Here’s the first chapter of I-MAG-IN-E, a shamanic memoir, let me know what you think.
Ghost-like I stood silently. Dressed in long grey robes tattered at the edges, holding my horse skin drum. Perhaps I was dead. I felt dead; if I was dead it didn’t matter. A gale was brewing. Huge waves pounded the shore casting frothy white plumes of spume on the beach. The brooding shroud of a sky occasionally revealed a faint moony gleam. A group of people assembled around me, some were weird creatures, half human and half animal. I didn’t know them or why they were there. But I did know that I had to guide them to a ceremony high up on the facing hill. With an undetectable sign, I led the group away from the sea, silently. Up towards the summit, the serpentine path was narrow. Sharp flints dug deep into my bare feet. I felt no pain.
The magic of the night retreated with the coming dawn. I woke shaking from the dream. Somehow it was haunting every sinew of my body. Shivering, I realised I was cold. Grabbing my dressing gown I made my way to the bathroom. As I washed my face and brushed my teeth, I slowly went over the dream’s fast-fading events in my mind. Looking at myself in the mirror, I stared into my eyes. Yes, they were still green. But I felt different. Something had changed. Involuntarily, I shivered again.
Hurriedly, I made coffee and prepared for the day. A Foundation year art student, having taken a year out after leaving school, I had to get to college quickly for a lecture and to make up my work. As ever, I felt I was behind. I couldn’t find my creativity on the art course no matter how hard I tried. It was sapping my confidence. In some ways I felt as if I was a bit of a fraud, an imposter. Somehow I’d got into Wimbledon School of Art in southwest London, a prestigious college attended by the rich and famous, or the children of the rich and famous, but deep inside I knew that they’d made a mistake in admitting me.
The dream came back more vividly as I shut my eyes. All the usual visual distractions were eliminated. I remembered fragments of details.
After some time in silent progression, I recalled that the ghostly party eventually reached the top of the hill at Whitehawk on the Sussex coast in the south of England. At the summit the haze between dimensions shifted. I could feel the change in atmosphere. It felt a special place between the worlds where there were views in all directions. That was why I was there somehow I knew that.
A single beech tree grew at the crest of the hill. Formed by its exposure to the harsh wind from the sea, a lone survivor of times past, its roots penetrated deep into the land, grappling to hold on to the thin chalky earth. A hopeless task, it seemed, braced against the unremitting force of the elements, but somehow surprisingly the tree had succeeded against the odds. I had often visited this tree in my waking reality, eating sandwiches with my back supported comfortably against its trunk, marvelling at the tree’s abilities to withhold such a fierce assault on its very being. But now it was something else. I felt the shadows drawing me in.
Moonlight silvered its way through the tree’s new leaves just emerging, a memory of green. The earth was awakening after winter life force burgeoned, as if through dividing curtains separating dark from the light. Shadows on the ground mirrored the tree’s branches above. The tree formed a black silhouette against the sky, shadows revealed the mysterious dream penumbra.
Knowing this was a special ritual site used for thousands of years, I half expected something extraordinary. An early Neolithic causewayed earthwork encircled by concentric ditches and banks, Whitehawk was some six thousand years old. I pondered on how the place had got its name; I imagined the white hawk skimming the thermals in the sky – named by ancient people, the name gradually being passed down the generations…
The view from the top of Whitehawk was cast in a blue sea haze spreading for miles. Way back in time glacial rivers of ice floes had created a flat seabed from the land around. At midwinter the sun rose low on the horizon in the east, and appeared to fall as a radiant golden ball into the sea as it set in the west. This was a place where people through time immemorial had come to feast, and bury their dead using deer antlers to carve graves out of the chalk ditches. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of folk were buried in the ditches as whole skeletons, or separate bones collected together after being left on high scaffolding, pecked clean by gulls and crows, and the white hawk… perhaps. This was a special place where the passing of time from life to death and everything in between was celebrated. It stirred memories long hidden deep within me.
I could feel the imagination of the land connecting me to the past, and also with another reality, one that I intuitively knew was there deep in the bones of the people buried beneath my feet. I looked at the tree and strangely it shimmered and changed shape. The tree, whose bark I had leaned against to have my lunch, grew in a land of my deep imagination; an imagination shared by people over millennia. Cosmic in its essence, its branches reached out into the whole solar system.
Rubbing my eyes in the dream, I’d felt strangely dizzy. When looking down at the tree’s roots I spotted a deer antler. Picking it up, I fingered the ridges marvelling at its many sharp tines. Somewhere at the back of my mind an old memory stirred again. I seemed to spin in space… and then the dream faded once more.
As I prepared to leave for college, I grabbed an old faded shopping receipt that was lying on the kitchen counter, I wanted to record key elements of the dream on the reverse side, although I knew I’d never forget. I wrote that in the dream I had been leading a company of people to silently witness my offering my spirit through a blood exchange to someone – or something – connected to the cosmic tree. I had submitted willingly to a pattern of thin cuts being incised on my back. With each incision came complete acceptance.
And then everything went dark. I felt words coursing through me, seeming to echo through the lines of blood inscribed on my back:
Ripping, scratching, pecking off
the ties that bind.
Eye sockets, bare bones,
death is all that is left.
Finish, pick clean
the white grizzled
Darkness of hollowed
takes me through.
Once more to return,
wake up and feel the winds of change
I was shocked. What on earth did this mean? Staggering back into the bathroom, I felt compelled to look again in the mirror – surely I must have changed. Now I could see myself in two worlds at once. I felt as though I was losing my mind.
At that moment, I was jolted back fully into the present – I saw a black and white flash of a bird outside the window. A magpie had landed on a nearby bush looking through the window at me. It sat grooming its feathers. In between each preening it threw its head back in a loud chattering that sounded like some very large pebbles being rattled in a tin. Deep down I knew this magpie was telling me to wake up and feel the winds of change calling.
I quickly wrote the magpie’s words under the notes recording my dream on the back of the shopping receipt. Not having any more time to ponder, or even to wonder if the single magpie was a good or bad omen – ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’ as the old superstition went – I hurriedly grabbed a piece of toast and finished my coffee before heading to the station, I mustn’t miss my train to Wimbledon.