Death and gnosis : archetypal dream imagery in terminal illness

Welman, M. (1996) Death and gnosis : archetypal dream imagery in terminal illness. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




The central aim of this study was to explore the meaning of death as both a literal and an imaginative reality, and to elucidate the fundamental tensions between these meanings of death in modern existence. Recognition was given to the need for a poetic rather than a scientific approach to thanatology, and an epistemological foundation for a poetics of death was sought in the tradition of gnosis. Theoretically, the study was grounded in the analytical psychology of C.G. Jung. It was argued that despite Jung's erratic allegiance to a Cartesian ontology and epistemology, his approach to death was nevertheless fundamentally poetic. The poetic parameters of death and dying were explored in the context of Jung's understanding of the dialectical tension between the ego and the self, and it was concluded that while death represents an opening to the imaginative possibilities of existence, these potentialities can come to the fore only when there is a corresponding willingness to die. In these terms, it was concluded that the tension between life and death forms a pivotal dynamic of human existence. These considerations led to the Question of whether the poetic parameters of death and dying are applicable to the encounter with death as a concrete actuality. It was hypothesised that the approach of death would be met at two levels of reality, that of the ego and that of the self. The expectation was that while death would be seen as a literal ending from the perspective of the former, it may represent the fulfilment of Being from the viewpoint of the self. It was also assumed that the tension between these images of death would be mediated by way of archetypal symbols, which represent the bearers of gnosis in modern culture. To address these issues at an empirical level, a hermeneutically grounded thematic analysis of 108 dreams reported by dying persons was undertaken. Twenty initial themes emerged from the data. Each of these themes was in turn elucidated by way of Jung's method of amplification. This exercise yielded five concise themes, these being (a) death, (b) transformation, (c) the self (d) the Feminine, and (e) the Masculine. It was concluded that dreams manifesting during the dying process reveal a fundamental tension between literal and metaphoric possibilities of death. Dream symbols were also found to mediate between this tension, and to orchestrate the individuation process. It was concluded that in the context of dying, dreams may reflect and facilitate the emergence of a meaningful gnosis of death. The clinical implications of these findings were onsidered, and indications for further research were provided.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Thanatology, Death - Psychological aspects, Dreams - Case studies, Death in dreams, Jung, C. G.(Carl Gustav),1875-1961.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > Psychology
ID Code:1769
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:08 Oct 2010 09:08
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:21
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