A game played on Psyche's board, based on the Pythagorean Tetraktys

Charles Cameron

This was my first attempt at writing a Dream Analysis game.

I wrote it as a sample game for Walter Logeman's “Psyber-L”, an internet mailing list which explores “psyche in cyberspace”, and kept it short and sweet so that it wouldn't take up too much space on the list. I chose a single dream image – one of those eidetic images that float into awareness at the edge of sleep? – and explained the mechanics of the game as I went along.

The “dream analysis” here is purely archetypal – no personal materials were included. I envision, however, that personal as well as archetypal imagery could be included in dream analysis games of this sort.

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Since this game is Jungian in spirit, and Jung had a deep interest in mystical mathematics, I chose to use what I now call Psyche's board on this occasion: the layout of this board is based on that of the Pythagorean Tetraktys, an ancient Greek mathematical / magical figure, first brought to my attention by Steve Cranmer.

This first move, which takes the form of a dream or dream image, supplies the topic for the Game.

Move 1: Dreamer plays “She-Bear and Child” in position 6.

I once had a dream which consisted in its entirety of a glimpse of a she-bear and her cub in the pose of the Madonna and Child. Wham!

Moves 2, 3 and 4 are designed to allow each of the three players to name a principle, a theme, or topic that they feel will prove to be of importance in a Game devoted to elucidating the particular dream or dream image presented in position 6.

Note that in this particular Game, the three moves 2, 3 and 4 are made very quickly: they are the preliminaries to the Game rather than the Game itself, and the fun will really begin with move 5…

Move 2: Player 1 plays “God” in position 0.

The first player decides that the dream has something to do with God, and makes this move.

Move 3: Player 2 places “Nature” in Position 1.

The second player's move offers another “principle” or “essence” that this player feels will help to elucidate the dream, in this case, the idea of Nature.

Move 4: Player 3 places “Anima” in position 4.

The third player chooses another principle or idea which she feels will help to explain the dream played in position 6 – the Jungian Anima.

This is where the fun begins…

The remaining six positions each connect (a) to the specifics of the dream image at position 6, (b) to one of the three “underlying principles” moves at the apices of the board, in position 0, 1 and 4, and © to two of the other six positions.

Move 5: Player 1 places “Madonna” in position 8.

Player 1 talks about the Madonna as a manifestation of the “feminine divine” (linking with “God” in 1), and indeed the Mother of God – and the Bear Mother as Madonna (linking with the dream itself at 6), drawing out the implications of a “Bear Madonna” in a rather sweet eco-devotional manner. So far so good.

Move 6: Player 2 puts “Nature red in tooth and claw” in position 2.

Player 2 claims that bears are a Force of Nature (linking with Nature in position 1) and not always as easygoing as the Madonna pose in the dream may suggest.

On occasion, they can eat you…

What the hell…

Thinking about teeth in a mythic context – particularly with all those anima / madonna / goddess images flying around – reminds Player 3 of Robert Bly's little essay on the “Tooth Mother Naked”: the goddess in the form of a woman whose vagina contains teeth…

And in any case, she's not about to let Player 2 have the most grittily “realistic” move in the Game with his Darwinian reductionistic “tooth and claw” nonsense.

Move 7: Player 3 plays the “Tooth Mother Naked” at 3.

Let's get this thing really moving into the dark side, she thinks, vagina dentata, Mother Kali and all…

Blessed be…

[Note: It is perhaps worth mentioning that the phrase, “Nature, red in tooth and claw” is not in fact Darwin's, but is found in Alfred Tennyson's poem *In Memoriam*, lvi. Interestingly enough, Tennyson's In Memoriam was published in 1850, Darwin's *On the Origin of Species* in 1859.]

Turn and turn about: Player 1 had the easiest move to make in the previous round – the move with the most possible choices, and fewest possible constraints – so this time the order of play is reversed, and Player 3 gets to make a second move hot on the heels of her first.

Okay, she's show her “edge” with her “Tooth Mother” move – how about something a little quieter and more meditative?

Move 8: Player 3 plays “Anima Mundi” in position 7.

She explains that the dream appears to be intent on shaking up our overly pious ideas about the “divine feminine” as an exclusively heavenly quality, locating Her firmly in the natural realm – where she will have milk for her young (position 6) but also teeth for those who would harm them (“Tooth Mother” at 2).

Dreams like this, she writes, are an indication that the primary archetypal configuration for our times will be global, natural, feminine, nurturing, and fierce if need be – and if we want to get with the program, we'd better get with the program…

It's Player 2's turn, and he's somewhat ill-at-ease when it comes to the Tooth Mother and suchlike, and frankly relieved he hasn't been forced to link with that particular move. But he doesn't have much to say about God, either, so he's pretty much stuck with making a move in position 5.

He begins thinking about bears and honey and such things, from a “naturalistic” perspective, and the idea of hibernation comes up. If he'd been more aware of Eastern philosophy, he might have quoted the Upanishads to the effect that Brahman is the honey of all beings (playing “honey” in position 8), and wangled his way into an explanation of how the Madonna fits into the picture: but as we've seen, he isn't much into the mystical end of things – and the closest he's come to bears is watching them on National Geographic videos. So…

Move 9: Player 2 puts “Hibernation” in position 5.

He explains that it's a *natural* phenomenon as opposed to a *mystical* one (connecting with “Nature” in 1) – and contrasts it with his own “red in tooth and claw” move in 2, demonstrating that he's aware that nature can also be beautiful or simple – or even boring!

Player 1 is delighted. He knew he'd have to move in a position that was already predetermined, with even its links already in place, but this one is a gift. During the almost two weeks between his previous move and this one, he'd done some research (hint, hint). He'd been to the library, and found a remarkable book by Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders, *The Sacred Paw*, which he had been reading… His move is worth quoting in full:

Move 10: Player 2 plays “Circumpolar Bear Cult” in position 9.

There was one creature who must have seemed like both a twin and a mentor for the early humans of the northern circumpolar lands. Like ourselves a mammal, a major predator and an omnivore, like us rising on two feet at times, the bear signaled his kinship with us in many ways. He was, if anything, our superior in hunting: and his body, when skinned, was about the same size and shape as our own.

Exploring the Drachenloch cave in Switzerland, Emil Bachler found cave bear skulls arranged in wall niches in one part of the cave, and stone tombs in another chamber containing cave bear skulls and bones. Ursus spelaeus, the cave bear, has now been extinct 10,000 years, while the Neanderthal inhabitants of the caves appear to have ceased as a species themselves about 40,000 years ago.

In Shepard and Sanders' book, *The Sacred Paw*, which deals with both the natural history of the bear and its appearances in myth and ritual, Bachler surmises that his finds provide “the first evidence in man of an already awakened higher spiritual life.”

But why the bear in particular? What could we learn from the bear that we couldn't learn anywhere else? Shepard and Sanders' answer is that the bear seemed able to teach us how to survive bodily death. Hibernation isn't just a “natural” phenomenon – it's also a “spiritual” revelation… I'll let them explain in their own words:

The bear, more than any other teacher, gave an answer to the ultimate question… an astonishing, astounding, improbable answer, enacted rather than revealed. Its passage into the earth, winter's death, and burial under the snow was like a punctuation in the round of life that would begin again with its emergence in the spring…

The miracle was double, for the bear burst out with young – birth and rebirth. Somehow the bear knew when to reenter the world again, emerging just ahead of the snowmelt, as though its very heat set the new year in motion… Clearly the bear was master of renewal and the wheel of the seasons.

The bear 'knows' about death and how to survive it… She is therefore seen by traditional peoples as a guide to the movement between worlds.

So the bear is not only the first shaman, s/he's also the first dying and rising God, and the first divine “Mother and Child” – teaching us two things that are still at the heart of religion 40,000 years later: nativity and resurrection!

Afterword:

This “Bear Madonna” game was the first game I wrote using Psyche's board.

A couple of days after I wrote it, I was playing around with a new program, trying to figure out how to present the board graphically in printed form. At one point, I had my triangle of ten circles set up, and instead of inserting the titles of the different “moves”, put the name of the appropriate player in each position (Dreamer, Player 1, Player 2, Player 3).

The board with *players emphasized* looked like this:

where the “D” stands for dreamer, and 1, 2, 3 for the three players.

A completely unexpected pattern emerged. I found that in every case, the player who had placed his/her move in a particular apex had also taken the two positions adjacent to it. And those three little triangles of ones, twos and threes fairly jump out at you, once you look at it this way…

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I wrote this game as a sample, to illustrate one particular way in which the Games could be used to amplify the imagery of a dream. And I based it on an actual dream image of my own. But the three “players” were purely imaginary: and although I tried to “give” them independent interests and personalities, my attention was mainly focused on the *geometry* of the board.

In the beginning, I was thinking in terms of the center (position 6), the triangle (positions 0, 1 and 4), and the hexagon (positions 8, 9, 7, 3, 2, 5), and coming up with the idea that the center could be used for the dream, the triangle to illustrate its three “themes” – and that the hexagon would then be the real arena of play, in which the themes would be related to each other, as well as to the dream image itself.

By the time I was writing the actual moves, my attention had shifted to the connections between some of the adjacent positions in the hexagon – notably the “hibernation” and “bear cult” moves in 5 and 8, and the “tooth and claw” and “tooth mother” moves in 2 and 3. As you can see, these pairs of moves are both made by *different* players – and it was not until I set up the “players” diagram shown above that I realized just how symmetrical and orderly the Game had in fact been…

It was an altogether eerie feeling…

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I sent a copy of this game to Steve Cranmer, the friend who first suggested using this board to me, and after reading it, he asked me:

So, Charles, who *are* the characters playing this game, hmm?

I found this a difficult question to answer at first, because it seemed a little flip to say they were “aspects of my personality” – until I made the discovery described above.

But the recognition that each of my three imagined players had been “real enough” to create a symmetry on the board that I myself had been totally unaware of, somehow seemed to free me up to respond to Steve's question – without feeling that I'd need to be a zen master to do it justice. I wrote:

The three “players”, I suppose, represent aspects of my character – and I certainly tried to give them different characteristics as I was writing their moves: Player 1 is a pious scholar, Player 2 is sensible and scientific, and Player 3 must be my sometimes fiery muse…

But I had no idea – and it's certainly not anything that the rules demand – that each player would limit her/himself to one corner of the board…

Aiyeeee!

– Charles Cameron