By L. D. Taylor
Gift of the Dreamtime: Awakening ot the Divinity of Trauma, by S. Kelley Harrell
Spilled Candy Books, 9781892718501, 146 pp., 2004
Gift of the Dreamtime is author S. Kelly Harrell’s account of her personal visionary experiences. Or at least we assume it is: we’re not given any context; there are no disclaimers or introductions. Harrell drops us right into the thick of it, beginning with her first visionary experiences, initiated by the drumming of a shaman (one whom we are never actually introduced to). After the initial exploration of her lower and upper dreamworld and an introduction to both animal and spirit guides, the shaman recedes from view; presumably Harrell undertakes the remaining journeys by herself.
This is an unusual book. It’s not a theoretical book. It’s not a how-to manual. It’s not a biography either. It’s a diary more than anything else. Harrell opens up to the reader; if she holds anything back it’s not obvious. This is the story of her pathway, the road she took to disentangle the complex ball of emotions generated by her incestuous childhood sexual abuse.
Harrell’s worldview would be best described as New Age. She meets animal and spirit guides who are there to help her. There is a higher purpose to her life, and she has lived through many past lives, which she has visions of during her journeys. She chats directly with God. Chakras meet shamanism and dreamtime-oh my! She has squished together a variety of cultural perspectives, and while the words don’t always seem to fit, the concepts aren’t necessarily incompatible. Where Harrell transcends typical New Age fare is in her inclusion of terrible things. I mean, the book is about dealing with incest, and she never once suggests that everything will just disappear in a pure white light and everything will automagically be okay. She is sincere, and honest, and doesn’t downplay fear or resentment or conflict. Her journeys are not always pleasant. She revisits the trauma repeatedly. Her guides are loving, but she sometimes perceives them as terrifying.
Harrell’s journey is also a very active process: she re-experiences, questions, rages. Every time she undertakes a journey, she enters with a purpose, be it a question or a desire. She expresses that to whatever beings or guides she encounters, and lets them guide her as to how to resolve her issue. This is also not a quick fix: the journeys take place over an indeterminate amount of time, but change in her external life is referenced, and it seems to indicate that this is a long process, over years, possibly decades.
Harrell frames her visions through a shamanistic perspective (and I’ll politely decline the question of whether it is ‘authentic’ shamanism), but they could just as accurately be described as the results of Jung’s technique of active imagination. What she calls the Dreamtime maps just as coherently to a blend of the personal and collective unconscious. Although there are different lenses through which we can view her visions, ultimately I think the labelling is irrelevant. The framework is more relevant to her, as experiencer, than to the reader. She appears to have gone through a genuine healing process. She’s avoided becoming possessed by the archetypal figures she encounters, instead interacting with and integrating them. She shows us the path she has travelled, providing an example for those searching for their own path. Her personal framework will prove useful for some, a hindrance for others.
Harrell’s message, if there is one, is that trauma is overcomeable, transcendable. She is furnishing us with a case study: her own. Essentially Harrell is providing the reader with an implicit promise: with good intentions and consistent effort, you too can overcome your own road blocks, your own traumas, and work towards realizing your true potential. For interested readers, she includes a section after her visions on the journeying process. Her instructions are loose, flexible, generic: “I observe minimal facilitation in the early stages of teaching others to journey, allowing their personal mythologies and mapping of the Dreamtime to unfold.”1
If one wants to follow Harrell’s advice and undertake their own journeys, is it necessary to find a shaman to facilitate? The shaman Harrell mentions in the first chapter doesn’t appear to serve any purpose outside of drumming – a function which can be fulfilled by a tape, as Harrell advises in her instructional chapter. The shaman is mentioned again later in the book, after Harrell is told in a vision to go see him/her, but the purpose of the visit is unclear. All the shaman seems to have to say are lines like “Blue is royalty–holding true to yourself. Red is love, passion. Do these mean anything to you?”2 Harrell derives some satisfaction and meaning from the encounter, but the presence of a shaman is on the whole far from critical to her method of journeying. Despite the shaman’s questionable presence in Harrell’s account, I do think a mediator or facilitator is generally advisable to mitigate the risks of inflation or confusion when exploring the Unconscious/Dreamtime. Whether that mediator is a shaman or Jungian Analyst will depend on the individual’s preferences.
As a personal account of using visions to work through trauma, Gift of the Dreamtime is highly readable. Traditionalists of any form may have difficulty looking past Harrell’s syncretic New Age framework, although I believe it is an excellent example of a balanced New Age perspective. Readers searching for instruction in shamanic development would be advised to look elsewhere, as they will find the brief instructions in this book insufficient. Gift of the Dreamtime is a unique book, an artefact of Harrell’s explorations, valuable to other potential explorers and the curious.Footnotes: