Saturday, January 29, 2022

An Oneironaut in Edwardian England

Mrs. Arnold-Forster flies at the Royal Society

In the dream, Mrs. Arnold-Forster is at the Royal Society in the immense colonnaded pile of Burlington House on Piccadilly. Some of the foremost scientists in Britain are there, including Lord Kelvin, who created the universal units of measurement named after him, and her brother-in-law, the physicist Sir Arthur Rucker. Sir Arthur asks her to explain how she flies. It's easier to demonstrate than to describe, so she pushes off and turns a few loops under the ceiling. She comes down and demonstrates a second technique, gliding a few inches off the floor.

The display draws no gasp of amazement. Some of the company seem to think they have seen nothing more than a cheap conjuring trick. However, Lord Kelvin approaches Mrs. Arnold-Forster with great courtesy and declares that “The law of gravitation had probably been in this case temporarily suspended. Clearly this law does not for the moment affect you when you fly.”

She feels the great mathematician has given her words of power she will use again and again. For now, she wants to add to her demonstration by showing that it's not so hard for anyone to fly. She grabs the hand of a somewhat hesitant assistant, pushes off, and soon has him flying a few inches above the floor.

She gives us this story, without further discussion, as an example of all the fun and adventure awaiting us in dreams. She waited until she was sixty to publish a wonderful little book titled Studies in Dreams. It is based, as any good book on dreams must be, on her personal experience. Her previous book was a memoir of her husband, the politician and writer H.O. Arnold-Forster, who served as Secretary of State for War in Balfour's Conservative government from 1903-1905 and died in 1909. He was the nephew of E.M.Forster.

Some may find it curious that a high society lady with the resounding name of Mary Lucy Story-Maskelyne Arnold-Forster should have made herself, through constant personal experiment, a pioneer of lucid dreaming and one of the most advanced thinkers about dreaming of her time (which is also now, because she has much to teach us). It's not all that strange when we recall how deeply the late Victorian and early Edwardian British Establishment, including the Balfour family, was engaged in psychical research, ardently seeking to confirm "supernormal" phenomena like telepathy and precognition, the reality of communication with the deceased and with producing scientific evidence that consciousness can travel beyond the body and survive it.

Mary makes a clear and passionate case for encouraging people everywhere to remember and record their dreams. Like Jung, she understands that dreams are the facts from which we must proceed: that theory must take second place to the collection and study of a multitude of individual reports. Get enough people involved in reporting and sharing their dreams, Mrs. Arnold-Forster insists, and we can create a "Clearing-House" of dreams whose contents will shatter flawed theories like that of Freud and reveal the wonderful richness and variety of what people everywhere can enjoy every night.

This will require developing what she charmingly calls the art of "happy dreaming". We need to get over our fear of "bad" dreams and nightmares. The best way to do that, she counsels, is to train ourselves to wake up, inside a dream, to the fact that we are dreaming. We can then make the choice either to leave the dream or carry on in the knowledge that we will come to no harm and can handle whatever challenges are presented. Some of the practices she recommends in this cause sound very similar to recently promoted methods of lucid dream induction. For example, she suggests repeating a mantra during the day and especially before sleep along these lines: “Remember this is a dream; if you wake, it will be over, and all will be well again.”

She does not use the phrase "lucid dreaming" but she does use the term "dream control" and explains it as follows:

I believe, in short, that we can at will stop the recurrence of " bad " dreams, or of dreams that we dislike or dread, and that we can , to a considerable extent, alter the very nature of our dreams by using in our sleep the same faculty of rational selection and rejection that we use with regard to our thoughts and to our wandering fancies by day. We shall find, when the habit is learned, that we can make desired dreams recur more or less at will, and that we can develop in them certain qualities and powers. In this way the habit of dream control will gradually become ours

Fortunately, she concedes further along that the depth and spontaneity of dream experience will always elude efforts at complete control.

I am delighted by Mrs. Arnold-Forster's accomplishments as a dream flyer. She introduces this theme as an example of training yourself to dream happy dreams. She recalls that as a child she was scared of going up or down a nursery staircase after dark, and the fear gave her fearful dreams. Then she found that she could float down the stairs, eluding any danger. “When once I realized that I could always escape by flight, the sense of the something unknown, to be escaped from, became a thing of the past ; but the power of flying grew and has steadily improved all my life.”

She gets airborne by pushing off with her feet, then does a kind of dog paddle in the air. “By giving a slight push or spring with my feet I leave the ground and fly without further effort, by a simple act of volition. A slight paddling motion by my hands increases the pace of the flight, and is used either to enable me to reach a greater height, or else for the purpose of steering, especially through any narrow place, such as through a door way or window."

In addition to flying, she develops the practice of gliding a few inches off the ground.

As for flight itineraries, she likes to return to happy and exciting dreams and go on with them. This is part of a practice that we can call dream reentry. “When I had discovered the method by which bad dreams could be got rid of, I tried to find out how far I could consciously control dreaming by inducing a particular dream to recur. I found that if I steadily thought about such a dream as the flying dream it would soon come back.”

Mrs. Arnold-Forster flies to Belgium

One of Mrs. Arnold-Forster's flying adventures starts in November 1914. The Great War has been raging for three months. The Germans have swallowed most of Belgium and are on their way to Paris and the Channel ports. In the dream, she is in a room painted light green and knows it is connected to the War Office. “I was expecting a dispatch that I had volunteered to carry to the Army Headquarters in Belgium, flying in the manner in which I fly in my dreams.”

Kept waiting, she flies around the room to limber up and also to check whether the window is a good launch pad. She inspects the pictures on the wall, which have been hung notably high up. She wants a map of Belgium to guide her flight. They only have a very old one on yellowed paper with no railways and very few roads. She is assured it will work because towns and villages in Belgium are where they used to be. “ You will fly over Naville and Dischemoote," she is told. Once airborne over Belgium, she finds the landscape below her very like the map.

When she gets to Army Headquarters, she finds Winston Churchill in charge. She delivers her dispatch and then explores the underground chambers of a castle that is falling into ruin. She watches a king and queen in procession. Back above ground, she sees Belgian Boy Scouts being taught to fly. She thinks they look silly, like flying frogs, and pushes of on her return flight to England.

Mrs. Arnold-Forster recounts all of this as another example of the adventures we can have in our dreams. She doesn't discuss how closely her dream excursion may have corresponded to what was happening on the ground. I find it fascinating to compare the details of her dream with what was unfolding in the war. There are dreams that are better understood through history than psychology. Winston Churchill had rushed to Belgium the previous month to try to organize the defense of Antwerp. A Daily Mail correspondent was astonished to see the young First Lord of the Admiralty jump out of a car in mythic costume - a flowing dark blue cape with a huge silver lion’s head clasps - and play traffic cop for a stalled military convoy. Churchill wasn't in Belgium when Mrs. Arnold-Forster flew there as a secret courier, but his presence may still have been palpable; he had lobbied for command of the British Expeditionary Force.

The part with the royals in underground chambers would have spoken to anyone following the situation. King Albert of Belgium took personal command of his army and succeeded in keeping the Germans out of a little strip of Flanders for the rest of the war, much of which, notoriously, was an "underground war" in the trenches. The Trench of Death at Diksmuide (one of the places on Mary's map, with various spellings) is now an outdoor exhibit recalling the horrible nature of that war.

Some elements in her dream might have incorporated news she was following at the time. It is more than likely that she had met Churchill. He paid attention to dreams and would have been intrigued by the notion that a dreamer who knew what she was doing in two worlds  - as an oneironaut and the widow of a Secretary of War - could serve as an aerial courier. It's a pity she wasn't given a subsequent mission by the Dream War Office to get Churchill to abandon his next mission - to take on the Turks in what became the tragedy of Gallipoli.


La vie aƩrienne en rose

As a proper Edwardian lady Mrs. Arnold-Forster always wanted to be correctly attired. Her favorite flying dress extended three inches beneath her heels. This made it less likely that people on the street would notice when she fluttered down from the sky and glided along the pavement. She was especially happy with a flying dress of rose silk..

Quotes are from Mary Arnold-Forster, Studies in Dreams (New York: Macmillan, 1921)

Illustrations by Robert Moss

1 comment:

Judy Giorchino said...

Dearest Mr. Moss, from whom I learn without end. (I did splurge a few years ago and purchase the hard copy of Secret History of Dreaming, which I find endlessly enlightening). After reading your message today I searched for this book. New editions are available for a price, but I am 75 years old and on a very limited budget. The great news is that I did find an original 1921 edition to read for free on ARCHIVE.ORG (which also happens to be one of my favorite destinations). I thought it only right to let the rest of your following know this, in case they are as anxious to read her book as I am. This is only the second time I've written a comment in your space -- the first was about black bears, who populate the forest in which I have lived for the past 34 years in the NE corner of Washington State. They are asleep now, and pregnant dreaming in their caves, but we love them, and they have their safe home here on the property we own but really have only borrowed from them for the rest of our lives here on earth. Thank you for your messages -- they are (almost) always helpful. With love from a elderly female fan, who has lived her entire life living with anamnesis and finally beginning to "join the dots" and make sense of otherwise inexplicable memories and experiences, now that I'm nearing the end this time around. Judy Giorchino