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CALLED BY SEA EAGLE
My fascination with dreams springs from my early childhood in Australia, and that is where my exploration of the dreamworld began.
I had a strange, solitary boyhood—blighted or blessed, according to your point of view. Between the ages of two and eleven, I suffered twelve bouts of double pneumonia. After the third of these attacks, a Melbourne physician with a memorable bedside manner told my parents, "You'd better give up on this one and think about having another baby. This one is never going to make it."
But somehow "this one" seemed to keep dying and coming back. The doctors could never quite figure out why, just as they could never find a treatment for the swarm of allergies that for years made it dangerous for me to breathe normal air and then vanished overnight. Drugs had dwindling effect. The doctors eased off prescribing penicillin toward the end of these ordeals for fear my body would become completely impervious to it.
To survive, I had to learn how to breathe, even when I was drowning inside my own lungs. I had to learn how to shift attention so I could shut out sensations of physical pain. I became so good at this that shutting out the pain became another of my vulnerabilities. When I was nine, I mentioned a mild discomfort in my lower right abdomen to my father. He ran to fetch a doctor who lived nearby, knowing that there could be a serious problem since I had long since ceased to complain about pain. When the doctor came, he had me rushed to the hospital. My appendix was about to burst. The surgeon told my family that if I had arrived an hour later, I would almost certainly have died. My resistance had been weakened by yet another bout of pneumonia; the doctors did not believe my body could have withstood the shock of a ruptured appendix. But I had become so inured to shifting my awareness away from physical pain that I failed to report a cry of alarm from my body until it was almost too late.
The reward for long weeks and months spent in the half-light of sickrooms was an interior life that was wondrously active and exciting. In dreams and dreamlike states, I traveled to other places and times. I relived scenes from the life of a Royal Air Force pilot, a dashing fellow who was also a member of a secretive magical order. I saw him shot down over an occupied country in World War II and killed in captivity by Nazi collaborators. I felt this RAF pilot was intimately related to me. I have been dreaming about him, off and on, for much of my life.
Other dream visitors came to me in childhood. One was a radiant young man who called himself Philemon. He first appeared to me when I was about seven. He came from the edges of the Greek world, from a community on the Syrian or Phoenician coast where the tides of several world religions washed over each other in the first centuries of the Christian era. He belonged to a Mystery school and communicated with me in the precise but difficult vocabulary of the Neoplatonists, whom I discovered in libraries only many years later. He taught me that all true knowledge is anamnesis: the act of remembering what the soul already knows. He fed my passion for ancient history and comparative religion, which I briefly taught at university. I never thought of him as a dead person, still less an "imaginary companion." Philemon was wholly real to me. His guidance helped me make sense of my storms of illness and eventually showed me a path to healing. He explained the meaning of the caduceus of burning bronze I saw in the sky on the eve of my last childhood battle with pneumonia.
Years later, when I discovered Jung and immersed myself in his books, I was excited to find that the great psychologist also had a vision guide called Philemon. Jung perceived his Philemon differently, as an old man with the horns of a bull on his head and the wings of a kingfisher. Jung wrote that his Philemon convinced him of the objective reality of events in the psyche. One of the labors he set himself in his last years was to build a monument to Philemon with his own hands, at his home on the lake at Bollingen. 1
But as a small boy, I could invoke neither Jung nor the Neoplatonists to persuade the concerned but skeptical people around me that my encounters with Philemon and other spiritlike beings were more than fever dreams and hallucinations. The isolation imposed by my crises of illness was deepened by the fact that I was both an only child and an "Army brat," sent to eight different schools, on different sides of the Australian continent, before I arrived at university. In the small society I.knew in those days—predominantly WASP, highly chauvinistic, and classconscious—nobody spoke openly about dreams. On my fathers side, my family was straitlaced Scots Presbyterian, wedded to the fierce Calvinist teaching that only the elect will be saved, a matter decided before birth, and that even the elect will be damned if they fail to justify themselves through works. All show of emotion was frowned upon. Talk of dreams and spirits was immediately suspect as "Irish superstition," a charge to which my mother was keenly sensitive since on her side, we were Irish and in no way alien to the Celtic affinity for spirits—in both senses of the word! My mothers aunt Violet was a well-known psychic medium as well as an opera singer, Dame Nellie Melbas understudy and frequent companion. But Aunt Violet lived in West Australia, with the rest of my Irish relations, and most of my boyhood was spent on the East Coast, where my mother felt obliged to crush all outward signs of "Irish unreliability" under the stern gaze of the elders of the kirk.
My family, my schools, and my church all told me that dreams do not matter, that communication with spirits is unhealthy or undesirable, and that the dead do not speak to the living. Yet my childhood dreams were often more real to me than anything that took place in the schoolyard or my home. They were as real as the thrilling walk I once took through the Queensland bush, under a sunshower, when I heard the she-oaks sing and saw a sea eagle drop from the sky in a blaze of white feathers and cry out in a language I knew I could understand if I could only change my hearing.
An aching loneliness came with my inability to find friends and teachers with whom I could share my dreams safely and confirm their validity. For a few precious months, during one of my brief remissions from illness, this wall of loneliness was breached.
We were living at this time in Fortitude Valley, an inner suburb of Brisbane that has since become Chinatown and a notorious red-light district. I was six years old. In the street, after school, I ran into a slightly older boy who seemed as out of place as myself. His name was Jacko and he was an Aboriginal. He came from a broken, uprooted family. His fa- Introduction 5 ther was in jail, and his mother was often drunk. He spent his best times with his uncle Fred, a talented artist who made a fair living painting gum trees and koalas for the tourist trade when he was not drinking. My family had the reflexively racist attitudes toward "blackfellas" that was typical of middle-class Australians then, and perhaps now. They frowned on my association with Jacko. But I would still find a pretext to spend time with my new mate, get on a tram, and head off to hunt lizard and yabbies and talk. Our best talk was about dreams.
Jacko was the first person I knew who came from a dreaming culture: a tradition that prizes dreams as a valuable source of guidance, encourages dream-sharing, and respects those who "dream strong." As Aboriginals tell it, the ancestors dreamed this world—that hill, this river—into being. The Dreamtime is not a story of long ago. It is a sacred space, a hidden dimension of reality into which you can travel along the paths of dreaming, if you truly know how to dream. Jacko talked matter-of-factly about all of this. He might say, "My uncle Fred went into the Dreaming and he got the idea for a painting, the kind that's not for the tourists." Or: "I had a visit from my grandma last night. She's been gone ten years or so. She told me what Mum needs to take for her sciatica."
In this down-to-earth way, I heard things my own culture had not only failed to teach me but had actively denied. I learned that through dreams, we approach our deepest creative source. That in dreams, we receive messages from the dead, messages that may be vital to our health and well-being. That in dreaming, we can journey outside our bodies; we can travel into the future as well as the past and encounter spiritual guides in other dimensions of reality.