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Excerpt from Dreams

Dreams of the Land (p. 259)

From chapter "Possession"

Many years ago I asked Jeannette Armstrong where dreams come from.

She laughed, then said, “Everyone knows that animals give them to us.”

I didn’t know what to make of that. I trusted her, and she had told me so many fundamental truths about existence that I wanted to believe this, too. In addition, it kind of matched my experience, and the experiences of some of my friends. For example, there are the recently deceased dogs and cats who have come back to me in dreams. Or, extending this to plants, there was the friend who was cold and sleepy, so she went to take a nap in another friend’s nice warm marijuana grow room; she said she had a hard time sleeping because the plants were making such a racket singing and dancing. And in case you’re wondering, no, she wasn’t even slightly stoned. Or, extending this still farther, there’s my relationship with the land where I live. Ever since I first saw this land, it has come to me in dreams at least once every couple of weeks. In many of the dreams the land has been nothing like it is in waking reality, and the only way I’ve known it was this land has been that the land told me so in the dreams. And in many other dreams the land has in some ways resembled this land in waking reality, but I really knew it was this land because it shared even more similarities with other dreams of this land. For example, there is a pond near my house, and in many dreams a house sits on the other side of the pond, which is not the case in waking reality (at least not a human house, thank the gods). An old road, becoming a path in the time I’ve lived here, becomes a larger road in these dreams, and sometimes continues past where I live to other homes beyond. Sometimes walking along the path that in the dreams is a road I see meadows that I do not see when I’m awake. I’ve had so many of these dreams that I can navigate through those dream forests nearly as well as I can the corresponding waking forest (and I have to say that navigating this waking forest does feel in some ways like another form of dream). These dreams seem to be coming from this land.

Soon after I moved to Crescent City, I drove north of town for awhile and parked at a trailhead, took a walk up sandy paths through scrubby forest winding between hills and large lily-covered ponds. The walk was hot, and strenuous, and beautiful. A nice walk. But then every night for at least a week I dreamed of that place. I didn’t understand why until I returned and this time approached the ponds from another direction. I realized that the place was Yontocket, the center of the universe for the Tolowa people, the site of their annual world renewal ceremony, and, if you recall, the site, 150 years ago, of a massacre of several hundred Tolowa women, men, and children by the richest white men in this county. Many of those not already dead were chased into the ponds where I had walked. Some of them escaped by breathing through reeds. Others were discovered and slaughtered also. The ponds became red from the blood of the murdered. Once I knew what had happened there, the dreams subsided. It was as though the dreams wanted to bring to my attention the power of this place, and once that power was revealed, the dreams no longer needed to follow me.

Who brings me my dreams?

Animals? Dreamgivers? I don’t know.

A few years later I told Vine Deloria of my confusion.

He responded, “Oh, this is very fascinating. Remember that the Indian relationship to the land is not abstract, but very particular, tied to that piece of ground. Now, in high vegetation areas you have a different set of dreams than you do in the Southwest or the Plains. My people come from the Plains, and so we say dreams come from the spirits. If you look around the Great Plains you’ve got two or three really dominant creatures, and you don’t run into them all the time. The buffalo, the bear, the wolf.”

I remember thinking that there are also grasses, who can live for thousands of years, and who, too, I’m sure, influence our dreams, though differently than do animals, and differently than do ponds or big trees. But before I could say anything, he continued, “On the other hand, you go up where she’s [Jeanette Armstrong] from, Okanagan and the Pacific Northwest, and a lot of the traditional practices have to do with holding souls together, and keeping relationships firm, because there are so many live things in those areas that a person is always in danger of disappearing into the landscape. The Cherokee and Creek down in the Southeast faced this same reality, living as they did in these tremendous forests, as did the Iroquois up in New York.

“So if Jeannette says that dreams come from animals, she’s absolutely correct, for her area. If I say dreams come from spirits, I’m correct, but only for the Plains. If you’ve ever got the time, you ought to read some Iroquois dream theory. There’s all this incredibly fascinating stuff that would be a tremendous help in psychology if only psychologists believed Indians knew anything. And look at it cross-culturally: if you check into loss of souls in the Northwest, then Cherokee dream therapy, and Iroquois dream therapy, suddenly the scales fall from your eyes, and you say, ‘Wait a minute, I see what these guys are doing.’”