Reflections on modern myth, dreams and dreamwork: Black Knight, White Knight

Dreamwork can be an important practice in our search for self-knowledge and awareness.  Dreams often carry archetypal images that are full of meaning. Much is written about the archetypes of the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, especially the symbol of the ¨Shadow¨ or the dark, unseen part of our unconscious that can lead us to destructive actions.

Could it be that we all have a ¨shadow¨ that, if brought to light, could enable us to become more conscious of the motivation behind our decisions and actions?

How does shadow and light work in our unconscious?

How do we contemplate black and white, night and day?  Other opposites?

How to begin dreamwork?

The first step is to pay attention to our dreams and get into the habit of writing them down upon awakening.

Another step would be to use our imagination in reflecting about archetypes, whether it be storytelling or the use of an imaginative picture in a meditation practice.

The following reflection is a small attempt to bring together some of these very big ideas.

Dreamwork with the Black Knight and the White Knight
White knight wins

I had a dream….

Once a dream was dreamed. It was luminous, spacey, and diaphanous; it was vivid, intense, and potent. It briefly blazed and scintillated in the night, pulsing its light down through the years.  Even when thrust out of mind, it returns ever again. Often in different contexts of meaning, insisting on making its way unto the day.

Thus was the dream dreamt:

The dreamer knew himself to be the white sage, wizard to the king. With his white robes, hat, beard and staff, he would sally forth from his futuristically sophisticated apartments. Flying about through the airs, carrying out the behests of the sovereign. He swept through the spiral-turreted skies of the bright color-pennanted city. Carrying out his priority mission, as well, to be sure: to do battle with the realm’s deadliest enemy.  A formidable foe, this one! — a black magician, a master, robed in black, with black hair and beard, with even a black umbrella. The contest of wills and prowess ebbed and flowed one way and the other. He had many skirmishes and encounters, partial victories and partial defeats. But there came a day when the white wizard vanquished the black sorcerer, utterly.

And it was at that precise triumphant moment that he saw, as never before had he seen, what ineluctably he must thence needs do, the nature of the renunciation that must be his. For him, to realize such a call was to act. And so he acted. Not in the troubled heaviness of sorrow and regret, but with the lightness of peace and clarity. He hung up his white robes, lay down his white staff. Then locked up his technologically perfected, magical rooms, outfitted with such subtly-wrought householder gadgetry. He took up the black umbrella, and black vestures, and flew off to fulfill with verve his new office. In the nature of things, in very truth and honor, he was now become the new archenemy. He was the new shadow, the new black magus.

Symbols of the battle of the soul
A knight battles a dragon

What gives here?

The story provokes and jolts us, somehow more than just a dream – is it merely an empty bauble or a wild goose chase? We react such that we “like it,” “don’t like it,” “agree,” “disagree” — and so miss its gift, its message. 

Well, is it then “Truth?”

Who could affirm that? Is it “Revelation,” to be swallowed whole and believed?  That would be rash indeed — perhaps the details are misremembered, as in the recounting of any dream. Or, are misleadingly colored by the infatuating veil of words.  Yet to discard the dream unthinkingly would be clear loss. Too closely does it echo other archetypical myths, of black and white swans round initiate castles. And of checkerboard-dressed court jesters, of Shrouded Lady universal symbolism. What then do we have?

An enigmatic gift of Life to Life…

Not a dream of once-realized, forevermore perfection, this; not a dream of achievement followed by stationary satisfaction. A dream of struggle, of effort and elation — and of something else. Something with a twist; strange, suggestive and non-linear.  An upward spiraling of opposition and integration, reconciliation and transcendence. It sows the seed of a cycle of new struggle and of higher realizations.  Such a dream — such a mythological dream, such a symbolic vision – has energy — is force in motion. It may well exert a guiding influence on a life. It can teach one about the past. And, can prepare one for the future; it can be valued, it can be used. May not one well be grateful for such an enigmatic intriguing gift of Life to Life, so full of mystery?

The fabric of our tale…

This weaving, naturally, has both warp and woof. We sense a message woven in, firstly about our relationship with ourselves as individuals, and we sense it. Secondly, about our relationship both as individuals and as humankind with what goes beyond us; with what appears to us to be transpersonal, to be divine. With the fabric of our tale stretching between the Black and White Wizard dream at the beginning and a related Black and White Knight dream at the end — as between the top and bottom beams of a mystic loom. How might we unravel then, even if only a little, the thread of this dreamy mystery gift and offer it back to Life anew? Let’s try cautiously taking one motif at a time…

A knight before a castle: Dreamwork and the mysterious forces when transforming the soul.
Power of the wizard

The dreamwork continues…

Are any solutions final?

Our White Wizard’s grand attainment is not the end.  The best we can be is never good enough, if good enough means stagnation, finality.  We reach high for a grip, pull ourselves up, maybe take a breather and look around, yet then must be off, leaving our conquest behind.  If we do not triumph over our triumphs, we are defeated indeed, are fated to become the live re-embodiment of our what we fought against. Each victory becomes a fresh given for our “his-story” books and we go on from there, the victory’s aftermath constituting our new problem. If there are no problems, are there any opportunities, any solutions? And are any solutions final?  Is any unfolding possible for us except through authentic challenges, calling forth our mettle?

Becoming ourselves part of the living ladder…

We walk on two feet.  The step to be taken becomes the step to be left behind. We can’t take one without the other, can’t leap up to a farther, higher rock without a nearer, lower one to leap from. No “good” without a “bad,” no “white” without a “black” to bring it into sharp-lined, taut contrasting relief. No “good” that does not become “bad” in its turn, having fulfilled its function, gotten us another step along the road.

A ladder must have rungs on it if it is to exist as a ladder at all.  We need to climb, we have to — do not upward drive, impetus and urgency push us from within? Do we not need, primordially, the vibrant pulling rungs of realizations to take hold of in our lives? Don’t we absolutely need our heroes and heroines, our “white sages,” the paladins and incarnations of our ideals? After standing reverently at their feet, we must stand on their shoulders, become ourselves part of the living ladder, and be left behind.

Do you remember?

We all were born someplace, sometime; we took on a body set, a mind set, a culture set. We needed that, fundamentally; you can’t travel anywhere without a point to start out from, without a vehicle to move about with. Later, though, this did not, could not suffice us; outgrowing our first form-giving protective carapace, we needed to shed shells, to stretch our wings, to be more, to be “other” — to be us. 

We struggled to “molt,” to slough off our old skin; we fought the good fight. Do you remember? When you were hard-pressed and constricted, desperate to breathe more freely? When your life filled itself with meaning, when the sense and purpose of it all was seemingly being wrung right out of you?

Can you recall…?

Can you recall the heat and earnestness of battle after battle, fray after fray? The details and anecdotes that make your “case” unique — and yet, and yet… the overall taste that makes it so similar to that of the rest of us? We strove to be who we were, achieve an identity that was ours, ours alone, to speak with our own voice, to get it together and be That Woman, That Man that was us, in our own way, as we had to be. And we did it, we pulled it off. We laughed and smiled, we cried and loved, we felt, we responded, we were real.  We won.  Our Black Magus foe rolled beaten in the dust.  The shadow was overcome; our silvery-white armor shone.

White knight – black knight – white knight…  Who am I, which am I, really?

Yet the victory was short-lived; the fruits were sweet at first, then less and less so. What was for a moment so vitally the present, inexorably became the past. The old “I” was vanquished, the vanquisher became the new opponent.

Who am I?

That earlier exemplar of my black magician-self perished; this winning “I” of now, my briefly triumphant white wizard-self, has — like it or not — to become for me the embodiment of death, threatening, enslaving. Its darkly seductive menace summons into being a response, the new successor “me,” the emerging white seer of my new age. And so the progressive series of alternating interactions goes: white – black – white – black – white. . .  Who am I, which am I, really?

I long for both, the old me and the me aborning…

To become “someone,” to become “thick” enough to cast a shadow; I did not need to go on feeding the shadow with my becoming, with my being. I can’t live — really live — giving the dead person I was the life I am: The past living the present. I create my identity, then must stop identifying my self with it; elsewise, rather than “having” it, I’m “had.” Every time I hit an uncertain time, feel stymied, get confused, edgy and generally cantankerous, I fall back into identification-longing with the “other.” I long for both, the old me and the me aborning, not this touchy, exasperatingly belligerent me of the transition. I’m at odds and cross-purposes with myself and have to be continually choosing which way I mean to be going.

Choosing the path:  two roads in a wood.
The two roads: What do I choose?

Me Renounce? Good God!

If I want to leave the crossroads, to free myself of this knot I’m tied in — and I do want that, it’s essential to me (this divided-against-myself business is making me feel so downright lousy rotten) that I must face the fact, face my death. My dream hero white seer just can’t go on forever happily being the white seer.  Change he must, for better or for worse. 

Renouncement is the answer

To resolve the quandary, to be able to somehow get moving once more, I must renounce. Renounce myself, the self and soul I’m so proud to have discovered, so proud to have revealed, the one I’ve come to adore, the one I’ve turned into an idol. And I must do this again and again and again, striving to conquer a virtue, then having it turn of its own inertia into a vice that must be gone beyond. Darn it all, anyway!

What a quandary!

Talk about weird! –for me to unfold, I have to work against myself, against “my” characteristics (if I don’t work against them, I can’t see them as my “characteristics,” I see them as “me”). I have to go up against the closer-than-close shadow cast by the live me of the present, the husk that constantly and inescapably becomes the dead me of the past.  The truth is I’m cornered. And I don’t particularly like it, not at all, at all.  Me? Renounce? — Good God!

Is it only a dream?

Not gaining anything, not having anything, not being anything…

Here lies the pith of the matter: The marvelous possibility the Wise of all generations have tried to let us in on. We have it within us to abide dynamically at this point, in a State of Renouncement, rather than just being pressured about from one renouncement to another.  So the Mystics lead the way for us, and describe this Crux metaphorically as the Simple, the Easy, the Still Point, the Unwobbling Pivot, the Lotus Throne Center of the Mandala. 

Mystical symbols of the soul's journey: mandala
Lotus mandala

If we can just live not gaining anything, not having anything, not being anything, we are free to disattachedly flow in peace from whatever to whatever. And yet, what?! Theoretically, intellectually, at moments we grasp the gist of this; for brief periods we actually even might experience it, and everything seems well and better than well.  Yet to be frankly honest with ourselves, in day-to-day life we almost all of us find it difficult to sustain ourselves for long in this real/ideal state. The reasons or un-reasons for this don’t much change the plain hard fact of it, do they?

Recognizing Oneness

So one generally falls in the other extreme, does one not? Love-hate. The cycle repeats itself, spiraling. What one became at such cost, one rejects, one despises, one no longer understands, one crusades against — while all the while finding it rather fatally attractive, bewitchingly fascinating.  A miserable interregnum of half-truths and war, of sorrow, anxiety and stress; the black sage and the white sage are at each other’s throats and are not at all kidding around. We become our own worst enemy; yet, at the end, don’t we finally love, aren’t we genuinely grateful to our enemy? 

We see clearly that we’ve unfolded, precisely because of and in close step with his challenge and resisting force. It’s not really a question of “forgiveness” at this point of reconciliation and understanding. One can pardon. And one can receive pardon. We perceive the unity of the flow and we identify with it: the blue venous blood and the red arterial blood together constituting oneness.

The Alchemy of the Soul…

Somehow, then, (and sometimes that is a big “somehow” indeed), by dint or by stint and cost what it bloody might cost, in an always uniquely fitting yet unpredictable way, one does at long last solve the life and death conundrum for a time — the Alchemy of the Soul — attaining a revitalized stability, harmony, and acceptance. And one sees oneself in different stages from a fresh, more comprehensive vantage point. One wiser and more sympathetic due to its greater perspective, its greater integrality — and then gets ready to go on again, pushing off from solidity into the unknown.

Day is giving way to night…dawn is at hand…

What was night became day, day is giving way to night; while even now at darkest dark, dawn is at hand.  The overthrown Black has merged back into the shadows; imperceptibly the White is already transfiguring to darkling colors, and a snowy new Knight is entering from the misty wings of Becoming, stage left.

To be continued. . .

About the Author(s)

Read more posts by this author

Who am I? Perhaps a seeker? maybe a finder? How avoid an RIP gravestone-blurb sum-up? Challenging…Years back, crossing a remote jungle frontier, the border police, not knowing what other pigeon-hole to use, put it as “adventurer” – just an overly romantic fragment of the story, inaccurate, but hey, a good enough fit for the moment! Maybe still is? With deep roots in Cafh, on that supreme never-ending adventure... Guess I could live with that moniker on the stone.