(Being-in-Dreaming by Florinda Donner)
Satiated, I slumped back in my chair. The door to the yard was wide open and a cool breeze rearranged the shadows in the room. Twilight seemed to be lasting forever. The sky was still streaked with heavy layers of color: vermilion, deep blue, violet, and gold. The air had that transparent quality that brought close the distant hills. As if propelled by some inner force, the night seemed to shoot out of the ground. The shadowed movements of the fruit trees in the wind, rhythmic and graceful, swept the darkness up into the sky.
Esperanza burst then into the room and placed a lit oil lamp on the table. She regarded me with unblinking eyes, as if she had difficulty in focusing. She gave the impression that she was still concerned with some otherworldly mystery, that she wasn’t yet quite there. Then slowly her eyes thawed, and she smiled as if she knew now that she had returned from a great distance.
“My paper!” I cried out upon discovering the loose sheets and my notepad under her arm.
Grinning broadly, Esperanza handed me my notes.
Eagerly, I examined the sheets and laughed out loud upon seeing the pages on the pad filled with precise and detailed instructions- written half in Spanish, half in English- on how to proceed with my term paper. The handwriting was unmistakably mine.
“It’s all there,” I said excitedly. “That’s how I saw it in my dream.”
The thought that I might be able to zoom through graduate without having to work so hard made me forget all my former anxiety.
“There are no shortcuts to writing good term papers,” Esperanzaa said. “Not even with the aid of sorcery. You should know that without the preliminary reading, the note taking, and the writing and rewriting, you would never have been able to recognize the structure and order of your term paper in dreaming.”
I nodded wordlessly. She had spoken with such an incontestable authority that I didn’t know what to say.
“What about the caretaker?” I finally managed to ask. “Was he a professor in his youth?”
Nelida and Florinda turned to Esperanza, as if it were up to her to answer.
“I wouldn’t know that,” Esperanza said evasively. “Didn’t he tell you that he’s a sorcerer in love with ideas?”
She was silent for a moment, then added softly, “When he is not taking care of our world, as befits a caretaker, he reads.”
“Besides reading books,” Nelida elucidated, “he reads a most extraordinary number of scholarly journals. He speaks several languages, so he’s quite up to date with the latest of everything. Delia and Clara are his assistants. He taught them to speak English and German.”
“Is the library in your house his?” I asked.
“It belongs to all of us,” Nelida said. “However, I’m sure he’s the only one, beside Vicente, who has read every book on the shelves.”
Noticing my incredulous expression, she advised me that I shouldn’t be fooled by appearances regarding the people in the sorcerers’ world.
“To reach a degree of knowledge, sorcerers work twice as hard as normal people,” she assured me. “Sorcerers have to make sense of the everyday world as well as the magical world. To accomplish that, they have to be highly skilled and sophisticated, mentally as well as physically.”
She regarded me with narrowed, critical eyes then chuckled softly.
“For three days, you worked on your paper,” she explained. “You worked very hard, didn’t you?” She waited for my assent then added that, while dreaming-awake, I worked on my term paper even harder than I did while awake.
“Not at all,” I hastened to contradict her. “It was all quite effortless.” I explained that all I did was see a new version of my paper superimposed on my old draft, and then I copied what I saw.
“To do that took all the strength you had,” Nelida maintained. “While dreaming-awake, you channeled all your energy into a single purpose. All your concern and effort went into finishing your paper. Nothing else mattered to you at the moment. You had no other thoughts to interfere with your endeavor.”
“Was the caretaker dreaming-awake when he looked at my paper?” I asked. “Did I see what he saw?”
Nelida rose and walked slowly to the door. For a long moment she peered out into the darkness then returned to the table. She whispered something to Esperanza, which I didn’t hear, and then sat down again.
Esperanza chuckled softly then said that what the caretaker saw in my paper was different from what I saw and wrote down. “Quite naturally so, for his knowledge is by far more vast than yours.”
Esperanza stared at me with her quick, dark eyes that somehow made the rest of her face seem lifeless. “Guided by his suggestions, and according to your own capabilities, you saw what your paper ought to read like. That’s what you wrote down.”
“While dreaming-awake, we have access to hidden resources, which we never use ordinarily,” Nelida said, going on to explain that, the instant I saw my paper, I remembered the clues the caretaker had given me.
Noticing my incredulous expression, she reminded me what the caretaker had said about my paper: “Too many footnotes, too many notes and sloppily developed ideas.”
Her eyes radiated sympathy and amusement as she went on to say that since I was dreaming and I am not as stupid as I pretended to be, I immediately saw all kinds of links and connections that I hadn’t noticed before within my material.
Nelida leaned toward me, a half-smile playing over her lips as she waited for my reaction.
“It’s time you know what made you see a better version of your original paper.”
Esperanza sat up straight and gave me a wink as if to emphasize that she was about to reveal a major secret. “When dreaming-awake, we have access to direct knowledge.”
I could see the disappointment in her eyes as she regarded me for a long moment.
“Don’t be so dense!” Nelida snapped impatiently:
“Dreaming-awake should have made you realize that you have, as all women do, a unique capacity to receive knowledge directly.”
Esperanza made a silencing gesture with her hand and said, “Did you know that one of the basic differences between males and females is how they approach knowledge?”
I had no idea what she meant.
Slowly and deliberately, she tore off a clean sheet from my notepad and drew two human figures. One head she crowned with a cone and said that it was a man. On the other head, she drew the same cone, but upside down, and said that it was a woman.
“Men build knowledge step by step,” she explained, her pencil poised on the figure crowned with a cone.
“Men reach up. They climb toward knowledge.”
“Sorcerers say that men cone toward the spirit. They cone up toward knowledge.”
“This coning process limits men on how far they can reach.”
She retraced the cone on the first figure. “As you can see, men can only reach a certain height. Their path toward knowledge ends up in a narrow point: the tip of the cone.”
She looked at me sharply. “Pay attention,” she warned me and pointed her pencil to the second figure, the one with the inverted cone on its head.
“As you can see, the cone is upside down, open like a funnel. Women are able to open themselves directly to the source, or rather, the source reaches them directly, in the broad base of the cone.”
“Sorcerers say that women’s connection to knowledge is expansive. On the other hand, men’s connection is quite restricted.”
“Men are close to the concrete,” she proceeded, “and aim at the abstract.”
“Women are close to the abstract, and yet try to indulge themselves with the concrete.”
“Why are women, being so open to knowledge or the abstract, considered inferior?” I interrupted her.
Esperanza gazed at me with rapt fascination.
She rose swiftly, stretched like a cat until all her joints cracked, then sat down again.
“That women are considered inferior, or, at the very best, that female traits are equated as complementary to the male’s, has to do with the manner in which males and females approach knowledge,” she explained:
“Generally speaking, women are more interested in power over themselves than over others.”
“Power over others is clearly what males want.”
“Even among sorcerers,” Nelida interjected, and the women all laughed.
Esperanza went on to say that she believed that originally women saw no need to exploit their facility to link themselves broadly and directly to the spirit. She said women saw no necessity to talk about or to intellectualize this natural capacity of theirs because it was enough for them to put their natural capacity in action, and to know that they had it.
“Men’s incapacity to link themselves directly to the spirit was what drove them to talk about the process of reaching knowledge,” she stressed. “They haven’t stopped talking about it.”
“And it is precisely this insistence on knowing how they strive toward the spirit; this insistence on analyzing the process that gave them the certainty that being rational is a typically male skill.”
Esperanza explained that the conceptualization of reason has been done exclusively by men, and that this has allowed men to belittle women’s gifts and accomplishments. And even worse, it has allowed men to exclude feminine traits from the formulation of the ideals of reason.
“By now, of course, women believe what has been defined for them,” she emphasized. “Women have been reared to believe that only men can be rational and coherent.”
“Now men carry with them a load of unearned assets that makes them automatically superior regardless of their preparation or capacity.”
“How did women lose their direct link to knowledge?” I asked.
“Women haven’t lost their connection,” Esperanza corrected me. “Women still have a direct link with the spirit.”
“They have only forgotten how to use it; or rather, they have copied men’s condition of not having it at all.”
“For thousands of years, men have struggled to make sure that women forget it.”
“Take the Holy Inquisition, for example. That was a systematic purge to eradicate the belief that women have a direct link to the spirit.”
“All organized religion is nothing but a very successful maneuver to put women in a lower place. Religions invoke a divine law that says that women are inferior.”
I stared at her in amazement, wondering to myself how she could possibly be so erudite.
“Men’s need to dominate others and women’s lack of interest in expressing or formulating what they know and how they know it has been a most nefarious alliance,” Esperanza went on.
“It has made it possible for women to be coerced from the moment they’re born into accepting that fulfillment lies in homemaking, in love, in marriage, in having children, and in self-denial.”
“Women have been excluded from the dominant forms of abstract thought and educated into dependence.”
“Women have been so thoroughly trained in the belief that men must think for them that women have finally given up thinking.”
“Women are quite capable of thinking.” I interrupted her.
“Women are capable of formulating what they have learned,” Esperanza corrected me, “but what they have learned has been defined by men.”
“Men define the very nature of knowledge, and from that knowledge they have excluded that which pertains to the feminine.”
“Or if the feminine is included, it is always in a negative light.
“And women have accepted this.”
“You are years behind the times,” I interjected. “Nowadays women can do anything they set their hearts to do. They pretty much have access to all the centers of learning, and to almost anything men can do.”
“But this is meaningless as long as women don’t have a support system; a support base,”
“What good is it that women have access to what men have when women are still considered inferior beings who have to adopt male attitudes and behaviors in order to succeed?”
“The truly successful women are the perfect converts: They too look down on women.”
“According to men, the womb limits women both mentally and physically.”
“This is the reason why women, although they have access to knowledge, have not been allowed to help determine what this knowledge is.”
“Take for instance, philosophers,” Esperanza proposed. “The pure thinkers.”
“Some of them are viciously against women.
“Others are more subtle in that they are willing to admit that women might be as capable as men were it not for the fact that women are not interested in rational pursuits.”
“And if women are interested in rational pursuits they shouldn’t be because it is more becoming for a woman to be true to her nature: a nurturing, dependent companion of the male.”
Esperanza expressed all this with unquestionable authority.
Within moments, however, I was assailed by doubts. “If knowledge is but a male construct, then why your insistence that I go to school,” I asked.
“Because you are a witch, and as such you need to know what impinges on you and how it impinges on you,” she replied:
“Before you refuse something, you must understand why you refuse it.”
“You see, the problem is that knowledge, in our day, is derived purely from reasoning things out.”
“But women have a different track, never, ever taken into consideration.
“That track can contribute to knowledge, but it would have to be a contribution that has nothing to do with reasoning things out.”
“What would it deal with, then?” I asked.
“That’s for you to decide after you master the tools of reasoning and understanding.”
I was very confused.
“What sorcerers propose,” she explained, “is that men can’t have the exclusive right to reason.”
“Men seem to have it now simply because the ground where men apply reason is a ground where maleness prevails.”
“Let us, then, apply reason to a ground where femaleness prevails; and that ground is, naturally, the inverted cone I described to you; women’s connection with the spirit itself.”
She tilted her head slightly to one side, considering what to say.
“That connection has to be faced with a different aspect of reasoning. An aspect never, ever used before: the feminine side of reasoning,” she said.
“What is the feminine side of reason, Esperanza?”
“Many things. One of them is definitely dreaming.” She regarded me questioningly, but I had nothing to say.
Her deep chuckle caught me by surprise. “I know what you expect from sorcerers.”
“You want rituals, incantations. Odd, mysterious cults. You want to sing. You want to be one with nature. You want to commune with water spirits. You want paganism. Some romantic view of what sorcerers do. Very Germanic.”
“To jump into the unknown,” she went on, “you need guts and mind. Only with them will you be able to explain to yourself and to others the treasures you might find.”
She leaned toward me, eager, it seemed, to confide something.
She scratched her head and sneezed repeatedly, five times as the caretaker had. “You need to act on your magical side,” she said.
“And what is that?”
“The womb.” She said this so distantly and calmly, as if she were not interested in my reaction, that I almost missed hearing it.
Then suddenly, realizing the absurdity of her remark, I straightened up and looked at the others.
“The womb!” Esperanza repeated. “The womb is the ultimate feminine organ.”
“It is the womb that gives women that extra edge; that extra force to channel their energy.”
She explained that men, in their quest for supremacy, have succeeded in reducing woman’s mysterious power, her womb, to a strictly biological organ, whose only function is to reproduce; to carry man’s seed.”
As if obeying a cue, Nelida rose, walked around the table, and came to stand behind me.
“Do you know the story of the Annunciation?” she whispered in my ear.
Giggling, I turned to face her. “I don’t.”
In that same confidential whisper, she proceeded to tell me that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, men are the only ones who hear the voice of God. Women have been excluded from that privilege, with the exception of the Virgin Mary.
Nelida said that an angel whispering to Mary was, of course, natural.
What wasn’t natural was the fact that all the angel had to say to Mary was that she would bear the son of God.
The womb did not receive knowledge but rather the promise of God’s seed.
A male god, who engendered another male god in turn.
I wanted to think, to reflect on all that I had heard, but my mind was in a confused whirl.
“What about male sorcerers?” I asked. “They don’t have a womb, yet they are clearly connected to the spirit.”
Esperanza regarded me with undisguised pleasure, then looked over her shoulder, as though she were afraid to be overheard, and whispered, “Sorcerers are able to align themselves to intent, to the spirit, because they have given up what specifically defines their masculinity, and they are no longer males.”