Dancing in the Flames, by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson

Woodman, Marion, and Dickson, Elinor; Dancing in the Flames: the Dark Goddess and the New Mythology; Published in the USA by Shambhala Publications Inc, Boston, Mass, and in Australia by Allen and Unwin Pty Ltd, St Leonards, NSW; 1996, 1997.
ISBN 1 86448 151 X, ISBN 1570623139

Review by Colin Robinson

The Dark Goddess in Our Dreams

Perhaps the most important thing about Jungian psychology is the way it affirms the religious value of personal experience. Not only the value of the ecstasies experienced by saints, but also of the dreams which come every night to ordinary, flawed human beings.

This is the spirit in which Dancing in the Flames looks at the Goddess-related dreams of western people today.

The book does not consist entirely of writing about dreams. There is also a section giving an overview of Goddess imagery in western cultural history, a few pages on India’s vision of Kali, and a section which attempts to link the Goddess with Jung’s writing about synchronicity. But it was especially the dream material (both the dreams themselves and the discussion of them) which I found new and significant.

Woodman and Dickson present dreams reported by men as well as by women, showing us that the Goddess can be important to people of both sexes, just as masculine God-images can be important for both. They demonstrate ways in which dreams of divine powers can be related to unromantic, everyday issues which the dreamers are grappling with: work problems, unfulfilling relationships, addictions, eating disorders.

They understand that the images we encounter in dreams can represent real sources of danger, as well as real sources of healing; and that the relation between dangerous and healing figures is subtle and paradoxical.

Although the book emphasizes the healing qualities of Goddess figures, the authors do not claim that all feminine figures in dreams represent healing rather than danger. On the contrary, they warn us that there is also a dangerous aspect of the Mother, which is connected with addiction, and which sometimes appears in dreams as a crocodile. (This parallels the shakta teaching that both attachment and liberation express the power of Mahamaya, the universal mother also known as Kali. 1)

Similarly, they recognize that a horned male figure in a dream can represent two different things. He may be a personification of naturalness and connection with the Feminine: a real Horned God. Or he may be a personification of opportunism and deceit: a Horned Devil.

Even a figure who appears to be very light can actually represent serious trouble:
Women trapped in anorexia love and dread the light. They are in real danger of being swept off the earth by their perfectionist ideals and demands for perfect order. In dreams, these standards at first appear as a light figure, even a Christ figure. As the anorexic becomes more ill, this figure becomes demonic. Men, too, are vulnerable to being carried out of reality by the light. 2
Once we take that the point that a figure of light can be dangerous, it becomes easier to understand how a dark figure, a black Madonna or black Goddess, can be a source of inspiration. As light is associated with the sky, the spirit and the masculine, dark is associated with the earth, the body and the feminine. A great theme of this book is our need to balance these two sides, to recognize the sacredness of both.


Another important point the book makes is that the dangerous or healing character of an image can change. The role the image will eventually come to play depends largely on the attitude taken by the dreamer’s conscious self (ego). A striking example of this is a woman’s dream in which crocodiles, described by the dreamer as “strange” and “ugly”, turn into shoals of small beautiful fish after she stops trying to escape from them. 3

Much depends on whether the ego loses itself in an archetypal figure (identification) or whether it enters into a relationship with him/her/it.
...mud and crocodiles hold immense creative energy so long as you are not being sucked into them...To identify is “to become” the God or Goddess without the feminine ground to reestablish the boundaries that return us to our humanity. To relate is to know that the ego is the instrument through which the divine energy flows. 4
This calls to mind a statement by Ramprasad, the great eighteenth century Bengali poet of Kali, that he wishes to taste sugar, not to become sugar. 5

The woman who dreamed of the crocodiles changing into fish had another dream which expresses the sense of relationship clearly. Feeling very small, she went up an apparently endless flight of steps. She encountered a woman ten feet high (i.e. three metres) who had a flowing gown and a big smile. The dreamer shouted out: “I’m not you, I’m ME -- ME! Do you understand? I’m strong too!” The tall woman embraced her. She woke up and began to cry. 6


I was impressed by the authors’ response to a man’s dream which revealed his anger toward his mother-image. This man, referred to as “James”, dreamed that a tall old woman led him into a cave. At the centre of the cave, she showed him a large mirror. In the mirror he saw a picture of himself, kicking his mother in the vagina. He felt horrified.

The authors do not dwell on the obvious political incorrectness of the image. Nor do they indulge in futile argument about whether or not the dreamer’s mother deserves such anger. They suggest that the dream is not really about her at all:
...while this mother in the depths of the cave appears as his personal mother, the energy she presents is archetypal...He was so identified with Mother Church, Mother Corporation, Mother Wife that he could not know who he was. The metaphor in the dream had the power to liberate him... 7


Dancing in the Flames is a valuable book, especially for those of us who have had Goddess-related dreams of our own; for it can be very helpful to compare one’s own dreams with those of other people. A topic which needs to be further explored is the relationship between such dreams and events like the foundation of a Kali temple in Toronto, which is briefly mentioned in the text. 8

How does the Dark Goddess of dreams (personal experience) relate to the Kali of temples, festivals and scriptures (shared experience)? Are personal and shared experience fundamentally different, or are they two sides of a single coin? Is it possible for us to affirm simultaneously the worth of both?

1 See for instance Jagadiswarananda, Swami (trans); Devi Mahatmyam; Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1953; chapter 1 verses 55 - 56. This topic was discussed in the March 1996 issue of Ferment.
2 Allen and Unwin edition, 1996; p 65
3 Allen and Unwin edition, 1996; p 148
4 Allen and Unwin edition, 1996; p 6
5 Sinha, J. (trans); Rama Prasada’s Devotional Songs; Sinha Publishing, Calcutta, 1966; Song 25.
6 Allen and Unwin edition, 1996; p 150 -151
7 Allen and Unwin edition, 1996; p 119
8 Allen and Unwin edition, 1996; p 14

Review first published Dec 1996 in the journal Ferment
Revised for the Web.
Review © Colin Robinson 1996.
Artwork © Colin Robinson 1999, 2007.

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