Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dream of the Marching Worshippers

Not long ago I had the following dream. There are four elements I would like to comment on. First, the dream:

A group of worshippers marches into our living room. They are separated by partitions resembling an egg carton, so that they are separate and yet related at the same time (1).

Led by a woman (2), they are looking for a place to "worship." They do not belong to any sect or creed, but are bound together by "love," in particular, by a common love of beauty, purposefulness, meaning, etc. (3) The woman leader looks at the room and decides this is an appropriate place for them to pray. They all look down at the large oriental carpet on the floor and admire its beauty, then drop to their knees and begin to pray. Even though they pray together, simultaneously, their prayers are individual (4).

When they are done praying they all get up and walk around the room, admiring the various antique, hand-made artifacts and art objects. [End of dream.]

(1) Notice that the "egg carton" image suggests separateness and togetherness at the same time. Two of the most disastrous qualities of recent history are too much separateness, on the one hand, and too much togetherness, on the other. What is required is a balance, or an integration, of these two opposing functions. The dream suggests just such a balance.

(2) The worshippers are led by a woman. I hope it is obvious to anyone reading this post that there will no truly integrative movement in our culture unless women and "the feminine" are brought forward, indeed, are allowed to take the lead, after so many centuries of patriarchal rule.

(3) The group is bound by a "shared love," and furthermore, it is a "love of beauty." This recalls the ancient philosophical notions of Sophia -- Wisdom personified-- and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty and Love. The suppression of Aphrodite is one of the foundations underlying our assault on Nature. And the assault on Nature goes hand-in-hand with an assault on wisdom -- in favor of knowledge and power, at all costs. If we cannot recapture that ancient love of beauty, we may succeed in destroying ourselves and our Earth-brethren.

(4) Again, together yet separate, at the same time. Another conjunction of the opposites. If we don't achieve separateness, as individuals, we will never be able to come together in the way we need to, in order to restore the balance of nature.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What Would Happen to the Animals in Our Dreams if Humans Disappeared?

In my last post -- If The Animals Disappeared (Friday, June 20, 2008) -- I took up the question posed by Cuban in London: What would happen to our dreams if (vertebrate) animals disappeared? I have another question to place alongside that one: What would happen to the animals in our dreams if humans disappeared?

Most humans keep forgetting, or trying to forget, that the animal presence on earth long pre-dated the human presence. And not only were the animals here before we were, but what we think of as "our" psyche is actually an extension and elaboration of theirs. Even consciousness itself is pre-figured in animals. We see it in that level of animal awareness we share with domestic pets, in the battle of wits we sometimes carry out with wild creatures (who's going to outwit whom?), and in mythology, we see the carriers of animal wisdom and consciousness in the trickster-figures and the animal-guides of practically all early cultures.

The animals that come to us in our dreams, we should never forget, are autonomous. They come and go as they please. Sometimes they even appear to us in waking life -- in extraordinary and sometimes shocking ways -- in synchronistic events.

If animals form a still-active link, then, between modern consciousness and the archaic layers of our psychic past -- still here to guide us and to keep us grounded -- then what would happen to them, as psychic presences, if humans were to disappear?

Would the psyche itself cease to exist? Possibly . . . but that assumes that humans are the only carriers of psychic life, which is manifestly not true. In fact, the "new paradigm" taking shape on the edges of science suggests a growing notion that psyche, or "mind," is dispersed throughout the universe.

If dream-animals -- and actual animals for that matter -- embody the primordial psyche and pre-figure human consciousness, the disappearance of humans would probably not result in the cessation of psychic life. It would instead revert to the ancient, creative, mythical pathways that "have always been," a living Dream, carrying all the past and future potentials of the world.

And should there be another evolutionary thrust toward self-awareness and reflecting consciousness, the animals would still be inhabiting the psychic layers of the biosphere. There they would be waiting to inform the next version of conscious being -- whatever its form -- just what it must keep in mind in order not to lose the opportunity a second time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

If The Animals Disappeared . . . .

Alert Reader "Cuban in London" asked me what I thought would happen to our dreams if all animals (vertebrates, at least) disappeared from the planet.

First of all, let's remember that we too are vertebrate animals. We evolved from animal ancestors and still carry traces of them in our bodies, our minds, our fantasies, our emotions and our dreams. There is some question whether humans themselves could survive in a world without animals, though we act as if we could.

If the animals were to disappear from the world, they would still appear to us in our dreams, since they form an integral part of our psychic constitution. Their disappearance from the world, however, would amount to an unparalleled catastrophe.

But to stay with your hypothetical situation a moment longer, if the animals disappeared and we humans remained, the animals who still came to us in our dreams would haunt us to the point of despair. I don't mean "haunting' as in a horror movie. What I mean is that they would come to us as reminders that what we once found so cheap, actually turned out to be sacred -- animals as virtual faces of God. We would be crushed by remorse, and those who weren't would be crazy.

Thanks for the interesting question.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Speech of the Swallows

Years ago I dreamed:

"Two swallows are sitting on a telephone wire, chattering. I understand what they are saying. In addition, I am able to SEE their speech, in the form of colossal stone letters. It is obviously an archaic language, older than any human writing. As I look at the letters and listen to the simultaneous English “translation,” I realize that I must remember what I am witnessing. In the process of trying to decide whether to remember the shapes of the stone letters or the English translation, I wake up." [End of dream]

This dream is especially important to me because swallows are one of my favorite birds, running a close second to the Great Blue Heron. To me, both creatures -- herons and swallows -- are particularly potent carriers of a great mystery. They stitch the boundaries between “this world” and “the other world” -- however you might wish to conceive that otherness.

Not surprisingly, both birds were regarded as sacred in ancient cultures. The heron, also known as the “bennu bird” in ancient Egypt, presided over the moment of sunrise on the first day of creation. And the swallow was regarded as sacred to Aphrodite in ancient Greece. Their joyful presence in the sky must have been felt as a palpable manifestation of the beauty of the Goddess of Beauty.

Dylan Thomas recognized this sacred quality in his poems: "the heron-priested shore" or "herons spire and spear" or "herons, steeple stemmed, bless."

I know for a fact that there are many people today -- probably millions, if not billions -- who dream of animals. I also suspect that surprising numbers of people at one time or another have understood what the animals were saying to them in the dreams. In fact, this may well be an important characteristic of dreams, at least for those who pay attention to them: In dreams, our understandings often far exceed our waking abilities. 

The loss of dreams today may be as great a catastrophe as the loss of animal species. But however one chooses to apportion value between the two, both losses derive from the same deep division within ourselves. And in each case the “cure” is to be found in a revitalization of our capacity to imagine. At bottom, this amounts to what Russell Arthur Lockhart (Words As Eggs, Psyche Speaks) calls a "rediscovery of dreams." By that I mean not that we should all indulge in “mere fantasy,” but that we should restore an awareness of the degree to which our lives are grounded in and dependent upon an autonomous, imaginal field out of which dreams approach us like mana from heaven. It is up to us to find ways to bridge the gulf between dream life and waking life.

Any dream, of course, is a good place to start. But pay special attention to the animals that visit you as you sleep. One way or another, they will offer up their wisdom. Occasionally, they may even talk to you. If they do, listen carefully. 

And if in the process someone ends up regarding their dream animal as sacred, or as an angel, or as a daimon, or guiding spirit, I wouldn’t have any problem with that.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Animal Spirits

You have to be a little different to spend much time thinking about what I'm calling "animal spirits." This is because Western civilization -- and therefore increasingly, most of the planet -- has been whipsawed for several centuries between the antagonistic Leviathans, "science" and "religion." At a time when we should be re-calibrating our ethical relationship to the earth, and figuring out what to do about the global environmental crisis, instead we're re-hashing the Scopes Monkey Trial in the so-called debate between evolution vs. creationism. In such a context, the notion of animal spirits sounds positively archaic, pagan, superstitious, outdated. We take pride in having "evolved" beyond such primitive nonsense, yet we scarcely bother to ask ourselves why, if we are so evolved, the Earth is in such a precarious state.

But I believe we threw many babies out with the bathwater, in our March of Progress, and that we must recover at least some of the insights that informed the better part of human existence for hundreds of thousands of  years. This is not a call for a regression to a Biblical Eden or a Stone-Age paradise. It is rather an invitation to re-enter some of the pathways of experience that have forever been open to us, in the hope that we can heal at least some of the terrible wounds that rend our souls, and which we in turn inflict on the planet and our fellow creatures.

I take it from experience, then, that there is profound value in the idea of animal spirits -- and even more in the phenomena and the experiences surrounding them. I think it is high time we recover that archaic sense of animals as sacred, knowing presences that grace our lives and enable our better, creative selves. 

On one level, animals reflect and reveal to us the evolutionary precedents that still inform the deepest sub-strata of our bodies and psyches (cf. the vestigial tails and gill slits in our embryos, the mysterious "reptilian brain" that underlies all our conscious functions). On another level -- spiritually, imaginally, psychologically and mythically -- they may well carry messages to us from "higher" or "deeper" realms, functioning in effect like "angelic" bridges to the creative wellsprings of the cosmos.

That's a lot to expect of dogs, cats, birds, bears, beetles, fish, snakes, etc. But in the posts that follow I hope to put forward arguments and examples that, at the very least, will provoke stimulating thoughts and perhaps even release some healing images from the depths.