Waking up short of breath, I dreamed I was Hildegard von Bingen, who outsmarted a female demon robed in the bone-white garments of death. Stealthily exiting from behind my small fortress wall, I could see her, but she could not see me; I had frustrated her well. Waiting for me was a darkened, stone nunnery cell, but when I entered it became light and beautiful and full of good things. I entered and I lived a milenia there, and I did not die, because the little cell became a pathway unto The World, and The World was with me while I overcame my heart’s loneliness. A thousand years later I emerged from the cell into a world that was waiting for me in whispers. So many stones had fallen around me, a sea of small rocks. Bear tracks, huge and clearly present: I saw them, and followed them to where awaited an violent, small wolf, rabid with anger and pain. He lunged at me. I deflected him; he lunged again, I caught him, held his small self as his little body surrendered in howling tears, now loosening and reaching for comfort, the curse dispelled, a loving puppy once more.
The wheel of the year is turning, and we go now into the darker time of reflection and recollection; of looking, in the words of Michael Meade, “behind and below” to the places where the Soul comes from and is intuitively acquainted with. It is the time of the ancestors when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Night falls and surrounds us. The fire is lit. We go inward.
I dreamt I saw my grandpa again, and he was both alive and dead. He was lying just underneath the earth’s surface, only a little way down below the cradle-like embrace of the soft soil. I remembered where he lay, in my dream, though in the waking world he has been cremated. I knew I had to go to him, and take up from his grave something which had been nearly forgotten and buried underneath him. With my hands I removed the blanket of dust from over him, and, seeing his characteristic bald fore-head first, knew that he had been only sleeping there, having not disintegrated, waiting as if in a peaceful nap for resurrection to dawn. He looked old as I always knew him, but not weary: his eyes opened and fluttered, as if to gleam at me catching him in his mid-afternoon sleep in his chair when I was a child. I missed him sorely, wanted him to come up from the earth and be with us again, but he had embarked into the place where time is not like how it is here. “Only a little while longer,” I said with a tear. “Yes, only a little more sleep,” he smiled. And I felt the nearness of all of those who have come before me, knowing that they, too, are asleep for only a little while, though it seems an eternity to us who have not yet crossed over. They are alive in death in a way I cannot explain. I pulled the blanket of the earth back over him, letting the Otherworld hold him, as it must be. The ancestors are alive in the arms of the Great Mother. When we awoke, my husband and I found that we had both dreamt of our grandfathers.
Thomas Lynch writes in his book, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade,
“The bodies of the newly dead are not debris nor remnant, nor are they entirely icon or essence. They are, rather, changelings, incubates, hatchlings of a new reality that bear our names and dates, our image and likenesses, as surely in the eyes and ears of our children and grandchildren as did word of our birth in the ears of our parents and their parents. It is wise to treat such new things tenderly, carefully, with honor.”
And I dreamt there was a rite of passage in a forest, and the forest was dark and green, and my people whom I love were there, leading the way. The beginning and the end I do not remember, but there were flowers in the night which were colors I have no name for: I was permitted to see these colors for but a moment, and no longer. Black was the night and wet, but warm, and there were lights of mysterious making in the thicket where we were going. With my mind I could move pieces of wood and whole trees, strong with the muscles of invisible wings. I had gone into the forest to find this gift which was waiting for me. With a desire, a motion of the mind, fallen wood levitated from the ground when I willed it, and I could feel my spirits lift with the lifting of the forest, a swift leap of the heart.
The night before last I was in a small town on the top of a very dry hill, vegetated with sagebrush and dust, but we were not thirsty. It was Christmas at midnight, but it was not dark. The sun, or I think it was a light so many times greater and more beautiful than the sun, shone through the clear window before me in the cathedral which I had come to worship in. Remember what true worship is: the giving of the heart completely. I heard these words around me in that place. The light before me was the brightest white-gold I had ever seen, but it did not blind me or overwhelm me. To look into it was to see more clearly. There was music from the cathedral’s quartet, and I was peaceful and at home, having forgotten, as in another dream, the weight of the waking world behind me. (Journal entry 11.7.2013)
The author Starhawk wrote in her book, The Spiral Dance,
“Male shamans dressed in skins and horns in identification with the God and the herds; but female priestesses presided naked, embodying the fertility of the Goddess. Life and death were a continuous stream; the dead were buried as if sleeping in a womb, surrounded by their tools and ornaments, so that they might awaken to a new life. In the caves of the Alps, skulls of the great bears were mounted in niches, where they pronounced oracles that guided the clans to game. In lowland pools, reindeer does, their bellies filled with stones that embodied the souls of deer, were submerged in the waters of the Mother’s womb, so that victims of the hunt would be reborn.”
I cannot shake the feeling that every night’s sleep is a small death, a practice in surrendering to the irresistible return to the Cradle of Life. We lie down and pass over the veil temporarily, while the umbilical cord of breath yet anchors us safely to this side: we go and journey to the places and people we come from, and will return to.
“And if we do not sleep,” T once said, “the Other Side comes to us.”
(Sleep deprivation creates otherworldly hallucinations. It is not surprising that the brain would do this, but rather the content matter of the visions themselves. Are they not eerily relevant to whatever we yearn for or plagues us? And why is it the content of dreams, visions, mirages and hallucinations are so unremarked upon by investigative researchers? As if exactly what you dream about has no relevance?)
I talk to people I can’t see. I talk to the people in my head, in the land, in history, in what is to come. I talk to my dead cat, and to my grandma when I am a thousand miles away without a phone, and I know that they can somehow hear me. I talk to my grandpa whose body is now ashes in the mountains, and to my mom and dad in a world where they are different, where they are whole. I see them as they shall be, dressed in white and sitting beside a clear river with no more anger. I talk to my ancestors of Old Europe. I hear them singing their songs of mead hall, boats and forests, field and hunt and home and dance, love songs and war songs and silly songs and songs for hellos and goodbyes, blue eyes and wild long hair in the misty forests no longer standing. I talk to the ancestors of the land I live on and I ask them to forgive us and see us now and know that we are learning. I talk to animals when I chance to see them, and I wonder if they choose to show themselves, if they know that same great love that they may bless me with it. I talk to my friends though I cannot see them, and it seems that each are just around that near corner, waiting. I recount their loved faces that I may not forget. Even when I did not know him I talked to my husband whose name and face I did not know, but whom I yearned to meet soon. I told him I missed him and I love him and there is this hugeness of all this love beyond myself that comes up from the center of me like the moment of the world’s creation. I talk to my children of someday, even if they don’t come out of my body, if I never meet them, and I wonder how their lives may be and what it would be like to love them as a mother loves. And all of these are saints to me, who gather around us in love, eager to draw near to this world. I feel them with us, the Communion of Saints. When I lie awake at the edge of the great sea of sleep, I sometimes hear them, every one from all the days of the earth gathered together. They are in a place known only in part to this world where Love lives without weariness, without end. (Journal entry 11.1.2013)
Photo by UlrichG, pixabay.com
A gathering beside the sea, the vastness of the ocean immense, even we land-dwellers aware of the creatures who lived deep down in it, from time to time coming up to the world of sky and land to breathe the upper air. This sand reaching down to the water iss clean in my eyes. It was beige-speckled but also clear with tales of the imminent.
Our gathering is near to the ocean but a short walk back inland. The area is grassy and hilly. There are few trees, but the grass is an extreme hue. Many friends are gathered in mourning. The dead body of a beloved friend is near us, laid in her coffin. Her face, lips especially, are purple and grotesquely bloated. She is already far along the stages of decay. Why is she laid in an open coffin? We have her coffin exhumed because her recent burial was not correct. She had been laid into the earth without love. We knew she had wanted her arms folded across her chest, her body in fetal position, as the ancestors were known to be buried. Her spirit is restless. Did she die in the ocean? But I am stricken by this night, by how the sight and nearness of her decaying corpse does not frighten me. I feel only tremendous compassion and a comforting love. In this way a great peace of relief comes over me, for in seeing her laid here I am not afraid of death. There is no terrible unknown to scare me; the dead love us and watch over us. It is by God and their love for us that we are cradled in the earth. My exhumed dead friend is an ancestor to be honored. For this was her body brought up from the ground again, to remind us.
I meet Saint Anthony, “Saint Antonio”, I heard him called by some –a handsome, medieval dragon-slayer (who says the saints are boring?). He had come traveling through the centuries to aid our dark electrical city where purple-lit skyscrapers shrink into shadow when the demon dragon appears, a titanous reptile with terrible eyes, come to crush and devour all. Magnificent but terrifying when I know it has seen me, though I am so small and shrouded in darkness. The monster, leagues away, already knows I am one of Saint Anthony’s exorcists. I flee to my saint and companions. He leads us to quickly camouflage in the greenery, which itself has come alive to aid our hiding in the earth. Creation, our ally. Saint Anthony, who in this dream of an apocalyptic time is shown to have a handsome face, is all the more poignant because of what homely, even unattractive physical characteristics he had in his earthly life, though his spirit glowed for the Creator. Now the trickster’s veil of his prior dullness was rolled away to reveal a physical beauty that signified the brightness of his soul. It was his time now to be resurrected and return to us, to help us fight the great demon, whom he has battled before.