The meaning of the dream symbol: Adam and Eve

This biblical figure may represent moral guilt and a metaphoric fall from grace. However, the complexity of the dualistic nature of male and female is also explored in this dynamic archetype. Crucial in the understanding of this dream is the temporal element involved in its re-enactment. Are we observing, the paradise before the fall, or the sudden awareness of the harsh reality of life, after the ingestion of the fruit of knowledge? In any case, our innocence is thrown into question and we may need to determine the spiritual implications of our own waking behavior.

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Whatever tradition and all its commentators may say - and a whole series of books would be needed to summarize their arguments - Adam still symbolizes the first man, made in the image of God. ‘First’ implies much more than mere priority in time: Adam is first in the natural order, he is the acme of earthly creation, the highest example of humankind. First, therefore, carries no trace of the primitive, the word bears no hint of the ape-man, planting a milestone in the upward evolutionary march of the species. He is first, too, in the sense that he is accountable to his long line of descendants. His primacy is of the moral, natural and ontological order: Adam is the pattern of mankind: he symbolizes something which lifts us to a level of study beyond that of mere history.

Furthermore, he was created in the image of God. From one symbolic aspect, the phrase may be taken to mean that, just as a masterpiece is in the image of the artist who created it, so Adam is in the image of God. Yet the specific point at which this masterpiece should resemble its Creator resides in succeeding where Deucalion failed, in making manifest the spirit within creation, by giving life to mere matter. What Adam symbolizes is the reality of the spirit - in the image of God, but other than God. From this flow all those other consequent innovations to the universe - conscience, reason, freedom, responsibility, independence - spiritual privileges, but of a spirit made flesh and hence only in the image of God, and not identical with God.

Because Adam attempted to make himself identical with God, he also became the first to sin, with all the consequences that this primacy in sin entailed upon his descendants. In any order of events, the first is always, in some sense, the cause of whatever subsequently occurs within that order. Adam symbolizes Original Sin, perversion of the spirit, misuse of freedom and rejection of all dependence. Now this rejection of all dependence upon the Creator can only result in death, since that dependence is the very condition of life itself. Universally and traditionally whoever attempts to become God’s equal falls under some terrible punishment.

At this point, according to Christian tradition, another Adam appeared, Jesus Christ, the second Adam in point of time, but the first, as well, in the mystic sense of the word and, if it may be said, more truly first than the first Adam; historically primo prior, since he is the pattern of mankind, by a higher right, first in the natural order and in the order of grace, both these orders reaching their highest fulfilment in him. Fie was more than the manifestation of the spirit in creation, he was the Word made Flesh - the very Word of God made man, man made God. He was no longer the image, but the reality. Again, it was impossible for him to sin, for the second Adam must confer that grace, holiness and eternal life of which mankind was deprived by the action of the first Adam. Thus the second Adam symbolizes all that was positive in the first and lifts him to the absolute plane of godhead. He symbolizes the antithesis of all that was negative and, for the certainty of death, substitutes the certainty of resurrection. Many a passage in the writings of St Paul emphasizes this antithesis.

There is a close connection between the first Adam and Christ, the second Adam. Thus the legend tells how Adam died on Friday, 14 Nisan, at the ninth hour, prefiguring the death of Christ. In religious painting Adam’s skull is shown at the foot of Christ’s cross. According to legend, when Adam was on the point of death, he sent his son, Seth, to Paradise to pluck the fruit of immortality from the Tree of Life. The angel posted to guard Paradise refused to give him the fruit, but presented him with three seeds. After Adam died these seeds sprouted from his mouth and a tree grew which later provided the wood for the Cross. Further evidence for the symbolic links between Adam and Christ may be found in the dialogue with Adam in Dante’s Paradiso, Canto 26.

In Jungian analysis Adam symbolizes cosmic man, source of all psychic energy, most frequently associated, in the shape of the wise old man, with the archetypal father and ancestor, the image of the old man, of unfathomable wisdom, fruit of long and bitter experience. In dreams he can take the shape of prophet, pope, sage, philosopher, patriarch or pilgrim. The manifestation of the wise old man symbolizes the need to integrate traditional wisdom into the self or perhaps to actualize a latent wisdom. In Jungian thought the second Adam, whose cross, as so many painters depict it, is planted upon the tomb of the first Adam, symbolizes the advent of a fresh human nature on the ashes of the old.

In these three stages of birth, death and resurrection the analyst might discern symbols of the development of the human being on the path of individuation: lack of differentiation in a collective state; separation of the ego, asserting itself in its potential personality; and the realization of that personality by the integration of all its forces in synthetic and dynamic unity.