Greetings all! It’s great to be back from my undersea fish-ride. Some people go a-maying, others a-whalin’: I’m grateful for the chance to ride bareback yeehawing beneath a darkling moon.
As Monday marks the summer solstice, and I’m opening up the forum for the Eve (when festivals in Celtic reckoning were celebrating) and titling this week’s challenge A Midsummer Night’s Dreamtime.
This challenge runs long (when I said “a-fishing,” I meant joyriding sources), so take it as a smorgasboard of approaches to the challenge, which rounds a compound theme – many things at once, like dreaming. Sink your hooks where you may.
Next week Sherry will take over the reins with a timely challenge she titles A PRAYER FOR HARD TIMES. Any of you who would also like to help with prompts, let me know.
Now on to our business: If you get to this post early, it’s the deep hour of Midsummer Eve, a great sun rises, and the moon will soon be full. Let us awake to merriments!
At Midsummer the heat of the sun waxes toward fullness, with the primary growing season between now and August 1, the harvest festival of Lammas. It can be seen as a liminal midpoint between the two great festivals.
The Celts believed there were three “spirit nights” during the year — Halloween, May Eve and Midsummer Eve — when the “little folk” were most active, the gate to the Otherworld opened (where it is always summer), new souls come to Earth, the dead visit too and omens of the future can be read. Fairies roused by Beltane reach the height of their sport at Midsummer and then slowly recede until Samhain, when they retire and the goblins of winter come out, Puck turned coat into the spiteful Robin Goodfellow.
Forest spirits are potent too, with fairies called Oak-men protecting the sacred oak trees of druidic veneration. (They do not like humans much). They will offer food to passing humans but beware: poisonous toadstools have been given a Food Network sheen by pixie dust. They guard all forest animals and punish those who harm them. Rainwater collected from an oak hollow is considered holy.
As agriculture began replacing hunter-gatherer societies, the sun became the god of growth and sustaining light. The sun is the hero of Midsummer, warming, healing, revealing, fertilizing. In Bronze Age representation a cart pulled the sun across the sky. Likewise, Greek Helios rode the sun across the sky in a chariot drawn by flying horses. The Navaho call their sun god Jóhanaa’éi (‘Sun-bearer’); he is tasked with hauling the sun on his back. According to Australian aborigines, the sun goddess Wuriupranili lights a torch and travels from east to west, extinguishing the torch in the western ocean. In lore across the world, the moon is the sun’s sibling, spouse or parent. In many Native American myths, the sun and moon become lovers before finding out they are brother and sister; the moon flees in shame whenever she hears that her brother is close. That is why the two are so rarely seen together. (The moon is waxing now and will be full June 24.)
Archaeologists now believe that Stonehenge was built in the fourth millennium BC and oriented to the summer solstice. The winter solstice was celebrated two miles to the northeast of the stone circle at Durrington Walls, a wooden henge enclosure. Stonehenge was a place for the dead, Woodhenge very much for the living. (One could say Stonehenge was for the everliving.) The Celts who eventually inherited these sites believed there was a summer sun and winter sun, the former born at the winter solstice and the latter at the summer solstice. The two wane and wax as the year cycles through light and darkness. (For the second year in a row, summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge have been canceled duo to the coronavirus pandemic, but you can livestream the event at English Heritage.)
The other balancing parallel is hemispheric: summer solstice in the Northern hemisphere is simultaneous with the winter solstice in the South. So while my light in Florida may be greatest today, in South Africa and Australia it is when daylight is at its nadir.
Vestiges of the old Midsummer festival were still visible into the nineteenth century, with lighting of bonfires, torchlight processions, performing sun-dances, casting spells, rolling the sun wheel downhill and blessing of the animals. The ancient stone circles come alive to dance (some say they are pagan sun-dancers turned to stone for their sin.) It was customary to visit holy wells at sunrise, walk thrice around them sunwise and lower offerings into the waters. Flowers played a great part in the festivities as they represent the fertilized womb of the Goddess, woven into wreaths, cast into bonfires and thrown in holy wells. Roses gathered on Midsummer Eve are said to remain fresh until Christmas. St. John’s Eve (June 23) is traditionally the time for declaring love. Girls and boys wishing to become “Sweethearts of St. John” had to pass a stick through a bonfire to each other three times. Witches and druids were said to have collected herbs on Midsummer morning when they were their most potent. Herbs like vervain and St. John’s wort became magical on Midsummer Eve; in the tale of Tristan and Iseult, the love-potion was taken on Midsummer Eve.
In Gwent, a troupe of morris dancers would all dress in white, apart from the Fool and the Cadi, who carried the ‘summer branch’ decorated with silver ornaments such as watches and spoons borrowed from the whole village. Craft guilds, which had by the 14th century become largely responsible for theater production, worked the mysteries of their trade into stagecraft. Mummers were troops of commoners who visited the houses of the privileged and put on plays that were said to bring good luck, but there was always a note of mockery and foolishness to their revels.
Neo-pagans have revived many of these customs, and up to the pandemic Stonehenge was seeing large crowds at the summer solstice.
Christianity twisted the tale to suit its eternal whims. Instead of vibrating rhythm between light and darkness, St. George defeats the dragon and Christ defeats Lucifer and casts him into eternal Hell. St. John’s Day (the feast day of John The Baptist) is celebrated on June 24, three days after the summer solstice, the same way that Christmas is celebrated three days after the winter solstice.
Still, the Christian summer holidays are saturated with pagan influence. It was customary to watch the sun go down on St. John’s Eve, stay awake for the entire night and watch the sun rise again. Families set up feasts through the night. In Wales it was said that anyone who spent that night on a certain mountain would come back down either a poet or mad. In the Shetlands it was said that selkies came ashore on St. John’s Eve, seal-people who come ashore one night of the year to dance all night on the seashore. If anyone disturbs them, they grab their grey skins and run back into the sea.
St. Peter’s Day (June 29) may have been appointed so to wrest pagan celebrations of stone toward The Rock of the church. Midsummer ceremonies at the stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis persisted into the 20th century despite the disapproval of the church. A figure known as “the shining one” was said to walk the stones that night. Women who slept on the club of the Cerne Giant at Midsummer were promised fertility, as did lovers who curled on the eye of the Uffington Horse, two great figures carved on chalk hillsides.
In the United States, almost all vestiges of Midsummer celebrations (as well as the cross quarter festivals and Michaelmas) have been lost. I never heard of any growing up other than to be told in grace school science classes that the sun waxed in the Northern Hemisphere on June 21. When I turned 18 I spent a summer at my father’s Columcille in Pennsylvania, and the first festival ever attempted there was on August 1— Lammas in sooth though we called it Midsummer. What did we know? We decked a tall tripod of limbs in the field with ribbons, danced round its, praised the elements with music (I had an acoustic guitar, my bass player a fiddle, a minstrel from New York City a zither) and got soundly drunk on May wine during the later party part of the festival. I woke the next morning in the bed of a crazy woman whose house straddled a river in nearby Delaware Water Gap.
Wisdom weaned future Columcille festivals from the grape. Nowadays a solstice fire is lit on Signal Hill.
I’ve been digging into the mythic background ever since.
II. Shakespeare’s Dream
The literary text for the summer solstice is, of course, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The comedy was written in 1595 or 1596 though it may originally have been part of four-day festival staged in honor of Queen Elizabeth in 1591 in Elvetham.
Like a charm wound up, three tales come together in this magic moony forest. Theseus, Duke of Athens, is soon to wed the Amazon queen Hippolyta, but their concord is edgy — he won her hand by the sword — and is further disturbed by a love quarrel: Hermia loves Lysander but is promised to Demetrius; Helena loves Demetrius but is spurned by him. The Duke tells Hermia she must obey her father’s wishes to marry Demetrius or face death; instead she elopes into the wood with Lysander, pursued by Helena and Demetrius.
While this is going on a comic band of rustic “mechanicals” — tinkers or a craft guild — plan a mummer’s play for Theseus’ wedding. They are, of course, a miniature of Shakespeare’s company, the antique version but familiar as actors shared low status with artisans in Elizabethan England. The playwright is Peter Quince, his play “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe,” easily a satire of Romeo and Juliet. Their lead actor is Nick Bottom, a weaver and man of gentle wit whose buffoonish nature some see as a primitive Falstaff.
The artisans head for the same forest where they can practice in secret, and that’s where the fun begins. It’s Midsummer, and the fairies of the wood are at full wattage. There’s a royal couple, Oberan and Titania, easily spirit-doubles for the Duke and his Amazon bride. Or the very spirits of sovereignty; Oberan means to bless the royal wedding, but he an Titania are at odds, not over sexual errancy (of that they are both guilty) quarreling for the possession of a changeling child Titania has stolen from mortals.
Their trouble has upset the balance of nature, as Titania says to Oberon, who has steadfastly spoiled Titania’s round dances which are keyed to the elements:
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original. (II.i)
At the time, England amid a Little Ice Age lasting from 1560 to 1600, with cold wet summers plaguing crops especially from 1594 to 1597. The cooling could have been a result of vulcanism, cyclical lows in solar radiation or changes in ocean circulation. (The last is presently affecting Europe with colder weather as the Atlantic current has slowed some 15 percent since 1950.)
Such disturbance always routes back to the gods, and Shakespeare knew the myths relating how royal discord could upset nature. The problem may have been older than even he understood: Olympian gods and Celtic mother-goddesses could be at war, too; certainly a solar masculinity is tripped up by moonlight. The Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets would agree.
Oberon wants the child for his own revels among mortals, but Titania won’t give him up, and to punish her Oberan has his chief sprite Puck search the world for a magic flower and then stain the queen’s sleeping eyelids with some of its juice, knowing that when she awakes she will fall madly in love with whatever beast is strolling by. Observing Helena’s forest mistreatment of Demetrius as he chases after Hermia, he bids Puck also to drip some of the flower’s potion in Demetrius’ eye as he sleeps. Puck achieves the first but mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and when Lysander awakes he falls madly in love with Helena, losing all interest in his true love Hermione.
Things really go amok from here. The Lovers moon and quarrel, the wires of true and false love crossed. The mechanicals arrive in the wood to practice their play, but Puck charms Bottom into — what else? — an ass. His transformation drives off his fellows in terror; Titania wakes to behold this thing of wonder to her. Besotted love works its fairy magic again, though Bottom strangely is easily comfited to his new role; taking in his new animal nature with ease.
Eventually though Oberan is dismayed to see good love so confused in the lovers and his own love turned so cruelly on his queen. He has Puck reverse all the charms and as dawn arrives, the strange sense of dream recedes into ordained festivity and three marriages—Tiberias and Hippolyta, Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helean. Order is restored, history can now procede.
All’s well that ends well, and Shakespeare sends us off from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the sense of pomp so memorable that Mendelssohn composed what became known as “The Wedding March” Mendelssohn in the second part of his orchestral music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It became the traditional music played at most weddings.
We get three readings of the imagination — the Dream in Shakespeare’s play — and they are positioned at varying ends of the rational – poetic spectrum. Theseus the Duke of Athens is most “awake” of the bunch, and his view of the imagination is dismissive:
… I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (V,i)
Bottom, who in the dream has been transformed into half-man, half animal, is aware how far imagination can take one; for him, the dream “hath no bottom”:
I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was,—and methought I had,—but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the duke: peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death. (IV, i)
Bottom is never given the chance to sing his finale: just before he begins, Theseus notes the midnight hour and clears the table, declaring, “’tis almost fairy time.” It is up to Puck to deliver the play’s epilogue and seal us deepest in dreamlike imagining:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. (V, i)
The dream, in Puck’s estimation, is the play itself; indeed, all in his voice — and the Bard’s — is but a dream inside a dream. Bottom’s Dream is bottomless.
III. Interlude: A Dream
My dream from the other night was marvelous strange.
I was back working at the daily newspaper I left in 1998, going to work in a function across the hall from my old job in Human Resources. I was cramped in a small office with two other guys, one about my age, the other ancient. The office contributed to some antique function of advertising by checking old ledgers for facts supporting advertising claims. The room was cluttered with obsolete equipment – telecopiers and word processors, vacuum tubes and inoperable stuff from long ago, piled on each other randomly and haphazardly.
Apparently I was chosen for the job because I said I was a gentleman scholar, dedicating odd hours to study; but on the first day I made a dumb mistake which called all of my qualifications into question. Troubling notes enter. I wonder about the newspaper operation, how many employees are in Advertising now? I’m told 125, a quarter of the department’s size when I worked there last but impressive since its all but gone now. Preparations for a Christmas event (the sort I used to plan when I worked there) are underway in the conference center; I want to join everyone, there but need to go out into the winter cold to check on some machine that cleans trucks with ash. No one understands the procedure, its another ghost tradition that is still routinely carried out. Everyone gets up at once to head for the holiday event. I want to go there but I see down at the end of the hall a cat jumping around – it’s Domino, one of the strays we feed. I have to go attend to him first. I wake up.
The first odd thing about the dream is that the entire bustling operation of a 24-7 daily newspaper is dust. The two huge buildings that housed Advertising, Editorial, Marketing, Circulation, Operations, Finance and Human Resources – 1,750 employees when I last worked there – are completely empty. A couple dozen reporters work in a small office downtown, advertising reps work from home, page composition is done at a sister paper in Fort Lauderdale and the paper is published in a pressroom in Lakeland. Those buildings are a ghost town, with much of the equipment — desks, chairs, file cabinets, even computers and miles and miles of cabling – just sitting there in darkness. Eventually the buildings will be either repurposed or torn down; what is anyone going to do with the empty vault of a pressroom with a pad thick enough to sustain 100 tons of roaring presses?
Another thing: this dream has been repeating itself in numerous ways over the past few months. Sometimes I work in Human Resources, sometimes in earlier jobs I worked there. There is always a ghostly sense of purpose – about old duties – in quarters filled with old, broken and useless equipment, amid much grime and dirt. It’s as if old memories have been decanted. People who have been gone or dead or both go about their usual business.
My imaginarium is full of this though I don’t know why.
IV. The Psyche of Dreams
According to Jung, “the dream is a fragment of involuntary psychic activity, just conscious enough to be reproducible in the waking state.” (“The Nature of Dreams, 1945) It’s the barely visible fin of the fish who swims deep within us.
Of all psychic phenomena the dream presents perhaps the largest number of “irrational” factors. It seems to possess a minimum of that logical coherence and that hierarchy of values shown by the other contents of consciousness, and is therefore less transparent and understandable. Dreams that form logically, morally, or aesthetically satisfying wholes are exceptional. Usually a dream is a strange and disconcerting product distinguished by many “bad qualities,” such as a lack of logic, questionable morality, uncouth form, and apparent absurdity or nonsense. People are only too glad to dismiss it as stupid, meaningless, and worthless. (par. 532)
Jung’s his method of understanding someone’s dream begins with a simple statement: “I have no idea what this dream means.” Picking up on a finding by Freud that no interpretation can be undertaken without the dreamer, he requests the active participation of the dreamer by asking him/her to provide any associations related to the dream. From these Jung proceeds in a procedure he calls “taking up the context”:
This consists in making sure that every shade of meaning which each salient feature of the dream has for the dreamer is determined by the associations of the dreamer himself. I therefore proceed in the same way that I would in deciphering a difficult text. This method does not always produce and immediately understandable result; often the only thing that emerges, at first, is a hint that looks significant. (par. 542)
The way of the dream is not straight – no fish swims that way – but it does so to carry meaning which is dark to the conscious mind.
Even though dreams refer to a definite attitude of consciousness and definite pyschic situation, their roots lie deep in the unfathomably dark recess of the conscious mind. For want of a more descriptive term we call this unknown background the unconscious. … Because dreams are the most common and most normal expression of the unconscious psyche, they provide the bulk of the material for its investigation. (par. 544)
Dreams then, are voyages into the dark, masques and dances in fairy-land which can only be seen in shadows of moonlight. What is to be found there? Only the dreamer —you — can say.
V. The Dreamtime
We don’t have that far to drift downstream from the Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jung to the aboriginal Dreamtime of Australia, that account of tribal beginnings some 50,000 to 200,000 years ago. However, the Dreamtime goes far beyond the individual’s journey into the unconscious. For aboriginal peoples, it is the collective dream how the world came into being.
Fred R. Myers characterizes the Dreamtime this way:
Frequently known as totemic ancestors in anthropological literature, the mythological personages of The Dreaming travelled from place to place, hunted, performed ceremony, fought and finally turned into stone or ”went into the ground”, where they remain. The actions of these powerful beings – animal, human and monster – created the world as it now exists. They gave it outward form, identity (a name), and internal structure. The desert is crisscrossed with their lines of travel, and, just as an animal tracks leave a record of what happened, the geography and special features of the land hills, creeks, salt lakes, trees are marks of the ancestors’ activities. Places where exceptionally significant events took place, where power was left behind, or where the ancestors went into the ground and still remain, are special sacred sites.
Time in The Dreaming is circular, an everywhen where past is prologue to an ancestral present. Animals and humans are undistinguished and the landscape is alive with ancestors who have “gone underground.” They are the landmarks, and by assembling them in songlines aborigines can travel vast distances across Australia. A spirit pervades all things and is both prior to and after life; when a child stirs in her mother’s womb, it is believed that it is the work of the land in which the mother was standing. When the child is born, she is considered a custodian of that part of the country and is taught songlines of that place.
Here is a Dreamtime tale, of Goolagaya and the White Dingo:
(There. was) a spiteful woman, Goolagaya, who, having no children of her own, was intensely jealous of other women who were more fortunate. Her tale-bearing and gossip had caused almost every quarrel in the camp, especially those between husbands and wives, or mothers and their grown-up daughters. In consequence, Goolagaya was so much shunned and disliked that her only companion was a savage white dingo, which followed its mistress everywhere. But in spite of her enmity towards grown-ups, Goolagaya was always kind to children, and often, when their parents were not watching, amused them with games, or gave them titbits of food.
One day, after a violent quarrel with a woman named Naluk, Goolagaya planned to take revenge by giving her a great fright. She waited until there was no one about, then picked up Naluk’s baby, and hid it under a low shrub at the edge of a distant lagoon, expecting that the infant would soon be found. But her plans miscarried, for the baby, on waking, crawled to the bank of the lagoon, fell over the edge into the water, and was drowned.
This accident so enraged the aborigines that they killed both Goolagaya and her dingo, burying them deeply in the mud of the lagoon so that never again would they cause any trouble. But though their bodies remained under the ground, their two spirits escaped and made their home in the trunk of a misshapen tree at the edge of the water. Every night, just as the sun is sinking below the horizon, the spirits of Goolagaya and her companion leave the tree, ready, when darkness comes, to roam the bush and steal any wandering child. But Goolagaya is seldom successful, for the children, warned of the dangers of the dark, fear to leave the light of their camp-fire.
— Charle Mountford, The Dreamtime: Australian Aboriginal Myths (pp. 35-36). ETT Imprint. Kindle Edition.
The European dreamtime had all but faded by Shakespeare’s time, but he does a noble job of resurrecting what he can. The song of the first fairy we meet in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a reckoning of place akin to such songlines.
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
I would have loved to be a Puck on the wall observing the staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by an all-aboriginal cast in Sydney in 1997. In it, the forest became an Aboriginal space, with Rainbow Serpent covering the forest floor as well as the costumes of Titania and Oberon. Titania’s bower was a giant waratah and spirits/fairies included Kangaroo and Lyrebird.
In that staging, there were greater lines of tension. The fairy aborigines mix with the European world at a peril which is greater than mere distraction. In European settings of the play, modernity is building up all around them, foresting them in a place which is only fantasy and fable. In the aboriginal world, petroglyphs blasted for railroads and valleys ruined by coal mining destroys the Dreamtime truth for an entire people.
A 1999 all-aboriginal staging of The Tempest was similarly fraught, with white first contact with Aboriginals playing out on Prospero’s island and his control of Ariel and Caliban, the former represent the spiritual life of the people and the latter its enslavement. (The play may have been in the very mindset of Australia’s white settlers, arriving at the continent 180 years after Shakespeare’s death.)
Aborigines used stone circles to mark the summer and winter solstices. One at Wurdi Youang in Victoria was noticed by European settlers two hundred years ago and was first charted by archaeologists in 1977. The Wadda Wurrung people are supposed to have built the circle though no one knows any more; early in the 20th century, traditional language and practices were banned. No one knows the age of the circle, either, though the deposition of them suggests they have been there for thousands of years. The circle may perhaps be older than Stonehenge.
VI. The Deeper End of Bottom’s Dream
Years ago, in a paper for a night class in Shakespeare, I delved into mythic parallels in The Tempest. Once I started digging, I could find no bottom to the play’s sources. Prospero and Ariel, Sycorax and Caliban were shapeshifting energies of a magic island tens of thousands of years old.
We have another enchanted hallow n Midsummer Night’s Dream — a wilderness thrice charmed dream and moon and fairy. It is outside Athens the way Avalon is offshore England, back and down history in the dreamy veld of the archaic unconscious.
The fairy Oberon is a lord as men had become in England; but the ruling deity of moon and night is Titania — a fading power but still undergirding the living, growing world. His power is effected by magic and smith-craft (in some productions, his fairy servants are dwarves); he is the magus Prospero and the shaman of the crannog and the madman Sweeney in the wild.
Titania is the moon-goddess Ioua once was revered at Iona, her fairies children, the purest extract of flowers that bloom at night. Her regency is inscribed on every Mesolithic altar and her agency astonished makers of the Paleolithic who carved fat goddesses out of mammoth ivory and laid them in cavernous cathedrals underground. Puck like Ariel sports our imaginarium, flying the airy heaven between us and God and flinging pixie-dust over us to make us dream; Bottom transformed is half-man, half-ass, as natural as the natural man might go on the precipice of dreamtime, the stag-headed Sorcerer of Trois Frères staring back with eyes whirling in prophetic wonder.
And the Midsummer Eve festival which Shakespeare fashioned into a stage yet dances all night round standing stone, wheeling the sun back beneath the ocean in which we sleep to rise, triumphant, to the rising sun’s patrimony of the day and the slow awakening of human consciousness. An agrarian festival perhaps but archaeologists now see a long period of adjustment from hunter-gathering to agriculture in Europe and the United Kingdom, a murky Mesolithic in which the rituals of one were enculturated in the next — just as paganism was absorbed by Christianity for centuries and now that faith is morphing into some latter expression of the Dream.
Not without disturbance, though. The weather was full of bad omens in Shakespeare’s time, and our skies are just as troubling. As I finish this post, the American southwest broils in triple-digit-heat — 118 F (or 47 C) on Thursday in Phoenix, 114 in Las Vegas on Friday; 123 degrees in Palm Springs (a June record) 107 in Salt Lake City, a record, 128 degrees in Death Valley. These records are being broken a month earlier than they might have be expected.
So celebrations of the sun’s zenith are marred by heat which has never been reckoned. It’s not the sun’s fault. Scientists at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that the amount of heat the Earth traps has doubled since 2005. Greenhouse gases, disappearance of reflective sea-ice and reduction in cloud cover are trapping solar energy in the atmosphere and the oceans. It explains the megadrought in the southwestern US. Extreme heat is extremely deadly for the disadvantaged; last year alone in Maricopa County, Arizona, some 320 elderly, poor and outside workers died from the heat. Hurricane season is whipping up here with Tropical Storm Debby now raking Tallahassee in Northern Florida. 54 tropical cyclones systems formed this year, 28 were named; the worst was Typhoon Surigae, packing sustained winds of 220 kmh.
Melting sea ice is slowing the Atlantic current, resulting in more storms battering the UK and bringing both extreme cold and heat to Europe. Telegram from Oberon and Titania: Farewell mild wet weather.
Maybe it’s not surprising then that conservative agencies worldwide are desperate to turn back the sunwheel. The wilder this gets, the harsher they get. U.S. bishops of the Catholic Church have just drafted a “teaching document” to rebuke Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, for their support for abortion by refusing them communion. Likewise, Republicans in the U.S. Congress have collapsed into their ultra-right wing and are taking drastic measures to the limit voting rights of a growing multicultural plurality, refusing gun legislation and supporting the false claims of their former President Donald Trump. A disturbing majority of Republicans and evangelical Christians believe the of perverted claims Q-Anon to be true. In Iran, the ultra-conservative judiciary chief Ebrahaim Raisi has been named president in an election where hardliners increasingly have say. And on Friday night, the first of the marches in Northern Ireland’s Protestant marching season was conducted under heavy police presence, as fears grow that this year the marches will descend into violence due to intense objections to Northern Ireland Protocol brought into effect by Brexit. A single drum beat was played as it passed St Patrick’s Catholic chapel on Donegall Street while a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Hope and dream as we might, the way forward is terribly fraught. But can we really go back? Failing religions are tethered to the monster dragon of market capitalism: both must go down and its remains buried in the cathedral which will rise for centuries.
What to do? For all that’s being disrupted by change, sea level rise and regressive populists across the world – for all those losses, this losing: what can we do? Elizabeth Bishop could only say Write it!, eventually, after many revisions. Me, I usually end up at first light with my words not fleshed or winged or finned enough, too outré or vain or labored to have much appeal: And then put on my sneakers and head out for a walk down to the lake and back. I say my AA prayers now to the trees – God, I offer myself to you, to build with me and do with me what you will — and pause. down at the lake and the point that is built crannog-style, with three sycamore trees at its head that I touch every day with gators swimming about just offshore. I stand there facing the waking waters repeating what my father heard at Iona decades ago: Your work is our work and our work is yours.
And on that note, that fragment of a dream, turn to complete walking circuit home. May their work show in mine.
All of these attempts at articulating this challenge have fallen short: No mortal mind may fully understand fairyland, the ancient forest and the dream. As we are told, “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what (that) dream was.”
Yet it comes together somehow, does it not? So Hippolyta says, considering what the lovers have told her and Theseus of their night in the wood:
But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable. (V,i)
Or will assemble — in the collective, hive, water temple and moony forest of our poems …
Let’s get to it! Write a poem about A Midsummer Night’s Dreamtime.
- The time is awash in fairies — will o’ the wisps, pixes, pookas, selkies, pilwiz, oakmen, rusalka, elderfolk, merrows, banshees. Weave us a fairy ring and echo the music of trooping fairies in a dreamland.
- Light a midsummer bonfire and dance around it: What builds it, what transpires in its flames, what is created and what is burned off? What tales of old are found there, what does it still mean in this terrible time of fire? How does the wheel of fire bear down on us?
- Write a dream poem using its language and rhetoric and dark sense. What moony light does it cast on the day? If you care, add to the poem or a note with any associations from waking life that the dream seems to be commenting on. If the dream is your unconscious speaking to you, what is it trying to help your waking writing mind to see?
- In the aboriginal sense of The Dreamtime, write a poem in the tense of everywhen. Sing a songline across the sacred terrain of your beginning and end.
- What rituals help restore the balance of our elements and right the time? How can the dance resume and conflicted relations harmonized?
- If you are responding from the Southern Hemisphere, what is the fairy magic in midwinter dreams? How does the land gather up the death of one year and turn toward the next??
So come dance!
Another dream was sent bubbling up Friday night, as if to clarify the first:
I was participating in theater event of sorts packing in the audience where I am both witness and participant. Seems a co-worker at has arranged a televised confrontational theater where execs from my dead newspaper industry revel in their clout and wealth. I’m supposed to stand up and ask a tough question of the CEO sitting onstage, but I’m so outraged I want to tear him a new asshole, speak up for everyone who invested their working life to their cause and lost everything except a separation payout and a maybe a pension. I’m seething, can’t wait to get up and speak: But then the co-worker tells me he’s arranged for a late-night soiree with the execs / cast after the show. He wants me to participate, play on the lust of the CEO for young men (I guess I’m a young dude in the dream.) I hate the assignment, don’t know how I’ll be able to contain my rage and loathe having all this interrupt the deep work of my pre-day studies. Then as if to note that the irruption is not just by a job, I dream *next* of some huge project that’s been launched where the sympathies are close to mine — an excavation of sorts, same rhythm and load, say, of this earthweal post — but it’s not my project, begs time away from the work I must be about. My anger carries over.
Hmmm. Further into Jung’s essay on dreams he concludes that the unconscious is an independent mental function removed from conscious intents. The dream (of which the unconscious is matrix) then is compensation, a balancing of conscious intents with deeper darker perspectives which read things in dreamtime. When dreams are wildly weird, they suggest a wide gap; other more normative dreams seem like minor calibrations toward the dark attitude. If we take the notion of compensation back to my dream, then the stage is the work of my life, my conscious view of it .
On to the amplifications: The person who had arranged the event in the dream is a guy who recently paired my magazine team with a true insider of horror movies, with the result that our October issue will be packed with so many features it will be a monster given our resources. Much of the writing will be done by freelancers, but the job of editing content and managing the production will be mine. Wasn’t my idea but I’m working it. Still, I sense a freight train coming.
It also surfaces simmering resentments I’ve nursed at a publishing industry which has so mismanaged a communications revolution it doesn’t understand (no one does), resulting in the of ghost-towning of careers seen in my earlier dream. And now that I’m just a few years from retirement, I’m coming to the end of my daily work life. The dust of four decades in the satanic mills seems to be littering my dream.
And as if to sharpen that point to the finest edge, the second part of the dream edges “Work” from corporate labors toward the vatic, someone’s labors in the alchemical lab with a project that has semblance to mine. (Is the dream-deep looking up at me who is writing this post with some irritation, saying look, I get it there’s lots of noble stuff going on, but is this really My work? (Bronx cheer).
It leaves me to wonder: What isn’t getting done because I’m writing this post?
Maybe Elizabeth Bishop was wrong …or not right enough.
Shamanic elucidation from the Bard of Dreams, or the effect of all those steroids injected yesterday into the epidural of my neck, in the hopes of further dimming back pain in my shoulder and neck from disordered neck vertebrae, the product of decades of day jobs at a desk cranking out corporate inspiration?
Why is the Dreamtime’s answer always Yes?
You do realise that the Celts didn’t build Stonehenge? It’s far too old for that. The folk who built it were dark skinned and could not digest milk.
Avebury and Stonehenge are nieghbours of mine, as is the Uffiington horse. Will be walking at Avebury on Tuesday.
You’re right — it was erected between the Neolithic and Bronze Age by the folk then residing there. Uffington Horse is Celtic — Iron Age — but the Cerne Giant, oddly has been recently dated to around 700 AD, about the time Cerne Abbey was built. I figure he’s tied though to the ruined hillfort at the crest.
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My theory is that the local community were hedging their bets – building an abbey and a carving of one of the old gods covers all angles!
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The locals must have, um, still been restless. Kept the abbott out of the cauldron …
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Maybe if he complained too much about the pagan chalk figure, they really did get restless!
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It’s not nice to fool with Father Nature’s dingdong!
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I was struggling with a poem about the many white horses etched on the hills hereabout. They leave their hills midsummer and midwinter, according to local legend,
Tonight, your words have given me the real horse, Uffington. She is all about summer. My poem was really about her. They do say, always be specific!
Ahhhh, so nice to have everyone back. I resonate with your dream, Brendan. I was a cub reporter back in the days when linotype operators placed upide down type by hand out back and the editor really did run through the office screaming Stop the Presses! And now everything is so different. I am happy I had those days. I have an old poem, but will also try to come up with something new for this wonderful challenge. Words are elusive at the moment so it is good to have such a meaty challenge to strive for.
Much to dream on here Brendan. I hope you enjoyed your break. I am back from a weekend off with a head still half-fuzzy with dreaming.
You took me back with your essay to when I acted in The Dream at age 14, and fell in love with Bottom (make what you will of that!)
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I was more for Titania’s ass, but true love is bottomless … -B
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Welcome back Brendan and fellow poets! I’m keeping it short and sweet for this prompt and wish you all a blessed Summer/Winter Solstice!
Happy solstice! I think I’ve written about the different possibilities of femininity, but I might just have written about roses. Welcome home, Brendan, good to have you back!
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Thanks Sarah, hope you’re still game (gamos?) for Lammas —
Oh, yes. Start of August?
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a bit skewed to the prompt, B, if that’s ok ~
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My mind wandered in so many directions, I might have to write a second.
Happy Solstice and Midsummer!
So much to inspire here, have a couple of drafts now. The first to be finished is one I started composing as I lay listening to thunder on the shortest night of the year.
Hello. Sorry for the late response. Loved the prompt. Hope you had a wonderful break Brendan, riding bareback yeehawing beneath a darkling moon sounds like just the right kind of holiday. Beautiful solstice blessings to all.