My soundtrack lights up with Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over”, then Tom Waits’ “I hope that I don’t fall in love with you” as I get my laptop fired up for this rainy January day. Not particularly upbeat or happy songs, but that’s been my taste throughout my musical life– beautiful tragedies… Irish melancholy, I guess. The more tragic, the more beautiful. The sort of sugar crusted, bourbon dripping scalpel that cleaves your faint heart in two filleted pieces. How much more beautiful is something or someone at that moment of separation or loss? Like your personal gravity becomes crucial at the edge of the Grand Canyon… the inescapable neck-breaking consequences smile gap toothed up from a mile below. Or signing those divorce papers through tears and gritted teeth. That’s a different sort of gravity but just as compelling.
I guess it’s the edge that brings acute sensitivity. A razor on tender skin can shave nervously or slash unabashedly at the mirrored reflection. Stumble or slip, and what was is shattered in a traumatic, bloody pulsing. Time almost stops as the pieces fly away, irrecoverable. Even the piano melody you were listening to comes undone, 88 disparate keys take flight, a flock of white pigeons and black starlings dissipate, smoke up the piano tuner’s chimney. They wash up on remote beaches, proof of a far away life exploded.
More sadness and hurt will float up my stairs today, as usual. Dirty laundry suds climb a step at a time, agitated into a growing froth. There are dream catchers in Native American traditions. What a lovely concept… I’d like that gig, chasing away bad dreams over my grandkids’ sleeping heads. Maybe burn a pinch of sage on the side while rocking their little bodies rhythmically.
Ethnographer Frances Densmore in 1929 recorded an Ojibwe legend according to which the “spiderwebs” protective charms originate with Spider Woman, known as Asibikaashi; who takes care of the children and the people on the land. As the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children. So the mothers and grandmothers weave webs for the children, using willow hoops and sinew, or cordage made from plants. The purpose of these charms is apotropaic [ to ward off evils ] and not explicitly connected with dreams.
(Sort of like Santa Claus after the Middle Ages, when parents wound up with his job before Amazon came along.)
But I’m a nightmare catcher, a lint trap on psychic dryers. Folks come to share crushed hopes and dreams with me, craving some relief or cure. Not a Spider Woman of protection in these shards. Instead, nightmares seem like demonic jockeys that drive sleepers hurtling off cliffs… into their own destruction.
A Mare (Old English: mære, Old Dutch: mare; mara in Old High German, Old Norse and Old Church Slavic) is an evil spirit or goblin in Germanic and Slavic folklore that rides on people’s chests while they sleep, bringing on bad dreams (or “nightmares”). [And you thought I meant a female horse.]
“My buddy from Iraq is alive in my dreams, screaming for me to help him as he pulls the trigger again and suicides in front of me, night after night.”
“He was a friend of the family, I guess. He grabbed my crotch like he owned me, like a dog on a choke chain. My folks would have taken his side so I kept my mouth and legs shut thereafter. Even in my first marriage, that’s how it went. I just ache for abused dogs.”
“When I dared to open my eyes, I saw the man who had abused me in the dark was… my father. That was the first time my mind split into two minds but not the last.”
What to do with such evil spirit jockeys? My first inclination is to knock them off the horse they are riding and choking, which would be my living, breathing client. It’s weird working in the land of the invisible and immeasurable. It’s a place of faith not so much of action. Like cupping one’s hands to catch flowing water in order to drink. What did I do? Not much. When it is all said and done, The Spirit defeats spirits.
This painting is of Christ Harrowing Hell. I don’t know the artist or year. It’s medieval, however. Of that I’m sure. The holy ones with halos are being led out of Hell, surrounded by demons with wings, weird ears, and cloven feet… the mares in nightmares.
Breaking up hard soil is what harrowing means. A harrow is a heavy farming tool full of tines or teeth that disks and breaks up soil so the soil can be successfully planted. Harrowing soil allows seeds to grow and produce crops. It brings a new level of life to the compacted ground once broken, like breaking open the husk of a coconut.
I see a parallel with therapy, breaking open secret horrors and hardened bunkers, empowering the person opposite me to surge forth in personal growth. Away goes the husk and out comes the sweet coconut milk. So many very poignant stories can be gleaned from the process.
“I’m not scared anymore. I finally opened up my curtains. I dare anyone to look in on my privacy.”
“The demons went away. I know they are still around, but I claim the name of Jesus, and they flee.”
“My trust was incinerated in Iraq. Yeah, but something like a new green sprout of wheat is shooting up through the scorched earth. If I believed in God still, I’d say it was a miracle.”
Like the tragic songs that start my day, I find beauty not in the horror and ruinous details, but in the resurrecting spirit that conquers Hell’s nightmares and increases the amount of Love in this world.
Dark brown is the river Golden is the sand
It flows along forever with trees on either hand….
Away down the river a hundred miles or more
Other little children shall bring my boats to shore.