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Collar of Gold

Dreamed c.1170 by a Welshman of Kemmeis

"...shortly before our own times, it happened in the district called Kemmeis, in the province of Demetia, in Wales, that a certain wealthy man, whose mansion stood on the north side of the mountains of Presseli, had dreamt for three successive nights, in which he was admonished that if he went to a fountain in the neighbourhood, called St. Berner's well, and put his hand down to the stone which lay over the spring, he would draw out a collar of gold.

"On the third day, the man did as he was bidden, and putting his hand into the hole, a viper bit his finger, and he died in consequence."

SOURCE: The Vaticinal History of the Conquest of Ireland (1190?), by Gerald de Barry (Giraldus Cambrensis); quoted in Frank Seafield's The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams (1865)


I've learned to appreciate black humor of this sort. I plow through a lot of unattributable, undatable, earnestly unreadable accounts of prophetic dreams looking for the rare solid ones. But solid or not, a perverse prophetic dream is rare and refreshing--as long as I don't take it as real.

But what if it is?

So far, all the tales of fatally bad dream-oracles I've found are Irish or Welsh. The English remember and pass on tales of sucessful prophetic dreams. ESP skeptics make much of this selection pressure toward what makes a good story, but they've over-generalized that "people" want to believe in ESP and other magic, so much so that prescientific and amateurs' reports are always hopelessly biased.

My reading suggests it's more specific: early English dream-accounts are stereotyped. Celtic ones vary more. My (very tentative) hypothesis is that each group craves what their culture denies. The English were emotionally repressed and adopted science early; they crave tales of wonders. The Celts, replete with wonder-tales, appreciated irony and skepticism. It seems the hunger for miracles is less than universal. Therefore, more open-mindedness toward such records--from any culture--is in order. One can't assume bias, credulity and miracle-hunger a priori. We're quicker to see ancient biases than our own.

In the muddy reservoir of dream-records, many seem telepathic, predictive, diagnostic or oracular. But some are vastly more credible than others. And most textual problems aren't superstition or other bias--they're things simply left unsaid, taken for granted, lost, rumored, or never known. The troubles with chronicling dreams and parapsychology turn out, in the end, to be the same humdrum ones as in all historiography.

Sure surprised me...

Anyway, if any Welsh readers know who this fellow was, write me. I still haven't tracked him down. He was a big frog in a small pond (um, well, well). He should have left a ripple.

--Chris Wayan

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