Thursday, June 27, 2024

Writing and dreaming

Writing and dreaming are intimately connected, as far back as we can travel through the history of humans making marks intended to be read by others. It seems that in many cultures, humans developed systems of writing because they needed better and more specific ways to record and honor dreams, when dreaming was understood to be a field of interaction between humans and greater powers.

The techniques of writing may themselves have been the gift of dreams. It is surely no accident that in ancient pantheons a god of writing is also a giver and interpreter of dreams. Ibis-headed Thoth, with his stylus, venerated in night rituals of dream incubation, is a famous exemplar. His consort the star goddess Seshat, patron of scribes and keeper of the akashic records, is also depicted writing.

The cuneiform scripts of Mesopotamia and the hieroglyphs of Egypt were not devised merely to figure out how many bales of cotton or bundles of reeds Achmet had delivered, but to record dream encounters with the gods, and oneiric geographies of the Otherworld. From these recorded visions, mythologies grew and spread their waving fronds over whole peoples.
Among indigenous peoples, we can see the process at work up to the present day. Look at the intricate pictographs of the Anishnaabe, or Ojibwa, of the Great Lakes. They are drawn on long scrolls of birch bark, the papyrus of the Northeast woodlands of North America. They record the trials of the soul between birth, through trial and initiation, to the womb of rebirth. They depict life as a spiritual adventure, where success will be followed by a zigzag path of new challenge and temptation. They are vision maps. They spring from the soul journeys of shamans, and the shared dreaming of initiates gathered in the medicine circle of the Midewiwin.

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