The Power of Suggestion
Dreamed 1995/10/11 by Chris Wayan
A village somewhere in African savanna. I'm a shaman. There's one other man in the village who does magic. He's young and ambitious. And he has a grudge toward a man and woman I know--a brother and sister?
While I'm here, they feel safe enough. They know I'd punish him and take off any curses he put on them. But I want to travel and I feel trapped. Held indirect hostage.
And what about when I die?
He's young, wants to be the village wizard. Privately, I don't think he has the insight--just formulas. The only danger he poses to them is the power of suggestion. But they believe in him, so that danger's real.
So I teach them spells of a sort--chants like
"If he overhears this chant,
let him feel how small his soul is,
small and sour as an ant,
for eavesdropping and petty vengeance
are not worthy of a great magician."
In devising the words, I was mainly out to convince my friends that harassing them is beneath him and would rebound on him if word got round, which of course is quite true. No need for magic--it's just a fact.
I don't aim to reform him--that's too ambitious. Just to protect them against his power of suggestion.
A WEEK OR TWO LATER, IN THE WAKING WORLD
I'm reading an interesting old book from the 1970s: Henry Reed's "Getting Help from Your Dreams." His examples of group work still feel cutting-edge decades later. But I have philosophical differences with his approach to dreams themselves... and my dream shows how we diverge.
By Reed's standards, I blew it with these dream figures. Reed's all about assertiveness--showing your nightmares who's boss! Here I don't fight, don't kill my enemy, don't seek happiness, don't demand gifts.
But I agree with shamans, not therapists. Dreams are real events in a real world we visit. I'm not there for my own fun or growth alone, I can't assume that those I hurt or kill are just shadowy parts of me, other masks of God. Charlie Manson asserted that!
So I try to prevent violence and oppression, not just fight it after it's broken out. And try to defend others, not just myself. Giving that couple a spell to shame the young sorcerer if he harasses them does give me freedom to leave and gets me peace of mind, too. By shamanic standards, it's a win-win outcome, though a great shaman would have phrased my little jingle so it embarrassed that sorcerer right into enlightenment! I don't think my doggerel would reform a flea. Still... it'll do.
Reed's formulas really should help folks with nightmares (or, worse, boring lives). But it's not just dream-gurus from the Me Decade that I find too narrowly focused. All the Americanizations of Senoi dreamwork, like Gestalt dreamwork, and Freud before them, underrate common sense, fairness, community. Even Stephen La Berge's early work on lucid dreams has it too. "Take control of your dreams, realize they're simulations"... They assume dreams are an extension of the self. Arrogant!
But what if dreams are just what they seem--worlds full of others? Respect is the default attitude you should have toward people (or worlds) you meet... till they're proven hollow. Even then, be skeptical. Remember colonialism?
Going around acting selfish, assuming dreams aren't real... that's colonialism all over again. It's just plain low, and it'll come back to you.
It is not worthy of a great magician.
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