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.
Thief and the Animus
Marie Louise Franz. The feminine in fairy tales.
I know of a family in which there were several sons. Both father and grandfather were heavy drinkers, and the sons, with one exception, were the same. The nondrinker had a disagreeable wife, and the first time he came home drunk she told him that if that happened again she would divorce him. She was the only one to save her husband from the destructive family pull. All the others had nicer, better-natured wives, but they showed the wrong kind of pity, with which they contributed to the destruction of their own husbands. Some maternal women sit on the china egg, like the dummy egg given to swans, always hoping to hatch out the phoenix—but only a big stink results! There is a crucial time in
woman’s individuation when she must liberate herself from inappropriate pity. The destructive dwarf is also a thief who steals the bear’s treasures. Technically, this destructive kind of animus steals the possibilities, the treasures and values of the positive animus. The very maternal woman adores mothering a young man—the misunderstood genius—to whom she will give the mother love he never got at home. A woman of fifty lived alone in her flat and took up with a young man of twenty who had had a hard time in his youth and who had cheated with money and forged checks. She was filled with pity for the poor fellow, because he had had such a horrible youth, and she let him live in her flat for nothing. She gave him employment in her business, where he cheated again and accumulated fifty thousand francs in debts on her account. But that was not enough, she still did not go to the law but covered it up and pardoned him again, because he cried and said he was ashamed of what he had done. Then he lived with a girl for a time in her house, and then started putting arsenic into the older
That was a striking instance of pity in the wrong place, pity which amounted
to absolute stupidity. She was a very intelligent woman, but the unhappy, unmarried type who does not know where to apply her maternal feelings and wastes them on such a creature. There the values of the positive animus, which the woman could have used, had she been more objective, were wasted—her greatest values and her capacity of understanding. The fairy tale says that this is because she has such a negative animus herself.
We must assume that the woman who wasted her money on the crook and murderer had such an animus herself. People are blind outside and look so decent that it needs a lot of actual police work to discover the same figure within them, but you will find it if you make a direct attack by saying, “Now, put your foot down and throw him out.” Then it is interesting to see how, at the crucial moment, the woman will begin to lie, so that you discover the crook within. It transpires that there is a very subtle kind of self-deception going on, for all instinctive warnings against the thief have been overlooked. It is impossible for a normal woman to live beside a man like that without becoming suspicious. So she deceives herself—the crook animus refuses to listen to the warnings and the hunches she gets from the unconscious. It is highly symbolic that it is a man who poisons her slowly: the wrong ideas of the animus give her the daily small doses of poison. In analyzing such a case, sooner or later there is a showdown, and the woman has to face that she is lying to herself and not listening to the warnings.
The puer aeternus type of man is often a crook who deceives maternal women. Such men are cruel and destructive to them. Most men with a positive mother complex are lazy, for the mother is the symbol of matter, and matter is, among other things, inertia. The positive mother is like a big feather coverlet which always incapacitates the man, who will naturally tend to be lazy. As a boy he does not do well at school and will not equip himself by work and study. He lacks the ability to face the fight in life, or earn enough money, and then later comes the tendency to become a crook and to ask the woman he loves or the insurance company to pay for him.
Stealing is an ambiguous, double-faced factor. In itself, it is comprehensible, for the thief is the man who has the good instinct to get what he wants, which shows a healthy attitude. For to want something is natural and healthy and helps to keep one alive and able to enjoy life. But what is wrong about theft is that it is an infantile shortcut brought about by laziness, from the inability to work and save money to get what one wants.
All those neurotic people who cheat their way into high positions without any real work or action come into this category. There are thieves and robbers even in the government, where high positions have been obtained by trickery— through an aunt or uncle, perhaps. Such men have intrigued like women. In a woman you can say, mutatis mutandis, that it is a similar thing: there is an animus figure who wants to get things by a shortcut. The maternal woman who nearly got poisoned wanted to escape loneliness, to have contact with people, and to find an object for her maternal feelings. But she cheated herself into thinking that this young murderer was all right. If she had thrown him out, she would have been back again with her own problem and would have had to figure out a way to get what she wanted legitimately, and that would have taken a lot of effort of feeling and thinking, so she preferred to spill her mother’s milk on the crook. That is the mechanism of cheating oneself.
Every dark thing one falls into can be called an initiation. To be initiated into a thing means to go into it. The first step is generally falling into the dark place and usually appears in a dubious or negative form—falling into something, or being possessed by something. The shamans say that being a medicine man begins by falling into the power of the demons; the one who pulls out of the dark place becomes the medicine man, and the one who stays in it is the sick person. You can take every psychological illness as an initiation. Even the worst things you fall into are an effort at initiation, for you are in something which belongs to you, and now you must get out of it« Back to Glossary Index