More on Active Imagination

August 1, 2013

Late in February, I was part of an arts retreat at Powell House, a Quaker Conference Center. On Sunday morning, as I lay half awake, I had a vision of a red object in a chaotic environment. That morning, I started a water-color painting based on my vision, and I finished the painting when I returned home.

In June, I wrote a story based on what I had put in the painting. I’ve transcribed it and present it here as another example of the active imagination that I discussed in my previous post.

Crimson tear-shapped object with brown tusk-shapped objects in the background


In the second year of the Great War, two children lived with their grandmother on the edge of a forest. Gretchen was six years old; and her brother, Hans, was four.

One morning they were awakened by gun shots. They saw their grandmother stagger and fall, blood gushing from her head. They ran from their house into the woods and kept running until they were exhausted. They found a brook and followed it upstream but it ended in a marsh. They tried to walk around the marsh but seemed to only get into more marsh.

They saw a break in the trees and headed for a clearing. It was an opening in the forest about ten feet in diameter, and in it they found something that confused and frightened them more than the war and the soldiers and the death of their grandmother. It was crimson and tear-shaped and about ten feet high.

They heard a voice saying, “Do not be afraid. This object has been placed here for your protection.” They approached and found that it had the texture of a flower bud. By grabbing the surface they could climb it. When they neared the top, the void said, “You will be safe inside”; and as they reached the top the object opened and they slid down inside.

At once, they regretted this action. “No!” Gretchen shouted as they began to slide down as if they were going deep in the earth; but there was no turning back. They thought they would be smothered, but suddenly they emerged into fresh air.

They found themselves on an island in the middle of a lake. The sky was clear blue. The air was fresh. They saw what they thought were birds, but these creatures flew off.

After a short time, three of them returned and landed, and they were astonished to see that each one, though he had wings, had the body of a naked child.

“Hello,” one of the bird children called out.

“Where are we?” Gretchen asked. “Are we in Heaven?”

“No,” said the bird child. “Heaven is for those who have died, and we have not yet been born.”

“Then why are we here?” Gretchen continued.

“We don’t know,” the bird child answered, “but our mentor says we must bring you to her.”

“How do we get to her?” Hans asked.

“You are too big for us to carry,” another bird child answered, “but we can show you where the lake is shallow, and you can wade across.”

And the third bird child added, “We can carry your clothes across.”

Gretchen felt self-conscious, as two of the bird-children were boys; but Hans was out of his clothes before she could think, so she followed his example; and both waded into the water.

One of the bird boys waded with them while the two others flew with the clothes. When they reached the shore, their companion called out, “Artimas, Abraxis – this is no time for a game of hid and seek.” Then he said to the two children, “They want to make a game of making you find your clothes.”

“But we can’t keep your mentor waiting,” Gretchen said, imagining the mentor as a kind of stern school marm.

“She won’t mind, the bird boy said, “but I think you are cold and hungry.”

So they followed the bird boy to the mouth of a cave where they found an old woman in a long black dress stirring a cauldron over the fire. Hans had a fear that she might be a witch, but she had a kindly face and beckoned them with a smile and gave them berries and nuts, which they ate with gratitude.

Gretchen explained how they had come there after fleeing the soldiers. The old lady smiled and said, “I have heard of children coming back here because they needed to learn something that they could not find on earth. Children who die in a war go to Heaven, but you did not die, and you are not waiting to be reborn. We must wait until we know more clearly why you’re here. Until then, you can stay with me and my bird children in my cave.”

She led them into the cave and found a soft spot for them to sleep. When they awoke, they found they were once again clothed and in the forest. There were gun-shots in the distance, but that didn’t frighten them. They found nuts and berries to eat, and an overhanging rock for shelter.

After many days, the sounds of war drew dimmer and finally stopped. They left the forest and walked along a road until they found a building. It turned out to be a church with a kindly old priest. “Heavens! How did you survive the war!” he exclaimed.

“The angels preserved us,” Gretchen answered.

“Indeed they must have,” the priest replied.

That was all they said, and they lived the rest of their childhood cared for by this priest. They never told him the story of the crimson tear-shaped object or what had happened when they went inside.

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