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Place of Sprouting Corn

Dreamed l989/1/10 & 6/28, painted 1990 (oil on canvas, 55 x 45"); mask, 1991; dream play, 2010; by Jenny Badger Sultan

Dreamed l989/1/10

I go to the house of a man who has a boy child. While I am there, more and more people of all ages arrive. He seems to be a very central figure for a lot of people. There are ritual aspects to what is going on--food, objects, etc. The house gets quite full.

Then I hear my name called, clearly, from outside. I go out, but no one is there. I notice a pile of young plants--corn, maybe. Some of them are attached to human skulls that look like they've just been dug up. I think I will plant a row of them. I select plants with and without skulls, and arrange a row, laying the plants out on the ground. But I keep moving the row. I should put earth around them, planting them properly, but I'm not sure if I do (didn't recall when I woke).

Later, I am back in the house. I look out into the yard; someone else has arranged a few of these human skull plants on a wall or ledge. I feel uncomfortable, as if this is working with demonic forces. I have the sense that the man's house is around the corner on Minoru St., like the Alta and Dena house (near where I grew up).

Dream-painting by Jenny Badger Sultan; a series of stone doorways leads into darkness. Faces and figures are carved in the doorposts. On the floor, corn plants grow from human skulls. Deep in, a child with a torch leaps toward the black silhouette of a second figure that seems to be upside-down, floating.

Dreamed June 28, 1989

A young boy I know is doing a kind of weird ritual race. He comes to the starting, lights a match, leaps up, runs down to the ending--leaps up, turns, comes back down to the start. His match is still supposed to be lit, but his went out. I mention that he didnít do it great, but heíll probably do it better next time. Photo of Jenny Badger Sultan in a skull mask from which corn stalks grow.


The Dream Institute (1672 University Ave., Berkeley, California) has been home to dream oriented events for the past 10 years. Art shows, films, lectures, seminars, dream groups and performances are all part of the wide range of offerings. For me, the most meaningful aspect has been Culture Dreaming, now called Being-In-Dreaming, a contemplative group experience of dream sharing which becomes a spiritual practice. Many of the co-created narratives that arise from this process have been presented as dream plays. Photo of the entrance to West Kennet megalithic tomb. Irregular stone walls and  darkness.

The photo to the left shows me at the Dream Institute in a papier-maché mask inspired by Place of Sprouting Corn.

The photo to the right (of a megalithic tomb in West Kennet) comes from ďThe Realm of the Great Goddess,Ē by Sibylle von Cles-Reden, which I purchased in 1963 while working at the Princeton University Bookstore. Both the text and the photos were a revelation and made a deep impression, especially the megalithic structures, the plastered skull from Jericho (over 8,000 years old), and the Maltese Hypogeum. When traveling to Malta in l998 and l999, I was able to enter some of these soul-stirring sacred sites.

The theme of going underground, the Descent to the Underworld, became important to me in doing shamanic work and also in understanding and valuing the role of depression in my life.

The silhouette of the upside-down little girl in the background of the painting stands for my childhood sadness and pain.
Detail of dream painting by Jenny Badger Sultan: silhouette of a little girl falling upside down.

Even as an adult, I have sometimes been overwhelmed by depression--a few times lasting several months, but usually of shorter duration. Often the shortening days at the onset of winter would bring intense feelings of sadness and worthlessness. Iíve tried to give a form to these states through art and have also tried to find a way to view them as meaningful.

Seeing depressions as a way to depart from the normal patterns of my life, to withdraw and turn inward in order to find and bring back new qualities or insights (a Jungian attitude) was sometimes helpful. Even more helpful was to see them as a shamanic descent into the underworld, where dismemberment may take place before reintegration can happen. After working with dreams and their symbols for many years, such episodes seem to have slowly abated.


Associating corn and skulls makes archeological sense. When a new variety of maize adapted to the Mississippi Valley was bred 1000 years ago, it fueled the Mound Builder civilization culminating in Cahokia. There one finds low pyramids and inlaid skulls and evidence of sacrifice, all echoing the great civilizations of Mesoamerica. Maize brought its whole ritual complex north with it! And in this mythology, death is always seen as the soil from which life springs. When I study the Mayan and Aztec and Cahokian death-cults, I feel the same unease that Jenny feels; but that culture, that cult, that so emphasized "we too are food", bred the corn we eat.

--Chris Wayan

Place of Sprouting Corn: plants - farming - food - death - heads, skulls, brains - You Are Lunch - masks & disguises
Ritual Race: initiations - sports - races and competitions - children - fire -
General: portals - the underworld - Jungian dreams - depression - paintings - dreamwork - a related dream, Corpses in the Upper Room - more Jenny Badger Sultan

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