It’s March and cold; winter seems unrelenting. . Close to a foot of snow and ice covers our yard. This winter Lake Champlain froze over for the first time in years. While the winter has felt severe, in reality it has been more of a normal season, much like the winters prior to 1990. The past ten years have witnessed consistently warm temperatures; some Vermont ecologists have monitored a winter temperature rise of over 5 degrees F at their recording stations in the southern part of the state. Now a winter filled with below zero nights seems cold indeed.
Now, in spite of the bitter cold of the past week, a small area of water has opened on the lake. The March sun and the lengthening days are having an effect on the natural world. Soon the sap will rise in the maples and sugaring will begin in earnest, the Thunder Beings will arrive, and the Earth will awaken to a new spring.
Once again the seasons are in transition, the Great Wheel of life on Pachamama turns. We find ourselves encouraged to engage the outside world. Even our Dreaming may quicken.
This is a good time to think about Dreaming and creativity. For many Indigenous people Dreaming and art making go hand in hand. This is particularly true of the First Nations of Australia and the Americas. Dreaming, visions, healing and creating art in many forms are inexorably intertwined. (The work of Norval Morrisseau comes immediately to mind.) Dreaming and art making have enabled us to hold on to culture and tradition in the face of enormous challenges.
I’ve just completed It Stops with Me: Memoir of a Canuck Girl , by Charleen Touchette. The book is a memoir with paintings. Three themes are interwoven in the narrative: the story of a happy marriage; healing from child abuse; and the challenges of being of mixed heritage. The author is a renown visual artist, curator, and activist of Acadian and Blackfoot descent. Central to the narrative are a series of dreams and the paintings that are derived from them. In Touchette’s lived experience the Dreaming is alive and offers initiation, wisdom, and healing.
The idea that the Dreaming is always with us runs counter to much anthropological writing. Non-Native anthropologists have long placed the Dreaming in the remote past, or at best, had it disappearing near the dawn of the colonial enterprise. This serves to obscure the cultural continuity and resiliency of Indigenous cultures. Yet Dreaming is alive and well in First Nations cultures around the world.
Christine Nicholls recently blogged about the “Dreamtime” and the “Dreaming”. Focusing on the Australian Aboriginal experience of Dreaming she wrote:
The Dreaming embraces time past, present and future, a substantively different concept from populist characterisations portraying it as “timeless” or having taken place at the so-called “dawn of time”. Unfortunately, even in mainstream Australia today, when and where we should know better, schmaltzy, quasi-New Age notions of “The Dreaming” frequently still hold sway.
“One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen” wrote Stanner, adding that The Dreaming “ … has … an unchallengeable sacred authority”.
In her thoughtful article Nicholls explores the concept of Dreaming as understood in several Aboriginal cultures, questions the tendency of Europeans to lump a great deal of diversity under one term, and encourages European Australians to learn the Aboriginal words and concepts behind the term.
The Dreaming is alive and immediate. Although the world’s population is increasingly multiracial and multicultural, the Ancestors from all traditions continue to speak to us and to stir our blood. They and the spirits ask for our attention, requesting we follow their urgings, but do not, it seems, put much stock in “racial purity”. They are concerned that cultures remain vibrant and intact, but appear to care little for blood quantum or group membership. I believe they have a different view about the complexities of cultural survival. Perhaps the scope of their vision is just longer than ours.
As spring hovers nearby, we may turn our attention to the sap rising within us, note the presence of the Holy ones in our Dreams and life, and draw inspiration from that awareness. Perhaps we may join our fellow beings on this beloved planet, partaking in the grand creativity that renews the world.