Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Bringing story keys from childhood

labyrinth key - blueberry gardens.jpg


Memory is mother to the muses, and in my playshop on the Healing Power of Story in Maryland over the weekend we found, again and again, that the best stories sprang from life memories, often from early childhood.

One participant held us spellbound as she recalled how, when she was very small, she would climb into bed with her grandmother – by day a prim, impeccably coiffed matriarch – and Grandma would regale her with reminiscences from her own girlhood, of riding wild ponies and paddling a canoe on a northern lake.
An older lady in the group named Sharon told a strange story of how, aged seven, she cut her foot on a sickle on her father’s farm, standing up in the back of the truck, and did not notice until grandmother screamed at her and her father that both of them were bleeding – and her dad poured out a shoe-full of blood. Neither of them, though wounded deeply, had felt any pain or even noticed that they had been cut. I probed for whether the story teller found some meaning in the return of this memory some 70 years later. She said softly, “It doesn’t hurt.” In that moment, we felt the gentle presence of Death in the room. He is often depicted as carrying a sickle, ready for the harvest. Sharon smiled as she recognized that she was being prepared for the journey through Death said she would now be open to renewed communication with her father and grandmother, on the Other Side.
Leila remembered, eyes shining, the nights she would spend, aged ten, lying in the backyard looking up at the Milky War. A night came when she realized she had to sleep in the house, which she found hot and unpleasant and confining. She felt she had lost something vital of her ten-year-old stargazer, and longed to have it back. I suggested that she might want to make a journey with the drum, back to the place on the grass where she watched the stars, with a dual intention: to play mentor and big sister to her younger self at a time when she may have desperately needed someone to play that role; and to see whether she could bring vital energy and imagination from her child self to live with her in her adult body. The journey was brilliantly successful. It amounted to effortless soul recovery, as Leila met her ten-year-old self and embraced her, and their energies fused. Now she is going to paint the stars, as she saw them with unfiltered eyes.
Some favorite memories out of childhood that surfaced as we hunted up story material involved stories we remembered from our early years. I thought of “The Velveteen Rabbit” and its perennial message that if you love something strongly enough, you bring it alive, and of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, the imperfect and incomplete one who has the valor and steadfastness to accomplish what the regular guys cannot. Another person spoke of the enduring effect of “The Dark Crystal”, the marvelous Jim Henson movie that depicts the eternal battle of dark and light, and how it can be healed with the help of the child.
Alla spoke of a Czech story the rest of us did not know, a tale by Zden?k K. Slabý titled “The Three Bananas, or Peter on the Fairy Planet”. The lead character is given what sounds like an all -important assignment: to go on a quest to find three bananas that appear to have magic properties. He has grand and indelible adventures on his quest, and succeeds – braving fantastic dangers – in bringing home the bananas. The wizard who gave him his assignment shrugs when Peter asks what will become of the bananas now. “So eat them.” We get the message that what inspires us to set out on a quest may be insignificant compared to the quest itself. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

We live by stories. Our first and best teachers, in our lives and in the evolution of our kind, instruct and inspire by telling stories. Story is our shortest route to the meaning of things, and our easiest way to remember and carry the meaning we discover.  A good story lives inside and outside time, and gives us keys to a world of truth beyond the world of fact. If you have lost your story keys – if you have forgotten that you can choose the story you are living – then ask the child in you to help you find them again.

Labyrinth at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland, the site of the Story workshop
  • Savannah

    Fun discovery… One of my favourite Dutch stories from childhood was Pluk van de Petteflet by Annie M.G. Schmidt, of a young boy and his red pickup truck moving into a tiny tower room on the roof of a high rise. Pretty soon Pluk and his eclectic crew of apartment dwellers – human and animal – find themselves engaged in a battle to stop a construction company from paving paradise and putting up more buildings on the grounds of the surrounding woodlands.
    I have mentioned before that blackberries show up as a metaphor for dreams for me – juicy messengers as they are. So earlier today I randomly open Pluk’s book to a chapter titled Hasselbramen – a made up word… something like “jiggly brambles.” There’s a turning point in the story when the demolition crew get their hands on the purple play-berries and are inexplicably overcome with the urge to bounce, climb trees and play hide and seek instead of work. I haven’t read that book in several decades and only recently picked up another copy. Maybe my dream writers were munching on berries long long ago, even if I’d forgotten all about it…

  • Robert Moss

    Savannah – Ah, we need a supply of those purple play-berries to help get lots of people to bounce and play childhood games instead of demolishing the works of imagination.

  • Wanda Burch

    I read the most gruesome of Grimm’s fairy stories when I was young – usually waiting until I was alone at night in bed. I’m not sure why my dreams were not nightmares after the heavy dose of those on a regular basis, but they were not. What they prepared me for was visits to my grandmother’s house when I was very young and one of her children still lived at home. I often slept with this aunt at that time. This particular aunt was only about 10 years older than me and had been born in a larger age gap than that between her other children, so she was more in tune with me and the young cousins. She would wait until we were snug in bed together, our bed close to a window that opened onto the fences and pastures only a short distance beyond. I could smell the bittersweet, a pungent little plant with pretty yellow blossoms that turned milk sour if the cows ate it. My aunt would then begin the latest tale of horror, always featuring a terrible monster that dug giant holes in the earth in the forest down the hill, across the meadow and into a dark virgin forest that already held mysteries in my young mind. Sometimes, according to my aunt, the monster, in a beef eating hungry mode, would become more bold and come into the pasture and have a cow snack. I could barely sleep and would cautiously, in the light of day, do a cow check and make sure they were all there and would also check for any large earth depressions I hadn’t noticed the day before. I’m sure I knew these were just stories…but you nevah know!

  • Robert Moss

    Wanda – What a wonderfully vivid evocation of the thrill of childhood story-telling. You had me smelling the bittersweet and hearing (in my child mind) the sound of a giant snacking on cows. You remind us that young children DELIGHT in the scary bits in folktales and fairy tales and that adults do them a terrible disservice when they bowdlerize the old stories and try to edit these out.

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