Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ottoman dreaming and synchronicity magnets

A friend in Turkey reports a dream from last night in which we are both inspecting a book written in Ottoman Turkish, in the old Arabic script. She is surprised that I can read this text with ease.
     I am glad to confess that in waking life I could not read Ottoman Turkish without an interpreter! Yet I am put in mind of dreams of my own, over decades, in which I discover and am helped to decipher previously unknown or undervalued texts in Ottoman Turkish, Farsi, Egyptian and other languages.
     And I am reminded that help in such studies sometimes becomes available in interesting ways. I find that when I am giving focused attention to a certain line of study, or a creative project, coincidence comes to support me, sometimes through the agency of that benign spirit Arthur Koestler called the Library Angel, a shelf elf who makes books and documents turn up (or disappear) in highly unlikely ways. This works through the internet too.
      Two summers ago, in 2010, I was trying to document a story about shared dreaming and war magic from the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. The story involves a “dream master” who supposedly had twelve people enter lucid dreaming together on a huge round bed to provide energy for an astral operation in which he entered the mind of a European prince and altered the fortunes of a battle.
      I first came upon this intriguing account in The Understanding of Dreams, an old anthology of cross-cultural dream narratives, edited by Raymond de Becker, an elusive and somewhat murky character. He gave his source as an earlier book by one N. de Helva titled La Science imp√©riale des songes, published in Paris in 1935. After much hunting, I was unable to locate a copy of this book anywhere, or even identify the publisher. When I compared the de Becker version with the historical records of the campaigns and household of Suleiman, I became more and more suspicious that someone had constructed a tall tale. But I realized that my investigation would not be complete until I had probed documentary sources available only in Ottoman Turkish.
     I said out loud, around midnight, "I need a Turk."
     The next instant, an email arrived in my inbox from a Turkish doctor, wanting to know about a retreat I was leading that fall. She had attended a conference where I had spoken 18 months earlier; we had had no contact since. I now seized the opportunity to ask her whether she could check out the story of the Ottoman “dream master” for me. Within hours, she started sending me documents and original translations from Turkish sources that not only confirmed my suspicions about de Becker’s cavalier use of materials but vastly expanded my understanding of the practice of dreaming and imagination in the Ottoman empire.
     Even if the story of Suleiman and the dream master was a tall tale, there is no doubt that dreaming was of great interest to the Ottomans, who traced the origin of their dynasty to a dream of Osman, the founder. Now I am going to Istanbul, perhaps I will find myself on the trail of a literary thriller. What if the "Registre des songes √† la Cour ottomane", cited by the mysterious and untraceable "N.Helva" as his source, really exists?
People ask why some of us seem to have more frequent and more exciting experiences of synchronicity than others. I think there are periods when any of us can become a synchronicity magnet, attracting events and encounters in rich profusion according to the energy and intentions that travel with us.
      We observe synchronicity at work in the world more often when we are open to seeing it, and ready to play with the signs and symbolic pop-ups of everyday life.
       But there is more to it than just our willingness to pay attention. Like calls to like, and the call is stronger when our passions or curiosity are most actively engaged in a life passage or a course of study or exploration. Yeats spoke, with poetic clarity, about the “mingling of minds” that can take place when we are giving our best to a certain line of study; he noted that we draw the support of like minds, including intelligences from beyond our ken and beyond our world, who share our interests.
       Oh yes, the Turkish doctor traveled to the United States that fall for my retreat.

I recount the story of Suleiman and the Dream Master in The Three “Only” ThingsThough I now believe the story is not historical, one may say of it, with the Italians, “If it’s not true, it’s well found”.

Graphic: Jean-Baptiste van Mour, Grand Vizier in audience in Topkapi palace

1 comment:

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Interesting that you mentioned the Library Angel in your post today.

I just posted the audio from my talk "The Library Angel & It's Oracle" online at around the same time that you posted this blog piece, today.


(P.S.: I improvise much more in my interviews now than I did the two times I interviewed you. I was still green at it then.)