The symbolism of the Thief is not what you might think

I think people fear certain symbols in dreams and in even tarot readings. We apply our western judgements and morals to symbols and we fail to see that the potential that a symbol, such as, thief, devil, or death, for instance, might carry qualities that we need to integrate in our lives in order to be whole. We tend to only see the negative side and don’t see the positive side in the symbol.

Here is an excerpt from Robert A Johnson from his book: : “Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth” discussing the meaning of the thief in dreams.

If there is a thief in your dream, it doesn’t literally mean that you are a thief. The dream uses this dramatic image to get your attention and tell you that you need to wake up to something inside you. It may be that you have been dishonest with yourself in some way. If so, you need to be aware of it and deal with it. But the image of the thief may also mean that you have repressed some fine quality in yourself, figuratively “locked it out” of your life, and the only way it can get back into your life is to “break in” like a burglar.

Because we often repress the best parts of ourselves and think of them as “negative” qualities, some of the richest parts of the self—even the voice of God itself—can only partake in our lives by “stealing” our time, stealing our energy through compulsions and neurosis, and slipping into our lives in the unprotected places where our guard is down:

Of the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write you. For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night. (Paul, to the Thessalonians)

Our egos divide the world into positive and negative, good and bad. Most aspects of our shadows, these qualities that we see as “negative,” would in fact be valuable strengths if we made them gconscious. Characteristics that look immoral, barbaric, or embarrassing to us are the “negative” side of a valuable energy, a capacity we could make use of. You will never find anything in the unconscious that will not be useful and good when it is made conscious and brought to the right level.

What part of you will be hidden behind this symbol, the thief? Perhaps a lively trickster, with all sorts of surprising talents. Perhaps a juvenile delinquent in you who has never been allowed to grow up and put his heroic urge into something useful and mature. Perhaps it is Dionysus, who has had to hide out in the unconscious because you have no natural place for his ecstatic and lyrical spirit in the midst of your purposive life.

Only you will be able to say what part of you is represented by this symbol if it appears in your dream—for it is your own unconscious that holds the clues. But you may be sure that if you give it its place, and hear what it has to say, it will be revealed as a valuable part of your inner self.

Curiously, people usually resist their good qualities even more emphatically than they resist facing their negative qualities. There may be a character in your dream who behaves in a noble and courageous way. Since that inner person is part of you, its qualities are also yours. So long as you are facing your negative and immature traits squarely, you also have a duty to acknowledge the fine qualities in yourself, and to live them consciously.

Excerpt from: “Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth” by Robert A. Johnson.