Monday, June 8, 2009

The Bottomless Tribe

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.
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


Unknown said...

Dearest Robert~
Bah ha ha ha ha! My crew of five adolescents, three of them boys - is, indeed, "bottomless," in that they're endlessly longing to be filled with food, learning, and love. Let us just hope that I can keep the pants of my 'savage tribe' on, minds entertained and bellies full (with other than Wendy's) this summer!
Thank you for sharing your magic in our fair, pig-loving city. It is needed here and everywhere,

~Robin (who's currently Full Up)

Robert Moss said...

Dear Robin - Thanks for all you gave to growing and holding the space for our fabulous Story workshop, and for helping to feed the bottomless hunger so many of us share for meaning and direction in our lives.

Unknown said...

I must have been dreaming about your flying pig last night. In the dream it was hanging above a trough of liquid, possibly water. The pig would get hit and go down into the water. Eventually it was just laying on the ground, dead I presumed. A man with extraordinary powers made some hand movements over the pig and it came back to life. I was quite amazed!

Robert Moss said...

Aha! Well, hopefully your dream of the reanimated pig may reflect the longer-term effect of our efforts to revive dreaming and the arts of story in a city that has chosen the pig as its emblem; you see painted pigs all over Cincinnati. It's interesting to reflect that in Celtic mythology, the pig is the gift of Annwn, the Underworld, so its very existence on our plane involves coming back and coming up from Death and its kin.

Jane Carleton said...

Hi Robert,

I also loved the quote about giving stories to others. I was just writing an email to a friend in Russia who had a powerful dream and story I would like to share with others. I included a link to your blog and then read your post. Nice timing.


Robert Moss said...

JaneE - How fitting that you should speak of a Russian story. In the workshop last weekend, while we were discussing Badger's statement that "sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive", I called in evidence a couple of examples from the darker history of the past century. The first was Viktor Frankly, who survived the Holocaust to give us his luminous book "Man's Search for Meaning". The second was Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who survived the nightmare of the Gulag by building a castle out of breadcrumbs and then making a home and a place of adventure inside it with his imagination. He literally gave up food (breadcrumbs from his meagre rations) to build a story he needed even more, to get through.

Wanda Burch said...

"When pigs fly!" is of course a popular retort of denying that something seemingly impossible can be done.

A few years ago I picked up a mass produced print of a little pink pig flying from the end point of a diving board into a beautiful pond set in a Eden like landscape. The print reminds me that the possible lies within the "im"possible, that there is a story behind every dream and a reality not yet realized in every seeming contradiction.

I loved your grouping of stories and coincidental occurences in this great weaving of bottomless tribes, red heads, Indians, clowns, and Swedenborg's dialogues.

Robert Moss said...

Wanda, You remind me that when I first announced my intention to bring Active Dreaming to some parts of the Midwest, someone expressed their incredulity just that way - as in "Yeah, Cincinnati/Chicago will become a city of dreamers when pigs fly." While it's harder to get people to turn out for dream workshops or dream conferences in some areas than in others, I find that people EVERYWHERE, more than ever, are hungry to get back in touch with their dreams and their larger stories. And maybe we can take comfort that at one aerial portal to the Midwest, pigs do fly.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I just wanted to let you know, that your workshops are like time release capsules -a year and a month later I'm still drawing on energies that came to a head in your "Healing Power of Story" workshop. The release of those energies is an ongoing process. Write now I'm busy writing some letters to family, passing on stories, (a task that came to me during the "night watch" when I woke up around 3:30 AM the other night). In general though, I'm busy writing a number of articles and stories. While I'm a natural writer, and will always write as a primary mode for my creativity, I had the insight on the Fourth of July ('10) while riding on a zip line, that no matter what art form I engage myself in, I'll be in the business of telling stories.

And to all those future dgital metahistorians (or to those who have just found this blog, and may be reading it backwards into the past) Robert's workshops are truly exceptional. They open things up, that if worked with and developed, stay wit you a long time.

-Justin Patrick Moore