Zombie Apocalypse: a symbol of collective transformation

 Gajda, Tegning af en Zombi. US Public Domain via Wikimedia
Gajda, Tegning af en Zombi. US Public Domain via Wikimedia

What cannot be worked through at the conscious level is often worked through at the unconscious level, in dreams and fantasy. cf. Carl Jung  (CW 5, para 4-45). When encountering that which we cannot dream, we confront the limits of sense.

Film and art may present an unconscious attempts to work through collective transformation at the limits of reason and sense. In zombie movies and the growing zombie apocalypse movement, we may be seeing an attempt to dream ‘apocalyptic’ change.

Zombies are the  ‘Undead’: not living, not dead.  Driven, yet not alive, zombie images emerge from the recesses of the collective unconscious. Animated, yet without life, they move. Driven, yet without desire, they seek. Emerging from “subterranean passages” of psychic life, they express a surplus of drive without instinct, of desire without meaning.

How else shall we understand the collective image of the zombie, but to see them as our “natural instincts transformed into a monstrous drive that can never be fully satisfied” (Slavoj Zizek, 2000). Zombies express the undead, as a ‘monstrous drive’ within, an empty hunger that cannot be satisfied. Zombies are the spawn of excess, images of a triumphant ego culture. Such images erupt into egoic culture from an insurrection of undead drive.

Ego identifications serves an adaptive function, helping us to achieve a positive identity within the collective. At the same time and on another level, egoic identifications isolate us from the innermost Self (Atman). Rigid egoic structures form bulwarks against the existential intensity of being; they form bulwarks against the innermost Self (Atman).

Early in his career Carl Jung made an interesting point: by entering into adaptive reality, the ego makes a ‘copy’ of itself. Jung cites Jodl to make this point:

“Language is the register of tradition, the record of racial conquest , the deposit of all the gains made by the genius of individual. The social ‘copy-system’ thus established reflects the judgmental processes of the race, and in turn becomes the training school of the judgment of new generations” (Jodl, cited in Jung CW 5, para 15).

Egoic life is collective life: adaptive, productive, object-oriented and object seeking. We look outward to the object world. We adapt to the object world. We make a ‘copy’ of the object world. We attempt to fit ourselves within the ‘copy’. We lose ourselves within the ‘copy ‘, becoming hungry, and ever more hungry for that which is missing, until our ‘object hunger’ transforms into into ‘a monstrous drive that can never be fully satisfied.’

Said another way, the ego faces outward toward the object world, adapting itself to the object world. ‘I’ know ‘I’ by defining how ‘I am’ like some ‘thing’ or another ‘thing’.  The ego objectifies itself as ‘I’ through pleasing object identifications:  ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that.’  As a ‘pleasure ego’, it affirms only the positive within itself, spitting out or projecting the negative (Hegel; Freud, 1922). The Self, as that which can never be objectified or as that which can never be an object, is all too easily cast out like precious stone thrown into the mud. Once the Self is lost, it is not so easy to find.

The undead emerge as shadowy images and dark forms reminding of us our hunger for some ‘thing’ now lost. In the image above, we see a zombie figure emerging from the dark hole, a grave– symbol of emptiness, of the void, of hollowed out place or space where the innermost Self (Atman) once was. The zombie is a stark image of the negative: as image of that precious thing, cast out, made dead; or, as image of our ego hunger for that lost ‘thing’ so difficult to find.

As displeasing as they are, zombies may also point to a readiness for transformation. The undead offer themselves as ‘symbols of transformation’. Artful representations of the ‘undead’ express a capacity to represent ‘the negative’ that lies outside the bounds of reason and sense. This ability to dream the unthinkable speaks to the potentials of symbolic life, of dream life, of artistic creation in music and film. German philosopher, G.W.F Hegel might say that we beginning to ‘look the negative in the face’:

“It is this mighty power, not by being a positive which turns away from the negative, as when we say of anything it is nothing or it is false, and, being then done with it, pass off to something else: on the contrary, mind is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and dwelling with it.” (Hegel, para 32)

The collective ability to dream, imagine and symbolize ‘negative space’– the space where innermost Self (Atman) once was– is of primary importance in the reclamation of the Self. The emergence of zombie films indicates that there may be a critical mass of individuals who are opening to life beyond banal objectification, individuals capable of dreaming the undead, of bringing the shadow into light.

To dream of an archetype is to become aware of it, even if at an unconscious level. To dream an archetype is to begin to make transforms in fields of awareness. Dreams are acts of psychical transformation, living symbols and expressions of transformation. It is through such work we open to unknown frontiers of psychic life, revealing a field of representation for that which lies at the limits of sense.


  1. The Fragile Absolute or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For, Slavoj Zizek, London: Verso, 2000.
  2. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Google eBook),Sigmund Freud, International psycho-analytical Press- 1922
  3. Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis…, Carl Gustav Jung, 1912
  4. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 1, Jacques Lacan
  5. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 2 ,The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis
  6. The Phenomenology of Spirit  Georg W. F. Hegel


  1. Hegel said “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real” (quoted in Engels, 1970. I have yet to find a good direct quote from Hegel, but this is part of Hegel’s discourse. I believe Jung offers a concept of the real that is a sort of a rational Mundus Imaginalis. I will be working through such concepts soon.

7 thoughts on “Zombie Apocalypse: a symbol of collective transformation

  1. Jung defined dreams as “spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious” (CW 8 p505). Zombies are a type of nightmare and there are two kinds of nightmares that Jung speaks of: the ones that alter a persons’ life course and the ones that summarize a rough sketch of what is to come psychically. Since I see no evidence of people altering their ways due to this “nightmare”, the latter must apply. Jung spoke of the existence of a death wish and Zombies are a type of death wish, only in this case your body isn’t what dies but you become soulless. This is not soul in the normal sense of the word but in the sense of spirit; that which gives life and personality. It is a collective portent from the unconscious to the conscious that if society doesn’t start trying to come to their senses, they will rot away to nothing. Although they will be alive, life won’t be worth living anymore. It’s what happens when a people “that thinks only in themes of its own survival will invariably destroy its environment and, as we are learning from bitter experience, will thus destroy itself”. We are barbaric. We are warmongerers. We are xenophobic. We are destroying our world so the world in turn is preparing to destroy us in return through our minds. When our minds are gone so will we because the body cannot exist without the mind.

    1. Andrew,
      Thank you for the reply. I agree that it is very sad: this “nightmare”, this “death wish,” our one-sided vision which may “destroy its environment” and “destroy itself.” But if we are to speak for the soul then we must speak a language of love, of imagination, of hope. It is through the soul’s language that we may re-establish a relationship to the “sense of spirit.” I believe it is possible, such reclamation of the soul.

  2. I stumbled upon your site just yesterday and spent many hours reading some of your excellent posts. You are re-igniting my old passion for Jung. Zombies seem to both reflect what our society has become ( as seen at any mall) and warn us of our future, in shocking terms. Zombies “are hip” with my 20-something kids, not so much with my peers. The kids are attracted/repelled, as they’re shown their shadow potential on the screen. Never underestimate the power of a bad example. These strong “Not-I” experiences may become a positive unconscious trigger in their own individuation.

    1. Rick Boys,
      Thank you for reading. I am happy to hear that your passion for Jung is re-igniting. I appreciate the way you have used the “not-I” in your comment. You say, ‘Not-I’ experiences may become a positive unconscious trigger for individuation. I agree, change may occur through archetypal “consolidation of error” (Frye 1969, 260), in which a ‘not-I’ response becomes possible for the soul. The zombie archetype consolidates the error of an empty, split off greed, and becomes a symbol that can provoke transformation, allowing for new life to emerge. The good news is that once we begin to dream, to consolidate the error, we have already begun the process of transformation.
      Thank you for the insight.

  3. My last two dreams of note were Zombie dreams, nothing scary about them, it was more about provisioning, safe movement, helping others in the dream and fortifying our positions. The zombies were more of a swarm than individuals, always looking to get in. Whether this was personal or collective i will let my unconscious decide, a living symbol of transformation as you say. ‘I’ will just continue listen and feel, be an individual, a reflection of nature rather than culture.

    Once again your posts are educational and inspiring .

    Thank you so much.

    1. Japhy, I too dreamed zombie dreams, a long cycle of recurring dreams that went on for several years. Now I understand these dreams as an essential part of my spiritual growth. At first I resisted them, and then I gradually gave myself over to the images my soul was offering to me, watching them take shape and transform through time. It eventually became an epic night journey, and then a period when the zombies became a swarm. Next, I went into a period in which I dreamt that the world was emptied out by zombie machines. All that remained of the earth were carved out quarries. The last dream I had in the cycle was about 12 months ago. It was a post-apocalyptic world: dried up, carved out, nothing living remained. In the dream I realized that through my love things would begin to grow and turn green with life again. There was a deep chasm, I looked in it with love. With this act of looking a form emerged: a little tiny woman with the body of a fish. In this strange dream I picked up the tiny woman-fish and then I reached up and gently placed her in the sky. With this, a new constellation emerged in the sky. After several years of dreaming, the symbol transformed. I too transformed in the process and something new emerged. A new idea, new life within my soul. I am thankful that you too are dreaming, continuing to listen, reflect, and feel. Trusting in the ‘reflection of nature’ within you, beautiful. Thank you.

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