Monday, February 19, 2018

Dreaming the world of Joan of Arc and the tree seers

Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage
Dreams guide us to the necessary past, the history it is useful and timely to know. Sometimes dream clues help us to get to the understory, the deeper logic of events that may be missing from the texts.
    My dreams opened an adventure in medieval France, and a window into understanding the practice of the voyantes of ancient Gaul, who were often tree seers and to whom Joan of Arc may have belonged, at least in her natural mode of visioning.
     I often dream in French, the language of my ancestors just a thousand years ago, and often find myself in France in my dreams. In 2001, I woke from my dreams with just a single word as a keepsake – the French word chantepleure. The word literally means “sings and cries”. From the dictionary, I learned that it is an old name for a kind of sieve or filter or watering can. I had no idea why this term had come through to me in a dream, until three years later..
    On an afternoon in September 2004, I lay down for a nap. I lay on my back, hands folded over my chest – the approved position (called gisant) for a medieval knight approaching death, according to Philip Ariès, whom I had been reading as part of my research for my Dreamer’sBook of the Dead.
   I was immediately caught up in a powerful vision in which I seemed to enter the perspective of a medieval French nobleman as he embarked upon his after-death experiences.
   I saw him laid out in a church or chapel, among other sarcophagi with figures carved in high relief on the stone lids.
   To his left, “devils” appeared, capering around the church on cloven hoofs. Some of them looked like gargoyles. One had hideous animal features, something between a boar and an ass, plus little horns. I realized that these monstrosities had been created by the deformed imagination of the church; they seemed comical to me.
   The nobleman also seemed fearless, but he took these things a little more seriously. He wanted to take up a sword – a large one materialized in his hand – and fight the “devils”. Ghost knights took up positions around his tomb to defend and support him. They came like giant armored sleepwalkers, moving like automata.
   Two paths opened before the dead prince. In a beam of light rising into the sky, he saw a radiant female figure who reminded him of a woman he had celebrated in songs of courtly love. In this moment, I knew that he had been capable of great love, and that he loved poetry, as writer and patron.
   He was drawn to the woman in the light, but also drawn to a huge warhorse, a white charger armored for battle. Matching armor was there for him. He wanted to carry on old battles. I noticed a great white banner, with gold fleurs de lys.
   Torn between choices, the prince’s energy began to divide. I felt the fibres stretch and separate, like fabric pulled apart under high pressure.
   As I began to come back from the vision, I was eager to know his identity. I knew he was of the house of Orleans, perhaps a Duke of Orleans. I knew that he loved the city of Blois, and used its name as a title. I knew that he was a poet and a lover. I knew that the word gonfalonier or gonfalonière featured in his story.
    Research was clearly required! I did an overnight search online, and in my own library, and discovered that Count of Blois was one of the titles of the Dukes of Orleans. It was held by the first Duc d’Orléans, Louis, and his son Charles d’Orléans, a contemporary of Joan of Arc and an accomplished poet, held by some to be “the father of French lyric poetry”. The word gonfalonier literally means “standard bearer”. It might be a reference to Joan of Arc, who was famous for carrying her own banner into battle.
    I went into the used bookstore on the corner the next day, intending to look for a biography of Joan of Arc.
    At eye level on the European History shelves, I saw a book titled Charles d’Orleans, Prince and Poet, which proved to be a literate narrative biography by Edith Macleod, head of the French section of Britain’s Ministry of Information during World War II.
    I took the biography home and very soon stumbled upon the mysterious word from my “old” dream – chantepleure.
   There was a picture of one in the book: a long-necked globular vessel spouting large tear-shaped drops from multiple holes in the bottom. The text explained that Charles’ mother, Valentina Visconti, adopted the chantepleure as the emblem of her grief after the brutal slaying of Charles’ father, Duke Louis, by axe murderers hired by John, Duke of Burgundy (Jean-sans-Peur). The driving purpose of Charles’ life for many years – one fight he could not abandon – was to exact justice for his father’s murder.
   An odd, archaic word, first surfacing in dream or vision, seemed to be putting me on a path of connection with dramas and personalities from a different era.
    The synchronicity riff grew stronger, leaving me amazed though not necessarily surprised. The day after I picked up the book, I flew to Seattle where a friend was organizing a workshop for me. When she met me at the airport, she told me that a man had called from Paris that same day to ask whether there was room for him in my workshop. She told him there was, and he announced he would fly in.
    The man from Paris was charming and cultured. He explained that he had established a foundation devoted to alternative healing and spirituality. Would I be willing to let him sponsor a program for me in France. Where? “The retreat could be held at a chateau near Orleans,” he told me.
    Naturally, we found a gap in my schedule, and agreed that I would lead a program in the region of Charles d’Orléans and Joan of Arc in June 2005.
     By now, the play of dreams and synchronicity had driven me to further research. I learned that the Maid of Orleans launched her crusade in the cause of Charles d’Orleans, the “prince across the water” who had been taken prisoner by the English after the French rout at Agincourt and remained a captive in England for nearly two decades.
    The chateau where my workshop took place was forty minutes drive from Charles’s beloved city of Blois, where he established one of the greatest libraries of medieval Europe and held poetry competitions.
    I found the scene from my vision of his burial in the church that forms part of the chateau at Blois. This chateau is guarded by the fiercest gargoyles I have ever seen. Some look like souls in torment, avid to pull others into their howling hells. Looking up at them, where they leap with the flying buttresses, I recognized figures from my vision of the after-death experiences of a medieval prince of Orleans (whom I now believe to be Charles), confronted with the demons and angels of the medieval imagination, at his moment of choice between different paths.On the wall of the church that holds Charles’ tomb is a plaque honoring Joan of Arc, the seeress who led an army in his name.
    Our host at the chateau told me there was a local tradition that Joan of Arc had spent a night on the estate on her way to the relief of the city of Orleans, her most celebrated victory. Would I like to see the tree where Joan was reputed to have slept?
     We crossed rough ground through a deer wood to a tree she identified as a chataignier, or “sweet chestnut”. It had survived the lightning. She called it L’Arbre de la Dame. Would I please give my intuitions?
   I stood with the tree, holding it and leaning my head against its trunk.
   Immediately, I received a vision in brilliant, living color, of a knight wearing a white surcoat with the figures of three red lions over his breastplate. An English knight; I was sure. He wore a coronet over his helmet, whose visor was open. A nobleman, then, a duke or an earl. But why was I looking at an English knight?
    As I continued to look into the scene, other figures appeared. A massing of soldiers around a walled city. I realized that I was looking at the positions of the English besiegers of Orleans as Joan might have seen them, performing a psychic scout before she led the French into battle.
   How did she see this way? How exactly did she receive her inspiration?
   No sooner had I formed the question in my mind than I sensed a greater-than-human being approaching from above and behind, descending in a beating of wings. I felt its intent driving home, like an arrow or a bee-sting, at the nape of the neck. Le cou, an inner voice confirmed. I felt no pain, but sensed the pain Joan might have felt, in her visioning – and later learned that before she marched to Orleans, she predicted that she would be wounded by an arrow, as she was indeed, in the field.
    At her tree of vision, I sensed a continuity between Joan of Arc and the ancient Gallic female seers who climbed into trees, or into towers constructed from tree limbs, to scout and direct battles for their warriors. Julius Caesar regarded these ancient “remote viewers” as his most formidable adversaries.
A deeper story began to unfold, of a tree seer in a deer forest, linked to an ancient line of seeresses. The significance of sacred trees in Joan’s earlier life is there in the documents (though I could find no reference to the chataignier). Joan’s accusers at her trial made much of her connection, as a child, with a “Fairy Tree” – called l’Arbre aux Dames – a giant beech in an oak forest near her home town in Lorraine.

My continuing researches resulted in a chapter titled “Joan of Arc and the Tree Seers” in my Secret History of Dreaming. I have always loved beech trees, and when I dreamed with an ancient beech in nature after the adventures described above, I was rewarded with the vision of a green seer, perhaps a spirit of the tree itself. This is the drawing I made of her.

Green Seer drawing by Robert Moss


Sandy Brown Jensen said...

A wonderful story to expand my mind and my imagination first thing in the morning. I loved The Secret History of Dreams and now I am inspired to read it again. Nothing like this ever happens to me, so I am glad to receive news of this other way of seeing and being through you.

fishgirl said...

Thank you for sharing, Robert. I plan to develop my prowess as a tree seer (I love this name, never heard it put this way before) this summer. My roots (pun intended) run deep in Alsace Lorraine so perhaps I can enter the dream seeking guidance from Jean d'Arc also. I do have a personal story about acorns and oak trees that I'm including in my book. Sweet dreams.