Six years ago, in March 2011, we were about to set out for our second ever Dark Angels masterclass at Merton College, Oxford. I had written the previous week in this blog about a strange dream I had had, in which a name, Tycho Brahe, had come to me apparently out of nowhere.
On looking it up, I had been astonished to find that it was the name of a 16th century Danish nobleman, astronomer and alchemist who had been a major figure in the development of science. Far ahead of his contemporaries in the accuracy of his astronomical observations, he was the first person to argue that the heavens were not perfectly fixed and immutable.
He was also outlandish and wealthy. Having lost the bridge of his nose in a duel when he was young, he wore a metal prosthesis throughout his life. He held lavish gatherings in his castle, kept a dwarf jester, whom he believed to be clairvoyant, beneath his dining table, and also a tame elk that was said to have been fed so much beer at a party one night that it fell down the castle stairs and died.
A few days after posting this story, I received an email from a friend who had also recently been on a Dark Angels course. ‘A propos your dream the other week,’ she wrote, ‘I had a dream last night you might find interesting. Dark Angels had taken out a whole page advert in a broadsheet—I think it was the whole front of the Guardian, but no masthead on it, with your website address www etc… in very large letters going right across the page (and underlined) with wings either side, but half a wing, a sort of capital D on its side…
‘I can’t remember what it said exactly but the gist was that with everything going on in the world it was time for people to listen to what the Dark Angels had to say to change the world for the better. I can remember thinking, in the dream, that I would need to get in touch with you to help because you would be inundated with people contacting you. There was also some sort of image, I think it might have been Mount Rushmore, but instead of the presidents, it was the faces of you, Stuart and John in the rock.’
This coming week we’re returning to Merton College for the fifth time—the masterclass is biennial—and although I wouldn’t want to overstate the case for Dark Angels, I can’t help reflecting on the continuing relevance of those two extraordinary dreams, six years on.
It didn’t even occur to me in 2011, but today I can’t ignore the significance of a dream about alchemy a few days before heading for one of the most ancient Oxford colleges, one of whose boasts is the oldest continuously functioning academic library in the world, built in 1373; let alone such a dream in the context of the transformations we hope to bring about for our students.
As for the other dream and the importance of clear, honest, authentic, heartfelt language given ‘everything going on in the world’—well, whatever was happening in 2011 was hardly even a prelude to what’s happening today. And Mount Rushmore? The irony seems almost too great for words.