Friday, January 24, 2020

Neither folk nor fairy

We did not have the term “near-death experience” (NDE) when I kept dying and coming back as a young boy. The first edition of Raymond Moody’s book Life after Life did not appear until 1975, twenty years after I left my body in St Andrew’s hospital in Melbourne and flew through the Moon Gate to live a life in another world while my body lay under the surgeon's knife.
     If the phenomenon now called NDE had been recognized earlier, it might have been easier for me to have been heard and understood by those around me. It would have been helpful to me to know that many others in Western society have reported profound experiences of leaving their bodies and that this is widely recognized as evidence that the soul can travel outside the body and that there is life after physical death.
    There is a statement in Life after Life that spoke to me deeply when I eventually got to read it: “Once the dying person reaches a certain depth in his experience, he does not want to come back, and he may even resist the return to the body.” This was certainly part of my story.
    Moody argues in Life after Life that “the similarity of so many of the accounts” is a reason for believing reports of NDEs.  But when I read the cases he assembled, and then hundreds of other reports from Near Deathers, I did not find many close “similarities” to what I experienced when I was nine, and seemed to live a whole life in another world. The stories that spoke to me were from ancient and indigenous cultures, from folklore, and from Eastern traditions.
    In Yeats’ song, I heard a voice that knew something of where I had been:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

      When I discovered George MacDonald’s tales of Highland seers and ghosts, I found a phrase that spoke very directly to my experience of trying to live in the ordinary world. In MacDonald’s wonderful little book The Portent: A Story of the Inner Vision of the Highlanders Commonly Called the Second Sight, the woman who nursed the narrator reveals details of his strange birth and his possible connection with a tragic drama played out in an earlier time. The nurse has the gift of second sight; she sees things happening at a distance, and moving between dimensions. She cautions Duncan that he will never be “either folk or fairy”. I did not remember quoting this phrase as a young boy. I doubt that it would have helped me communicate with those around me. But the notion that one may be “neither folk nor fairy” – but something of both” – helped me to explain things to myself.
     In MacDonald’s “faery romance,” Phantastes, the book C.S.Lewis said “baptized” his imagination, the room where the protagonist is sleeping turns into an enchanted forest overnight. Water spilling from a green basin becomes a little river. The floral patterns of the carpet become wildflowers and grasses along its bank. When he follows it into the woods, he is in Fairy Land. He is welcomed and fed by a friendly woman in a cottage of living trees, and knows she must be at least part human because she is awake during the day, when the fairies sleep. But she is something else as well. She must live close to fairies, and eat a little of their food, or else she will always be hungry.
      This became a pattern for me, since I went away. I found that the gates of the Otherworld opened from wherever I happened to be, and that I went hungry unless I stayed near its people and shared some of their food. I never had trouble staying awake in the night, or sleeping in the day.

- Excerpted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: Fairies by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) 

No comments: