Childhood Nightmares – Scorpions & Mazes

In my previous blog, I put one of my own childhood nightmares under scrutiny of its themes and implications. I’d like to follow that note up on a childhood nightmare that a friend confided in me as I feel it may have some similar parallels to my own nightmare.

The Scorpion and the Maze

The description of this childhood nightmare is pretty straightforward.

My friend shared with me a recurring nightmare he had of being trapped in a labyrinth, a Greco-style maze. Though he didn’t necessarily possess the height or birds eye view to see that he was in a maze, he found himself met with many boundaries, many walls, and coincidently many choices. And because this maze felt like a classical labyrinth, it meant that danger could lurk around any corner (like the all famed Minotaur).

Frustrating and frightening as this scenario might already seem, there was another component that made it more perilous.

My friend knew that there was a giant scorpion chasing him as he traversed the maze. So not only did my friend feel the pressure of danger awaiting each turn in this labyrinth, but he felt pressure breathing down his back as this hideous creature followed him, forcing him to choose his paths rather than granting him any respite to relax or think through his decisions.

The scorpion for some time didn’t mean anything in particular to him that would be different to you and me: scorpions are regarded as venomous creatures and unseemly to look at. What I was struck by was how he shared with me a real incident he experienced many years later when he was traveling abroad and had been stung by a scorpion while putting on his shoe. In that country, the physicians said the venom was too weak to use any antidote for remedy, that the sting would not be fatal. They sent him off with a bag of ice to help the swelling. My friend said the pain of the sting was indescribable and lasted the entire day, and then some.

My friend has always had a rather benign regard for all animals, including insects (choosing to trap and let outside even spiders and cockroaches). But scorpions he’s always had a deep disdain for, likely due to the dream and his painful incident of being stung by one.

“Prophetic” & Therapeutic Power

I am almost tempted to say that there was something prophetic about the dream. 

My first question to my friend was if he had this dream AFTER having been stung by a scorpion, but he told me this dream plagued him in his early years, well before the incident with the real scorpion that stung him. Had this dream occurred after his sting, the obvious implication is that the trauma of the event has allowed his subconscious to assign scorpions as the symbolic representation of adversity, fear, pain, etc.

I don’t believe his childhood nightmare was a warning to him that he’d encounter a traumatic experience with a scorpion later on and end up hating them. That being said, the fear of the dream mingled with the trauma of the experience solidifies this symbol in his waking and subconscious mind. 

I believe God sometimes uses symbols that carry these tangible meanings to communicate something or challenge us to do something. What I often see occur in phobias is that God uses the symbol of that which we are afraid of to challenge us to grow bold in other areas of our life. 

An example of this is to take the fear of spiders, which is largely irrational (unless you’re encountering a spider that with one bite can kill you). Someone who has a fear of spiders can encounter a spider and conquer their fear of spiders through different means of exposure. When someone learns the techniques used to develop courage against this harmless fear, fear itself can be inoculated against. It’s like the spider is the harmless version of a virus put into our bodies, so that our mental antibodies (courage) can learn to take on a REAL threat.

Again, while I have suspicion of placing too much emphasis on prophetic power of dreams, I do wonder if God allowed this childhood nightmare and allowed the later scorpion sting to serve as a phobia for my friend to triumph over in the pursuit of courage.

Symbolism At Play

L0027293 The gyri of the thinker’s brain as a maze of choices in biom Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The gyri of the thinker’s brain as a maze of choices in biomedical ethics. Scraperboard drawing by Bill Sanderson, 1997. Drawing 1997 By: Bill SandersonPublished: [1997] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

A maze carries a rather obvious connotation of decision making and uncertainty. We cannot see beyond the walls of the maze and without having a bird’s eye view cannot discern which path leads to our exit or goal. While carving a path in a maze by foot, we can get overwhelmed not knowing if we’ve taken a previous path before, unsure if we are getting any closer to our destination. Things blur together, a sense of progress becomes amiss to us. 

The symbol of a maze is the dread we experience in life. Each of our futures are indiscernible as a maze. Just as we would traverse a maze with a sense of hopelessness, we too can go through life feeling like we have missed the correct turn, feeling a sense of impossibility of finding happiness or accomplishment typified by the end of the maze. The maze therefore communicates both an anxiety to make decisions and a lack of trust for the future.

We also see the symbol of the scorpion in this dream. In mediteranean/near eastern mythologies, scorpions seem to convey symbols of life and death simultaneously. This unusual connection to life that scorpions bear is predominantly due to the antidote that ancient civilizations were able to discern from scorpion venom. 

The symbol of death tied to scorpions can be elaborated on when we consider an indomitable nature of scorpions. Scorpions possess a great deal of features that make them apt fighters of things their size and greater: The armor of the scorpion, the features of its claws added with a stinging tail (an advantage over most animals that might only use jaws and claws for fighting), and their covert nature (not really making any noises as they move and hide). They are symbols of nature’s finest warriors in these terms, having many weapons, a strong defense, subtle movement, while also possessing a lone-wolf image as not being a hive-minded being (perhaps like wasps which might seem to be a strong counterpart). They are nature’s soldiers of death.

The idea of scorpions as antagonistic also fits in mythology as we consider that this was the creature sent to destroy the great hunter Orion. Though the stories of Orion’s fate differ, a common theme of hubris seems to play out in Orion’s life–believing he could hunt all creatures down or he was a better hunter than Artemis–always resulting in his death by the means of an enemy that could best him.

Scriptural Symbolism of Scorpions

The Bible happens to afford us a great depth of symbolic painting on many elements, and it’s interesting to see the different ways scorpions have been represented in Scripture. 

In various books of Scripture, scorpions seem to carry a theme of cruelty that can come from tyranny or admonishment. We see this when King Rehoboam (son and successor of wise Solomon) threatens a fractious group of Israelites to subdue the people not with whips but with scorpions, indicating a “piling on” of punishment (1 Kings 12). This story of tyrannical punishment is echoed in Luke 11:12 when Jesus compares the merciful Father to humanity’s penchant for cruelty or imagining cruelty on others, indicating that going to God in prayer should be like expecting an egg (to nourish us, a symbol of life) instead of expect a punishment, a scorpion. 

The theme of tribulation (especially a long period of testing) could also be related to scorpions when we consider how the Israelites are stung by scorpions in their journey to the promised land, or the scorpions in Revelation that we are told have a sting that lasts 5 months. Scorpions are threats of pain to be endured that precede paradise, for in Exodus/Deuteronomy we expect the Kingdom of God through Israelite rule, while in Revelation we expect God’s Heavenly Kingdom following the tribulations of the end times.

The last theme from Scripture I’d like to point out is not an overt reference to scorpions, though the language certainly paints the tail of a scorpion. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, St. Paul mocks death by saying “O death, where is your sting, o grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses pair powerfully when we look into the Gospel of Luke where Jesus speaks about giving over authority to the apostles to tread on scorpions (Luke 10:19). Here, again, we see scorpions as a representation of death (something ancient cultures already agreed upon in this image) and more than that it is a manifestation of the lethality of sin. While there’s evidence to support Jesus speaking literally in regards to treading on snakes and scorpions, we cannot overlook His symbolic speech of the apostles having an even greater victory: treading on & overpowering death & sin through Christ’s authority.

How To Traverse Our Own Mazes

The symbols of this dream convey a deep anguish we all feel when presented with big choices to be made in life. The childhood nightmare carries an insight that the future will be rife with big decisions, and not only that, but that there will be peril in this process of decision making. We all feel the same pain of not knowing our future, and thus choosing an option becomes a burden because our traversing of the maze of life will leave us with wondering if we choose the right path and if we are ever any closer to our goal (happiness, salvation, whatever manifestation the end of the labyrinth takes on).

What actually is liberating in the manifestation of the scorpion in this dream is that the dream wisely puts: you won’t have time to rationalize what’s the best option. The scorpion at our backs is death, and we cannot wait for death to catch up to us while we stand idle at the start of this maze. If scorpions truly are a manifestation of death, then the rich symbolism of this dream tells us that action is needed, that idleness is unbecoming for this seemingly indomitable foe at our backs.

Taken from a pagan or non-religious perspective–looking at Orion and Scorpio–we would view this threat to our backs as the punishment of hubris. There’s value in seeing the scorpion even as a manifestation of hubris’ punishment, as traversing a maze/labyrinth is often caught up in hubris, performed by a proud soul who believes they can discern the path with their own reasoning, without a bird’s eye view or any added perspective. The scorpion at our backs reminds us that hubris pushes us through the maze, and that it will be through hubris/pride that we fall and fail to meet our goal.

How can any of us discern our own paths and feel a sense of hope that we will reach the blessed end of the maze? How can we alleviate ourselves from regrets of a mistaken path? If we face a dead end, will we not turn to see the sting of the scorpion cornering us? What can guide us through the labyrinth of life that possess so many tough decisions? What can arm us to face this giant scorpion that pushes us through the maze?

Christ is the only one who promises an antidote to this venom. His antidote is life-giving, is resurrectional. His antidote is also humility, inoculating us from the sting of pride. Looking at a Scriptural interpretation of this dream, we can see the futility of human reason, and the need to place our every deed, action, and decision at the feet of the Lord, the Most High God, who possesses this bird’s eye view of our labrinth, of our life.

I can personally attest to how crippling, paralyzing (like the sting of the scorpion) making decisions in life can be. I faced this when discerning my vocation/occupation, when dating/courting before I was married. The only remedy to this anguish and sting of uncertainty was through casting my eyes above the walls of my labyrinth and asking God for His perspective, to lead me, and to crush my own understanding and hubris along the way. 

Safe journeys as you traverse through your own maze!

One thought on “Childhood Nightmares – Scorpions & Mazes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s