“I am on a quest…” ~ dreams of the Grail

I am on a quest…” ~ dreams of the Grail

Jung referred to dreams as being “the royal road to the unconscious,” and any seeker of their inner truth does well to pay attention to their dreams. My good friend Jean Raffa has written extensively in all three of her books (all highly recommended here) of the value of dreams and dream analysis. I keep an intermittent dream journal and have done for many years, though I sabotage myself quite often by choosing not to record dreams because I sometimes let myself believe the view held by many that dreams are just valueless doodlings the mind does when left to run idly by, and that they have no deep inner message. This is completely at variance to my core belief and experience that in dreaming we come closer at times to the true nature of reality than we do when awake. I’ve had precognitive dreams galore that make me certain that time is not linear; I’ve had powerful lucid dreams that help me believe that consciousness is not random or purposeless. Yet still I tend to think, “No, that’s just silly. How can dreams be THAT important?” Every time I read someone commenting that dreams are only of interest to the dreamer and suggesting that the sharing of dreams is foolish, this only goes to back up this internal struggle I have with the value of my own dreaming.

The other problem with dreams is that you need to be able to sleep to have them and here, due to several issues having a catastrophic effect on my sleep patterns, I’m fighting to sleep more than two consecutive hours. I probably tot up six or so hours but all broken up and it’s been relatively rare for me to have anything more than fragmentary, jumbled dreams that come in evanescent snatches.

The other morning I slept in a few extra hours after morning wakening and I dreamed. Yet when I woke, I was at first too dismissive of the dream to want to write it all down. I felt both the content and the imagery was embarrassingly childish and immature. Yet after a few minutes I realised that that was probably a clue in itself to its value. Often the deepest messages are couched in terms and language that hark back to early childhood.

The dream had a long preamble, which I’m not going to share here, because while it has a message, it’s not essential to the whole thing. Within the dream-scape scenario I was at once seeking something and being pursued at the same time. I descended a wide, modern spiral stair case that was littered with debris like old clothes and cardboard boxes that were empty and battered, as if I were going to a basement. I was looking for a way out and I felt as if I should not be there; I would be in serious trouble if found. There was another person with me but I was unable to see who he was, but I knew it was a he. We found a door, that led into the exterior world but when we looked out, it led into a graveyard, overgrown and seemingly abandoned to weeds and tall grasses. It was also guarded at the perimeter wall by a witch with a broomstick. This was not our way out, so we crept back inside. We were now in a corridor which seemed to be mostly filled with stored items in boxes and in piles. My companion wanted us to hide under blankets so we would not be seen, and we did so. But as this occurred, a group of people came up behind us in the corridor.

Now the witch with the broomstick was the first player in this dream that had me recoiling as being childish, but the new arrivals were even more so. Straight out of a fairy tale picture book, wearing old fashioned clothes, these ladies resembled Flora, Fauna and Merryweather of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. I had the impression there were ten of them, all wearing similar clothes completed with fine white aprons and bonnets, and for all their comical appearance, they carried an air of power, because I could not hide from them and stood up.

I was interrogated, kindly but firmly, by these beings. They seemed ridiculous and yet I was in awe of them and unable to just dismiss them and walk away.

What was I doing there, they asked.

I thought, frantically, to find an explanation that might satisfy them, and one that would somehow raise me to being their equal in power.

I am a royal princess and I am seeking to escape,” I said.

The one closest to me, who seemed their leader, shook her head.

Oh no dear,” she said. “That won’t do at all. You seem like a commoner to us.”

I thought again and realised that I had to tell the truth, though I did not know till I spoke what it was.

I am on a quest,” I said. “I am seeking to become royal.”

Then we CAN help you,” said the leader, beaming at me, and before the dream faded I had a dim impression that they all carried gift boxes of some sort.

Now, I woke feeling initially that this carried messages of great power for me, yet within moments I was keen to dismiss it as being silly. Though I wanted to avoid writing it down, I resisted that and wrote up a brief account of it before it faded entirely. Bits and pieces came back to me later too. And the last few days I have spent considering the dream and what it might mean.

Those of you who have read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code will know that he used the words San Graal (Holy Grail) and put them together to make Sangraal,(royal blood) and the concept of the quest for the Holy Grail became that for the blood line of Christ. I’ve long said that I am on a quest, a Grail quest, and yet I do not know what I am really looking for. Not a cup, nor yet a descendent of the bloodline of Christ, but rather certain eternal truths that these things can stand as metaphors for.

I wanted to reject this dream for its childish components and yet I can see that this has its origins in my earliest consciousness, and my seeking after this “grail” is almost as old as I am. 

The Wave

The Wave

Damp air filled with the tang of salt.

The light is grey, dead, heavy with storm.

Wind rising, beating the water,

Driving spindrift to shore.

Gull feathers & seal bones

Litter the strand-line,

Tangled with leathery weeds

Stinking with rot and mussels.

I feel the wave before I see it;

A huge pressure on my aura

Rearing like a stallion

Maddened by lust and fear.

The sound, a hundred trains

Condensed into one deafening roar

When I see it, it’s too late to run.

A mountain of water a mile high

breaks over my head

And I drown, crushed first

To a handful of pebbles

Rolling along the beach.

Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

I’ve been ill.

Nothing glamorous or dangerous. Just a funny virus that has had me laid out most of the week. I have called it ‘flu but that conjures images of a nasty, oozy sort of cold and as I haven’t coughed or sneezed (or even oozed) it seems that’s the wrong word. Bone aches, sickness, muscle pains and cramps, fever, exhaustion, total lack of appetite. I even stopped drinking coffee; the very thought made me nauseous. I struggled to keep water down the first day. Tea came straight back up.

So I’ve laid down, dosed with pain killers and slept. I could have slept for England, were it an Olympic sport. Given my problems with insomnia, you can tell how poorly I’ve been by the hours that slipped by with me being mostly insensible of them. We have a chiming clock that chimes not only the hour but the quarters too and I remember being puzzled about how it had chimed half past two and then it chimed five o’clock five minutes later.

I’ve also not been quite in my right mind. I’ve been a little delirious which these days is quite entertaining. First time I was delirious it was when I was thirteen and had a bad case of chicken pox and it scared me. This time it didn’t. I watched the room shrink and grow and thought only of Alice and her Eat Me and Drink Me treats. I saw my plain white walls become transformed with swathes of pink roses rather like the ones in my childhood bedroom, but which moved as if blown by a summer breeze. I saw tiny crystalline fairies dance on the pillow next to me. When I slept I dreamed horrific vivid dreams, full-on with all the senses and woke shaking and drenched with sweat. If dreams are prophetic then one of these has me as the next Patriarch of Jerusalem, going by what I was wearing. I make light of the nightmares because it’s easier that way, and taking them seriously as more than perhaps fodder for novels is a bit beyond my strength right now.

But what I noticed between bouts of hallucinations and sleeping was how my mind was working while it idled. It didn’t feel like MY mind at all. It hopped and skipped around, jumping from thought to thought like a grasshopper. I didn’t recognise the patterns of thinking, the images, the ideas of my own. It was like going to sleep with the radio on and having the alien outside narrative intrude and take over your dreams. Odd, and rather disturbing, yet strangely exhilarating at the same time.

As a kid I recall seeing black and white footage of the last pit ponies being brought up from underground for their annual holidays. They’d stand for a moment, looking at the wide expanse of green grass, then they would go wild, hurtling into the field, kicking their heels up. They’d run and roll, gallop and gambol, flinging themselves around in sheer unfettered delight. That’s what my thoughts had been doing.

Normally I have a train of consciousness that is going on quite modestly, commenting on what I see, formulating ideas and images and I’m in control. I can stop the thoughts (usually) and change direction, but most of all I recognise them as my own. This time, I found it a struggle to see the ideas and images as having any connection to me at all. At times, along with the dreams, it felt as if another dimension, another reality, was pushing into my own and in many ways it felt quite welcome. It was like eavesdropping on another life.

Hemingway once said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I think I understand the concept a little better now. Due to my unusual condition my body resists things like anaesthesia and pain killers so my experience of things like morphine(and other medicines) has been disappointing compared to accounts of what others felt. Yet the loosening of mental control from illness seems to have been extraordinarily liberating. To have been cut free from certain constrictions of what I experience has been a bit of a holiday, as has a long spell where I’ve been unable to do much physically.

I don’t really do enough of the “standing and staring” and letting my mind idle that I think it desperately needs to be able to access the kind of creativity that many take for granted. I may be seeing a silver lining where there is none but this spell of illness has given me a glimpse of gold beyond the horizon. 

Geas ~ an odd word for an odder concept

Geas ~ an odd word for an odder concept

I’m working through a number of things at present, most of which sadly have no easy word to encompass them in English. I’ve written about Sehnsucht, and today I want to write about geis/geas. Both words are of Gaelic origin, one being Irish and the other being Scots. The word describes a compulsion, prohibition or a taboo, laid upon a person supernatually, often by a god or goddess.

A geis can be compared with a curse or, paradoxically, a gift. If someone under a geis violates the associated taboo, the infractor will suffer dishonor or even death. On the other hand, the observing of one’s geasa is believed to bring power. Often it is women who place geasa upon men. In some cases the woman turns out to be a goddess or other sovereignty figure.

The geis is often a key device in hero tales, such as that of Cúchulainn in Irish mythology. Traditionally, the doom of heroes comes about due to their violation of their geis, either by accident, or by having multiple geasa and then being placed in a position where they have no option but to violate one geis in order to maintain another. For instance, Cúchulainn has a geis to never eat dog meat, and he is also bound by a geis to eat any food offered to him by a woman. When a hag offers him dog meat, he has no way to emerge from the situation unscathed; this leads to his death.

A beneficial geis might involve a prophecy that a person would die in a particular way; the particulars of their death in the vision might be so bizarre that the person could then avoid their fate for many years.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geis

Now I live a world away from the Irish heroes of ancient stories but I have felt much of my life as if I am under some kind of geis, except no one has ever informed me of it and all I have is an unreliable inner voice that tells me I can or can’t do something. Or that I need to do something but which seems to others to be illogical or even mad.

My need to do things a certain way, rather than the regular way, is like a geis/geas. My refusal to acquiesce to certain things is the same inexplicable, but blinding certainty that to do a something would bring disaster. This is not a form of OCD, that debilitating condition that too many folks suffer from, though I am sure that many might judge it to be so. My experience is such that I have seen that obeying these inner promptings brings new and exciting things into my life, but the difficulty is explaining to another person quite why I know that something must be done in such a way, or another thing or person or place avoided altogether.

Given my belief that this existence is not the only one, or that our daylight realm is far from the only land, then perhaps my feeling that I am under several geasa at the same time may not be far from the mark.


Tampa, banned books and why I am happy to have missed that boat.

Tampa, banned books and why I am happy to have missed that boat.

A couple of months ago I was alerted to the probable publication of a novel that had as a central theme one that readers of my novel The Bet will recognise. The basic synopsis of Tampa goes something like this: high school teacher is fixated sexually on fourteen year old boys. The book has been described as the sickest book this summer, likened to Lolita and has already been banned by some Australian bookshops. I read a Guardian article about it and the comments were as revealing as the article; many were a version of “This is depraved, filthy and disgusting- where can I buy my copy?” It’s alleged that the author Alissa Nutting has even forbidden her Catholic parents from reading the book.

One of the things that was mentioned in the article is the double standards the book exposes. While a male teacher perving on fourteen year old girls is reviled (and rightly so) there is less obvious repugnance for the reverse. Indeed, reading through comments it seems that there is a fairly widespread notion that most boys at that age are a raging mass of hormones and would welcome such attention.

When the first scenes of The Bet began to form, I was horrified and upset by them. The character who is the victim of this sort of attention is extremely distressed by it, and it’s only much later in the novel that the reason for this is addressed. What happens to him, and what has already happened, scar him probably irretrievably. It’s likely that a normal life is going to evade him for a very long time.

I’m maybe going to be called a prude and perhaps I am but I am heartily sick of everything being sexualised to such an extent that new kicks, new thrills are being sought to tickle palates that have become jaded. I chose to leave much of the sexual encounters in this novel very much to the imagination of readers: the old adage of show don’t tell springs to mind. Sex was not the primary motivator within the book: power was. Power over another human being who is vulnerable to being manipulated into situations beyond their control or desire. Yes, this is fiction, but fiction and so-called real life are far more than kissing cousins. One influences the other, bound together like an eternal Mobius strip.

What I sought to do with my novel was to delve into the mind and soul of a character damaged almost irreparably by having been captured by circumstances that turned him into a sexual toy, an object, a slave even. I lead the reader deep into the tragedy of his life and then I lead him into a place where light begins to dawn.

People might think I am merely jealous of the commercial success of Tampa and there is a wistful part of me that sighs and feels sad that The Bet has not been a wildly successful novel, charting on the New York Times best sellers list. I would not want Tampa to be banned because I believe in the right for literature to be uncensored, and because banned books still sell. But I will be honest and say I hope that once the furore is over, the reviews good or bad are written, this is a book that will be forgotten. It has already failed to engage in the implicit double standards our society applies to sex with minors. It has failed to engage in anything other than titillation and a pandering to the literary machine that demands more extremes.

I’ve joked before now of writing an X rated version of The Bet but I can say now that I am glad this was no more than a joke. To fill a book with gratuitous sex just in the hopes of selling masses is not something I aim to do. So while Tampa has probably sold more via pre-orders than The Bet may EVER do, I am proud of my work and of a story that has touched a lot of people very deeply. As a writer, that’s probably one of the things that gives me the most reason to continue writing.