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The Pelican

In Grace's dream she is sitting on a beach being pestered by a dark red pelican . Grace tries to ignore the bird, but it keeps bothering her. Finally she loses patience and kicks at the pelican, landing a blow right on the bird's neck. The pelican flies away and suddenly Grace feels terrible with an intense sense of guilt. Irrationally, she thinks that she has hurt the bird's feelings. But then the pelican comes back, and Grace pets it, amazed that it is as soft as a kitten. Then she finds herself on the boardwalk with the pelican flying above her.

When I received Grace's email, I became so excited I could barely write a decent response. In Christian tradition, the Pelican is a living symbol (a "type") of Christ. Ancient people once believed that if a mother pelican could not find fish to feed her chicks, she would intentionally wound her own breast and feed her offspring with her lifeblood. This was seen as a natural revelation of Jesus Christ, who saves and "feeds" all of God's children through the sacrifice of his own blood on the Cross and through Holy Communion.

The Pelican in Grace's dream is the color of blood, underlining the symbolic sacrifice. When Grace kicks the bird in her dream, she insults not only the Pelican but also the One whom the Pelican represents. When the Pelican returns and accepts Grace's touch, she receives symbolic forgiveness. At the conclusion of this amazing dream, the Pelican remains with Grace, protectively hovering over her.

I told Grace that she had been given a beautiful parable that reflected her own name. Yet her reaction was nonchalant and she seemed unimpressed by the images that left me stunned.

The Pelican Dream is a reminder to me that dreams can be "true" on many levels. Grace may or may not understand the timeless grandeur of the symbols in her dream, but I hope she received some sense of "undeserved favor," which is divine grace. Perhaps all she understands from the dream now is that she needs to be more careful about what and whom she kicks when she gets irritated. Maybe the dream will remain somewhere in her subconscious mind, and mean more to her sometime in the future.

Yet the image of the sacrificial Pelican came into Grace's dream from somewhere. Carl Jung called the wellspring of such images the Universal Unconscious. In my mind, it remains the mystery of grace.

Under the Rose

Ben's dream contained a number of classic images:

I was sitting in a chair, staring at a burning red rose. I remember watching it as it burned, then leaning over and blowing it out. It left a trail of rising smoke like a candle or a cigar.   Then in a different part of the same dream, I'm sitting in the same chair at the end of a hallway in my house, again, just staring. Although all the doors are shut, I can hear banging and screaming from beyond the doors. I walk down the hall and open a door at the end. Inside there are two beds with a table in between them and a candle burning. There is a person in each bed with a black bag over each of their heads.

The burning rose appears at the beginning of Ben's dream, which suggests that it is the theme of what follows. An ancient expression that is still in use is sub rosa, under the rose. That phrase is used when something secret is being discussed that is to be revealed only to those present. Seeing the rose burn suggests that the bond of secrecy has been broken.

The house, the hallway, the locked doors and covered faces are all common dream symbols that we will examine elsewhere. But here I want to consider the Burning Rose.

Burning roses are popular as tattoo motifs, commonly thought to symbolize passionate love. In related imagery, when the Burning Rose is extinguished, love dies. Ironically, in ancient Christian tradition, the Burning Rose was a dual symbol, combining the Rose of the Virgin Mary with the Burning Bush of God the Father.

But centuries before Christianity, the Rose appeared in Greek mythology. Aphrodite gave a Rose to her son, Eros, who in turn gave it to Harpocrites, to insure that the goddess's many dalliances would remain unmentioned. Roses were painted and carved on the ceilings to encourage guests to respect any secrets that might be mentioned, particularly when wine was involved. The expression "sub rosa," if not the use of the rose itself, has continued into modern times. Now it has a somewhat darker tone, having been associated with organized crime in the 20th Century, and more recently with "black ops" and covert military operations.

Mary on a Unicorn or Jesus on a Rhinoceros?

Tim was completely freaked out by a dream in which he saw the Lord Jesus Christ riding a rhinoceros. But I was excited, because his subconscious mind seemed to have tapped into a wayward stream of the Universal Unconscious.

For many centuries, the Unicorn has been a symbol of virginity, and by association, of the Virgin Mary. Similarly, for centuries the Rhinoceros has been used as a distorted sort of Unicorn.

Throughout the Medieval era, it was virtually impossible for the Church to imagine holiness without virginity. Conversely, virginity tends to be dismissed as unimportant in our modern culture, a void rather than a virtue. So the Rhino may be a more appropriate, unattractive symbol; compared to the Unicorn, nobody admires the Rhinoceros.

The 20th Century surrealist artist Salvador Dali produced several famous paintings involving virgins and rhinoceros horns. Less artistically but more widely seen, the surrealistic television series Twin Peaks had an episode involving a rhinoceros and the Virgin Mary.

So Tim's dream image is not only appropriate but fascinating. Jesus is, without question, the ultimate symbol of male purity in Western culture. The Rhinoceros may be a perversion of the Unicorn, but it is undoubtedly larger, stronger, and a force to be reckoned with.

So, sweet Jesus riding a Rhino! This is a terrific dream.