Welcome to a new series of articles called Dreaming with Dante, where we will explore dreaming through the lens of the epic journey and stories in Dante’s Commedia or The Divine Comedy.
First – don’t worry! This exploration does not require you to read the poem or even to want to read the poem. I promise you do not have to understand or even like poetry. Nope!
Instead, the plan is to tell you stories. Dante’s Commedia is a great story filled with many great stories and moments. This is what we are going to explore. The story of one man’s journey and how it can speak to our own.
The intention, then, is to move through the poem, exploring examples, moments, images as they relate to our dreams and our own experiences dreaming.
In this first article, I begin with the why of why I love Dante.
I have been reading and re-reading Dante’s Commedia since my 20s – not necessarily as a scholar, but as a poet and as a serious fan of the poem.
It is a crazy, beautiful, layered, confounding, funny, challenging, devastating, exhilarating, transcendent poem and journey. It is a poem that has been dazzling readers since it was written, from Dante’s years of exile, in the early 1300s.
I was talking recently with a friend about Commedia, and he said he was really intimidated by the poem. I get that – it is one of the most read and researched and dissected and discussed poems in Western Tradition. Partly because of this, it can be daunting. Daunting, too, because of all the extensive notes and allusions and historical references.
Yes, all true. AND! What makes Commedia so exciting for us regular readers is that it is a story of one soul on an amazing journey. A journey that is uneasy and terrfying, hilarious and mind-blowing, tender and exhultant.
A journey like our own. A journey from being utterly lost to being utterly found.
Which is why I love it so much. It is a journey that so resonates, for me, with the journey our dreams offer us; so resonates with what we face when we step into the epic journey that is our own life.
Even though there are some daunting aspects about the poem, it is still a great read. Even if you are not a scholar, like me, even if you do not “get” all the references or read all the notes or have any understanding of the historical realities of the Italian world of the 1300s. Even if you do not like poetry.
It is a story of adventure. Harrowing, haunting and even hilarious at time. Tender and moving, too. Steeped in love and relationship and revelation.
It is a great story, with many great stories woven through it.
When I started my journey with dreams, first as a dreamer and then as a dreamworker and dream teacher, I found myself turning to Dante again and again, feeling my journey as akin to Dante’s. Because it is a story of a person who is lost from his spiritual relationship coming face to face with his “God”.
But the journey is not about that moment of “seeing God”. The journey is about what he must discover and face about himself, how he is changed, how he comes into understanding and love and freedom in new ways.
What is it to move from being lost to being found? To discover choice and freedom, love. Even with trauma, with exile, with our own faults laid bare before us. With all our possibilities, too.
Our dreams, of course, invite us on the journey of our life, in the same way. They confront us with what we must discover, they work to take us through healing and alchemical change, and they bring us into new understandings or knowing of love and freedom, of our own spiritual paths.
And it is so visceral, so embodied. Dante does not discover all he must face within himself through esoteric learning – no. In Commedia, he learns by going. He learns by experience of his mind, yes, but also of his body. He learns by experiencing the heat and horror and chill of hell, by climbing through the process of purgatory, through clarifying fire and by coming into a new consciousness that he is offered when brought into paradise.
It is what we do in our dreams – we learn by going, we learn through experiencing. We find knowing through understanding, yes, but also through the gnosis of the body. Dreaming as visceral, as embodied.
Because of my love for Dante, he tends to wander into my classes and retreats. He tends to even find his way into sessions, sometimes, with dreamers.
My friends, students, colleagues know this about me. Because of this, I have often had folks comment [maybe jokingly] that I should teach about Dante. I guess it is time.
Again, I am not a Dante scholar. I am not that reader who retains all the history of Florence, Italy, Spain, and France pertinent to Dante when reading Dante. I am not that reader, even, who necessarily understands [or needs to understand] every allusion and sleight of poetic trick that Dante manages to perform [and there are so many].
Instead, I am that reader who just loves, seriously loves, the poem and the story.
I am that reader who loves to draw parallels between our dreams and his journey.
So! Welcome to Dreaming with Dante. In this series of articles [and hopefully podcasts!], I intend to navigate Commedia one canto at a time, weaving Dante’s journey and exploration with dreams and the personal journey we all can take.
Since I have never been in conversation canto by canto with anyone but myself [though there have been many of those conversations in my own imagination], this is a grand experiment and journey. I do hope you will join me!
In the next of the series, we will begin with Dante, the pilgrim. Lost and desperate.