Tag Archives: Greek pantheon

Past, present, and future of the clan

150 Years of Family Dynamics and a Small Dream . . .

There are times when working with Dream opens up a story. That story may be a new story – such as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dream that Robert Louis Stevenson had once. Or it may be a common story, like the having-to-take-a-high-school-exam-dream that soooooooo does not make sense in a person so far removed from the last Homecoming Dance. But what about encountering a story in dream that is so old, you just know it is older than you are? Like those “trickster” dreams in which something shape-shifts into something else, and you just have a feeling this dream is not about the dreamer.

In December 2007 I had what I thought was a pretty average dream about me. A couple of months later, working that dream in depth with a mentor, I felt the entire Greek Pantheon in a struggle about

ZeusPedimentOlympiame. The dream was not about me at all, only my perception of the dram was really about me. The gods of Olympus were duking it out – again.  I won’t relay the whole dream, as that would make the length of this post unbearable. But enough to give you the idea.

I am in a living room of the house I live in. I am thinking I should paint this room – [edited for length]. There is an oil portrait of an ancestor in this room.  It is actually more like a pharaoh, and I am at some point in the dream thinking when he wakes up, he will wreak havoc and do harm if I don’t have something for him to eat and drink. I wonder if I can fend him off for a while with that bottle of port I have in the dining room.
In a room there are some relics in bookcases or display cases that have value, handed down from the family, including things on top like a 19th century “perpetual motion machine” – those things concerned with keeping some constant motion – they are really like toys.  One of them has a series of 8 cups and 8 ball bearings, it takes at least two of the bearings to operate the contraption, and as I am looking at it the last two ball bearings that fit into a cup to maintain motion fall out and quit.  I am thinking I needPharoah Clock to fix this, feeling really worried that the pharaoh will attack if I do not.  As I start to fix it, an older man like my father in law tells me, ‘Here is what I would do. It’s now December. I would tell the guy that runs this he has until February.”

The dream continues a seemingly interminable length. The next scene is about my son and his debate partner; then a scene where I am robbed and humiliated by two men. At the end of the dream I have to track these men down to regain my manhood – for my son more so than for me.

The chain of associations in this dream with a mentor were very long. Part of that is that the images seemed so very, very old, much older even than the 150 years of family history represented. The sadness of two centuries of men who had lost sons, boys who had lost brothers, families with an empty spot, informed me in my body of the weight and responsibility I carry just in being alive. I can see it in the firmly set mouths of many of my forbears, each living with a kind of 19th century ancestral pain:

Clockwise from upper left; Randal McGavock (1826-1863; Philip Lindsley (center, 1786-1855); William Cocke, (1768-1848), Jacob McGavock, Felix Grundy (1777-1840.)
Clockwise from upper left;                                                                                                                                 Randal McGavock (1826-1863); Philip Lindsley (center, 1786-1855); William Cocke, (1768-1848), Jacob McGavock (1790-1878), Felix Grundy (1777-1840.)

When my father was 6 years old, his 24 year old brother was killed in a car wreck. Their father, my grandfather, has lost his 22 year old brother when he was 24 due to pneumonia. Their father, my great grandfather, lost his 17 year old brother when he was 19 “whilst a student at Bethany College” in 1864. Their father had also lost siblings, on back. Part of the story was multigenerational grief and loss; what was the other part?

The unspoken part of this family curse was that between my brother and me, without knowing all the family history of centuries back, I had the nagging sense that one of us didn’t belong. As my brother was perfect (Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt; established in my father’s business) – I must have been the expendable one. I survived peritonitic and appendicitis at 11 months of age, against odds, as the family story holds. I always got the message “I am lucky to be here, and perhaps not really necessary in the equation.” The dream references the anger of the gods when they realize that, maybe like some Harry Potter, I was “The Boy Who Lived” when he shouldn’t have. Addiction and addiction recovery, and working through that sense of superfluous existence, is at the heart of the dream. As old a story as the survivors of generation upon generation.

The story unfolded even more deeply. My first wife’s father died at age 39. Her grandfather at 49, and on back in time for four generations at least no Millard father lived to see the age of fifty, going back to her great grandfather who died as Lieutenant Governor in California. Amazing how those two pieces fit together, isn’t it? And bearing down on age 40, perhaps the strain of my own mortality, my family complex and hers, may have contributed to an unconscious flight from my fear of perishing that led to a divorce. Something about all of that became apparent in the dream; something about my history was understandable, and leads to a compassion for both the mother of my children, that first marriage that could not hold, and my current relationship with my children and my new wife and her children. Old story. New cast of characters. Multiple possible endings?

Past, present, and future of the clan
Past, present, and future of the clan

A few images from this dream many years ago stay present with me today. One is the idea of the angry pharaoh, disturbed into awakening by a shaking of the order of things. I occasionally have to make peace with the pharaoh; to convince him time marches on, and that people and systems evolve and develop. Another is the portrait of Philip Lindsey, who really does hang in my dining room. His portrait does, rather; he does not personally hang out there; he hangs in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, actually. And another is the notion of the “perpetual motion machine” and what happens when things stop. Sometimes, when caught in a cycle I cannot see ending, I can visualize this machine, see it stop, and then explore what happens next. Do you have a cycle you wish would stop? Can you see yourself living beyond a problem or complex that currently has you so in its grip that it defines you?

Sweet dreams . . . to you and to all sleeping Pharaohs.

DreamTending Venue 2~1

Settings for Working with the Dream

Place.

There is something about working with a dream that invites consciousness of place. The first time I met Ed Casey, in April of 2006, he mentioned how beautiful a place Ojai [California] is. “You should go there when you have time.” Ed is the author of many books about place:

Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps (University of Minnesota Press, 2002)
The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (University of California Press, 1997)
Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Indiana University Press, 1993; second, expanded edition, 2009)

So when Ed tells you to go someplace, you go. Seven years and 30 trips to Southern California later, I went. And Ojai is a beautiful place.

Ojai Valley

I was fortunate enough to have a couple of classes with Ed on Phenomenology and Ecology between the time of his recommendation and the time of my visit, and I was not the same person in part because of the the result of his frame of reference. I got there just before sunset, and the depth of my appreciation for Ojai and for Ed would be the subject of another blog.

For now I am concerned with the setting in which we work a dream, and the view from Ojai might be just such a place.DreamTending Venue 4~1 cropped  So might the comfort of one’s own study, office, or the outdoors. Just as in remembering a dream, the setting in which it occurs is so important, so it is when re0inviting the presence of the dream in waking consciousness. When working with the images of a dream, as suggested in the work of James Hillman, Steven Aizenstat, or Robert Johnson, paying attention to the surroundings might be a key element in our ability to invite the image to come alive.

Some qualities to consider when sitting with a dream:

  • Quiet may be important, and limited interruption
  • Absence of electronic image, foreground and back
  • Access to art materials, clay, sand, or sketchbook
  • An inviting setting for the Guest, free from distraction
  • A flame, optional, representing the living image
  • Something organic; a flower, a plant, light
My favorite place to have my dreams held by a mentor
My favorite place to have my dreams held by a mentor

So in my home, I have a place for me and a Guest, whether that Guest be a dream figure of someone working with a dream:

DreamTending Venue 1~3 croppedAnd in that space the chairs are almost at a right angle. The attention is not on me, but allows for the attention of one or more people to be on the place in the room where the image will come. The door through which she may walk; the shelf on which it may perch; the floor on which he may sit.

DreamTending Venue 2~3

Office, too, has the same position of space; plenty of light; and invitation to doors and windows for the dream image to approach. There is also something in this that reminds me of the sign in Jung’s office, translating to the English, “Bidden or Unbidden, God is Present.” That’s a sound reminder that the Higher Power or the Pantheon is not a mere lackey to be conjured up: Always present is the Psyche. Always here is the Divine. Always at DreamTending Venue 4~3 Croppedhand is the Image. What differs is not the quality of that Presence, but our [my] ability to be present and to connect with that image. So whether it is a solitary spot or a group setting, as below, thee is always room for more. Isolation may be the choice but solitude can get very crowded very quickly. And pictures herein do not do justice to the majesty of the settings in which very personal and very transpersonal work with the dream image can be done. If you are new to dreamwork and want to know how, this particular entry offers little help, except perhaps to point to those who know better. Those who know, better.

DreamTending Venue 5~5

So I have Ed Casey on my mind as I am flying to Southern California tomorrow. And though it is somewhat out of my way, I am intending to drive the windy path to Ojai, and to worship at the Cathedral of Place recommended by Ed.

 

 

Welsh Rarebit

Nemo, Jason, and Fictional Characters in Dreamtime: A Shout-Out to Winsor McCay

Orca Whales in Play

I have dreams of orca whales and owls but I wake up in fear. . .

– Regina Spektor, “Hotel Room”

So when is a whale a symbol, and when is it “Free Willy?” Do Jason or Freddy Kruger now live in the collective unconscious, and therefore creep endlessly from dream to dream? And what about reading ourselves to sleep and dreaming by extension of the characters in the book? And when we tell our children, “Sweet Dreams,” are we simply making cute conversation, or performing a subtle dream incubation ritual?

Thanks are in order to my daughter, Kathryn, who suggested this post and also introduced me to Regina Spektor returning from a baseball game we saw together. Kathryn, since this post will miss the mark of what you had in mind by a lot, please leave a lengthy comment improving the piece!

In Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the biographer quotes his subject as reading Hamlet so young, “that the speech of the Ghost in Hamlet terrified him when he was alone.” The time of youth is still a magical time. In a recent dream group, a participant shared a recurring dram from her youth; that she and her sister were in an orphanage trying to escape a fire. She was a huge fan of the Musical “Annie” which she saw on Broadway young; her takeaway was that maybe her love for her parents was a fear they might be taken away. So scared of this dream was she that she would await at the top of the steps until they went to bed so she could sleep knowing she was not alone in the house. Ina way, she had developed an inner Orphan who was already watching out for herself.

For a couple of years in the late 1990s, I was conducting a weekly dream group with adolescent males in state custody. Their frequent answer to the question, “Name something that has chased you in a dream” would be a villain from a Friday the 13th or Halloween type movie. I have no doubt that the premature exposure of youth to “R” rated material affects their dreamtime (if nothing else.) And yet the chase dream is a common, terrifying rite of passage for most children, and without a projection figure such as Freddy Kruger, children can come up with their own terrifying images, sometimes distortions of people they know, sometimes apparently made out of whole cloth.

The “Nemo” in the title is unrelated to the Disney character, although I am sure many youngsters of the Nemo era have (mostly happy) dreams of those popular figures. There was actually a comic strip by Winsor McCay running from 1905 to 1914 (and then a shorter run in the 1920s) called “Little Nemo in Slumberland. ” In each brightly colored Sunday panel, Nemo walked the readers through rich imaginative drams with characters of faraway lands and the mythological realm, generally ending with him waking up in such a way to incorporate dream content. The panel below (best viewed HERE) shows Nemo having a frightful encounter with Father Time in which he ages prematurely, only to be comforted by his mother upon awakening.

Little Nemo and Father Time

So the Nemo series actually offers a formula about the effect of the environment on dreams, and the effect of dreams on the dreamer. In a timely note, McCay was pretty phenomenal with his dream strips, as he was also the author of “Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend,” the Welsh Rarebitpredecessor comic strip to Little Nemo. The thesis of that strip was the wives tale that eating spicy food, like Welsh Rarebit (pictured at left) could induce nightmares. See also the Gomer Pyle episode of same theme). McCay was also a visionary cartoonist, as we know animation today, and in 1918 finished the production of a silent film on the German sinking in 1915 of the passenger ship Lusitania, which is remarkably under noticed by comparison to the Titanic disaster, but so very timely in light of the recent Russian separatist shooting down of Malaysian Air Flight MH17 over the Ukraine.  A link to the remainder of his production of the Lusitania sinking is on his Wikipedia page, and worth the 10 minute investment of time (as opposed to the 25 minutes to watch Gomer Pyle).

dream-of-the-rarebit-fiend-19050816-l

So this post is a tribute in honor of Winsor (not Windsor) McCay, a visionary man (who may have had a little trouble with beverage alcohol) but whose inclusion of dreams in fictional accounts and his fictional accounts of the world of dreams fired the imagination of millions in the early part of the previous century.