Dream-culture

TCS Talk | Inuit Dreams of Fear and Joy: On the Nightmare and Other Doubles | November 22nd 2021

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-18:30 (roughly)
22nd November 2021

The Fall Programme of our TCS talks continues with a welcome return by Professor Louise S. Milne, newly re-appointed president of the Society and established authority on dream-cultures. In her upcoming lecture, Professor Milne will focus in particular on the Inuit people: from the late 18th century to the early 21st century, dreams and visions are represented in Inuit narratives and artworks. They often are supernatural dreams, involving strong feelings of fear and joy. Her lecture explores how Inuit peoples configure these “affect-laden” dreams using old and new mythological scripts and traditions.

Musée de la civilisation, Quebec City, Canada. Photo: Luc Blain, 2017

Professor Milne’s starting point is that dreams of fear (nightmares) share structure and imagery with other dream experiences of high emotional disturbance, such as shamanic initiation visions, or ecstatic and/or sexual dreams. The common subjective element of emotional commotion appears to be hard-wired through the physiology of sleep and consciousness. For the Inuit, as elsewhere, culture supplies a range of visual templates to envisage such experiences as close encounters with a god or spirit.

Such templates, she will argue, are part of a shared mythological system, which is interwoven with, and supported by specific elements in the material culture of sleep and dreams among the Inuit. In this situation, depending on available narratives, context and expectation, the visual rhetoric which codes the nightmare as an encounter with a demonic Other can be rearranged – even “pre-interpreted” – and the accompanying emotional arousal (re-)perceived as positive. Inuit shamanic initiation visions are among the clearest examples of how mythic narratives could be used to frame and manage “nightmarish” experience; but it seems that some modern Inuit people at least construe ordinary strong-emotion dreams in this way.

Finally, Professor Milne will note how the features of particular Christian sects active among the Inuit, from the Moravian Brotherhood to contemporary Pentecostalism, have shaped and reframed indigenous traditions of dreams and visions.

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TCS Talk | The Case of the Water-Woman | November 29th 2019

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 29th November

Louise_MILNEFor our third talk of the season, the Traditional Cosmology Society presents a lecture by our own Louise Shona Milne, entitled Metamorphosis, Myth, Dream-cultures and Desire: The case of the Water-woman.

In addition to her current position as President of the Traditional Cosmology Society, Dr Milne is Lecturer in Visual Culture at the Edinburgh School Art and Associate Professor of Film at Edinburgh Napier University. She is also a writer, critic, film-maker and visual anthropologist, and a leading scholar in the history of dreams and nightmares. She is currently working on an experimental film trilogy shot on Super 8 film, as well as on a number of documentary projects including, most recently, Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev: A Journey (2018).

In her TCS lecture, Dr Milne will address the imagery and mythos of the water-woman, a dense figure in dream-culture across different traditions, and one marked by the transformative power of desire (love, lust, fear, grief, hatred, vengeance). The basic image of a female spirit attached to a place of water has endured for millennia in Western literature, legend and the visual arts, but this image can and has taken an enormous variety of forms, from ideal female nudes to monstrous hybrids. Supernatural water-women in myth and folk culture –the mermaids, nymphs and nereids of river, spring and cave –are marked as daimonic by their double nature: they shift from one form to another. Mortal women in extremity may also undergo transformation into watery forms, as punishment or reward; when their situation matches certain conditions, metamorphosis is the mythic substitute for death.

Dr Milne argues that traditions concerning metamorphic water-women are mobilized, historically, to express changing cultural protocols about how desire works and how it should be harnessed. As the latter are redrawn and over time –notably under pressure from Christian authorities –people can be seen to adapt and alter water nymph visualization, as well as visualization of desire-driven metamorphosis in general: a process which we can follow in dreams, texts and art. The inexhaustible potential of the water-woman for every kind of metamorphosis propels an evolving repertoire of forms in art and literature. Arguably, moments of concentrated collective attention to this figure (e.g. in the permanent artistic media) signal that changes in the protocols of desire are underway.

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