There’s good dreams; and there’s bad dreams. And then there’s the dreams which are too big to classify.
Like The Dreamtime.
The men who have lived in Australia these 40,00 years assembled a belief system whose bedrock is a time before time, the antithesis of before and after.
Like a dream, it is difficult to explain: it retains that wild indefinable quality which goes with that life we live sleeping. The Dreaming is where creation happens, where the rules for living are; it is the collective unconscious of the Aboriginal race, creating with all the strange splendour of which the human being is capable.
But it is not ordered. It is anything but tame.
The Romans had a Dreaming, though they didn’t call it such. They gave it an identity, and called it Janus.
Janus was not a deity back then. The Romans did not appreciate, as the Aboriginals did, that chaos can be our most creative time. Janus gained his godliness by subduing the chaos and bringing forth order.
And as he had created order he was given power over those things which help us create order throughout our small globe: the doorway.
He, it was, who could open and shut anything in the universe. He controlled the doors to heaven, and dictated whether an area was ruled by peace or war.
Janus is a two-faced god. One one side he looks to order, on the other, chaos. One one side, the past, one the other, the future. And he is inextricably linked with the symbol of the doorway. When a Roman stepped out of the door of his home, Janus was invoked, because this was a powerful action in the day. One stepped from the past to the future, from a safe retreat into the hubbub of the world, from stasis into action.
The doorway, the doorway. I didn’t realise until very recently just how important the doorway really is.
I have written before about the concentrated history of Oxford. London’s concentrated but Oxford- a small area laid and overlaid with patina upon patina of happenings, rigorously ordered by fustian academic minds – is like a small study crammed with the experience and event of a thousand years.
Plans are small puny things in the face of one of Janus’s doorways.
We would set out to walk in the direction of the grotesques and -pfft- our plans would go up in smoke as we passed a great old gate with a doorway set into it, much like the ingress to Oz.
This, like Frank L Baum’s gate, had its guardian, but this would not be some crazed munchkin, but a grave suited figure assuring us that yes, the college was open, and we were free to wander, but please would we keep off the grass.
You walk through an Oxford doorway and you are in another, carefully ordered world of stunning little quads with numbered doorways, each with a dark wood staircase leading to rooms.
Each college has its own character, some Tudor, some plummy Georgian; there’s usually a chapel and, this being Maundy Thursday, the voices of choirboys stole out to tap our shoulders on our meanderings.
Oxford is full of imposing entrances, great golden staircases which lead to doorways of such allure that one’s feet, like Janus’s visage, turn unbidden and walk up the steps and through the entrance.
Because you can, you see. Academia is still preoccupied in great measure by The Dreamtime, and its other-worldly values mean that most of it is both open, and free to see. Yes, old chap, it says affably, do come in and look around.
Thus we stumbled unawares on the Museum of the History of Science because it had a big beautiful door. It is the old site of the Ashmolean, a great dark Tudor building stuffed with orreries and globes and telescopes.
And we wandered further after the museum closed, and walked through a huge grand entrance just because it was huge and grand. It turned out to be the Bodleian Library. Joy: such doors! A great courtyard surrounded by blue doors, each a portal to the texts associated with a certain discipline.
Everywhere we went: glimpses and vistas, artfully created to show beauty of myriad kinds. Our feet ached but we were elated to be in a place where the doorways beckoned – and still, despite their fame and status, welcomed us in.
We stepped from one world to another in this tiny golden-stone universe. Janus must have been smiling as he watched us walk from small, local pasts to the most intricate little futures designed by men of the mind over 1,000 years.
Today, you and I will walk through doorways great and small, to varying degrees of future. I wonder: if I mark each passing door, really notice it properly, will it help me to slow down time?