Dream Symbolism: Attacked by Raccoon
The most commonly used tool for decoding dream symbolism is the association technique. It harkens back to the beginning of modern psychological study of dreams and is practiced today in therapist’s offices and dream groups as well individually by people wanting insights into their dreams.
Association is simple. Anyone can do it. You say the first words that come to mind in relation to a dream symbol. Like this:
- If I say “rocket,” you say?
- If I say “basketball,” you say?
- If I say “father,” you say?
Association helps to uncover the personal meaning of your dream symbols because your personal associations are used by your dreams to create symbolism. Oftentimes associations are thought of in the general sense, such as rockets generally being described as fast, powerful, and capable of flight. But your personal experiences in life with the symbols from your dreams are more revealing to the meaning. Rarely are these associations accurately guessed by outsiders because of the infinite variety of personal experience that can be used to create dream symbolism. It’s up to you, and I can only show you how to do it for yourself.
Look at the associations I gave for a rocket. They are typical. But what if the rocket is on a launching pad in a dream? It’s not displaying its speed or power or capability of flight. The person who has the dream associates the rocket with “potential.” With that clue, the decoding process goes in the direction of analyzing how the dreamer is like that rocket’s potential for speed, power, or flight. Those words can be used to describe a person as well as a rocket. You might say that the dreamer is ready to take off.
Now let’s go a step further in showing how association works. I have a terrific example provided by a post at the reddit.com dreams forum, where I am known as “RadOwl” the dream expert. First, here’s how the person describes the dream:
I dreamed last night that I was camping in the wilderness, when the ground suddenly gave out beneath me and I fell, still inside my tent, hundreds of feet until I landed in a raging river. My tent floated like a boat and I rode out the rapids until the water got calmer.
There was a raccoon stuck on a rock in the center of the river. It couldn’t swim to shore, so I tried to help it. But it attacked me instead, ripping my tent to shreds and making me fall into the water. I woke up after that.
The dream provides a few symbols that help tell the story and are ripe for using association technique to uncover the meaning. Camping is associated with getting back to nature, going it alone, survival, and living simply. The wilderness can symbolize being lost or trying to find your way. A tent is a shelter that’s flimsy, a temporary dwelling. A river is associated with the course of a person’s life. A raging river can be thought of as a symbol for turbulence in life.
But the symbol and associations that really uncover the meaning of the dream are the raccoon and its actions. Symbols by themselves give us only hints of meaning, but when put into context and shown in action they are very revealing, such as the river shown as raging at first then calm later. “Raging” and “calm” help to define the symbolism of “river.”
To help this person decode the dream, I first used another dream decoding technique: simplification. It’s a quick way of aiming right at the heart of a dream’s meaning. Sometimes people get caught up in analyzing the minutia of a dream and miss the big picture. The meaning is right there if you simplify the story down to a sentence that sums up what it is about. It’s not always the best way to approach a dream, but comes in handy when pressed for time. This dream, to me, is best summed up as being punished or attacked for trying to be helpful.
That’s what happens when the dreamer tries to help the raccoon. But why does the dream use a raccoon? If you think of common associations with a raccoon you might say “scavenger,” “nocturnal,” or “wild.” Also, because a raccoon looks like it’s wearing a mask, it is commonly associated with hiding or concealing. Do those associations fit together with other details of the dream to tell a story? Not really. The association the dreamer came up with is too personal for an outsider such as myself to guess. Here’s what he said:
I did used to go camping a lot when I was a kid, and my family would always get mad at me when I tried to feed raccoons. Maybe it has something to do with that…being punished for trying to be helpful.
Now we’re getting somewhere. We have an association that might explain why the dream puts the dreamer into a scenario where he is camping and the raccoon attacks him. Only the dreamer knows that when he was a kid his parents got mad when he tried to feed the raccoons.
The next step is to compare what we’ve learned about the dream to the dreamer’s recent life. Most dreams are based on events in a person’s life from the past day or two. The events can be part of outer life or inner life. In fact, most dreams connect with a person’s inner life. With that in mind the dreamer has a place to focus and a question to ask that might reveal the meaning of the dream: In what way (if any) does he feel like he is being punished for trying to be helpful?
That’s where we left off so I can’t tell you what has happened recently in the dreamer’s life that sparked the dream. It might not be an event but instead the dream is trying to show the roots of a pattern. Perhaps the dreamer hesitates to be helpful because of his early childhood experience with the raccoons. Perhaps his self-defenses are flimsy like the tent, but are also the only thing keeping him afloat personally. Perhaps the dreamer went through a recent period of turbulence in his life and somehow the lesson about not helping raccoons translates to hesitance to help himself. It’s hard to say without more information.
But through the use of association technique we have strong clues to the meaning of the dream and ultimately to learning its message.
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