Tuesday, April 1, 2014
I am very interested in how dreams prompt us to expand our vocabulary, setting us learning tasks ranging from the language of quantum physics to the identification of different types of hermit crab. Even if we decide not to take more than a few steps in some of these journeys of learning and remembering, our ability to decode an initially mysterious word or symbol sometimes provides important objective confirmation that we are dreaming into transpersonal and/or ancestral territory.
Some of the greatest adventures in my own imaginal life, which have sometimes brought me to a watershed in ordinary life, have begun with receiving a phrase in a language that is not my own, and yet is retained with enough accuracy to set a clear path for investigation. When I was in my teens in Australia, one of my dream visitors was a radiant young man who seemed to come from the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and insisted on speaking to me in a difficult vocabulary that I later learned was that of the Neoplatonist philosophers. He insisted that all true knowledge comes through anamnesis which means "remembering" in a special sense: remembering the knowledge that belonged to us, on the level of soul and spirit, before we came into the body.
When I moved to a farm in the Hudson Valley of New York twenty years ago, I dreamed of an ancient native woman who insisted on communicating to me in her own language. One of the words I wrote down phonetically was ondinnonk. It looked improbable. I discovered that far from being a nonsense word, it was the key to a practice of dreaming and healing that went deeper than anything I had learned from Western psychology. In the spiritual vocabulary of the Huron, ondinnonk meant "the secret wish of the soul", especially as revealed in dreams. I discovered this in the report of a Jesuit missionary who lived among the Huron in the 16oos. I learned that among the Huron and their Iroquois cousins, dreamwork centered on helping the dreamer to recognize the "secret wish of the soul" as revealed in a dream, and honoring that wish.
In 2001, I recorded a word of medieval French - chantepleure - that was the legacy of a mostly forgotten dream. I knew enough French to see that it combines the words that mean "sings" and "cries". A dictionary told me that is is an archaic term for a watering can. I had no context and could not grasp why this word had come through - until three years later through a string of dreams, visions and synchronicities, I found myself drawn into the world of Joan of Arc and Charles d'Orleans, the prince in whose name she launched her warrior crusade. I discovered that a chantepleure dripping blood was chosen by Charles' mother as the family emblem, signifying grief and the demand for justice, after his father, the first Duke of Orleans, was slaughtered by ax-murders employed by the Duke of Burgundy.
When I was invited to lead a workshop in Lithuania in 2004, I found myself dreaming words and symbols that belonged to an ancient zhyne, a priestess of the Earth goddess Zemyna, whose attributes you can read about in the wonderful books of Marija Gimbutas. I recount part of my experience of dreaming in Lithuanian in a chapter in my Dreamer's Book of the Dead titled "Death and Rebirth through the Goddess", more in my spiritual memoir The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
Because I am a fairly lazy linguist, I sometimes resist the dream call to embark on yet another voyage into ancient or foreign philology. But my Scots ancestors have been on my case for a while, and they would like me to remember a little more Gaelic (which in a Scots accent sounds rather like "garlic"). My researches have turned up something that fascinates me. In Scots Gaelic there is a prolix and specific vocabulary for many forms of dreaming and seership and paranormal phenomena. The best literary source on these things is the work of John Gregorson Campbell, a minister of Tiree in the late nineteenth century who gathered the oral traditions of Gaelic speakers and wove them into two books, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1900) and Witchcraft and Second-Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1902).
The term da-shealladh (pronounced "dah-haloo"), often translated as "second sight", literally means "two sights". It refers to the ability to see apparitions of both the living and the dead. The taibshear (pronounced "tysher") is the seer who specializes in observing the energy double (taibhs). A dream or vison is a bruadar ("broo-e-tar"). The bruadaraiche ("broo-e-taracher") is more than a dreamer in the common sense; he or she is the kind of dreamer who can see into the past or the future. That's a nugget worth close evaluation. The depth of the practice of dreaming in any culture is reflected in its working terminology for such things. I'm not sure that current English offers a single word as rich as bruadaraiche but I doubt that we can import the Scots term since (at least as it comes off my tongue) it sounds like something boiled up in a sheep's stomach.
So what do you do if you dream words in an unknown, or largely unknown, language? You write them down as exactly as you can. If your original version is phonetic rather than visual - because you heard the word without seeing a text - you may want to play with alternative written versions, but be careful not to stray too far from the data of the dream. The internet has evolved hugely since I started dreaming in Mohawk in the late 1980s. Auntie Google may be able to give you some leads. If the word can't be deciphered, or remains mystifying when first translated, be patient. You may be given more, in subsequent dreams and visions, or through the play of synchronicity around you. As with my dream of the watering can, the foreign word may be a first hint of something that will come through strong and clear when you are ready to receive.