The Dream and the Ancient Path (Jungian Psychology in Everyday Life Series)

"The Ancient Path"

“The Ancient Path”

I don’t usually write about my own dreams on this blog, but I had a recent dream that reminded me of an elemental truth. Here is the dream:

I was riding a horse down a river with the water up to the horse’s knees, and I had a fishing rod in my hand and I was fishing. I looked to the river bank, and someone pointed out an ancient path still visible on the river bank and below the high water line. There were exposed rocks marking the path and an ancient human skull. I think the dream took place in England.

This dream reminded me of the truth that there is an ancient path still available to modern men and women. Perhaps the most direct method to access this path is through our dreams at night, and Jungian psychology and psychotherapy can be a map and container for this quest and process.

One of my favorite Jungian authors who wrote about the concept that I’m calling “the ancient path” is analyst and evolutionary psychiatrist Anthony Stevens. It was while I was re-reading his excellent book, The Two Million-Year-Old Self, that I had the above dream.

The images of the ancient path and the human skull from my dream represented my own ancient path and inner ancient man, my two million-year-old Self. In the dream I was also riding a horse down river while fishing. These are further dream images that stress the spiritual significance of this dream for me.

Dreams are not like tonsils. Vestigial structures or organs like tonsils, no longer seem to serve a purpose. There may be no practical or obvious reasons for us to still have ancient, vestigial organs like our tonsils, but there are deep, spiritual, psychological and evolutionary reasons for us to continue to carry forward a relationship with dreams and the ancient path.

Dreams have an important spiritual and psychological structure and function, and a reductionary approach to them akin to that of a vestigial structure or organ, is diminishing one of the last true “oases of spiritual vitality,” left to us, as Stevens (1993) so aptly puts it.

Dreams continue to remind us of this fact like they did for me in my above dream. These messages simply do not go away. For psychotherapists who work with dreams, we see again and again in our clients’ dreams important references to dreams as meaningful, spiritual, and functional–pointing toward a way of being that can fittingly be described as an “ancient way or path.” Stevens (1993) said, “Dreams represent our primordial habitat, our last wilderness, and we must protect them with as much fervor as the rain forests, the ozone layer, the elephant, and the whale” (p. 123).

A large part of that which makes Jungian psychology and psychotherapy unique is profound respect for the ancient path. Protecting dreams and the ancient path is typically embraced by both the Jungian psychotherapist and his or her client for any deep psychological change process to take place.

Stevens (1993, p. 119) posed an excellent question toward the conclusion of his book. He said, “What may we do about making the two million-year-old man or woman within us feel more at home in the contemporary world?” This question is particularly fitting in this modern age of run-away technology and consumerism, which is more and more competing with the ancient way and core principles, values and behavior that make us uniquely human. Steven’s question is tasked to all of us and we all will have our own individual and unique answer to his question.

What can you do to make your two million-year-old man or woman, feel more at home in your world? Although we will need to answer this question for ourselves, there are a few things we do know. The ancient path helps to make us whole, and brings a deep kind of meaning and purpose that cannot be discovered elsewhere. Meaning that is generated from a connection to the ancient path and the deep Self, the two million-year-old man or woman within, has the potential to transform and bring balance to the individual psyche and to a life and world that has lost touch with the dream and the vital ancient ways.


Stevens, A. (1993). The Two Million-Year-Old Self. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.


© 2013, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses to The Dream and the Ancient Path (Jungian Psychology in Everyday Life Series)

  1. Laura Smith says:

    Thanks for this article. I just ordered the book you referenced. I am a student and practitioner of Archetypal Dreamwork. I really like what you are saying here about the importance of the what the dreams have to offer us. This important part of us has been lost or is ignored by most people. Our ability to turn inward to this ancient part of ourselves seems to have been supplanted by our shadow.

    • Dr. Howlin says:

      Hi Laura,

      You bring up an interesting idea about the shadow and its relationship to the “ancient” part of ourselves. If you liked this article of mine, I think you will also enjoy the book by Anthony Stevens that I referenced in the article. I appreciate the comment and wish you the best in your studies!

      Dr. Howlin

      • Laura Smith says:

        Thanks Dr. Howlin, I believe that I understand the shadow is defined as that which is not known, is really that which IS known to us but that we may (prefer to) be blind to. In other words, it consists of the aspects of our ego which have developed to help us cope and survive in the world and are so a part of our substrate that we do not see them in any way as separate from ourselves. These pathological aspects of our character would prefer to remain “hidden”.

        But the greater unknown is the possibility of who we are if these mechanisms were stripped away, which can only begin when we bring them into our awareness sufficiently to acknowledge how they run us in the world.

        On a collective level, the shadow seems to have completely blinded us to our connection to the ancient part of ourselves. Evidenced as you stated by the contemporary world and the mechanization of our society. Our world view is so oriented towards the outerworld reality rather than a spiritual based innerworld reality. Hence no awareness on our part for what is really happening on our planet on a soul-planet level.

  2. Dr. Howlin says:

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for expanding on this discussion. I agree that more of a focus on the inner world is necessary to help to bring balance to a society that leans too far in the other direction, so to speak.

    Dr. Howlin

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