Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dream interpreter (Ονειροκρίτης)

The new year's calendar selections in the bookshops present no surprises. The over-priced wall calendars consist of glossy tourist photos of Greece, presenting the country in all its dream-like glory, often centred around a Greek theme (eg Crete, cats, donkeys, etc). The dates are printed in little boxes in the classic style of a calendar, but no mention is made of the importance of the day, except perhaps by shading the boxes in a different colour to highlight the weekend or a public holiday. Wall calendars that include all the feastdays written in the boxes are more difficult to find: they are likely to be available in specialised stores, often given away by religious organisations to their members, and you may be lucky to find them in a newspaper supplement at the end of the year. I'm specifically making one up for an old-aged diaspora aunt whose special needs include XL print.

 Tourist wall calendar, combining the γιορτές (feastdays) via the Eortologio.

There is also the little page-a-day calendar, a traditional albeit old-fashioned iconic symbol of Greek popular culture, which gives you much more information than is given in any of the glossy wall calendars, including the saints' days celebrated on each day, so you will know whose nameday it is on that day. They are excellent value for money.

The page-a-day calendar answers all these questions for you:
What day is it today? (the first word gives the day, the big number the date, and the last word the month); I wonder who's celebrating their nameday. (right under the big number); What time should I milk the cows? (sunrise time is given right below the name of the day); When should I feed the chickens? (sunset time is next to sunrise time); Is it time to trim the grapevine? (moon quarter is stated next to sunset time - agricultural tasks are performed according to whether the moon is getting 'bigger' (ie approaching full moon) or getting 'smaller' (approaching new moon); Is it a fasting day? (the bold text below sunset/sunrise/moon quarter: eg καταλυσις εις παντα = 'non-fasting day'); What shall I read? (bible reading for the day given in the two lines above the name of the month); Any ideas for cooking? (it's written on the back of the paper - you will see it once you peel off it off, tomorrow - other versions of this calendar come with poems, sports trivia and religious verses).  

Image of Dinner With PersephoneΙn the same place where you find the calendars in a Greek bookshop, you will also find the Kazamias, the book form of a Greek new year's calendar, an almanac containing the same information as the useful little page-a-days, with extra bonus trivia such as encyclopaedia entries, recipes and even dream interpretation, ονειροκρίτες. Dream interpreteters need constant updating, hence the reason why these books near the calendar section of a bookstore. We need new dream interpretations on a regular basis as the world changes, because as the world changes, so do our dreams, which depend on where we get our inspiration from, as Patricia Storace clearly illustrates in Dinner with Persephone:
Another person calls to me, this time a girl in blue jeans standing on the corner beside a stack of books piled on an upended crate. "Do you need one?" she asks. "What are they?" I slow down, shift my packages, and climb toward her... She holds up a volume and flips the pages. "Dream books. Oneirokrites." Actually, I did bring one. But it was written in the second century, the Oneirokritika, a handbook of dreams collected by a professional dream interpreter named Artemidorus, who traveled in Greek cities, and recorded and classified the dreams people told him in order to make a manual of the art of dream interpretation for his son. It is a social history of shocking intimacy, a study of the unconscious lives of people of another world, trying to divine the future through their dreams, while we, so far away, try to divine the past. The Oneirokritika ... was an inspiration for Freud's Interpretaiton of Dreams. "I do have one," I say, "but it's old." "You are foreign?" she asks, and I nod. "How long have you lived here?" "Two days." "Then you will need a new one. You will have new dreams here."
My mother-in-law refers to (a very old) dream interpreter on a regular basis. It's always depressing to hear about her dreams; the interpretation is more often negative than positive and causes her great anxiety throughout the day. She never seems to have good dreams, ones whose symbolism in the unconscious world predicts a happy outcome in the real world. Most of the time, she tells us about her dreams when we are about to do something that she predicts will have a bad outcome, like for example when we treat a stray cat with kindness: "Oh, don't do that! I saw a cat in my dream last night, which means someone's conspiring against you." I often wonder if she realises that her dreams aren't actually our dreams; logically, they should befall her, and not us.

Predicting the future is as old as the evolution of the human being. Natural phenomena like earthquakes, random celestial events such as eclipses, animal sounds, and the ancient orcales are among the events used in the past to predict the future. Nature has provided the greatest inspiration for dream interpretation, since it forms the most primitive form of life, while the evolution of technology is a relatively recent form of inspiration in people's dreams.

Never having owned a dream interpreter, I decided to add such a book to my collection in this exceptionally difficult year for Greeks. My ονειροκρίτη is organised alphabetically, according to the names of things or actions. Ιt contains interpretations based on Artemidorus' original works, judging by the kinds of entries (eg αγάνωτα - cooking vessels that haven't been treated by a tinker); I can only guess that the entries still have some validity, judging by the number of references made in the book to times of economic hardship. Either that, or times of economic hardship have always been a part of everyday life: 
File:Tinsmith's Shop interior.JPGAγάνωτα (untinkered cooking vessels): If you see your cooking vessels in your dreams and they are untinkered, await economic hardhsip. If you are served food from untinkered tin vessels, you will go through a worrying period. Among the betrothed this means the dissolution of the engagement.
Something as simple (and delightful in taste) as the artichoke can also be a symbol of financial hardship:
Αγγινάρα (artichoke): If you see it in its season, the dream is good, but if you see it out of season, await bitterness, slander and bad financial news. If you're eating it raw and it makes your lips turn yellow [don't they mean black?], a bad outcome in litigation cases awaits you.
Despite its quackish-sounding predictions, similar to those of psychics and fortune-tellers, I felt rewarded by the high level of the occurrence of fresh food items in the dream interpreter, all directly inspired by nature. But even natural items such as fruit and vegetables are often associated with an impending disaster. Cucumbers can only mean problems: 
Αγγούρι (cucumber): If you are eating cucumber in the winter, it means grief and worries. If you give it to another person, you will end up arguing with the person you are giving it to. If someone is giving it to you, that person will be the reason for your grief.
The thing is that these days we are unlikely to dream so simply, so the dream interpreter could be said to be highly imprecise given the complexity of our present world. For instance, it does not include an entry for υπολογιστή (computer). So if for example, you see a salty computer screen in your dream, you can't look up computer, but you can look up salt:
rock saltΑλάτι (salt): If you have salt in your hand and it is spilling out of it, you will lose, out of neglect, a person that is highly valuable for you. If you're grinding salt, you will pass through a period of unhappiness. If you're sprinkling it on food, you will see bitterness enter your life. But you will also get some small help. If you are lending or borrowing salt, you will give or receive bitterness. If someone is asking you for salt, you will get a letter.
But if the salt was on a computer screen, does that mean someone is giving it you? Or did you give it to someone else? If the screen is salt-clogged, you will not even be able to see the person involved in the first place. And if you had the sound turned off, you will not hear if someone was asking for it or giving it to you. And could the letter be an email instead, which most of us receive every day (and very often in the form of junk mail)? As our world becomes more complex, so do our dreams...

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