Women’s Initiation Dreams

I recently came across a book by Jungian Analyst, Eve Jackson called, “Food and Transformation.” In this book, she describes the symbolism of food and consciousness. In her book, she describes an initiation dream that has become more and more common among women. This dream is a beautiful example of the way our dreams communicate with us.


I was in an airplane flying very close to the ground as if we were about to land, We were very close to the roof tops of the houses below when all of a sudden we took off back up in the air at a very sharp angle. I realized that there must have been another plane close by and we had to go back up to avoid crashing. Then we were all on the ground, somewhere on a busy street with lots of people and shops, and we were all feeling very relieved. I also realized that we were still in London and was surprised as I knew we had been in the air a long time and thought our destination had been New York. The street was thronging with people, and a few other women and myself were talking with an unknown older woman. She had baked a big doll/statue out of Rice Krispies and she was encouraging us to sample it. I also noticed that she had Rice Krispies all over her. and she may have been made of the cereal herself. I took a little piece out of the doll as I like baked Rice Krispies. When I looked up again, about to reach for another piece, she had gone.


This is another dream with a strong feeling of initiation about it, this time into women’s mysteries. The dreamer, Claire, in her late thirties, had embarked on therapy when trying to withdraw from a relationship which was not what she really wanted, and she was beset by panicky feelings. She had been in therapy for quite some time when this dream came, and things had moved very slowly. The dream begins in the air. This height theme had featured in her dreams quite often: flying with or without an aircraft, being off the ground, living on top of a hill, climbing a crystal mountain. Flight, or rising above things, though it can give useful perspective and even a rapturous and inspiring view, is often a reaction to fear, fear of engagement with life in a concrete way, of making things real and facing the consequences, the risk of disappointment, of getting hurt, of being found wanting.

Claire had a younger brother, who as the only boy in the family had commanded a greater investment of interest and expectation from her parents, and an older sister who had a robust style of demanding and getting what she wanted. A shy, introverted child, often tearful in her early years, especially it seems after the birth of her brother, Claire had not been able to get enough in the way of attention and support. Her father, whom she had had great affection for and a degree of identification with, was away a lot and his life was not centered on the home. Her mother set Claire an example of what appeared to be a very limited and conventional life, dedicated to serving her often absent husband, and she seemed unable to relate much to Claire’s feelings.
The main message Claire drew from her early life, though it remained unconscious for a very long time, was that she was not good enough, had something wrong with her, couldn’t have what she wanted as other people could. 

The family tree revealed a pattern of passive women afraid to live their own lives, and this was working itself out in Claire’s life too. The unvoiced fear of some basic inadequacy gnawed away at her so that each time she tentatively reached for something she wanted and failed to get, it seemed to confirm her doom, leading her to withdraw prematurely from the battle, or not to venture at all. She had many dream images corresponding to this inner paralysis, particularly of prone figures in death-like states, and occasional dreadful moments of freezing in waking life too, of being unable to speak or act.

When images of food came up in her dreams Claire usually did not get any, except when she stuffed cakes or chocolate pudding into her dream mouth in desperate compensation, craving sweetness.(Others concretize this image in compulsive eating.) At other times there were images of food that had gone bad: life stuff that had not been embraced, that had gone to waste, potential nourishment that hadn’t been realized, hadn’t been used to help her gain substance so she could fully occupy her space in life. She had one dream in which her mother had cooked a pot of one of her favorite kinds of food. but it was not for her.

To return to the dream, the dreamer starts off in the air, but coming down. Fear of a crash sends the plane up again in a sudden, sharp-angled panic, but eventually it manages to land. Claire told me that someone else was in control of the plane, presumably a man, the inner pilot who is so inclined to take off with her he had also appeared as a dancing partner who danced her off the ground. When we get off the ground we are moving in the realm of the abstract as opposed to the concrete. This is often much more comfortable for us; we can view life with a certain detachment and avoid facing difficult realities.

The pilot, however, does now bring her down safely, if bumpily, and into a busy street with shops. She has landed in a much frequented place, that is, the dream describes an experience common to the run of citified humanity, an everyday sort of state where there is plenty of movement, of to-ing and froing. Shops are places of exchange; metaphorically they offer possibilities for investing psychic energy in something we want or need. The street is in London, which Claire considered home, rather than New York, which might have been more exciting, a place to escape to for a stimulating break. She is back in her habitual world.

In the midst of this familiar activity she finds herself in feminine company. The central figure is the woman with the curious doll. “She had Rice Krispies all over her, and she may have been made of the cereal herself.” This mysterious figure is nothing less than a twentieth- century version of the great Grain Mother.

Claire recalled that her grandmother used to make cakes out of Rice Krispies, which she had enjoyed as a child. Many mythological figures cluster around the theme of cultivation in general and cereal growth in particular, but above all, far and wide, we find the Grain Mother in her various manifestations. For the Greeks she was Demeter, for the Romans, Ceres. Behind the civilizing figure of Osiris stands his sister-wife Isis, who discovered the wheat that Osiris cultivated. In Asia there are Rice Goddesses, in North and South America Corn (Maize) Mothers. The annually renewed plant growth tends to be identified with a young deity, often a maiden who is the youthful form of the Mother, sometimes a youth. Inherent to many of these stories is the theme of death and resurrection, of a journey to the underworld and a connection with the presiding deity of the realm of shadows.

The greater emphasis on female figures in these myths gives them a particular importance in relation to feminine development, remembering always that the gods, who were once projected outward and seen as external realities, are now to be found in the living web of the psyche. The more agriculture becomes mechanized, the more it is seen as a job for men, but the vast amount of cultivation has always been done by women. Men came onto the scene with the transformative plow, which simulates the sexual act with the “female” earth and thus gave rise to a whole new set of myths based on the divine marriage. But cultivation first developed out of gathering, as women’s work, and women were then in the vanguard of human progress. The awe-inspiring process by which the seed is buried and appears to die, only to produce, in due season, abundant new growth and new grains, all this attended by rituals of soil preparation, watering, weeding and watching, and in accordance with rhythms that required intimate knowledge, all this was in the hands of woman, who became mistress of the fields and of abundance, and priestess of the mysteries of the life cycle.

In other words, the feminine psyche developed with the discovery of agriculture, including also the processing and cooking of the produce. To give one example of the psychological import of this work, a number of fairy stories describe a woman’s task of separating out different kinds of grains or lentils, or the good seed from the bad; metaphorically, this is the sorting out of things at the seed stage so that they don’t cause mix-ups later. This process of delicate and painstaking discrimination is characteristic of the development of feminine consciousness.

What are we to make of the Rice Krispie doll? Claire told me it wasshaped like an undefined woman. In rice growing countries, a rice doll is sometimes made at the end of the harvest for the soul of the Rice Goddess to inhabit until the new crop is sown or harvested. In Britain, the “corn dolly” plays a similar role. Traditionally, grains used in such an artifact are later sown, or fed to stock, as they are believed to increase fertility, so a bite of the doll could be expected to bring fruitfulness into the life of the eater. The doll is also tied up with the secret of where life goes when it is invisible. It is a visible carrier of that mysterious life which dries up, is destroyed and consumed, buried and resurrected, the botanical and agricultural process conveying metaphorically the equally mysterious process of psychic renewal. The relevant myth that still seems full of vitality in the Western psyche is that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who while picking flowers is seized by Hades and taken down by him to become queen of the Underworld.

Why the dream cereal is rice remains somewhat obscure. It did not particularly feature in Claire’s life or upbringing, except as Rice Krispies; she described it simply as the main foodstuff of a large percentage of the world’s population. Perhaps it is important that it comes from farther away than the grains of her own culture, and therefore relates to a process which is a little farther from consciousness. The childhood connotations and the connection with her grandmother are obviously important, linking her personal experience of mothering with the mythical figure. It is also significant that some time earlier Claire had had a dream in which she came to see me and found some other women present, and a buffet meal of which one of the main ingredients was white rice. This clearly prefigures the dream of the gathering of women around the Rice Krispie woman and places the rice in the context of the analysis.

At the time of the first dream Claire had said that she found plain white rice rather unappetizing, and in a dream soon after it she was throwing away left-over white rice after a dinner party; there was obviously more of it than she could stomach. Apropos of Rice Krispie cakes she said they were more interesting than plain rice. A subtle but important shift had happened, for now she wanted more; perhaps something had been presented in a more palatable way.

One of the themes of the dream is that of being fed by the Good Mother, with whom Claire had had so little contact. She was finding something nourishing in the analytic work; she was able to assimilate more readily. But here it is not the Fruit Mother, who connects us with that glorious state of oneness and the primal, natural surge of life; it is the Grain Mother, who teaches of engagement with the soil out of which new life can come. The themes of coming down to earth and of eating the piece of the Rice Krispie doll both relate to that process of becoming more solid which the alchemists called coagulatio. 

There are times when we need to rise up and contemplate things from above (sublimatio), but at this stage in Claire’s process the dream has to do with the value of being grounded. It is time for more of a “hands-on” approach. That she was ready for this was confirmed by her next dream, in which she stood barefoot on the ground, playfully tracing lines with a rake on a pile of black, moist earth. She had never brought such an earthy dream before.

To include the whole of Claire’s dream would involve too many excursions, but immediately after the contact with the Rice Krispie woman the dreamer is making her way home and fears she is being followed by a man. Here there is just a hint of the Demeter/ Persephone myth and the looming presence of Hades. That Hades might be in the vicinity would refer to the possibility of descent. Below the world of concrete reality and of the grain field lies the world of shadowy, insubstantial forms that we are dimly aware of, the world of the unconscious. To be in touch with the queen of the Underworld would mean a new valuing of this strange but rich domain. (Hades is also Pluto, “wealth.”)

Moreover, it is the daughter’s descent that enables her to separate from mother. Inevitably, when a woman has a negative image of her mother, there is a distressing unconscious similarity that needs to be made conscious if it is not to be destructive. This is one aspect of the work of separating. Another is the ability to differentiate the maternal from the joyously, playfully girlish, as different manifestations of feminine nature. In this drama Hades would be a downward-directed counterpart to the pilot that takes the dreamer up.