Inuit

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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