A LONG AGO DREAM
The story below comes out of my thoughts about Teiresias and Oedipus from working on Tyrant Oidipous, my and Davd Vine’s translation of Sophocles’s ancient play, usually called Oedipus Rex. for more on this, see the play’s site, www.TyrantOidipous.com. Teiresia also is on my mind because it’s April, the month of T. S. Eliot’s great epic, The Wasteland. Eliot described Teiresias as the poem’s “secret hero.” This is interesting, because the poem is based on the Grail myth, and the Tarot, not the Ancient Greek stories. Teiresias is the secret hero of Tyrant Oidipous as well.
And now, the dream, and the story behind it.
Three times in my life I have traveled to Greece. The second time, in 1990, I visited temples, Cretan ruins, caves, and other sacred sites, in particular Delphi and Eleusis, to understand and experience them for my book The Body of the Goddess.
A few years ago I led a group of people on a return to some of these same places in a sacred journey to celebrate the Mysteries. Here, too, Delphi was central. We performed a ritual there that I called The Opening To Apollo (described below) that continues to resonate in my life in powerful ways—including Tyrant Oidipous, in which Apollo never appears, but looms behind every moment.
In contrast to the two later journeys, my first trip to Greece, in 1975, was primarily to visit two friends who’d bought a yacht to sail and live in as their home. My partner and I were living in Amsterdam at the time, where we’d met the boat women, so we took a “Magic Bus” (hippie express) to Athens and then a ferry to Samos, where the boat was docked.
It was a strange journey. The tyranny of the “Colonels” (military junta) had collapsed just months before. Though people rejoiced at the return of democracy, fear and sorrow still hung in the air. At one point our ferry boat stopped briefly at a small island, and Edith and I remarked to a Greek man we’d met on board that it looked very pleasant. No, he told us, his body suddenly stiff and white. It was a place of terror. The Colonels had built a concentration camp there to hold dissidents, those they did not simply kill. We were all glad when the boat set sail again.
Though I’d always loved mythology I did not do any special reading or research before the journey. I did not even know that Samos had been the home of the mathematician, mystic, musician, and philosopher Pythagoras, whose vision of numbers as the basis of existence partly underlay the Tarot deck that Edith and I carried with us wherever we traveled. I did, however, bring along one work of ancient Greek literature—David Grene’s translation of the Oidipous Tyrannos.
Our friends’ boat was beautiful, all polished brass and mahogany. But they were having engine problems and couldn’t launch it, a problem compounded by the lack of cooperation from the people in the small town where the boat was moored. They might have assumed prejudice, either against two women or two foreigners, except for a Greek businessman who’d told them how the town’s one garage had completely destroyed his boat’s battery. So my friends worked on the boat, and I gave what little help I could, and we ate in the taverna and drank retsina. And I read Grene’s Oedipus the King.
One night I dreamed a strange dream. I dream literally every time I fall asleep, and forget most of them, for if I kept a dream journal I would have little time for anything else. This one I have always remembered, almost as clear now as when I dreamt it, thirty-seven years ago.
It began with a situation similar to the current reality, that is, a group of people on a boat seeking assistance from an uncooperative town. The group was larger, with an official captain, and none of the real life people, just a kind of anonymous cast of actors in the story.
In the dream there was a strange house on the edge of town, that people believed housed an oracle. Our group decided that we might gain favor if we pretended to believe in this local superstition. So, a bit giddy, we all traveled to the mystery house.
It was built on a steep hillside, so that you entered at the top, descended several levels, and emerged at the bottom of the hill. The stairs were narrow, so that we had to walk down in single file. I was next to last, just before the captain, whom I remember as a bearded middle-aged man with a blue captain’s hat, and maybe a naval jacket.
As the stairs went down and down the hallway became narrower, darker, the walls and steps now stone, the passage smoky. Ahead of me my friends whispered and giggled, but I was happy when I saw the end approach. Everyone before me had emerged, and I could see the open doorway, with bright sunshine outside, though the light did not penetrate into the passageway.
I was just about to step out, into the sun, when suddenly, behind me, a girl in a long elaborate dress, her body young but her face creased and ancient, stepped out of the darkness, as if she’d been waiting in a room I couldn’t see. She walked up to the captain, right behind me, and screamed “Oedipus! There is a curse upon your house!”
And then I was outside, stunned, unable to speak, while all my friends seemed to be at a party, drinking wine from elegant glasses in the bright sunshine as they joked about what fools the silly townspeople were to believe that stuffy old house contained something magical.
I woke up gasping for breath.
Recently I have been re-reading Peter Lamborn Wilson’s wonderful book Shower of Stars: Dream And Book, about people who are initiated in dreams, either by a master whom they cannot visit in person, or by a spirit. It strikes me now that the girl in my dream was Teiresias (or Teiresia, her female form), and she was not a symbol, or a character in a story, but the seer herself, a genuine visitation. It was not long after this that I began to teach the tarot, something I had never planned to do.