The genius behind the methodology of amplification is Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Jung felt that dream images are much more than just repressed infantile wishes and drives, more than connections to the circumstances of the day. They originate, he said, in the collective human psyche and can represent universal archetypes. That is, dream images are similar to the characters and themes found in fairy tales, mythology, religion, and world literature. They are archetypal in that they can tell you something of the grand story in which you live.
From Jung’s point of view, the method of association is not the only way to work with dreams. By working with Jung’s process of amplification, you will discover a dream image’s connections to universal cultural themes. For example, in a dream image of a lion, you might find, in addition to repressed feelings, the representation of royalty or nobility, or The Lion King, or the zodiac sign of Leo. Lions are also fierce protectors, presiding over home and palace alike, as guardians at the gates. And in many mythologies, lions symbolize the heart. Think of the name Richard the Lionheart.
When associating to the lion image in our dream, it could be a stand-in for infantile rage. However, when amplifying it, the lion now points to something regal, noble, fierce, or big-hearted in nature. Using amplification, you expand the image into its archetypal depth and then see how that archetypal motif—the teaching story—is currently active in your life.
This amplificatory process takes you in a much different direction than association. Amplification opens you to the great teachings that are alive and active in dream images. These stories tell about the perils of your situation, the potential positive outcomes, the strategic teachings, and the collective wisdom of generations past. As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “dreams are like myths.” A myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to sanctioned social interactions. Every night, the dreaming psyche is generating something of your own personal mythology, informing you about origins, values, and so on. A single dream image, amplified through literature and mythology, can offer you tremendous insight into your life.
When Jung’s ideas came into my life, I began to understand how dream images worked in both the cultural imagination and in the circumstances of my own experiences. As you dive into the open-ended world of amplification, I believe that your imagination will open ever more widely, and you, too, will gain access to the archetypal themes of human experience that both inform and help guide your life purpose.
Written by Stephen Aizenstat
Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the founder of Dream Tending, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and the Academy of Imaginal Arts and Sciences. He is a world-renowned professor of depth psychology, an imagination specialist, and an innovator. He has served as an organizational consultant to major companies and institutions, and as a depth psychological content advisor to Hollywood film makers. He has lectured extensively in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. He is affiliated with the Earth Charter International project through the United Nations, where he has spoken. Professor Aizenstat is the Chancellor Emeritus and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has collaborated with many notable masters in the field including Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman, and Robert Johnson.