I don’t carry a handbag myself, but I have come to know a bit about women’s purses and pocketbooks, and especially how they feature in dreams. I have talked with hundreds of women about their dreams of handbags over the years. In leading dream theater in my workshops I have been struck by how often a pocketbook has proven to be a key element in the drama – lost or stolen, at risk, flaunted or misused or swung as a weapon.
The handbag in a dream may just be a handbag, one that needs to be checked or kept safe. Everyone knows someone who’s had a handbag nabbed by a mugger, sometimes after dreaming this exact event, while failing to recognize a quite literal warning. So if you tell me a dream in which your pocketbook is lost or stolen, my first step will be to encourage you to look for clues in the dream as to when and where this could happen, so you can avoid this situation in the future. We also know people who have rushed off to the airport without a passport or driver’s license. So if you tell me you dreamed something like that, my first advice to you will be to check that you have your travel documents before you leave home on your next trip.
Now let’s think about the symbolism of a pocketbook and what it contains. By my observation, a woman’s handbag can be as loaded as a VW bus, whimsically evoked by the handbag in the picture. Typically, a handbag may contain
– credit cards
– cell phone
– photos and memories
– trinkets and lucky charms
– treats and snacks
Did you notice any repetition? Good. Three times makes the point.
Each of the literal items I have listed (and you can add your own) is rich in symbolism. Together, they represent power and identity, things we don’t want to lose or have taken from us. One woman dreamed she was fighting off a giant panther with her pocketbook. That’s power! She held up her own side so well that in a later dream the panther reappeared as her friend, purring like a kitty.
Another woman dreamed she was at the office and kept leaving her pocketbook in a place where it was vulnerable. In the dream, she could not break this habit, even though she knew that a creepy man who might be a robber was prowling the halls and snooping around her things. When I invited her to compare the behavior of her dream self to that of her waking self, she was able to come up with an action plan that involved not giving up her power in her work situation. Another woman dreamed she had left her purse in church and needed to go back to retrieve it. She felt this reflected the fact that for part of her life, as a devout member of her congregation, she had given up her right to direct knowledge of the sacred, and was now reclaiming that.
A woman’s pocketbook can represent her sexuality. You don’t have to be a Freudian to see the possible sexual associations with the way it opens and closes. I remember wildly funny dream theater back in the (Bill) Clinton era in which we play-acted a dream in which Bill is trying to get into a woman’s purse. Eons ago, at a dream conference, I could not miss the sexual character of this type of dream while doing a dreamwork process with an attractive woman from Texas . In her dream, she is repeatedly and compulsively opening her purse and snapping it shut. As she recounted the dream, in front of 200 people, she could not stop herself vamping and gyrating.
Again, a bag can just be a bag. I had a recurring motif in dreams over a period of 18 months – that a little gray carry-on bag I always took with me on trips was lost or stolen. The context was different in each of these dreams, but the outcome was the same. The dreams prompted me not to carry my passport or valuables in that bag, which was a good thing, because 18 months after the first lost-bag dream, that gray carry-on was stolen from a car I rented in California. There was symbolism in the literal event that followed the dream. On the day it was stolen, that gray carry-on bag contained a working draft of a book I later decided not to publish. A dream can preview a literal event that is richly symbolic.