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A Difficult Path

Dreamed 1877/11/3 by Anna Kingsford

Having fallen asleep last night while in a state of great perplexity about the care and education of my daughter, I dreamt as follows.

I was walking with the child along the border of a high cliff, at the foot of which was the sea. The path was exceedingly narrow, and on the inner side was flanked by a line of rocks and stones. The outer side was so close to the edge of the cliff that she was compelled to walk either before or behind me, or else on the stones. And, as it was unsafe to let go her hand, it was on the stones that she had to walk, much to her distress.

I was in male attire, and carried a staff in my hand. She wore skirts and had no staff; and every moment she stumbled or her dress caught and was torn by some jutting crag or bramble. In this way our progress was being continually interrupted and rendered almost impossible, when suddenly we came upon a sharp declivity leading to a steep path which wound down the side of the precipice to the beach below.

Looking down, I saw on the shore beneath the cliff a collection of fishermen's huts, and groups of men and women on the shingle, mending nets, hauling up boats, and sorting fish of various kinds. In the midst of the little village stood a great crucifix of lead, so cast in a mould as to allow me from the elevated position I occupied behind it, to see that though in front it looked solid, it was in reality hollow.

As I was noting this, a voice of some one close at hand suddenly addressed me; and on turning my head I found standing before me a man in the garb of a fisherman, who evidently had just scaled the steep path leading from the beach. He stretched out his hand to take the child, saying he had come to fetch her, for that in the path I was following there was room only for one. "Let her come to us," he added; "she will do very well as a fisherman's daughter."

Being reluctant to part with her, and not perceiving then the significance of his garb and vocation, I objected that the calling was a dirty and unsavoury one, and would soil her hands and dress. Whereupon the man became severe, and seemed to insist with a kind of authority upon my acceptance of his proposition.

The child, too, was taken with him, and was moreover anxious to leave the rough and dangerous path; and she accordingly went to him of her own will and, placing her hand in his, left me without any sign of regret, and I went on my way alone.

--Anna Kingsford

SOURCE: Dreams and Dream-Stories by Anna Kingsford, 1888; quoted in The Oxford Book Of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook, 1983)


This isn't true dream-incubation (asking to dream about an issue as you fall asleep) but it volunteers solutions unasked. The narrow path on which Anna must hold her child's hand for safety clarifies Anna's problem: her own life-path is so risky her daughter will need protection. Yet holding the child close means she'll face thorns (controversial reputation rubbing off? Work leaving too little child-raising time? Kingsford was one of the first female doctors in Britain, a feminist, a vegetarian and an anti-vivisectionist). But merely letting her child trail behind at a distance (a looser upbringing? boarding school?) is even riskier--instead of daily scratches, the risk of a fatal fall.

The religious symbols are nuanced too: the cross is lead, not gold, and from Anna's higher viewpoint, the cross is revealed as hollow. Anna's cliff-path, despite its dangers, has gotten her to a higher level than this village huddled below their mass-produced icon. Naturally Anna's reluctant to yield her child to this Christ of the hollow cross.

Not that she sees him as Jesus, until she wakes; and that's not dream-stupidity, it's dream-cunning. Anna's a 19th Century woman after all; she'd have to obey a personal appeal from Jesus, despite her problems with his hollow Church. She fails to know him so she can argue with him! This addresses a broad dilemma of all intelligent women raised in patriarchal religions. If challenging patriarchs at all makes you feel (or gets you treated as) heretical, a little blindness can help you speak your mind!

Yet her daughter likes the grubby fisherman and prefers his path. And Anna, in the end, lets her go. "In my Father's house," that fisherman says in another book, "there are many mansions." And Anna has the wisdom to accept that those we love may choose different mansions; different paths; different levels.

If only followers of leaden, mass-produced fundamentalisms could find that same wisdom, and let solitary climbers follow their high, thorny paths! Instead of throwing rocks. Or jets.

--Chris Wayan

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