Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Bees and Babies: “Culture Dreams”

frost 01Here’s a recent dream that led me to think about larger meanings:

The Cold Baby: Wandering the halls of a hospital, looking for a sick friend who was taken here. I come upon a room crowded with cribs—in rows and stacked against the walls. The room is stark and cold, and the cribs are filled with sick babies, including tiny newborns. A very small one is lying on the bare floor, swaddled tightly so that she is the size and shape of a short loaf of French bread. Her face is bluish with cold. Someone has forgotten to put her back in her crib, and she is badly chilled—still and silent, with closed eyes. I pick her up and hold her against me, trying to warm her before putting her back in the crib. I don’t know whether she will survive.

At first, I was tempted to approach this as a “soul retrieval” dream [see “Soul Retrieval and Shamanic Dreaming”]—a dream relating to my personal history and the need to recover child-like aspects of myself that have been lost, abandoned, or “frozen out.” But there were elements of this dream that were inconsistent with a personal soul retrieval experience.

Often, my feelings within the dream and upon awakening can tell me a lot about the best way to look at that particular dream. In the case of “The Cold Baby,” I feel distress and urgency when I find the tiny child has been left out in the cold—but the feelings are not personal or overwhelming (as they would have been if this had been a waking life experience). There is more of an abstract sense that something is very wrong, and needs to be corrected.

According to psychologist and dreamworker Meredith Sabini, “Culture Dreams,” which are more significant for the culture as a whole than for the individual dreamer, are often marked by this kind of objectivity. Approaches such as seeking personal associations to the dream images, or viewing those images as aspects of the dreamer, may not be particularly helpful.

When I tried to unfold the dream of “The Cold Baby,” I didn’t really have a sense of how this dream might fit in with my own life. And yet, it seemed laden with meaning—like a warning, or a call to action.

Then, I remembered that the previous evening I’d seen a PBS program about some beekeepers who were trying to breed a strain of bees strong enough to survive winter in the Pacific Northwest. The first winter was particularly hard, and there was a scene showing dead and dying bees scattered around outside of their hive. The beekeeper found one bee still alive, but very cold, and he blew on this bee softly to warm her before placing her at the entrance to the hive. He didn’t think this bee was likely to survive. (But the bees in some of the other hives made it through, and there was still hope for the project as a whole.)

When I looked at my own dream in the light of this waking memory, it began to make sense to me on a fundamental level. The cold baby and the cold bee were similarly shaped, and the efforts to warm them were carried out with a similar tender, yet practical, care. The beekeeper and the dream both seemed to be responding to an immediate and potentially tragic situation—while at the same time objectively considering the larger problem and gathering determination to do something about it. The common message was: These bees and babies are in trouble. Something needs to be done.

The imagery of cold bees and cold babies seems particularly apt for a Culture Dream. Bees are among the species most endangered by environmental pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change. The loss of their vital work as pollinators is causing a cascade effect that can destroy entire ecosystems. Ultimately, when bees die, future generations—represented by babies or children—are at risk. If we neglect bees, we neglect our children. This is an urgent concern.

In fact, “The Cold Baby” dream could be considered a dream about soul loss and potential soul recovery after all, though the soul that has been “left out in the cold” is not associated with personal losses: It is the soul of our culture and society, our environment, our future, our world. In the dream, I do not yet know whether my efforts to warm and save the baby will give her a chance for survival, but I do know that without such efforts (from me and from others), she has no chance at all.

Probably, many of us are having dreams that point to the dangers and possibilities ahead of us and the efforts required of us to better care for future generations. Such dreams call for a response… How will I respond?


  1. Cynthia Bauman

    Thank you for sharing these dreams — the both/and aspects (personal and collective) resonate deeply for me, particularly the bee symbolism, as I endeavor to return to beekeeper… learning how keeping bees in northern California differs from beekeeping practices in northern Illinois… challenging… thank you!

    • kirstenbackstrom

      Thank you so much, Cynthia. And blessings on your beekeeping!

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