Every night we enter a mythic realm, a dark
primordial world of desires, doubts, fantasies and anxieties. But
what does it all mean? Clearly an activity of enormous personal and
anthropological significance, dreaming provides a key to
understanding ourselves, our society and our history.
In a work crammed with symbolic and scientific insight, Anthony Stevens
guides the reader through the labyrinthine mysteries of dream
interpretation from as early as hunter-gatherer times to the present,
arguing that we have now entered the most exciting period in the
whole history of oneirology (the study of dreams). The discovery of
rapid eye movement sleep, the use of neuroscientific techniques, and
the accumulation of a century's analytic practice are here combined
to give us a deeper understanding of the meaning and importance of
these extraordinary adventures of the night.
Dr Stevens employs his many years' experience of working with dreams to analyse
key historical dreams, from Freud's dream of Irma's injection to Hitler's dream
of being buried alive, as well as looking at the significance of his own and
his patients' dreams. 'Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming' is a work of considerable
scholarship, appealing to both the professional and lay person alike,
which will greatly contribute to our understanding of this essential part of
human existence. 'It is largely by listening to our dreams' archetypal
voices', argues Stevens, 'that we can learn to re-assess our 'private
myths' and restore balance to our lives.'
"As I know from my own attempts, trying to explain Jung to those who
don't know his work is a tricky business, but Stevens tackles it with
aplomb and admirable clarity. He has the advantage of having been trained
as a scientist as well as an analyst, and, like one of his teachers,
the late John Bowlby, he aims to combine the insights of psychodynamic
thinking with the rigours of scientific method wherever this is possible.
"In these days, when all forms of psychotherapy are subjected to
increasingly fierce criticism, it is heartening to read a book which
amply demonstrates that psychotherapists of the quality of Anthony Stevens
are providing something irreplaceably valuable for their patients. I
am sure that those who have been lucky enough to have been treated by
him will pay tribute to his humanity, his lack of dogmatism and his
capacity for understanding."
:"This is the best recent book on dreams known to me."
Anthony Storr, The Literary Review.
"Its case for dreaming has something more
universally significant than a tour across our personal playgrounds of guilt
and misery is eloquently persuasive . . . . This hugely absorbing study -
its surface crisscrossed with innumerable avenues into science,
anthropology and religion . . . . [Makes the point that] dreams may well
afford our last dwindling puddles of spiritual refreshment."
Jonathan Keates, The Spectator.
"Bravely direct, cogent and fascinating, half handbook, half history,
of significance to anyone interested in the life of the mind . . . .
Stevens wants to show that dreams and dream-works are not ends in
themselves, but ways of reaching what he calls 'a greater reality'
lying 'beyond the purely personal ego'. That's to say: it is the nature of
consciousness which interests him, and the way in which our dreams
contribute to a notion of life being lived in what Keats called the 'veil
of soul-making'. . . . Stevens embellishes these central theories with
plenty of evidence, which is entertaining as well as illuminating . .
. . [An] important and stimulating book."
Andrew Motion, The Observer.
"Stevens... has made a convincing case for the thesis that Jung, in his argument about archetypes and the collective unconscious, was, at least, trying to say something important about the evolution of mind... [T]hose who have an interest in dreams will be more than rewarded by the number and variety of the ones that Stevens reports and interprets. These include dreams of Freud, Jung, and Stevens himself, as well as of their patients; dreams of the organic chemist Friedrich Kkekule, the art critic John Ruskin, the sleep researcher William C. Dement, Alexander the Great, Bishop Joseph Lanyi (who was tutor to the Archduke Ferdinand, assassinated at Sarajevo in 1914), the physicists Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, Descartes, William Blake, J. B. Priestley, Adolf Hitler, and many others, including such fictional characters as Gilgamesh. In every case, Stevens is concerned to show how archetypal "big" dreams can affect the individual development of the dreamer, give birth to new scientific ideas, or influence the course of history."
Charles Rycroft, New York Review of Books
"As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, [Stevens] is qualified to
describe neurological as well as psychological theories of dreaming.
A generous, involved writer who has read omnivorously, he describes the
wide range of theories which have been used to explain dreams . . . .
"[Jung's] central belief in the inevitability of universal symbols in
the deep unconscious is now well in tune with other recent developments
in academic psychology. It is no longer controversial to believe in the
existence of handed-down 'deep structures' as aids which enable
children to learn language and to recognize faces quickly. Sociobiologists
have described other genetically transmitted human response
strategies, seemingly designed for general survival in the environment. It
is therefore equally logical to believe now that certain fundamental
human imaginative responses may also be inherited . . . . Jung saw
the unconscious as a source of energy and ancient wisdom: a personal
gold-mine once its symbolic meanings have been fully understood. And
dreams are our most important representations of these unconscious forces,
providing us with the combined immemorial wisdom of our very species
itself . . . . A brave and stimulating book it could . . . improve the
reader's own dream life, by provoking a new interest which might cause
more dreams to be remembered in theprocess."
Nicholas Tucker, The Independent.
"In the author of this wonderful book we are fortunate to meet a
master dream-worker, uniquely qualified for this delicate task. 'Private
Myths: Dreams and Dreaming' is a staggeringly successful attempt to meet
[numerous] criteria. In its comprehensive and accessible
accomplishment, it meets also, I believe, one of the urgent needs of the
time. 'Anthony Stevens is both a doctor of medicine and a practising
psychiatrist. His sensitivity to the mythic, symbolic and sacred aspects
of experience is anchored throughout both to a precise biological
sense of our material existence and to a sophisticated understanding of the
role of natural selection in the formation of our complex brains. He
traces fascinating links between Jung's theory of the archetypal
structure of the psyche and evolutionary adaptations the species must have
made to ensure its own survival . . . .Yet there is nothing reductive
about this book, and among its many engaging qualities is the degree to
which its writing has been shaped throughout by the dream process
itself. Thus at the start of work on his book Dr Stevens dreamed of a
'poetry machine' which counselled him to keep his bent as a scientist
attuned to the essential poetic nature of work with dream. Then, as
he approached the end of his task, sleep took him on a stupendous 'shamanbird's'
flight over his beloved Devon coast in a lucid vision which corrected
a left-brain tendency towards to over-intellectuality . . . . Without
pretension the reader is thus left assured both of the honesty of the
book, and that it is all the richer for the impersonal wisdom of those
dreams. That wisdom is, moreover, delightfully balanced by the
author's willingness - as in his hilarious account of an oneiric encounter
with Asclepius - to show himself ticked off by a dream for a less
exemplary moment of personal weakness . . . .
"Dr Stevens' Private Myths is a lucid, careful work where scholarship and
wisdom meet, where a feeling intelligence speaks as a
healing force, and where art and science - far too long estranged - come
home once more and dream together. I urge you to read it. Your dreams
will be the richer for the work.' - Lindsay Clarke, author of The Chymical
Wedding in Resurgence.
"The task Stevens has set for himself is no less monumental than the
level of work undertaken night after night by the dreaming brain . .
. . Stevens, a distinguished Jungian analyst, psychiatrist and author, is
a great believer in dreams - his own and others.
"Throughout the book, the writing reflects the seriousness of the
undertaking - thoughtful, erudite, encompassing, critical. Given the
inherently academic fabric of the content, Stevens might have produced a
waterlogged assembly of the many forces that contributed to our
understanding of the human mind and its tendency to dream. He has managed
instead to write an eminently readable book."
Jean Monahan, The Boston Book Review.
"A thoughtful and wide-ranging look into the different ways that
scientists and therapists understand dreams . . . . Stevens takes an
intriguing look at the link between creativity and dreams, concluding that
"the capacity for creative thought and action lies ready and
available in the unconscious psyche of us all, if only we can develop the
means to use it.
". . . [This book] is rich with possibilities and ideas, and
[Stevens's] belief in the transforming power of our nocturnal theatres
Chris Petrakos, The Chicago Tribune.
"Wide-ranging essay on the importance of dreams by a Jungian analyst
who maintains that they are the 'only natural oases of spirituality
left to us' . . . . To Stevens, the findings of psychology, analysis,
ethology and neuroscience have now come together to produce the most
exciting period in the history of the study of dreams. The enthusiasm that Stevens
has for his fascinating subject is infectious . . . . Erudite and
"Stevens explains why dream amnesia (most people say they don't
remember their dreams) is biologically built into the system, and how
the syntax and condensation of dream imagery function. He explains what is
involved in 'dream interpretation'. Does it work? The dream I had
after reading this book made a lot of sense to me."
Rosemary Sullivan, The Globe and Mail.
"Erudite and humane... A brave attempt, which by encouraging new research may help to advance us towards some real understanding of the still largely unsolved mystery that dreams represent."
Hugh Freeman, Times Higher Education Supplement.
"Stevens provides the most comprehensive review and integration of material on dreams known to this reviewer - his is truly an outstanding book and one that should be read by all persons interested in oneirology, or the study of dreams. He very successfully presents the known scientific findings on the neurology of sleep and dreaming and how they are used to support a psychological theory of dreaming."
In print in the U.S.A., out of print in the U.K.
Also available in the following languages:
German: Vom Traum und vom Traumen: Deutung, Forschung, Analyse (Kindler,
Swedish: PRIVATA MYTER (Gedins, 1997).
Order this book online