Tower of Baffle
I am going to share with you a recurring dream sequence I have been having, if only because it demonstrates the peculiar nature of dreaming and consciousness. This particular dream is a little different from other dreams. It has been building upon itself over a very long time. Last night, however, it took a different turn.
I haven’t mentioned it earlier simply because it baffled me. Even my dreaming self, who usually takes all the weirdness and the baffling nature of dreams for granted, finds the dream baffling. Moreover, the dream is still unfolding — still inconclusive.
I have been dreaming of a tower. It is a tower, once destroyed, that is now being reconstructed. Until recently, it was not recognisable as the ruins of a tower. The dream began long ago as a confused and confusing excavation. I was digging and excavating.
What it was I was digging up and excavating I did not know. It was a very frustrating dream — a Sisyphean task and a labour of Hercules. I simply did not know why I was digging or what it was I was digging for. It just seemed interminable. Like the myth of Tantalus, too, I would often no sooner dig away a layer of soil than a fresh landslide would undo my efforts, and I would begin digging again. It seemed so futile. It was as if what I was digging for was resisting my efforts to discover it, or perhaps, conversely, that it was testing my resolve to discover it by continuously increasing the challenge.
In subsequent dreams, something like a pattern began to emerge. But it was confusing and perplexed. It had a fourfold structure — a quadrant — but the sectors were all jumbled up, overlapping, intersecting, and continuously shifting, like a layered fluid. It had the contours of a mandala, but not the fixity of one. It was very disorienting, and thus quite difficult to describe. In retrospect, I now realise I was looking at the structure from the top down, rather than from the side, and each layer of the structure was fully transparent and each layer was active.
Perhaps the analogy is this: imagine you are looking down on the Earth and suddenly you see every age of the Earth, not in sequence — one age following another like a train — but all-at-once: the pre-historic, the historic, and the modern all present at once. Given our chronologically- and perspectivally-oriented perception, we would find this all-at-onceness extremely perplexing, disorienting, and even maddening. It would seem like total chaos.
And so it felt. I often woke up suddenly from that dream in near panic. I have had dreams in which ages of the Earth followed in a linear, chronological sequence — viewed from the side, as it were — like a train passing, or through which I passed. In this particular recurring dream there was no passage. All ages were present in an “all-at-once-ness” of a top-down overview that seemed like chaos, and perhaps like losing one’s marbles and going mad.
In the last couple of weeks, the dream has shifted to a side view of the same structure. It has the semblance of a tower. My digging has disclosed the ruins of a tower, but the entropy of time is being reversed. The ruin is reassembling itself, as it were, in successive dreams into an intelligible structure, gradually and slowly revealing itself, like a dance of the seven veils.
Last night was the first dream that I recall where I have become actively involved in repairing the tower. At this stage of its reassembly, the tower seems to require my dreaming self’s conscious participation. In a kind of disembodied state, I ascended and descended the length of the tower, surveying the ruin. The top of the tower was indeterminate and indistinct, not yet realised. As I descended the length of the tower, the uppermost part was only represented as digital data, gradually solidifying into a solid form on the way down, although still a ruin and the skeleton of a structure. My survey ended abruptly at one level where I was stopped. There was something like an x-ray view or ghostly image of a needle, a lance, or a spear stuck in one on the levels, like a fish-bone stuck in the throat. “The wound occurred a thousand years ago” is what came into my mind.
There my scan of the ruin ceased and I found myself on the ground again. There was a large flatbed truck delivering two boats. One boat I already had. It seems a moat had now developed around the tower, and the boats would be necessary to effect further repairs. I was informed that the boats were “forms of knowledge”. But there was only three. Shouldn’t there have been a fourth, one for each side of the tower?
At this point I woke up. This dream has developed over many years, and I do not think I am finished with it yet. Moreover, this dream has become enacted in my everyday reality in a most peculiar and uncanny way, as I’ll describe shortly.
The tower is evidently an image of the proverbial Tower of Babel, which fell into ruin when humanity also fell into disunity. That seems to be suggested by the fact that the summit of the tower in my dream is indistinct and indeterminate — a future not yet realised. It is partially revealed in digital code, but is not solid.
The 1,000 year level with its wound or obstruction in the structure is a baffling mystery. Even chronologically considered, nothing about the year 1,014 A.D. (or thereabouts) seems particularly relevant, although it does bring to mind the wound of the Fisher King in the Grail legend. The “piercing” of the lance, spear or needle in the structure of the tower brings to mind “Percival” or Parsifal — the fool who became a Grail Knight in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s narrative. “The mythic underpinnings of today’s western world can be found in legends and myths of the 12th century” (as someone observed) may well have relevance here. That suggests that the tower and the wounded Fisher King might be the same symbol. In the legend of the Grail, the wound suffered by the Fisher King (Amfortas) was to be healed only when Parsifal asked the right question, “Who serves the Grail?”. This Parsifal failed to do. The consequence of Parsifal’s error in failing to ask the right question is described by an encyclopedia article on the Grail legend,
The failure of the fisher king or Anfortas as he came to be called by Wolfram or Amfortas as Wagner referred to him who was the first guardian led however, directly to these disasters. The reasons for their failures or inability to serve the Grail may differ depending on the version studied, but the effects are the same. Closely considered, Wagner’s version seemed to be the most logical. Examining Chrétien’s work, though left unfinished led to more questions than answers nor do the “continuations” of the work fully resolve the mystery in a satisfactory way. Chrétien claimed that the fisher king was wounded in the thighs by a javelin and the only cure for him was for a stranger to appear in the castle and ask some questions unprovoked. Parsifal failed to ask the questions, the king was not cured and as a result could not rule his land in the proper manner leading to famine and other natural disasters. The failure of Parsifal therefore, led directly to all these disasters and the king himself is absolved of all blame. Parsifal’s failure is in turn attributed to a sin he had committed against his mother in having left her against her will. This sin prevented him from asking these questions. Parsifal therefore, takes all the blame for the king’s inability to serve the Grail. But then Chrétien did not explain the significance of the Grail nor did he as such attribute abundance in the land to its pure worship. The blessings on the land depended on the king’ ability to rule the land in a justified way. How that burden now came to fall on Parsifal is far from clear nor was there any supplication for help from the king which would probably have led to a prophecy of a helper.
This may well be the significance of the wound of a thousand years in the dream — the failure to ask the right question, and therewith the suggestion that the tower cannot be healed or completed until the right question is put.
Now, the uncanny aspect of this long-developing dream is how it tracks very closely to my recent everyday activities. I am, in fact, working on repairing a tower — a grain elevator. This tower also has a “wound” or obstruction (a jammed gate) that prevents it from operating properly. As a result of the malfunction of the gate, a large amount of wheat overflowed from the top of the tower forming something like a moat all around the base of the tower. (This is also the same location where the episode with the hawk and the pigeon occurred). Yet, I have to point out that this on-going dream narrative began before I had anything to do with taking on the repairs to the grain elevator tower.
The tower of my dreams only remotely resembles this one, but this (as well as other things not drawn out here) suggests an uncanny intersection of dream and reality that reminds me of the Taoist Chuang Tzu’s question: “Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?”.
Or, at least so it seems to me that there is a strange, reciprocity or unity between dream and reality, something that suggests the truth of Blake’s primacy of “Imagination” as the “true man” and the well-spring of reality. So, dream big!
I imagine this strange, baffling dream will continue. The boats have arrived for some reason, and the summit of tower has yet to become manifest. That it has something to do with integrality seems self-evident, and the reconstruction of the “Tower of Babel,” but now as healing rather than divisive seems to be the thrust of it.