It wasn’t until I sunk through a mattress in middle Tennessee that I understood magic.
Heavy through to a sudden lofty dispersion, my spine meeting unfelt space, I buoyed briefly on a pull from above. The final sinews of another world’s gravity snapped clean from me, and my head dipped farther down.
Without a blink, my knees tucked into my chest and I twirled backwards. I unfurled to greet the open sky and my arms were not arms at all. Below me a thousand pines peaked. New bones swung in their sockets, and with a thwack I dove.
I was seven when I first awoke inside a dream.
It was my birthday party, and I was careening through the living room on top of a mylar balloon. The gentlest lean sent me soaring from one ceiling corner to another.
Mid-giggle, weaving infinities above the maroon rug, the joy made sparklers of my spirit and new eyes opened for the first time.
I was dreaming.
This wasn’t real.
Mylar balloons wouldn’t really let me fly around on them. Even if it was my birthday. Some new friction slowed my float.
Not ready to touch down, I stuffed logic deep in my dungarees and kicked off the carpet to send myself up again.
Many swoops later, I veered towards the kitchen to show my sister what I had going on. I tokyo drifted around the corner and that’s the last thing I remember.
My body can recall that particular lightness — swift cuts through the air, belly-down like a boogie boarder, rebounding off the walls.
I held onto that dream as proof for something.
Where you go when you fall asleep
Waking life is a dance of choice.
Most of the time, it’s more of a tap dance. Hopefully pleasing, mostly rhythmic, and painful when you can’t take five.
Your mind habitually filters and selects sensations and memories to serve your path through the day. This keeps you from stimuli overwhelm, which is a lovely safe guard. Good job, brain.
Social constructs like time, gender, class, and the 9-5 demand you to concentrate on certain things in order to obtain that slippery fish called Success. Your path narrows. Your blinders affix. Tiddle-tee tap tap.
When we dream, the shoes dissolve. You can’t take a pocket watch with you.
Time immeasurable becomes pure experience. Events morph and meld. Sensations and memories are woven, unraveled and braided in endless combinations.
Dreaming grants access to the imaginal realm.
Mundus imaginalis, y’all
It’s not a Hogwarts-sanctioned incantation, but it should be.
French scholar and mystic Henri Corbin introduced mundus imaginalis to the curious masses at the Colloquium on Symbolism on June 1964 in Paris.
This phrase was created to specify something apart from the concept of imaginary (something modern man loves to dismiss as fantastical and inconsequential.) I’ll let Corbin explain himself, in his charming way:
“…an intermediate world, which our authors designate as ‘alam al-mithal, the world of the Image, mundus imaginalis: a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect, a world that requires a faculty of perception belonging to it, a faculty that is a cognitive function, a noetic value, as fully real as the faculties of sensory perception or intellectual intuition. This faculty is the imaginative power, the one we must avoid confusing with the imagination that modern man identifies with “fantasy” and that, according to him, produces only the “imaginary.”
Henri, you beautiful creature!
Latin is surely the way to go in creating a name for something which requires unmistakable specificity (and a certain flavor of righteousness.)
The imaginal realm lives between the material realm and the spiritual realm. In this place, archetypes emerge from the aether and symbols dance innumerable.
Let’s go to our grandpa Carl Jung for an explanation of archetype:
“The archetype is an inherited tendency of the human mind to form representations of mythological motifs — representations that vary a great deal without losing their basic pattern.”
Archetypes come in all sorts: objects, situations, figures, and personas to scratch the surface. They are the typical modes of perceiving; distilled essential forms echoed through eternity, woven within the human experience.
And then there are symbols. Symbol is the language of our cultural and personal experience, gathered ad infinitum from our sensory navigation through life.
This realm, the mundus imaginalis, allows creative imagination to interact with and interpret sensory experience from the material world. These interactions deliver archetypal themes, and the interpretations speak in symbol. Some folks call this the language of the soul. I have a hard time disagreeing with that.
I drank up Henri’s words with a desert thirst. My Jungian persuasion pushed me further into belief quicker than I expected. And belief, my friends, grants you invitation to the bridge.
Maiden voyage into the deep
Exhaustion set my space.
One fifteen hour trek in the wobble wagon made everything (delightfully, confusingly) wavy. I collapsed on top of a Best Western queen mattress somewhere in middle Tennessee.
Cloud-cradled and content, my body softened and my mind set itself to indigo. I slipped easily into hypnagogia — the hazy bridge between awake and asleep.
I watched twinkling flecks spiral around in front of my eyelids; phosphenes happy to see me. They pulled me in, tranced me out, and I forgot about my eyelids entirely.
I heard familiar crackles and pops. Voices flew past me in hyperspace doppler.
An orb floated across my field, asking me to focus. I tried to find the edges but I couldn’t. It had a softness which felt like the bed.
My awareness jumped between the orb and the bed, connecting to create a pathway from my waking world to my dreaming world.
Everything was so incredibly soft, I could just sink right through.
And then I started sinking.
A conscious melt into dream space
My awareness traveled down with me down through the mattress, which, for a while, had no bottom side.
This was the first time I’d consciously found a path from one world to another, and it took a breath to realize I was indeed traveling into a dream world.
Without a clue as to where in the multiverse I was going, my material mind decided I’d better figure it out for myself.
Dream-ramblin’ me remembered reading about the wake-induced lucid dreaming sequence, and so I quickly went about the business of casting the scene.
I recalled one of my favorite visualizations: flying above a pine forest. I’d exit the mattress at the top of the sky.
As above, so below.
And so I flew.
I crossed into the imaginal realm, casted my desire, and received what I was looking for.
Fittingly, I was delivered to that desire by way of shifting into an owl. What an archetype to activate — boundless travelers between worlds; unafraid of the dark unknown; familiar in my mythological mind and my favorite woods. Of course this was the way.
I held imaginal space and created my experience by steeping desire, a potent energy, into symbols and senses.
In this moment the mylar balloon floats across my mind and asks to be involved here. That balloon has a point to make.
Even in the midst of the material world bursting at the seams of my dreamscape, even under the sudden application of gravity, lil me was able to intend and insist upon a different way. (Note: always choose antigravity.)
In both of these experiences, I was intimately connected to the outcome by providing intention.
This is magic.
It’s the quick and dirty distillation, sure. But there you have it.
Not so fast
Anything can happen in your dreams. It’s true.
But it doesn’t make your experience any less experienced. Your body sweats from a terrifying nightmare chase. You get …ahem… stimulated from dreamtime throes of carnal passion. You plop safely onto your bed right before you would’ve smacked bottom in a doomed fall.
No matter how fantastical your dream scene may be, your body will respond. This magnificent vessel in which we navigate the physical world responds physiologically to dream experience.
I’m going to trust my body on this one. Real enough to sweat is real enough for me.
If our bodies are capable of experiencing the fantastical, and our minds are capable of choosing surreality, then we have both the faculties and ability to call forth a magical reality in any realm.
It all depends upon what you’re willing to believe, and how empathetically you’re willing to understand the realm in which you’re practicing.
The physical world, the material realm, this place we travel through during the agreement of time— this is where the challenge lies.
This realm is where the ties of society keep us from regarding the imaginal more than a moment at a time.
But you can’t say you haven’t felt it.
It happens when a child giggles. When the afternoon light bathes your brow in gold. When your body melts into a sea of dancing creatures, music pulsing into you and out through a thousand sky-thrust fingertips.
These are brief, precious moments of the infinite. The channel opens just long enough to wrap us in the divine.
It’s everywhere. Peeking at me in smiles.
I’d like to get more acquainted.