Dream Figures


It took me quite a while to notice that “dream figures” is a Course term, but it is. The term refers primarily to the bodies of other people, implying that those bodies are not real, independent people, but just figures in our dream. As such, they are really controlled by forces in our own minds, just as our dreams at night are. The Course’s references to the term explain how the dream figures can be controlled by us and yet still seem independent and able to attack us.

This seems to contradict the Course’s view that those bodies out there are the bodies of other parts of the Sonship, other minds. We are not in this dream alone. Yet these two views must somehow go together. I think they come together in the idea that, when other people show up in our dream, there is an implicit agreement on their part to act out the roles that our dreaming requires of them. It is exactly the same as when an actor shows up to play a role in a theatrical play. By signing on, that actor has agreed to play the part that the writer has laid out for him in the script. Thus, the people that appear in our lives are really signing on for a part in our play. They’ve read the script and they know what role they are playing. They know their lines, and they have agreed to be faithful to them.

What the material below highlights is the odd and rather twisted fact that we have written a script in which they constantly attack the main character—us. How can that be? We’ll explore that below.


The figures we see in the world. This refers primarily to human bodies, but more generally to all the forms we see. These figures seem to be real and independent of our minds. Believing they are real, we assign them roles or functions, things they are supposed to do to save or protect us. However, they are simply figures in our dream. As such, dynamics within our minds are controlling them. They act out thoughts of ours which frighten us and which we refuse to admit are inside us, yet which we still want to hang onto. So these thoughts seem to be outside of us, animating the dream figures. These are often thoughts of self-attack, which is why the dream figures so frequently attack us. See T-18.II.5:3-6.


We are the dreamer

The dream figures are figures in our dream. Therefore, we are the ones pulling their strings. We are making them act out. But since they seem to be someone else performing these actions, it is obvious that through the dream figures, we are carrying out actions that we don’t want to admit we are doing.

We project the darkness in us onto the dream figures for two reasons:

  1. We can’t bear to admit it’s in us
  2. We still want to see it acted out

Our compromise is that someone else acts it out. Now it gets done, and we get to be innocent for what is done. But our denial that we are the ones doing it also causes us to feel victimized by the dream figures.

There are many explanations for why the dream figures attack us:

  • We project onto them our own murderous thoughts, so they are murderous
  • We project onto them our murderous thoughts, which are thoughts of treachery against ourselves, so the dream figures are treacherous to us. They turn on us.
  • We project onto them the sinful things we did that we don’t want to admit we did. Now they do those things to us.
  • We project onto them our own desire to get vengeance on ourselves, so they get vengeance on us
  • We project onto them our desire to attack ourselves for what we’ve done to others, so they attack us
  • We project onto them our need to be punished, so they punish us.
  • We project onto them our own hatred of our Creator, so they hate us, their maker.
  • We project onto them the abusive motives we have given our body, so they abuse our body
  • We project them out of our need to judge and condemn. So they become figures that attack us and so “make” us judge and condemn. Our need to judge and condemn seems to come from them.

With several of these there is a clear “boomerang effect.” We make the dream figures out of some impulse of attacking something else (other people, God, attacking others with our body), and this makes dream figures that attack us. I can only assume that some sort of psychological justice principle is at work here. It’s as if when I project out there my own murderous thoughts, they morph slightly and take on their “just” form of murdering me.

We assign the dream figures double purposes

Consciously, the dream figures are supposed to do our will, to fill our needs, to save us from the dream. Unconsciously, they are supposed to attack and punish us and turn on us. When the dream figures fill this unconscious need, they frustrate the conscious need. And since we have denied the unconscious need, they seem to be acting against our will.

Come and go

These dream figures really behave like figures in a dream. They magically come and go, showing that they are just the stuff of dreams.

They are just puppets, have no identity of their own

Because the dream figures are just manipulated by a mind, they have no identity of their own. They are just someone’s puppets. When you go along with your brother’s decision to separate and be sick, you just become the puppet of his dream. You become a figure in his dream, and so you have no identity of your own.

Passages and commentary

Yet here is a world, clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside.  |s4 You do not respond to it as though you made it, nor do you realize that the emotions the dream produces must come from you.  It is the figures in the dream and what they do that seem to make the dream.  You do not realize that you are making them act out for you, for if you did the guilt would not be theirs, and the illusion of satisfaction would be gone. (T-18.II.5:3-6)

You are making them act out for you, do things to you that you want done, so that you can blame them for what they did, rather than admitting that you did it to yourself.

But who reacts to figures in a dream unless he sees them as if they were real? The instant that he sees them as they are they have no more effects on him, because he understands he gave them their effects by causing them and making them seem real. (T-27.VIII.4:4-5)

The world you see depicts exactly what you thought you did. Except that now you think that what you did is being done to you. The guilt for what you thought is being placed outside yourself, and on a guilty world that dreams your dreams and thinks your thoughts instead of you. It brings its vengeance, not your own. (T-27.VIII.7:2-5)

You project onto the world the place in your that thinks murderous thoughts and wants to get vengeance on yourself for them. You project onto the world the sinful things you did that you don’t want to admit you did.

This is a crucial step in dealing with illusions. No one is afraid of them when he perceives he made them up.  The fear was held in place because he did not see that he was author of the dream, and not a figure in the dream. He gives himself the consequences that he dreams he gave his brother. And it is but this the dream has put together and has offered him, to show him that his wishes have been done. Thus does he fear his own attack, but sees it at another’s hands. As victim, he is suffering from its effects, but not their cause. He authored not his own attack, and he is innocent of what he caused. (T-28.II.7:2-9)

He attacks himself for what he thinks he did to others. He wants to have this wish carried out. But he also wants someone else to do it, for that makes him innocent of what is being done to him. He doesn’t deserve it, and that is a consolation.

In the dream, the dreamer made himself. But what he made has turned against him, taking on the role of its creator, as the dreamer had. And as he hated his Creator, so the figures in the dream have hated him. His body is their slave, which they abuse because the motives he has given it have they adopted as their own. And hate it for the vengeance it would offer them. It is their vengeance on the body which appears to prove the dreamer could not be the maker of the dream. (T-28.II.8:2-7)

The dream figures he made hate him, since they are made of his hatred of the One Who created him. They abuse his body, because they are made of the motive to abuse that he has given his body.

All figures in the dream are idols, made to save you from the dream. Yet they are part of what they have been made to save you <from>. Thus does an idol keep the dream alive and terrible, for who could wish for one unless he were in terror and despair? And this the idol represents, and so its worship is the worship of despair and terror, and the dream from which they come. (T-29.IX.3:Heading-4)

The dream figures are idols made to save you from the dream, yet also made to keep the dream alive and terrible. You have assigned conflicting purposes to them.

Nightmares are childish dreams. The toys have turned against the child who thought he made them real. Yet can a dream attack? Or can a toy grow large and dangerous and fierce and wild? This does the child believe, because he fears his thoughts and gives them to the toys instead. And their reality becomes his own, because they seem to save him from his thoughts. Yet do they keep his thoughts alive and real, but seen outside himself, where they can turn against him for his treachery to them. He thinks he needs them that he may escape his thoughts, because he thinks the thoughts are real. And so he makes of anything a toy, to make his world remain outside himself, and play that he is but a part of it. (T-29.IX.5:1-9)

We fear our murderous thoughts and so see them in the dream figures. By displacing them onto the dream figures, this seems to save us from our thoughts. Yet this makes them real and dangerous, keeps them alive. There, in the dream figures, our thoughts turn against us. These thoughts are an act of treachery against ourselves. They are a case of us turning on ourselves. And so that is what they do once outside us—they turn on us.

The real world still is but a dream. Except the figures have been changed. They are not seen as idols which betray. It is a dream in which no one is used to substitute for something else, nor interposed between the thoughts the mind conceives and what it sees. No one is used for something he is not, for childish things have all been put away. (T-29.IX.7:1-5)

In the real world, we do not project onto the dream figures the role of saving us from our treacherous thoughts and therefore turning on us.

Idle wishes and grievances are partners or co-makers in picturing the world you see. The wishes of the ego gave rise to it, and the ego’s need for grievances, which are necessary to maintain it, peoples it with figures that seem to attack you and call for “righteous” judgment. These figures become the middlemen the ego employs to traffic in grievances. They stand between your awareness and your brothers’ reality. (W-pI.73.2:1-4)

Because our ego needs to judge and condemn, we dream into our lives dream figures who attack us and thus require that we judge and condemn them.

There will be no dim figures from your dreams, nor their obscure and meaningless pursuits with double purposes insanely sought, remaining in your mind. (W-pI.136.16:3)

I think the double purpose that we give the dream figures here refers to the purpose we assign first and foremost to our body. The one purpose mentioned in this lesson is the purpose of being sick. Maybe the other purpose is the more conscious one of getting well. This makes sense. We do this with all dream figures. We consciously want them to treat us right, but unconsciously assign them the job of attacking us. That would fit the phrase “double purposes insanely sought” very well.

We would not let our happiness slip by because a fragment of a senseless dream happened to cross our minds, and we mistook the figures in it for the Son of God; its tiny instant for eternity. (W-pI.153.8:3)

We should not mistake the dream figure for the Son of God.

Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic. (W-pI.158.4:1)

Dream figures appear and disappear, which appears to be a magic trick. How can something come from nothing or pass into nothing? And all the figures in the dream in which the world began go with it. Bodies now are useless, and will therefore fade away, because the Son of God is limitless. (W-pII.10.2:5-6)

When the dream vanishes, its figures will too.

It dreams of punishment, and trembles at the figures in its dreams; its enemies, who seek to murder it before it can ensure its safety by attacking them. (W-pII.12.2:5)

The ego dreams a dream in which it is punished for its sins. Then it forgets it dreamed the dream, and so it is afraid of the dream figures who would punish it, forgetting that they are just the puppets of its own dreaming.

They watch the dream figures come and go, shift and change, suffer and die. Yet they are not deceived by what they see. They recognize that to behold a dream figure as sick and separate is no more real than to regard it as healthy and beautiful. (M-12.6:7-9)

The dream figures come and go, appear and disappear.

Unless you help him, you will suffer pain with him because that is your wish. And you become a figure in his dream of pain, as he in yours. So do you and your brother both become illusions, and without identity. You could be anyone or anything, depending on whose evil dream you share. You can be sure of just one thing; that you are evil, for you share in dreams of fear. (T-28.IV.1:6-10)

You cannot do his part, but this you <do> when you become a passive figure in his dreams, instead of dreamer of your own. Identity in dreams is meaningless because the dreamer and the dream are one. Who shares a dream must be the dream he shares, because by sharing is a cause produced. (T-28.IV.5:3-5)

When you let your brother’s wish to separate and be sick stand, you become a passive figure in his dream. You are letting him be the dreamer, and dream you. Thus you have no identity of your own.

How happy would your dreams become if you were not the one who gave the “proper” role to every figure which the dream contains. No one can fail but your idea of him, and there is no betrayal but of this. The core of dreams the Holy Spirit gives is never one of fear. The coverings may not appear to change, but what they mean has changed because they cover something else. Perceptions are determined by their purpose, in that they seem to be what they are for. A shadow figure who attacks becomes a brother giving you a chance to help, if this becomes the function of the dream. (T-29.IV.5:1-6)

You assign the “proper” role to every figure in the dream. You have assigned what they are to do for you.


[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]