god approached him and pressed his ring upon his mouth, nostrils, and ears – and he recovered.
Cited in The Falling Sickness, Tempkin 1971

Commentary by Adrienne Richards:

The afflicted man has brought himself from Argos to the healing temple at Epidaurus, the most famous of the day. There he has undergone rites and purifications, herbal emetics and physics, preparatory to his night in the curative chamber. When he is deemed ready, he sleeps in the sacred place, and there he dreams of Asklepious, the presiding god of both patients and physicians. Asklepious presses his ring against N.N.’s mouth, his nostrils, and his ears, the three openings where evil is most likely to enter. The ring itself is remarkable. Greek gods, to my knowledge, did not wear rings. It is possible that the ring arose spontaneously form the depths of N.N.’s being, when it was most needed, as an archetypal image of wholeness. It seems almost redundant, “and he recovered.”

The Fiery Wheel: Image and Experiences of Epilepsy; Adrienne Richard, Psychological Perspectives, Fall 1977, pages 349-361.
How is it that someone can be healed on the basis of a dream?
For a thousand years before Christ, pilgrims would go to the temples of Asclepious in search of healing. The supplicants woud travel long distances to go these temples, which were always in a poweful natural setting. Once there, they would eat well, see theatre, go through purification rites. When the time was right, they would be directed to a small chamber in order to have a dream that would guide the priests and the patients in what needed to be done to be cured. Given that this system lasted for a thousand years, they had to be doing something right.
The caduceus, the image of modern medicine with the snakes and staff, was developed from the cult of Asklepious. (Snakes, since they shed their skin, were associated with renewal and healing.)
The original Hippocratic Oath begins,
I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Aesclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods...
In the dream mentioned at the beginning of the blog, the epileptic profoundly experiences an image that apparently heals him: How does this happen?
Time to build a Curative Chamber.

The Red Sun

I would paint the wind...

Arthur Dove

An artist friend, Barbara Tudor, told me last year that the drawings I had done after my heart attack reminded her of the work of Arthur Dove, the first American abstract painter.

I looked at his work on the Web, and came across his painting of the Red Sun. To me there was an eerie similarity with the Red Sun and something I had drawn and called The Spiral Maze. I read further about him -- He thrived most in the out-of-doors, worked on a farm, lived on a houseboat. He sounded as if he would feel right at home in Alaska. To my astonishment, he made this painting four years before he had a disabling heart attack, in 1939.

A year after I saw this painting, I was visiting the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I saw one of his works, and proceeded to tell my brother how one of Dove's paintings was somehow similar to a drawing I had done.

I walked up to the next level, and suddenly there was the Red Sun. The Real Thing. I was stunned. I sat down and cried, and cried on and off for the rest of the day. These were not all unhappy tears.

Dreams and art (at its best) both are representations of the Unconscious. This experience for me was a confirmation of Jung’s theory of archetypes, that there are universal, underlying and connecting patterns within all of us.

Web Links

The Phillips Collection: The Red Sun

Wikipedia: Arthur Dove

Wikipedia: Archetypes

The Spiral Maze

The Minute Mastodon

Someone beside me kept on asking me something about oiling some machinery. Milk was suggested as the best lubricant. Apparently I thought that oozy slime was preferable. Then a pond was drained, and amid the slime there were two distinct animals. One was a minute mastodon. I forgot what the other one was.

The doctor who heard this dream from a patient sent the dream to Carl Jung:

I thought it would be of interest to submit this dream to Jung to ask him what his interpretation would be. He had no hesitation in saying that it indicated some organic disturbance, and that the illness was not primarily a psychological one… The draining of the pond he interpreted as the damming-up of the cerrebrospinal fluid circulation.

When Jung was asked about this at his Tavistock Lectures in London in 1935, Jung commented:

The doctors of antiquity and of the Middle ages used dreams for their diagnosis…. It is really a matter of special experience…. The dream you mentioned was a dream of a little mastodon. To explain what that mastodon really means in an organic respect and why I must take that dream as an organic symptom would start such an argument that you would start an argument that you would accuse me of the most terrible obscurantism. These things really are obscure. When I speak of archetypal patterns those who are aware of these things understand, but if you are not aware you think, This fellow is absolutely crazy because he talks of mastodons and their difference from snakes and horses. I should have to give you a course of about four semesters about symobology first so that you could appreciate what I said.

(Analytical Psychology in Theory and Practice, page 74.)

When I first came across this dream and interpretation many years ago, I found it absolutely astounding that Jung could distinguish between an organic disturbance and a psychological based on dreams like this. I still do. If this is so, if there is such information available in dreams that could be so important in diagnosis, why is it still so ignored? This was written over eighty-years ago; what kind of progress are we making?

(I would also note that this interpretation is, indeed, obscure. The first two dreams mentioned in this blog were not this obscure; they were symbolically descriptive of bodily processes in a way that would not take years of training in symbolism.)

The Healing Path


The top of my head has been drilled with three, neat bloody holes. An iron pot filled with red-hot coals has been hung under my chin. My arms are tied with a length of clear plastic tubing. “We are going to boil your brains out”, one of my invisible torturers announces. His voice is flat, matter-of-fact; he is a technician, not a sadist. I feel the heat sear my throat and I scream, the sound becoming hoarser, a raw animal desperation, as the coals gnaw my larynx. “Please God” though I can’t now believe in God—“ Please..." I feel an emotion I have never known in my waking life – complete hopelessness; a black, no-exit despair…..

I have cancer, I blurt out, before I can think about it. I have cancer growing in my throat….

When I told the doctor I had cancer, he looked at me quizzically… I told him of the increasingly weird dreams I had been having... It was then he found the lump…. A few weeks later the tests showed thyroid cancer.

The Healing Path, Marc Ian Barasch

I came across this dream, in the prologue of Barasch's book, a week after I started this blog about dreams and diagnosis. Carl Jung claimed that when he started working on an essay about the aborigines of Australia, he suddenly started all sorts of related material in the mail; this was part of his belief in synchronicity.

There are a lot more dreams in Barasch’s book; it is quite a story about dreams and healing. I am at a loss for words.
For more in depth material about dreams, go to: