In the Hothouse of Ancestral Hush: Finding the Philosopher’s Stone

 

This article is printed with permission from IASD’s DreamTime Magazine 2015 Winter Issue about my art process and working with dreams and alchemy.

 

In the beginning . . .

In this vestry of flesh and fluid,

the child kneels, eyes open to red.

The pages of the walls, clandestine

in the hothouse of ancestral hush,

rushing into veins, into quiet matter.

The pleas of the child answered

by the passing down of blood.

I have a vision. I am in the dark. There is a hungry child here and there is blood. I can see the child’s hand pressing on the cave walls of the Mother leaving an imprint there. I can hear the blood rushing through the veins like voices and whispers. These are the same voices I have heard in my sleep since I was a child, and that are still echoing decades later. The body is the vessel that stores these records as on a computer, but imprinted on our bones, blood and flesh. And it is through the child’s dreams, artistic visions and poetry that this knowledge can be recovered. It is the knowledge of the ancient ones.  

This hunger to know the story of my people began before I was conscious of it; even before writing this poem from the collection “In the Hothouse of Ancestral Hush” in 1998. I have been dreaming it, writing it, drawing it and dancing it for as long as I can remember.

cave hands

Dream as Spiritual Practice

I began documenting my dreams over twenty five years ago, but it wasn’t until I started working with dreams as a spiritual practice that I became interested in dream mapping. Arnold Mindell writes in Working on Yourself Alone: Inner Dreambody Work: “If your process fascinates you, you will become aware of the continuum of awareness, of the process which organizes existence . . . and this excitement creates discipline.”

This passage resonated with me in relation to my own discipline of dream as practice. Prior to this, I struggled with the notion of what defines ‘discipline,’ perceiving it as having a negative, almost punitive, connotation. Working with dreams over the years has shifted this view. What makes this practice work is the excitement of the potential that Mindell speaks of, and I am passionate about the process with its bold and subtle intricacies weaving in and out of my dreaming and waking life.

This discipline has also been very grounding for me in terms of capturing dream/waking content and imagery in the form of art and collage, active imagination, somatic experiences, synchronicities and dream sharing. This “belief and wonder” in the work is what motivates me to continue this warrior’s art and move it into the world in the form of artistic expression and the practice of Spiritual Alchemy.

Discovering Alchemy

One of the most influential figures in discovering alchemy was Carl Jung. According to his Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he at first dismissed the Work as silly, but through his extensive research on alchemical texts, he recognized its genius and discovered symbols in his clients’ dreams as well as his own. For example, one woman dreamed of an eagle with a king’s head eating its own wings. Jung saw the same image in an alchemical text, the Ripley’s Scroll. Jung realized his client had no prior knowledge of alchemy, thus deepening his theory that there is a collective unconscious and more to alchemy than turning lead into gold. This particular anecdote moved me as I discovered alchemical symbols popping up in my art work and dreams.

Since high school I have been illustrating what I called my “stream of consciousness” drawings of strange symbols, animals and plants. I never gave them much thought in terms of hidden meanings until I began studying alchemy. Like Jung’s client, I too had drawn a birdman, and later recognized him to be the Egyptian symbol, Ba-Soul, found in many tombs as a dead person transforming into a god. I have also discovered other symbols like eggs, salamanders, peacocks, suns, moons, and dragons appearing in many of my illustrations and dreams.

Ba-Soul Image 2

Dreamers of the Alchemical Order

There are many dreams that inspired my art, including one entitled “The Dreamers” where I am a 16th century excommunicated monk in search of my true home. What I eventually find is a monastery of alchemistic dreamers who test my abilities by placing strange creatures on my left arm, and ask me to interpret the meanings of each.

Amazingly, the symbols in the dream are reminiscent of the “stream of consciousness” illustrations I have been creating since I was sixteen years old, but I could not give the alchemists a definitive answer. I could only respond that these figures represent Nature and the urgent need to protect and understand these delicate creatures. I was reassured by these Dreamers that they would teach me and that I had just ‘forgotten the ways.’

This dream was recorded in 2003, and what truly astounds me is the accurate premonition of my life three years later. In 2006, I began studying dreams and alchemy in a more serious manner, and with that new path emerged a need to illustrate again. After a ten year hiatus, the images returned full force along with my passion for the dream and all its mystical possibilities. This constant questioning of Self and the call to understand, explore and preserve Nature has led me to this work.

Preponderance of the Small

In another dream entitled “Manipulate Time and Space” or the “The TSK (Time Space Knowledge) Tool,” I receive an instrument that looks like a magnifying glass but is folded in half, and place the tool over an illustration. A man is telling me how revolutionary this is—it works like the opposite of a magnifying glass; you can see both the macro and micro at the same time. I feel that I am a part of time and space; I must love and embrace it but at the same time I can manipulate it.

Time and Space are the same. We are all the same.

What also became clear was the idea of bringing infinite smallness and largeness together: A point where they meet and are one in the same. It reminds me of the concepts in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and the ‘still-point’ of the universe. Eco writes, “The Pendulum told me that, as everything moved—earth, solar system, nebulae and black holes, all the children of the great cosmic expansion—one single point stood still . . . around which the universe could move. And I was now taking part in that supreme experience. I, too, moved with the all, but I could see the One . . .”

And it also brings to mind the potent lines of Hermes Trismegistus from the Emerald Tablet as translated by Persian Mystic Jābir ibn Hayyān, “Truth! Certainty! That in which there is no doubt! That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one. As all things were from one.”

After these dream series, I began working on an art collection entitled The Dream Collector: Fauna and Flora: Specimens Oneiritica. By combining Oneirology with Entomology, the displayed alchemical symbols were extracted from the dream, mounted on the board by T-pins and labeled according to place, date and identity. To my delight, the collection was accepted for the 24th Annual IASD Conference’s art gallery in Sonoma, California.

In 2010, I took the macro and micro concept a step further and mounted my alchemical creatures on microscope slides, labeled according to place, date, identity and alchemical process. I displayed them at the 26th IASD’s conference in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Dream Collector

Lucid Waking and Animation

The work continued to evolve over time and a new expression (and consciousness!) was birthed during my Lucid Dreaming class with Fariba Bogzaran. I dreamed one of my creatures came to life! In the dream, a black and white creature flew from behind a cloud and headed straight for me. It was like a creature from my art work as it had a moon face with smiling teeth and odd shaped batlike wings. As the creature headed towards me it ‘disappeared’; however I realized with awe that it manifested in my room because I could hear it flying around my head. I lay paralyzed, afraid to move as the thing circled the room and then disappeared.

Afterwards, I took another class taught by Dr. Bogzaran called Dreams, Art and Inner Worlds, and I was inspired to recreate the dream using animation. Luckily my husband, Eric Whitman, is an animator and he showed me how to render my creature using Macromedia Flash software. Overall it was a very satisfying process that inspired me to create more dream reenactments using animation; certainly an exciting art form for the future of dreaming. I presented it for the PsiberDreaming Art Gallery in 2008.

The Flying Machine

Dreaming the World Tree

As I expanded my own dream practice and consciousness, so too my alchemical works continued to evolve, especially after exploring my genealogy. Many of my ancestors were artists, but I had no idea about the esoteric side of my family tree. According to my father, my Zia Carmela was a healer in her village of Accadia in Puglia, Italy. The townspeople would come to discuss their dreams and she would give them practical and spiritual advice.

I also realized that my dreams and alchemical images reflected my ancestral indigenous practices, particularly the Nordic cosmology of Yggdrasil or the World Tree. These images came from “another place” and what they truly embodied was something more numinous and potent. They acted as talismans!

This new awareness, along with a dream involving my art pieces becoming more three-dimensional before my eyes, gave me the inspiration to create amulets. To honor this bridging of ancestry and alchemy, I created a piece entitled “The Dream Collector: Dreaming the World Tree.”

The art piece consisted of my alchemical creatures preserved in resin inside upcycled copper with natural found objects like flowers and stones, then carefully hand etched and finally hung from a Madrone tree branch. Each amulet represents a portal to another realm and state. I was so thrilled to be presenting my work with gifted artists from around the world and to receive third place for the Nancy Richter Brzeski award.

Linda & World Tree

This validation gave me the boost to finally open my shop on Etsy, selling my talismans as jewelry to the public. I also submitted one of my amulets for this year’s PsiberDreaming Conference entitled “Poe” inspired by a precognitive dream I had about my mentor, Justina Lasley. The intention of these amulets is to promote engagement with alchemical processes embodied in the images, as well bringing potency and special gifts to the wearer.

When I wear these pieces they remind me of the sacredness of dreams and the remarkable elders in my life, both in the visible and invisible worlds.

poe-ring-mastrangelo

I am so grateful for the continued support from IASD and its Art Committee, who have encouraged my work for so many years.   What I create can truly come to be. As a dreamer, artist and poet, this philosophy comes naturally to me. In the past, however, I had never thought about this act of creation as linking to something magical or cosmic. But as my spiritual practice continues to evolve, I come to understand that my art and dreams not only come from the same source but they are portals into other realms of daring perception and transformation.

Or as scholar Lee Irwin puts it so eloquently yet fiercely in his book Gnostic Tarot: “Pay attention to your dreams and the spontaneous imaginings of your mind; learn from it; understand imagery to be a door into psychic depths once more fully known . . .”

Here’s to the awakening of the Mundus Imaginalis and Philosopher’s Stone in us all!  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>