The meaning of the dream symbol: War

In life, a human being is constantly confronting battles of one sort or another. When these battles seem to wage on incessantly without any hope of peace, we may find ourselves experiencing recurring dreams involving War. In such cases, we need to determine who is our enemy and why this person or persons seeks our destruction.

Often, the enemy revealed is ourselves, more exactly, mental limitations imposed upon our acceptance of self. We may be revealing paranoia about our social relationships. Trust is often a necessary ingredient in positive alliances, therefore, when this trust is broken, we may feel an act of war has been instituted upon our psyche and prepare for the ultimate battle of our liberation and personal honor.

Naturally, it should be remembered that peace involves sacrifice and equal points of submission on both sides. Psychological mercenaries achieve very little in life other than the booty of other mercenaries.


War has created in people’s minds an image of the universal scourge and triumph of brute force, from antiquity to modern times with their enormous increase in the means of self-destruction; and yet it possesses highly important symbolic properties.

Ideally the ends of warfare are the destruction of evil and the restoration of peace, justice and harmony, both on the cosmic and social planes (especially true of Ancient China) and on the spiritual. It is the defensive manifestation of life itself. War was the task of the Kshatriyas, but in the battle of Kurukshotra, as described by the Bhagavad Gita, ‘nobody killed and nobody was killed’, since the battlefield was the Karmayoga, the struggle for the unification of being. Krishna was a Kshatriya, but so was the Buddha. Islam is much the same. The transition from ‘minor to major holy war’ is that from cosmic to internal equilibrium. The true ‘conqueror’ (jina) is the person who possesses peace of mind. The same symbolism may be discerned in the activities of the medieval military orders and especially the Templars, the conquest of the Holy Land not being differentiated, symbolically, from the jina. The Mahabharata describes Vishnu as the all-conquering, but the forces against which he wars are the powers of destruction. The exploits of a Gesar de Ling in Tibet or the warlike ceremonial of the Yellow Turbans in Han Dynasty China had the sole aim of combating the power of evil demons. The legendary battles of Chinese secret societies, in which magic swords made of peach-wood were used, were battles undertaken by initiates ‘to defeat Ts’ing and restore Ming’ and, in fact, had as their objective the restoration of ‘light’ (ming). In both the mystic and cosmic sense of the term theirs was a war between light and darkness.

Boxing was taught in the initiatory centre of Chao-lin and some lodges possessed manuals of boxing, the similarity of sound between Kiao-tse and boxer being the basis of combat symbolism. The game of chess was another aspect of the warfare between light and darkness.

Even Buddhism, with its well-known pacifism, widely employs warrior symbols. The Dhammapada speaks of the Buddha as ‘the warrior in shining armour’, while Avalokitesvara entered the realms of the asura in the guise of a warrior. Here we are concerned with the forcible acquisition of the fruits of knowledge. If the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who take it by force, Buddhist violence is not the sole demesne of the Nichiren sect. ‘Warriors, warriors we call ourselves’, we may read in the Anguttara-nikaya. ‘We fight for lofty virtue, higher effort and sublime wisdom and this is why we call ourselves warriors.’ Victory over self and the honour of death in battle recall the gallantry of the Kshatriya as well of that of the Japanese samurai and the Sioux brave. The Buddha was a jina and this was also the title borne by the founder of Jainism. Inner struggle aims to condense the scattered world of appearance and illusion into the concentrated world of the single reality, the manifold into the one, disorder into order.

Warlike enthusiasm is expressed symbolically as rage and heat. Indra’s warlike energy is kratu, but this is spiritual energy as well. Peace (shanti) is extinguishing the fire and it is also in relation to fire that ritual sacrifice is assimilated to the ritual of warfare. Furthermore, the sacrificial victim is pacified by death, pacification traditionally being a death to one’s passions and to one’s self. In the Ramayana the ritual performed by Parashurama is the equivalent of a Vedic sacrifice. ‘The offering of arrows is made by the bow’, the army is the sacrificial fire and the enemy princes the sacrificial beasts. Taoism, too, was conscious of a liberation of the corpse through force of arms, which is directly related to the foregoing.

When war is mentioned in traditional Christian writings, the term should also be understood in the sense of internal struggle.

Holy war is no external battle fought with real weapons, but a conflict which the individual wages within him- or herself, the inward confrontation of light and darkness. It takes place during the transition from ignorance to knowledge, hence the meaning of the phrase ‘the whole armour of light’ which St Paul uses.

It is a contradiction in terms and an abuse of the meaning of words to apply ‘Holy War’ to actual armed conflict. In tradition, no war of this sort is holy and to apply the term to the Crusades is wholly mistaken. The weapons and armour of the Holy War are of a spiritual order.

The Ojibwa Indians’ preparations for war were no mere physical hardening but ‘an introduction to the mystic life through self-denial’. Volunteers ‘spent a year fasting in the solitude of the forest, seeking and obtaining visions’, since ‘war was regarded above all as a blood-libation’, a ‘sacred activity’. Soustelle, too, makes a point of emphasizing the symbolic aspect of war. ‘The warrior’s normal lot was to offer victims in sacrifice to the gods and then himself to die upon the sacrificial stone. Thereafter he became one of the Sun’s followers in Heaven’.

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