THE LADY BATHES IN GRIEF For Hyemeyohsts Storm
Dreamed 1983/5/31 by Chris Wayan
I've lived all my life on a Sioux reservation, in the northern High Plains. It's late spring now, and we've had heavy rain all week--till today. The clouds are still dark, but the rain's stopped at last. Folks come out to assess the damage. The river's in flood; dead cattle have been floating down. We heard a couple of people drowned upstream. The flood peaked yesterday, dropped a few inches this morning, but it's still fast, high, mud-yellow, and tainted by death.
Around midday, a jeep bounces down from the mesa and oozes to a stop on the muddy shelf above the flooded beach. A white woman steps out. Well, pale anyway. We're not sure WHAT she is. Power flickers around her, power like few whites have. Young? Old? Hard to tell. Tall, slender, blonde, very beautiful--but not very human. She wears a long silver-green gauzy gown, and a belt made of golden leaves. She looks like a spirit from an old tale.
Even the dogs don't bark at her, they just sit and stare.
The ghost woman says "I came to grieve for my friend, who died in the mudslide." A young man here did die in a slide, during the rains--but how did someone like her ever know someone like him? We didn't know anyone outside cared at all, or even heard about it. He wasn't well known, even on the rez. Kept to himself. I knew his face, but never really talked with him, and I grew up here.
She drives down to the water, near where he died. Without a word, she prepares for the mourning ritual--we call it "bathing in grief". But she can't mean to use the river, it's still in flood! Opaque with mud, vicious currents pulling deadwood like claws to snatch you under with the dead cattle bobbing by...
We've been waiting for the water to drop--suicide's no way to mourn, and that's what that river is now. Plain suicide.
But the Lady finds a slight bay and steps down into the boiling water, brown as coffee. From nowhere, she pulls our a big oval mirror, and somehow sets it standing in the flood, facing away from her. It doesn't fall, and doesn't drift away. She lights a candle, and it too stands in the water, before the mirror. Next to them, she sets up another mirror and candle, and another pair, and more and more, until they form a ring around her, facing outward. A privacy-screen.
She lifts off her robe, tosses it ashore, and sinks naked into her private mourning-pool. All we can see now is the mirror-ring: and in it, glowing in candle-light, our own faces, wide-eyed in wonder, as the Lady bathes in grief.
And I wake, unsure just why I'm so moved by her gesture. Mourning a man I never even knew.
NOTES THAT MORNING
Yesterday the news did report that a young man died in a flood and mudslide. But I didn't know him. Why...?
The dream echoes the end of SEVEN ARROWS by Hyemeyohsts Storm, where he treats "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" as a Sioux teaching, to show you can learn from any story... The dream's set on the reservation where Storm grew up, with a sort of Snow White/Witch-Queen hybrid, with shards of her glass case and the Queen's magic mirror ("Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?") set in a ring around her, and gawking children and rez dogs for the Dwarves.
The magical lady: Galadriel, the Lady of the Golden Wood, the most psychologically astute elf-leader in The Lord of the Rings. Her mirror (a reflecting-pool that mustn't be touched) revealed the truth--not just the facts, but the spiritual or emotional truth. We were right to suspect she was more than human. But to meet her on the brutally practical High Plains, bathing in mud and death...
I spent my early life withdrawing from unbearable pain. Withdrawing from the world. This dream gave me a sense of great hope; for my otherworldly, seeing side--my soul--has finally unbent, in a way the rest of me never expected. While she's private about it, she not just faces but submerges herself in the toxic flood of memory and tears, a flood that most of me was sure she'd never even admit to.
And I know things will change forever because of it. No more denial, no rising above. Acknowledgment, whatever the price.
A NOTE SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER
I thought this account ended there; but as I typed this dream up from my journal, years later, I suddenly recalled a very different story Hyemeyohsts Storm told. He was half-white, half-Indian, and that wasn't easy on the rez. He fought a lot. It was the only kind of heroism he could find. In his teens, a much older woman became his teacher. She posed him a different kind of challenge. She made him eat a romantic formal dinner with her, with candles and all, set up in the back of a pickup truck, in the parking lot of the local bar, where everyone could see him, dating this old woman! He had to face a worse fear than getting beat up: getting laughed at.
Only I didn't read this in one of Storm's books. He told that story in a radio interview I heard just a few years ago--twelve years after I had the dream. But the Sioux reservation, the Lady, the racial confusion, the candles, the mirrors she holds up to the people's own faces, and the courage to step into something scary... I never saw the parallels till now. The dream was pointing toward a Storm teaching-story all right. Just... a different one than the one I thought.
One he hadn't told yet.
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