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Born in a Cave

Dreamed April 20-August 9, 2007, by Jenny Badger Sultan

Born in a Cave is a painting that depicts many of my dreams from last summer. It is based on an icon from Mt. Sinai which showed the birth and early life of Christ. I liked how its landscape could contain many scenes from different times, unifying them.

Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. A desert mountain with scattered vignettes telling dreams. Click to enlarge.
Here are some of the dreams, with close-ups:

The Scholar's Club and the Noble Tiger
April 20, 2007

My husband Hank and I are walking around a town--mainly a residential area with interesting older houses. At one point I descend some extremely steep stone steps; I must be extremely careful or I could pitch forward and fall and injure myself.

At last we return to a house where we are staying. A conference of some kind is going on. We go through the house, into the garden, then into an open room at the back of the garden. At a table inside are seated three women whom we know--Agathe, Tricia Graeme (?), Leslie Simon (?). They are seated around a table, each with a book. Agathe is smoking a slim cigarette. She puts it down by her side when she sees us.

Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: The Scholars' Club. Three women in gray gowns carry books.

"It's the Scholars' Club!" I say--referring to the books they are reading. They also have plates and bowls of food--balls of mashed potato, little crispy chicken pieces. Having meals and being fed is part of the conference. They offer food to us. I say "Will there be some later?" They say "We don't know if it will last." I figure Hank and I had better eat now, even though we are not really hungry.

Joining "The Scholars' Club" looks very appealing but I say that Hank and I have been enjoying our walk around. They talk about their reading and refer several times to "The Noble Tiger" who is the subject of their discussion and research. He is evidently some well known Indian figure--in literature or politics.

Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: The Noble Tiger. A Bengal tiger in profile amid red rocks.
Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: Retirement Ritual. A robed woman lays purple flowers in a mandala on the earth.

After a while of this I say, "Who the hell is the Noble Tiger? I have heard of him but don't actually know who he is."

They are about to tell me when I wake up.

The Retirement Ritual
June 7, 2007

I am at a gathering and ritual for my retirement from City College, held in a darkened hall or room. I'm presented with a bunch of long-stemmed flowers--orchid-like, in three or four colors ranging from white through violet.

I take the flowers and begin to lay them out in symmetrical mandala on a surface about 3 feet above the floor. I start to describe what I am doing.

My friend begins to speak about some aspect of the process, but I think she might go on and on, so I cut her off and continue what I want to say: "Given the same materials, any other person would do with them something unique to that person." This has something to do with art and teaching.

I feel badly about having cut my friend off, and want to speak to her afterwards and apologize. She has been at least partly responsible for arranging this commemoration.

It is a strange event--not much is actually said, though there is more to the ceremony that I don't remember.
Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: 'First Steps'. A toddler, bent over, walks on an ochre flat; red rocks behind.

First Steps
June 15, 2007

I am hanging out with a group of friends. One of them has a baby girl who is still in the crawling stage but is very close to walking.

As I watch, I see her hold onto her diaper and rubber pants and somehow use them for support as she takes some steps. I call to her mom "Look! _____ is walking!"

She is bent over as she walks; it is as if she is ducking beneath something.
Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: Two young people run wildly over a grassy hill. An angel or saint appears to be carved into the rocks beneath.

Running and Whooping
July 15, 2007

I am outdoors on rolling green hills where a large gathering is taking place. A young person is asking me to tell them about the current state of psychedelic use. I tell this person "I am not really in the know about this." This person is lying on the ground and I am administering some kind of drug or psychedelic through a tube that goes into his/her body in pulses as I press on a sort of valve. I am close to the person's face and see changes in his/her eyes.

Then a young man (same person? or someone different?) and I are running over the grassy hills and whooping. I can see the slightly coarse texture of the grass very clearly. I say to him "This actually has a very psychedelic quality for me." Saying this and realizing this, we speed up and begin to run so, so fast, whooping over the hills.
Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: a blonde woman in early pregnancy, in a blue-green dress.

Dream of the Pregnant Daughter
August 9, 2007

We are staying with some neighbors at a place they have rented. It's the last day and they will be leaving in the night or early morning. We will leave after them. They are waiting for their oldest daughter, Noemi, to arrive. The dad is a bit worried because she had phoned when she left her home but hasn't arrived yet.

Then Noemi appears. She is tall and blonde, a bit horsey looking. We meet--I'm not sure if we'd met before. Then our neighbors leave us there with Noemi. She show us a 2-piece dress she has bought--it's a green or blue-green rayonny material. She spreads it out on a bed and says "It cost as much as a whole year's salary of a girl who works as a clerk at a store." I think or say "That's excessive."

She puts it on--she is in the early stages of pregnancy so her stomach protrudes a bit. She is looking for some clothes of hers that were laundered, asking us "Have you moved them?" I know I haven't, but look around and find them for her.

Then I start to ask her "When we leave, should we take the sheets off our bed and put them somewhere, or leave them on the bed?" She stops me and indicates I should wait until after some loud music has stopped playing--she wants to hear this song, so I wait.

Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: Red Nightgown. A recumbent woman in a bright red nightgown waves cheerfully.

Red Nightgown, or, the House of Jennifer
continuation of same dream

A female friend is showing me photos of herself in an elegant red nightgown lounging on a bed. She looks great--seems to have blonde hair piled on top of her head. The nightgown has thin straps and may be Empire waisted--it reminds me of one I had years ago--the first one H. and I shopped for together. Hers is a deeper red. She is an older woman, buxom, and she looks smashing! I wonder if I should begin to wear nightgowns like this again. I see her son (who I think is a friend of Leon's) in one of the photos and wonder or ask her about this. She says "Oh, you should go here! It's a spa called House of Jennifer (?!) Our whole family goes together."

Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: Gold sky, whale-like clouds, a red rocky peak with caves where women sit meditating.
Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: man in the wacky hat.

dreamed June 26, 2007

I am in a building where there are lots of people. They are standing in lines waiting for something. First they seem to be facing one direction, then they are facing the other. Are they waiting for food or information? Finally it seems that some are facing one way, to get food, and the others are facing another way, to get information.

I go up to a kind of gallery and look down on the floor level filled with people. I sit with a row of people and lean on a ledge about a foot wide in front of me. There is a man on my left and Hank is several people down on my right. Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: Lacandon child.

I see a man climbing the stairs from the main floor to our level. He is wearing a most fantastic hat and has rather googly eyes--he is looking up as he ascends. I think he is grinning. Tan skin. The hat is in layers, flattish and ripply at the same time. Different colors. I turn to the man next to me on my left. I say to him, “What do they call a hat like that?

And then he and I both say at the same time, “Wacky!” and we both laugh. I laugh hard and grab the ledge and lean way over it in my laughter.

I get up chuckling. This dream amuses me a lot.

The Lacandon child
Dreamed June 29,2007

This was just a dream image--a child in an unusual garb. I am reminded of a Lacandon tribesperson in a film from long ago. When I look up the tribe I find that they were the only Native Americans in New Spain never conquered by Europeans.

--Jenny Badger Sultan


Dreams are often so compelling that dreamers get riveted to the moment. Anyone who's tried to learn lucid dreaming knows it's hard even to notice you're dreaming. It's even harder, I think, to step back and look at series of dreams and find recurring themes. Yet that's a vital part of dreamwork; for when learning any language, it's repetition and variation that teach meaning! Dreams explain each other.

But how do you get an overview, see the connections? You can obsessively reread your dream-journal I guess, but you risk falling back into the dream-trance, swallowed by detail. How can you pull back and map dreams from the same period, or a series of related dreams?

This isn't a problem just for dreamworkers seeking personal insights. Artists trying to portray dreams meaningfully also need to show links and contrasts between dreams. How to capture dream-series?

Jenny's paintings explore many solutions:

The dreams in Born in a Cave aren't arranged in a strict chronology. At first they seem random. Are they, though? Wild creatures appear near the center, humans nearer the edges. Children cluster down by the water, while up in the rougher hills, adults predominate. Figures up on the crag are mostly isolated and in altered states--psychedelic ecstasy or meditation. The fish at the bottom are echoed subtly by the faint whales swimming through the sky.

Is this sorting conscious? I don't know. But themes emerge--by feeling.

The dominant one, of course, is rites of passage--learning to walk, pregnancy, retirement. All these transitions are awkward, uncomfortable--dangerous steps and uncertain food, Jenny's guilt over interrupting her friend, the hunched-over baby, drugs and tubes, Noemi's materialism and rudeness--but in the end the transition succeeds; the new state is attained. We run off whooping over the hills.

--Chris Wayan

Dream painting titled 'Born in a Cave' by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail: reeds and orange carp in a pool below a parade of dream figures

LISTS AND LINKS: more Jenny Badger Sultan - dream-paintings - icons and mandalas - mountains, caves, deserts - hermits and solitude - tigers - guilt and regret - drugs and altered states - birth and babies - kids - the whales in the sky are from an earlier dream: Fluid Dream Connections - Another solution to the multi-dream problem: dream-comics - multipanel paintings of single dreams: American Tanka and Razi and the Holy Wino of Shasta

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