Saturday, July 22, 2023

Dream hunters of Corsica

The "dream hunters” of Corsica - the mazzeri - who are often women, go hunting at night. They hunt with knives and vine-root clubs called mazza and tear their prey apart with their teeth. They attack any animals that are around, but boars are their favorite. At the moment they kill an animal, they get a flash glimpse of a human being they can identify, and know by this that the human will die within a year. If the animal is only wounded, the human connected with it will get sick or have an accident but will recover. One mazzera, taking a trout from a stream, recognized her aunt and hastily returned the fish to the water; her aunt sickened but recovered.

The mazzeri do these things in dreaming, and the things they do are real. They may go out in the night, or they may leave their bodies during an afternoon siesta. They have a flair for bilocation, what the French call the dédoublement de la personnalité. You meet a mazzeru on a hillside, among the sheep, at an hour when his family swears he was asleep in bed.

The hunt takes place in a parallel world. In Corsican belief, the spirit of the dream hunter meets the spirit of his victim, a human who has assumed animal form. When he kills the animal, he severs the spirit from the victim's body. The human body of the victim may carry on for a time, but it is going to sicken and die.

The dream hunters themselves may take animal form - appropriately, the form of hunting dogs. The dream hunters don't seem to be regarded as evil or malicious; what they do is just a part of Corsican life, like the violence of a stream in flood.

This is all part of the night life depicted in a book by Dorothy Carrington titled The Dream-Hunters of Corsica. I can’t personally vouch for its content, and I’m not planning to check out these club-bearing night hunters any time soon. If I do, I'll take something larger than a dog with me. In a recent Italian documentary, the mazzeri are called facitori da morte ('death makers") and a type of European shaman.

Napoleon (and 43 of his generals) came from Corsica. I wonder whether he had something of these gifts. I have seen a legend that he was able to view a field of battle from the other side of a hill, penetrating the fog of war through inner sight.

The author of Dream Hunters of Corsica is herself a fine subject for a book. Oxford-educated, the daughter of a general who was a friend of Cecil Rhodes and a mother who had access to the leading literary salons, Frederica Dorothy Carrington (1910-2002) moved to Corsica with her third husband, the Surrealist painter Sir Francis Rose, after hearing tales of the island from a Corsican waiter. "My life really ended and started when I set foot in Corsica," she told me. "My former role-playing ended, and my vocation began."


Unknown said...

I spent a total of one day in Corsica years ago. I was struck by how golden the light was there. I bought a 2 piece silk outfit consisting of a tunic and loose pants in .....bright orange. It was gorgeous to wear while I was there, but somehow I looked more like a clown when I wore it elsewhere. I kept it for years hoping the right occasion would come and I could wear it. It never came and I threw it out, resigned to the idea that I was in a different time and space in magical Corsica.

Robert Moss said...

Susan - lovely to have these sunny orange memories of Corsica to offset the rather dark and sinister tradition of those "dream hunters".

Unknown said...

Soooo...if you can't personally vouch for its content, who wrote the review?

Robert Moss said...

Sandy - Perhaps you misunderstood me. I wrote the review (of course). I am saying that I can't vouch for the book's description of the practices of the mazzeri, not having investigated these things first-hand.