The meaning of the dream symbol: Island

An Island is defined by its watery boundaries, as such, the effect of its geographic isolation offers a unique set of symbolic images. For example, odd and wonderful life forms which flourish within the confines of an island epitomize creative distinctiveness. Conversely, the circumstance of being ‘stranded’ all alone on an island may refer to being lost or trapped, in which case the island becomes a symbol of alienation or solitude. Along those lines, if one is trapped with others upon a desolate island, the Unconscious may be hinting at a lost cause within which we suddenly find ourselves ensnared. Whatever the particular circumstance, the dreamer should keep in mind, that ultimately, the island is a symbol of a tenacious, reliant, individuality and the propagation of unique, unrestrained creativity.

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An island may be a symbol of the conscious ego’s relation to the unconscious (symbolized by the sea).

It may symbolize your relations with your mother (represented by the sea). Is the sea threatening to engulf the island (too strong a mother-attachment)?

Islands which can only be reached at the end of a long voyage or flight are pre-eminently symbols of a spiritual centre or, more exactly, of the primordial spiritual centre.

Primeval ‘Syria’, mentioned by Homer and with the same root as the Sanskrit name for the Sun, SUrya, was an island, the central or polar island of the world. It is to be identified with Hyperborean Tula (the Thule of the Greeks), its name recurring among the Toltec who came originally from the island of Aztlan (or Atlantis). Tula was the ‘White Island’, its name (Svetadvlpa) recurring in myths of Vishnu, current from India to Cambodia, where it is given to the temple of Prasat Kok Po. The ‘White Island’ is the abode of the Blessed, as is the Celtic ‘Green Island’ - from which rises the polar ‘White Mountain’ - its name recurring in that of Ireland. The primordial Japanese island, Awa, the foam-island, and especially Onogorojima, formed by the crystallization of the salt water dripping from Izanagi’s spear-point, were also ‘white islands’. In Muslim tradition, the earthly Paradise is an island, Sri Lanka. Zeus was born on Minos’ holy island, Crete, home of the mysteries.

Chinese myth also located island Paradises in the eastern sea and many emperors, victims of charlatanism, tried to reach them with their fleets. However, it was common knowledge that such islands could only be reached by those who were able to fly, namely the Immortals. Imperial fleets are believed to have discovered Taiwan and perhaps Japan. However, Yao had already reached the Isle of the Four Masters, called Chu-che, and identical with Tula (Chuang Tzu ch. 1); or had he merely reached the centre of his own self?

That central, lofty island which the Grail epic calls Monsalvat finds its precise equivalent in Khmer architecture. This is the tiny temple of Neak Pean, set in the middle of a square lake. This is perhaps that Lake Anavatapta which cured sickness of body and mind, but it is also that ‘ocean of existences’, that ‘sea of passions’ of the yogi. The temple is that ‘isle beyond compare’, mentioned in the Suttanipata, located ‘beyond the fearful tide of existence’, polar stability in worldly flux, lastly Nirvana. St Isaac of Nineveh is writing on precisely similar lines when he compares the different sorts of knowledge obtained by a monk through his mysticism with ‘so many islands, until at last he comes ashore and makes his way to the City of Truth, whose inhabitants do not trade, but each is rich in his own possession.’ This is the Kingdom of the Spirit, the home of great peace, the island of Pong-lai.

Celts have always depicted the Otherworld and the Beyond of the Irish wonder-voyagers in the shape of islands lying to the west (or north) of the world. The Irish gods, or Tuatha De Danann, ‘Children of the Goddess Dana’, came with their magic charms from ‘four islands to the north of the world’, and Ireland, with her central province of Meath (Mide, ‘middle’) was itself a holy island. Nevertheless, it would seem that Britain was the pre-eminent island since it was there, according to Caesar (and as Irish sources confirm), that the druids went to finish their training, to obtain their knowledge of holy things and to strengthen their doctrinal orthodoxy. A number of mythical islands were solely inhabited by women and they reflect the fact that colleges really did exist on islands off the coast of Gaul. On Sena (the Isle of Sein), for example, lived priestesses who foretold the future and claimed to be able to change themselves into whatever creature they wished. Mona (Anglesey), was the great centre of Druidism, destroyed by the Romans during the first-century ad British revolt. Islands were thus miniature worlds, complete and perfect images of the cosmos, because they represented a concentration of sacral qualities. In this way they are notion-ally linked to temples and shrines. Symbolically, islands are dwellings of the elect, of knowledge and of peace in the midst of the sea of ignorance and disorder of the profane world. They represent a primeval centre, holy by definition, and their essential colour is white. The original name of Britain was ‘Albion’, the ‘White Island’.

Modern psychoanalysis has laid particular stress upon one of the essential features of islands - they evoke sanctuaries. One of the basic themes of literature, dreams and desires is the quest for the desert island, the unknown island, the island with a wealth of surprises, and this perhaps makes space exploration a facet of this quest. Islands may be sanctuaries where will and consciousness come together to escape the assaults of the unconscious, as rocks provide a refuge from ocean waves.

From the psychoanalytic viewpoint the desire for earthly or eternal happiness is transferred to Fortunate Islands. Thetis was supposed to have carried the body of Achilles to the White Island at the mouth of the Danube, where the hero married Helen and enjoyed a life of eternal happiness with her. Apollo ruled the Isles of the Blessed. They were to become one of the fundamental myths, along with legends of a Golden Age, in Orphism and neo-Pythagoreanism. In his Works and Days (170-5), Hesiod describes how the divine race of demi-gods and heroes dwell.