What does an ant, a dog, a wolf and a crow have in common? One evening in January they ‘converged’ in the imaginal realm in my (Tadhg’s) Quiet Room.
We like to think that we have great knowledge and wisdom, and it is true according to some, apparently, that the knowledge base of humanity in the last thirty years has exceeded that of the last thirty thousand years. Some might query that, and some might posit the idea that what we really needed was wisdom. But, even putting that aside, knowledge-wise we have learned and lot, though we still have some way to go.
It is easy to dismiss the ancients and their tribal dances, their mythological (that is, foundational) stories and imaginations as primitive and irrelevant today, but if we do that, we miss a lot of knowledge that could be ours, and maybe miss even more wisdom that is within our grasp.
‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Albert Einstein
In my mind’s eye I ‘saw’ a tribal dance of several thousand years ago. Young and old sat around a fire, and one person entered the circle. He was wearing the antlers of a deer on his head, and he started to dance wildly around the circle, sometimes too close to those sitting, and far too close for comfort to the children who let out a half-mock, half-real scream or horror and delight. Like all children they loved to be scared.
And yet the children knew that moments before the appearance of the deer-man, the village elder’s adult son had left the group. He, ofcourse was the deer-man, they all knew it, but for this event they pretended to themselves it wasn’t him. Imaginations ran riot. The touch paper of the imaginal realm had been lit.
What was the purpose of this deer-man’s dance?
The following day there would be a hunt for one or two deer to feed the people of the small village, and the deer-man’s dancing, pursued by several tribesmen and one or two children with rounded-end ‘spears’ danced, too. In those days before powerpoint, this dance not only entertained, but informed all of the wily movements of the deer, the need to check which way the wind was blowing, the way the huntsmen should pursue the creature, and they did that by having a great knowledge of the deer or any other animal they wished to hunt for a purpose. Ofcourse, there may be an element of asking for the animals’ permission to hunt it, and what a wonderful way of respecting nature, seeking guidance from the Source of All, and limiting the numbers of animals hunted – the preamble (wonderfully) slowed things down.
Far from being primitive, it was a perfect and ritualised way of public education, of respecting nature, considering the One Behind The Hunt, and more.
We can learn a lot from such rituals, and from animals and creation around us, and to that end four people met with me (Tadhg) recently to do a modern-day equivalent event of that tribal dance and to glean some information from animals, using their imaginal senses.
‘There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors of perception.’ Aldous Huxley.
For those wanting to learn from animals, to glean a word from them (not necessarily a spoken word but one received imaginally), and for those wanting to draw even closer, then spending time in a wilderness setting, becoming still and observing which animal makes its presence known to you, is one way to receive such a word. But, what of those in an urban environment? It may not be easy to visit a rural environment, what then?
Four people, led by me, met in my Quiet Room in the heart of London, to encounter their communicating creature, using their imaginal senses.
After a simple opening ritual – essential to show the moving of the group from ‘mechanical time’ to sacred-space’ time, the group closed their eyes, and I spoke some words to lead them into a deeper mediation – a daydream state that we all experience at one time or another, but one that would prove useful, now.
‘The individual imagination is not its own invention: its source is elsewhere’, and ‘We are from God and we carry in our minds and hearts the ripple of the Divine mind’. John O’Donohue
I asked Kate to open her eyes, and select a prompt card – each of the sixty-eight cards had a creature ‘painted’ onto it, and after selecting the card, I asked Kate to voice what creature it was, and then to close her eyes again, and to think about that creature’.
‘I chose the ant,’ Kate said. Having closed her eyes again, I encouraged her to imagine that the ant was coming toward her with a one or few worded message.
’ Go to the ant… consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Psalm 6:6-8 (part), the Book
In that imaginal realm, not to be confused with (just) the imagination, Kate described the ant’s vibrant colours, and like the prompt card she spoke of the plumes on its head like a regal crown. It seemed Kate’s ant was the size of a cow – such is the imaginal realm – but she said it was non-threatening and rather amiable. Kate talked for about five minutes, prompted and gently questioned by myself to encourage deep thought, and then Kate went quiet. A few moments later she whispered the words ‘tireless effort’. That’s what the ant has inscribed in the soil with its mandibles.
I asked her to remain quiet and to keep her eyes closed, and to ponder further on those words, and moved on to the next person.
I asked Ian to open his eyes and to choose a prompt card. Ian chose and said, ‘It’s the dog card’, and I asked him to close his eyes, and encouraged him to use his imaginal senses to imagine an encounter with the dog. Ian pondered for a while, and described such an encounter – which, like the prompt card looked very docile, and in Ian’s words the dog looked ‘rather foolish’ with some kind of headdress on, but the dog didn’t seem to mind. Was this an animal spirit encounter or (just) an imaginal encounter?
’Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen,’ Orhan Pamuk
Without further ado, Ian said that the dog was barking in his mind’s eye, but it was as if each bark it simultaneously uttered the word ‘faithfulness’ over and over again, but the impression of the dogs demeaner was that of foolishness. I asked Ian to remain with his eyes closed and to consider those two words.
Barbara did as the other two, chose a card, and this time it was of a wolf. I asked her to close her eyes again, and to imagine an encounter with a wolf.
‘When one runs with the wolves, one must howl with the pack’. Leon Trotsky.
Barbara’s imaginal senses really peaked and she described in great detail a wonderful landscape. I asked what she could see, then what sounds she could hear, what she could smell and more? For the next few minutes Barbara was immersed in an inner, vivid and awesome landscape that was so alive to her that it was taking her breath away. Without further prompting Barbara described her inner encounter with the wolf. It spoke to her in the first person, perhaps an indication that this was Barbara’s higher self?
Barbra spoke its words, ‘Others opinions, pah!’, in a dismissive manner. I asked her to gently remain silent and to ponder on that phrase.
Michael was next. He, too chose from the prompt cards, and chose the crow card. Closing his eyes, he fell silent, and confided that he was finding it difficult to imagine a crow and an encounter with one. I used a series of questions, and by answering them Michael built up a very details scenario, that some might say was laboured, but it worked!
‘Crows are incredibly smart. They can be taught five things on the drop.’ Robbie Coltrane
I then asked Michael to imagine walking along a country lane, turning a corner and disturbing a crow that flew right at him. Catching Michael by surprise. It worked; ‘What word springs to mind?’ I asked him quickly. He immediately replied with the word, ‘Unexpected!’.
I asked each to open their eyes, and after a few minutes we all spoke words of praise and encouragement to each other. It really was a fantastic, non-threatening and enlightening event for all.
I then shared impressions that I had gleaned as each person had encountered, and with each person then ‘unpacked’ their individual encounter.
Kate felt that the ant encounter and the words it inscribed in the soil, ‘tireless effort’ related to a new project at work she was considering. But, she said she had been apprehensive about starting it, and kept procrastinating. She now felt that she had the resources and felt capable of doing it, and felt that the first part of the work would be the most difficult, but it would reap benefits as the work progressed. She felt her tireless effort at starting the project would be rewarded, and that she was quite looking forward to it now.
I worked with Ian to uncover the meaning of the words he had heard. ‘Faithfulness’ and ‘foolishness’. With some prompting questions, and after a short while, it became clear that Ian had been in situations where he felt his loyalty to his sports team had been hindered by a feeling of sports-inadequacy or ‘foolishness’. He knew he had to work through this.
He said he should work more on the faithfulness or loyalty to the team, and not worry (and the dog encounter was an encouragement here) about perceived foolishness which was holding him back and probably didn’t exist.
Barbara needed no prompting, and proceeded to ‘unpack’ the meaning of her wolf encounter and the phrase, ‘Others opinions, pah’. This may have been because it was her higher self at work, as the animal did speak in the first person! She explained that, ‘whilst it is important to bear in mind the opinion of others, I (she said of herself) had been stifled by others opinions too much in a specific setting, but felt now that I should move on and not take the others opinions to heart so much’, she said. She felt she needed to be more decisive.
She even said that it reminded her of a maxim she had heard once (see below).
‘A wolf doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of sheep’, anon.
Michael who had found it difficult in entering that imaginal realm earlier, now found it so easy to ‘unpack’ his encounter. ‘Unexpected’ was the utterance of the crow that flew at him in the imaginal realm, and he felt quite simply, that he should look forward to the future with expectation and hope, and to step out, imaginatively!
In each case, each person above had given their names to be used, and were happy to work in this group setting. I also work with individuals on a one to one basis. Also, the abovementioned is just a brief outline of that evening’s event – there was much much more that was revealed. And, this was one exercise or ‘tool’ amongst many of using ones imaginal faculties and going deep for a variety of benefits, used by Tadhg. Should you wish further information about one-to-one imaginal work do contact Tadhg, direct.
‘…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…’. Romans 12:2b, The Book
We concluded that evening with a closing ritual to declare an end to sacred-space time and a return to ‘mechanical’ time, a type of necessary grounding. Ofcourse, there was no deer-man, no tribal fires, no wild dancing, but the essence of using ones imaginal faculties was evident – something we use everyday without thinking about it, albeit here used to used in a specific, profound and enjoyable way.
Truly, imagination (and especially the imaginal) is more important than knowledge.