Sunday, July 2, 2017

The dream that is a song that is a road

The Temiar people of the Malaysian rainforest live very close to their land. Their stilt houses are walled with bamboo poles, laid horizontally so there are gaps between them. There are also gaps between the bamboo slats of the floors. Earth and trees are always visible. No solid boundary is set between human settlement and the natural world.
It is not surprising that people who live this way have an intimacy with the Earth that colors and informs their dreams. They believe that everything is alive and conscious, and that in dreams human spirits, traveling outside the body, encounter spirits of plants and animals and mountains and rivers. There is great power in these encounters, especially when a tiger or a tree gifts the dreamer with a song that can later call in its energy for healing.
A song of this kind, received in a dream and freighted with the power to summon an animal guardian, or wake a mountain, is called a norng, which literally means a "road", or pathway. The kind of path that can get your body safely through the forest, or guide a soul to where it belongs.
American musicologist and anthropologist Marina Roseman, the author of Healing Sounds from the Malaysian Rainforest has recorded Temiar dream songs. Roseman is one of those anthropologists who break the glass; she won the right to sing in a Temiar women's chorus when healers sang over the sick. I have listened to her recording of a tiger dream song. It is thrilling. Above the tapping of bamboo sticks, you hear the gravelly voice of the tiger as he rises from a nap to become an ally in healing, by driving away a disease spirit, or lending his ownfierce vitality to a sick person.
One of the songs Roseman translated reveals the process of acquiring a healing song from a plant spirit.  A man had been seeding and tending keralad plants, patting and shaping the earth around the roots. In the time when the keralad came into flower, he smelled its
fragrance strongly inside a dream. After releasing its odor, the plant took human form and announced a spiritual connection with the dreamer.  "It is you that I want." As a human, the plant now began to sing, giving the dreamer a new song for healing.
 Notice the stages in this process, which proceeds like the natural growth of fruit and flower. You make a connection in the natural world, by getting your hands in the earth, seeding and weeding. The plant releases its odor. Then its spirit morphs into human form, initiates conversation and finally produces the song.
There is great healing in sound, and the right song can open the gates between worlds. The best songs, as the Temiar and other indigenous people know, come fresh and personal from our dreaming, as the flower spirit came in the night.

Text adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

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