Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn ~ sorting true dreams from the false

Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn ~ sorting true dreams from the false

…there are two gates through which dreams reach us. Those that come through the Ivory Gate cheat us with empty promises that never see fulfilment. Those that come through the Gate of Horn inform the dreamer of the truth.”  Homer. The Odyssey Book XIX

   As some of you may know, I teach a lesson on dreams and dreaming with my higher level students, and I classify dreams into three categories. Those three are: night-time dreams, daydreams and dreams that are lifelong goals, aspirations and ambitions. All three are actually very closely linked as they all originate deep within the human psyche or soul.

   The third type of dreaming is one about which much is written along the lines of “believe in your dreams”, “follow your dreams” and
so on. A whole industry of books, workshops and related paraphernalia (including fridge magnets and inspirational posters and mugs!) has grown up around it, as well as a thousand and one gurus to help you chase and achieve your dreams. So much of this is exploitative in the extreme, and while I firmly believe people need to keep their dreams, I also believe that Homer was onto something quite profound when he wrote of the two Gates.

  A colleague whose opinion I value once described me as a pragmatist and this cuts to the core of what I am exploring. I have a clear-sighted vision of what is (and what is not) realisable. I deliberately do not use the word possible, for with imagination, many things can be considered possible that are far from realisable.

  Let me give you a personal example. I’ve been a writer, a teller of tales since before I could really hold a pencil. It’s long been my dream to be a successful author. However, having bashed my head repeatedly against the edifice of established publishing houses, I was forced to withdraw from that route. I had enough evidence from the unbiased words of editors and agents that my writing was good, and I even went so far as to etch their words onto a wand of wood. But that door remained so firmly shut after a few tantalising glimpses through it, that I withdrew completely, stopped writing and shut down. Deep within my mind, the stories coiled and rolled and ran on without me hearing them consciously and eventually they burst out again in a torrent.

   For years, I believed that this dream of being a successful author was one that had effectively come through the Gate of Ivory. Time showed me that it came instead through the Gate of Horn, because with hard work and vision and especially new technology, I can see now that not only is it possible, but it is actually realisable. The dream that came through the Gate of Horn for me was that I AM a writer and that I can be successful.

  A dream that might have come through the Gate of Ivory would have been more like, “You can be a million dollar best seller ~ all you have to do is release a book and the world will fall like dominoes at your feet.”

  The clue to the differences between the Gates is the material from which they are built. Ivory is showy, expensive and misleadingly glamorous. It shines and shimmers in sunlight and is lusted after by ancient kings. But Horn is humble, the material of the common folk, and takes much work to make it into something of outstanding beauty. Look closely, deeply at your dreams. Can you see a possible path from where you are now, to where that dream promises to take you? Or is the route strewn with too many Lottery-winning clauses, too many ifs and not enough solid, hard work and perhaps sacrifices? If the dream promises a meteoric ascent to glory, with minimum of hard work, then stand back and take a hard, hard look at it. It may be one that has slipped through that Gate of Ivory.

9 thoughts on “Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn ~ sorting true dreams from the false

  1. Nice timing, Viv, as so often – the Homer quotation and your broader theme is directly apt to a post I’m mulling over and have partly written…..need to mull more! I like your last paragraph especially.


    • I have not replied to your email and I meant to!! So sorry. Been very upset, and stuff going on. I’ll try and fill you in when we get to the north later today.


  2. As ever you fill my head with notions and ideas and thoughts and revelations that make me nod my head in agreement. The whole ‘guru’ money pit is something that makes me very angry – it is always a promise of easy money at the end: but for the guru, not the poor soul who, desperate for ‘success’ buys into their ‘plan’. Of course, some guru’s may indeed offer, and even give enlightenment to many, but true enlightenment is often (so it seems to me any way) to actually be ‘inner peace of mind’… and a promise of easy success if you do X-Y-Z will not bring you money, and shiny stuff… and any way, if you start out with that as your goal, rather than (for a writer) ‘what do I NEED to say?’ Then I believe you will fail, unless you have friends in high places willing to pull some strings, but let’s face it, that ain’t us. We have to do it the hard way, but that way is the best way in the end, because through doing it we grow. 😀


  3. Here’s the thing…are you ( and, by you, I mean the Universal “you”) simply telling your truth or are you trying to find a way to justify your ” specialness”? Specialness always involves unresolved suffering – one can sense the rage underneah the cloying sentiments – one can sense the separation, the distrust, the refusal of the glorious ordinary.

    How sad!!


  4. Love the distinction between “realisable” and “possible”! In this vast universe much is possible that we’ll never see because the road is too long and too hard. Indeed, I have a list of “want to” things like books I want to write, things I want to do — and at my age not all of them are realisable in the time I can reasonably expect to live. Life is just like that. We do what we can and we keep moving, and if at the end, we’ve done some things well, then we’ve succeeded, even if we didn’t do everything.


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