We dream future events, but often don't recognize what is going on in a dream until the waking event it anticipates catches up with it. Here's a small and amusing example involving my recent trip to the Cincinnati area.
On May 30, I recorded a dream report that contained the following information: "I am getting ready for new presentations and performances, some focused on the 18th century. I study various 'savage tribes' that are unfamiliar to me. One of these nations is called the 'Bottomless' tribe; I speculate that this is because its members run around bare-bottomed in summer. I track an extraordinary character who has dyed his full head of hair bright red; he looks almost like a clown."
Waking, I associated the dream content with the new lectures I will be giving on Sir William Johnson - the 18th century character who is central to my novel The Firekeeper - and his neighbors. Research inspired by the dream led me to look again at documents relating to the lives of two prominent Iroquois Indians of his time, an Onondaga speaker and his warrior son who were both called "Red Head" - even though it was clear that the "savage tribes" in my dream were not Iroquois.
Events started to catch up with the dream on my ride from Cincinnati airport to Blue Ash on June 4th. Robin O'Neal, the volunteer coordinator for my workshop, picked me up in her van. During the ride, her kids in the back started talking about food. "I'm a bottomless pit!" one boy declared. "I'm bottomless too! Let's go to Wendy's!" "Do you mean bottomlesss, or buttless?" "Bottomless! Let's go to Burger King!" This went on for quite a while. I realized I had found the Bottomless Tribe, as Robin dropped her kids off for an early dinner.
My lecture that night was at the New Church in Glendale. On the plane to Cincinnati, I had been rereading Emanuel Swedenborg's Journal of Dreams from 1743-1744, a most remarkable document, in which we can study how dreams and visions called one of the foremost scientists of his day to research the realms of spiritual knowledge and supra-physical reality by the only appropriate scientific method: first-hand experience. In a watershed experience in this period, Swedenborg found himself ejected from his body and encountered a radiant being he identified as Christ who asked him if he had an up-to-date bill of health. (A bill of health, in those days, was a necessity for survival; if you disembarked at an English port in time of an epidemic, you were liable to be put to death if you did not have one). That question, in a sense, propelled and directed Swedenborg's subsequent inquiries, which led him to fill the many volumes of his Spiritual Diary and the Arcana Coelestiae with his observations of heavens and hells and his dialogues with angels and spirits, many of which took place in the liminal space of hypnagogia. My lecture in the Swendenborgian church became, in no small part, a meditation on "Dreaming with Swedenborg" and what we can learn, as practice, from his mastery of the hypngagogic state. So there I was - as in the dream - pursuing an 18th century theme.
Beyond teasing Robin about the Bottomless Tribe, I forgot the dream until another of its elements burst through in the weekend workshop. We were playing a version of my Coincidence Card Game (explained in The Three "Only" Things) designed to spark the imagination and provide fresh materials for making up stories and scripts. We all wrote down part of a story on one side of an index card, made a deck from the cards, mixed them up and then each drew a card at random. We took turns to read the card we had drawn aloud. The game required each person to take off from what was written on the card and make up the rest of the story - or bring others from the group into a spontaneous mini-theatre to act out that story. The results were wildly entertaining and creative.
One of the stories summarized on the back of an index card involved a clown handing out coupons on the corner of a donut shop. This was play-acted brilliantly, but after, the author of the card said she would like to tell her own fuller story - and enthralled us with her account of a year in her early life when she was literally employed by the manager of a donut shop to dress up as a clown and hand out coupons at the corner. She produced a photograph from that time of herself in work clothes. I was stunned by the photo. It was a head shot, so you could not see the clown costume, just the mass of vivid red hair, which made the face androgynous. I was looking at the "Red Head" from my dream of the Bottomless Tribe.
WHEN WE NEED STORIES MORE THAN FOOD
Throughout that weekend workshop, we were hunting stories - or rather, allowing the BIG stories to hunt and find us. Among the stories that jumped out, in our journeys to the Dream Library and other locales in the imaginal realm, were some that have already been written but have the power to animate and inspire.
One of our dreamers was guided to go looking for a children's story by the wonderful naturalist writer Barry Lopez, and found this wisdom in the voice of Badger: "Remember only this one thing," said Badger. "The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away when they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves."-Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel.-
Graphic: The Flying Pig greets travelers on the concourse at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport.
Listen to Robert's interview with Mark Perzel on WVXU, the Cincinnati NPR station, at http://www.wvxu.org/schedule/cincinnatiedition_archiveview.asp?ID=6/7/2009