Gospel & Universe

From Kerry to Crete

This page recounts two nightmares which made me think about the relation between psychological and spiritual battle

Killarney - Xaniá - La Pace di Santa Maria


It was a dream and I was walking on a very ordinary street. No cars. Perhaps it was in the Philippines, perhaps Mexico. The geographical location wasn't important. I was walking toward a main street. A T-intersection. On the far side of the street, slightly to the left, two demons were torturing some unfortunate. I took a sharp right, slinking around the corner. 

It was all psychological. The geographical location was important. I was reworking violent memories -- the blade against my leg on a jeepney ride in Manila; the room in Istanbul I didn't think I'd leave alive; the knife nestled against my stomach in the market in Mexico City. Or perhaps I was reworking recent images that were floating in my dream-brain: the demon heads of Hieronymus Bosch that I was using on this website. Slim fangs for teeth. Alien arms wrapping, like branches of tar, around a pallid torso.

(Hieronymus Bosch, two details from the damnation panel,  The Garden of Earthly Delights , c. 1500)

(Hieronymus Bosch, two details from the damnation panel, The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1500)

My wife and I were travelling in Ireland. The bedroom was warm, and warm rooms do weird things to my dreams. It must have been 25 degrees. Who knew what energies floated in the night air of Killarney? Dungeons and dragons; snakes and Saint Patrick; leprechauns and fairy rings.

It was all very real. At that moment I was on a street. A hot summer day. A T-intersection. Nel mezzo del cammin. The demon skin had a greenish hue. I slunk around the corner. If not for the grace of …



A week later I had another dream. Standing no where in particular, in a dark place, I was calculating the threat level. I realized that the threat was coming from behind me. I shouted out, la lutte!, by which I meant battle! (my subconscious sometimes slips into French). In a split second -- if seconds can be counted in dreams -- I knew it was impossible to debate or avoid this threat. If I turned the corner, there would just be more corners.

The second I shouted la lutte! -- or perhaps it was simultaneously, time-frames being what they are in dreams -- an enormous furnace, a giant head of a Cheshire Cat, a dragon form of red energy -- coalesced in an instant. It twisted up and outward through the air. I was this set of fiery teeth, twisting in mid-air, twisting backward to face whatever this enemy was.

It was all psychological. I had been looking at too many Saint George images in churches, from Dublin to Heraklion.

(Arkady Monastery, Crete)

(Arkady Monastery, Crete)

We were by this time in Xaniá, west of the great Minoan palaces of Knossos and Phaistós. The European duvet had done its usual slow-cooking job into the middle of the night. Who knew what was floating around the night air of Crete? The Minoan Bull, the ghost of a Mycenaean warlord.

It was all very real. At that moment I was nowhere in particular. In a dark place. The enemy had no colour, no face. I was ready for battle. Enfin! 


La Pace di Santa Maria

I wonder, how would I fight for survival? Would it be a brute struggle, one against the other? Would there be no principle but the will to survive? I tell myself that I'm a dove, not a hawk. But neither am I food for passing eagles. So what do I do, when I turn around and confront my inner demons -- be they from this world, from some inner dream world, or from some other world?

I try to find a battle cry that doesn't sound like Nazguls or orcs fighting orcs. Something like Shiva meditating on the stony peaks, whose still power shakes the cosmos. Something like Christ, gently standing up to the Grim Reaper with his machete in hand, cheerleader of narcotraficantes. I also think of Saint George, calmly jousting with his spear-tip running through the head of a dragon with shiny scales, like the ones above that I took (surreptitiously) in the museum in Arkady Monastery. Like the ones with rat faces, arms of sticky tar, and thin fangs for teeth.

I try the image of a dove, like the one that brings the miracle of a virgin birth from the other side, that floats above the world, and that's so hard to imagine they call it the Holy Ghost. The dove that shines light on the mother who is so pure that she has abstracted a divine, motherly love from the lust of a marital bed. 

(Peter Paul Rubens,  The Annunciation , 1608-28)

(Peter Paul Rubens, The Annunciation, 1608-28)

Alabaster window from Cathedra Petri (1647-53), Bernini, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.

Alabaster window from Cathedra Petri (1647-53), Bernini, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.

I focus on the gold and white image of the dove floating above the altar. I imagine looking with its eyes.

I'm on a thin branch near the top of a tall tree. I'm looking outward at green leaves. I drink in the beauty of the blue sky with my new shiny eyes.

An eagle swoops down on the perfect white eggs. I'm almost out of my shell, eyes nearly blinded by the light, my light body surrounded by a world of dangers and precipitous falls. The eagle's beak is enormous, and hard, like the tip of a black diamond. Its feathers are pale green, and sharp fangs project -- like some horror movie image, quick and shocking like the razor blades of a serpent's tongue -- from its dark and cavernous throat. 

It locks its sharp, merciless eyes on me.

Che la pace di Santa Maria sia con te, / May the peace of Our Lady be upon you.

This dove is no ordinary dove.

Is it more than an image, more than a metaphor? There may or may not be demons in other dimensions or in that most graphic of mythological constructions, Hell. Still, they prowl the streets of our cities and the byways of our brains. 

The dove is magnificent, with wings of yellow light. And fire, if need be.



Next: Beyond Whose Bourn

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