Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Ramble - Dreams Are Made of This

My dear friend and mermaid sister, Kim Antieau, is joining us this morning to talk about the genesis of her fabulous novel, Her Frozen Wild.

A long time archeology buff, I was chuffed when I learned that Kim's new book was inspired by the Siberian Ice Maiden unearthed on the Ukok Plateau in the nineties by Natalia Polosmak and a team from the Russian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography.
The ice maiden belonged to the nomadic Pazyryk culture which inhabited the Siberian steppes centuries before the Common Era, and from the artifacts found in her tomb, she was an important member of her tribe, perhaps a priestess or shaman - Dr. Polosmak believes the barrow's distinguished occupant was at the very least, a bard or sacred storyteller.

Little was ever published in translation about the Siberian "dig", but I read about it in the National Geographic and was fascinated, especially by the deer tattoo with the flowering antlers on the ice maiden's shoulder; it was as fresh and modern looking as if it had been done yesterday, and it spoke to me.  I found myself sketching the tattoo and trying to think of something to do with it - years later, the design landed up on a small collection of items at Cafe Press.

Now, Kim has brought the ice maiden to life in a beautiful novel which unites the present and ancient times, and her book is superb reading, mythic fiction in every sense of the word.

Dreams Are Made of This
Kim Antieau

I have a very vivid dream life. I have since I was a child. From the ages of five until I was twenty-five, I dreamed several times a week that someone was trying to kill me. I spent many nights in my dreams running, running, running from some unknown assailant. Fortunately those nightmares have taken a backseat in my dream life for many years now and only pop up now and again. But I still have some amazing dreams.

Because I have such vivid dreams and I talk about them, my friends have often asked if my dreams inspire my stories. I didn’t think so until I began to dream about bears.

Many years ago I began dreaming about bears several times a week. During one year, it seemed as though I was having bear dreams nightly. I dreamed of grizzly bears and black bears. In the dreams, the bears were often chasing my husband, Mario. I was usually trying to protect him from the bears.

In one dream I climbed a tree to escape a bear. Then I looked down at my own hands and saw they were claws: I had become a grizzly bear. In another dream, a bear was on a rampage in my neighborhood. Terrified, I confronted him. I told him I would make love with him–essentially become his bear-wife—if he would stop his violence. He agreed to my bargain.

During this time of the bear dreams, I researched bears, bear mythology, and bear folk tales. I discovered that many indigenous people believed humans and bears were related. Bears were often totem or spirit animals for healers. If someone dreamed of a bear, then she was probably a healer. Many cultures believed bears could become human and humans could shape-shift into bears.

The Siberians had elaborate rituals and ceremonies for hunting the bear, as did many Native American tribes. They believed the bear offered itself up to the hunters as a sacrifice. The hunters had to be respectful and follow the rituals carefully so that they didn’t dishonor the bear or its spirit when they killed the animal.

Around the time of my bear dreams, I went to a workshop at Breitenbush Hotsprings in Oregon. Breitenbush is deep in the forest near Mount Hood, away from any town or city. The wild surrounded us. While I was there, I read an article about the Scythian mummies unearthed in Siberia. One of the mummies, the so-called “Ice Maiden,” had tattoos on her body, and she’d been buried with a conical hat and other items that indicated to the archaeologists that she might have been some kind of priestess or shaman.

As I read the article, I got chills. I knew I had to write about her. I devoured any information I could find out about her, the Scythians, and the nomadic cultures of the Altai Plateau in Siberia.

The story for Her Frozen Wild began to unfold as I did research during the day and dreamed of bears during the night. It became a story about the ancient shapeshifting People who were the ascendants of the Scythians of the Altai Plateau. Tattoos and cave art became an important part of the story, too, acting as a kind of pathway to enable time-travel and shapeshifting.

Although the “plot” of my bear dreams never became part of the story of Her Frozen Wild, the dream where I placated the rampaging bear by becoming his bear-wife was at the heart of the novel. In my dream, I essentially agreed to become part of the bear clan. In the novel, the main character, Ursula, comes to terms with her own family history: Her grandmother had become a bear-wife decades earlier. More importantly, Ursula embraces her own true wild self.

Dreams can be potent symbols for our lives and creativity. I often put my own dreams in my novels as a character’s dream. Dreams have their own logic, and I’m hesitant to make them up out of whole cloth, so when one of mine will work in a story, I’ll use it.

In the case of Her Frozen Wild, I’m not sure the novel would exist today if I hadn’t had so many dreams of bears. I always understood the visceral fear of bears human have, but because of my dreams, I also came to understand their raw power, mystery, and sacredness.

After I finished writing Her Frozen Wild, my frequent intense bear dreams stopped. Every once in a while, I will dream of a bear. I’m always glad for the dream. I feel as though I’ve been visited by a relative. Nowadays I’m always on the lookout for some wild or strange creature that might start frequenting my dreams. Who knows? They might just inspire my next novel. 

Copyright © 2012 by Kim Antieau.
All rights reserved.


One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

Cate, thank you. I have to say I love the tatoo you designed.
If I was 10 years younger I would have a very small one on my ankle.
But now now :) Something I always wanted to do - a rose or leaf...

Kim Antieau said...

Thanks, Cate! It's an honor to be on your beautiful blog. I love the the tattoo, too! xoxo

silverlight said...

it's you have real dreams
all I get are a mish mosh of random images that make no sense.