In my dreams, there is a woman. She is vaguely familiar, but mostly unknown to me. Sometimes she resembles a woman I know, but not a woman I know well. I find her upon opening a door into a room I didn’t know existed, or swimming in a lagoon in a far-off country. Sometimes I see her at the periphery of a crowd of people, beckoning me. She implores me to come with her, to stay with her, to wait for her. Sometimes she is just there, a presence: not speaking, not acting, just standing beside me, somehow a part of me, radiating serenity and trust. Other times she is devious and deceitful. She steals from me. She tricks me. She allies herself with men who want to kill me. She leads me to places I do not want to go.
My dreams repeat themselves, over and over. There is a city on a hill, overlooking the water. An old city, but with no fixed geographical location–sometimes Europe, sometimes Australia, sometimes North America, sometimes South America. The city is always old, and always magnetic, beckoning me to find a way to get to it and explore the riches it has to offer.
I dream of searching for a lost guitar. Of being without my camera while an incredible scene plays out before my eyes. Of riding on buses and bicycles, vaguely aware that I have left my bags behind. I dream of being nearly, but not totally weightless, able to leap tall buildings (and crowds of people) in a single bound. I dream of the earth crumbling, and myself running towards a road that will take me somewhere safe.
But somewhere on the periphery, she watches me. And sometimes, she journeys alongside me. She is my protector, my soul’s mirror, my mother Mary, my sister Rose, my dark angel. She is my Anima, the high priestess of my dream-world.
In of one of the most ground-breaking dream studies ever attempted, Carl Jung recorded “over a thousand dreams and visual impressions coming from a young man of excellent scientific education”. The unfolding of this man’s journey through his unconscious is mysterious and suspenseful. Not in such a way that it would make a good story or movie, but with Jung’s commentary it sheds light on deep mysteries, uncovers hidden fears and untapped strengths, and provides invaluable analogies for those who wish to adventure into the strange and beautiful world of the Dreaming.
Jung’s dreamer meets his Anima in dream #4, where he is “surrounded by a throng of vague female forms”, and thinks aloud to himself, “First I must get away from my father.” In subsequent dreams the Anima becomes more real, more powerful. Jung writes of the various female forms that manifest themselves in dreams, “They are fairies or fascinating sirens and lamias, who infatuate the lonely wanderer and lead him astray.” Where they are leading the wanderer, it becomes clear, are deeper into his own unconscious, where they will eventually act as “solificati” or “sun-trees”, shining like the sun to shed light on the mysteries that lie there.
As humans we have a proclivity to personify the mysteries of heaven and earth. Giving the universe a human face honors our relationship to the world we live in, and gives us a forum for communing and communicating with the mysteries around us. To see the goddess in the grain, the god in the heavens, the nymph in the woods, even the ghost in the machine–gives name to the universe, sings it into the realm of comprehension. And though the mysteries are ultimately beyond us, at least we can weave our stories around those names, make our prayers to them, and create openings within our consciousness to let their magic breathe through us. Whether the fairies exist or not is immaterial. We give names to phenomena that we cannot explain, just as we cannot explain beauty, or love, or what lies beyond the universe, or inside the tiniest quark, or on the other side of reality. Naming them gives these mysteries a place to reside within our collective consciousness–and, perhaps more importantly, within our collective unconscious.
And just as we personify the spirits of the world around us, we have, since the beginnings of human memory, adorned ourselves with symbols of the natural and supernatural world in order to honor that relationship in a reverse direction. Dragonfly pendants, shark tooth necklaces, crosses and stars, feather earrings and the like, are all part of our day-to-day iconography; but in times of celebration and ritual we don everything from horned helmets to butterfly wings to the hollowed-out heads of big cats…we dress as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, angels—and fairies–in order to embody within ourselves that mysterious relationship between our individual human souls and the greater pantheon of souls and spirit that inhabit and create the universe. We do this as an act of prayer, as an act of possession, in order to feel the magic, in order to experience the savagery and divinity that lies deep within all of us.
I began Project Anima as a way to explore the female archetype in pictures, as well as exploring the idea of embodying the natural world within the female form. Because of so many more pressing obligations, the project has moved slowly, as any serious journey into the unconscious should. And these images would never have happened without the spirited participation of my Animae: Rachael DeGabrielle, Ginger Treat, and Renata Tavares. They were all, to a woman, inspiring, adventurous, and generous.
I suspect this project will take years to complete. Perhaps two or three pictures a year for the next five or ten years. If you would like to participate in this exploration or know someone who might make a good Anima, please do not hesitate to contact me. Look away…