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Hell Hall

Dreamed c.1920? by a correspondent of Havelock Ellis

This account is from The Dream World by Havelock Ellis (1922)

A probable illustration of the influence of verbal association in diverting the current of a dream is seen in the harrowing narrative that follows:

A lady dreamed that she went to an entertainment which turned out to be a kind of revival meeting, presided over by a lady, and full of uproar. It was suddenly realised that Hell was underneath the hall, and a man, supposed to be a slave, was torn to pieces and cast into Hell. A lady present was so much affected by the scene that she threw herself into a pool of water, and was drowned, her body being afterwards pulled out by a working man with a pitchfork.

The dreamer was so overcome by these tragic events that she felt that there was nothing left but to commit suicide. Resolving to drown herself, she went to a lighthouse (which, however, somewhat resembled a bathing machine) on a height, in order to throw herself down into the sea. It was of an exquisite green tint, extremely lovely and attractive, but she had not the courage to leap in.

She thought it might give her courage if she had a good meal first, so she returned to the hall and joined the lady who had presided over the meeting. They sat down to a dish of roast mutton, but, as they were eating, suddenly looked at each other with mutual understanding; they realised that they were eating the woman who had been drowned, and, it will be remarked, had been pulled out of the water by a fork.

It was possible to account for every element of which this dream was made up, but its tragic character was unsupported by anything in waking life, and entirely native to the dream. The possibility of any guiding link between 'Hell' and 'hall' had not presented itself to the dreamer, nor had it occurred to me when I set down the dream as here reproduced. It must be noted, however, that the revival meeting would itself tend to suggest the idea of Hell. It seems probable that verbal associations usually play only a subordinate part.

--Havelock Ellis--


Ellis likes to explain away even the urgentest dreams as mere fusions of daytime images plus sleeping sensations--a rumbling stomach, etc. I perked up when he conceded the mood here is "entirely native to the dream." But then he retreats to word-games--not that hell/hall is wrong, just inadequate, as he admits.

So what does the dream mean? I'd start by seeking recurrent themes. A woman drowns herself and gets "forked"; then the dreamer considers drowning herself, but loses her nerve. I'd read that as: she witnesses a woman who falls recklessly in love and gets fucked. The dreamer's more hesitant; the sea of sensuality looks attractive but... (She has good reason to pause. In 1920 marriage law was still deeply sexist; choose badly, and you were fucked. Extramarital sex? You'll burn in Hell!)

What about that cannibalism scene? This is a revival meeting, so Christian communion comes to mind. Only instead of partaking of the body of Christ--male spirituality?--she partakes of female diving in. I'd say she's trying on sex for size (or risktaking, or letting go)--but taking it in under her own control. Not forked, but forking! Despite her thrill of horror over the fate of the Reckless Woman, she has tasted sin--and survived. The dreamer's lost her flesh-virginity.

So under its scary surface, the dream's a positive step--from seeing sex/love as suicidal recklessness, to forbidden fruit you can taste--and live.

On the other hand... if this woman's dreams wanted her to go vegetarian (or at least cut back on red meat), a few nightmares like this might do it! After this dream, could you just dig into roast mutton without a queasy pause?

--Chris Wayan

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