Hodology of a Dream

January 10, 2016

R. Hisda says: an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter

Chaim Lauer

In the early hours of October 7th 2015 I had a strange dream. By the very nature of dreaming it’s hard to describe when wide awake a chronology or chain of events when there’s a collage of narrative/visual elements impinging upon each other in a moveable timespace, as if what happened in the dream earlier happened after what happened later or both were happening at the same time, while thoughts, feelings and impressions that elude description are at least as important as what is seen in whatever order.

One of the stimuli of the dream was an exchange I had on twitter with the writer, David Southwell, a few days before. My interest had been piqued by a comment of his, posted on October 3rd:

The hodology of London, the roads that shaped the city, came from the cattle walked to slaughter. London formed in blood shadow.

Without then knowing the meaning of hodology (the study of paths) I envisioned the old drovers’ routes running into London from different directions, from the West, the South, Wales, Scotland, the North. I thought of the cattle market in front of St Martin-in-the-Fields (where Trafalgar Square is now), and Smithfield. I thought of the lapsed project to seek a correlation between Red Cow pubs and the course of the Roman Road, Watling Street (based on the idea that the legendary black, white and red cows who formed the first roads in Ireland may have had a correlate in Britain).

As it turned out, Watling Street – in the form of the Edgware Road, the length of the street running north-west of Marble Arch, from the site of the Tyburn gallows – was described in conversation by David Southwell as

the old straight track through Middlesex Forest to London… my ancestral route of death.

Why an ancestral route of death? Because a forebear, Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest convicted of high treason, was executed at Tyburn in 1595. The execution site stood at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, the latter also marking the course of a Roman Road, The Portway, which led to Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in Hampshire.

tyburn tree

Picture from International Times

Such thoughts of ancient paths trodden by cows and Catholic martyrs, routes of death, must have made a deep impression, when I found myself by night at a staggered road junction, a composite of at least two places separated by a mile in waking life – the junction of Rownhams Lane and Botley Road in North Baddesley, and the junction of Castle Lane and Winchester Road/Bournemouth Road in Chandler’s Ford, now just 100 yards apart. I was standing facing up a long straight road (corresponding to Castle Lane, but with a resemblance to Nine Mile Ride in Berkshire), waiting for an unidentified woman – likely a composite of different people – who was driving a car that was indicating to turn towards me from a junction to my right, to drive up Castle Lane. I waited and waited, but the woman driving the car had not turned, she had gone, disappeared.

I then found myself – still in the dark of night – stood outside the empty shell of a church or chapel. From the street I walked through an arch into an unroofed courtyard, its stone flags glistening in the moonlight, though the moon was unseen. I thought it slightly reminiscent of Holy Rood church in old Southampton, an empty shell without its roof, destroyed in the Blitz of November 1940. I turned to face the way I came in, seeing a chamber built into the external wall of the church. Looking into the chamber through a small window I saw it was a giant stone vat, full of laundry – white sheets – soaking in water. As I looked in, the ‘vat’ became a dark, faintly starry, dynamic space. The white cloth – swaddling clothes come to mind as I write – started twisting and receding into the distance, like a drifting galaxy, shrinking from view until coalescing into the tiny form of a lamb. At this point, a disembodied voice announced, sonorously, “The Lamb of God”.

On waking, it didn’t take me long to correlate the dream with the significant date – October 7th. It was the due date calculated for the birth of our son, Joshua, in 1991. To our distress Joshua didn’t survive pregnancy and the suffering of his premature birth. At the time of his passing I had had a dream in which most of the letters of his name – J-O-S-H-U-A – were incorporated anagrammatically in the name of a dream character called John Hughes, visualised in the dream as a soldier who dies in battle, just as Joshua struggled to the end. The Lamb of God. Always loved. As I wondered about the import of the unidentified woman driving the car who disappeared, I realised that another anniversary was imminent, for October 9th – John Lennon’s birthday – was the anniversary of my wife’s sister’s death just a few years before.

The composite of Castle Lane/Nine Mile Ride was evidently a route of death of the kind alluded to by David Southwell, comparable to the spirit roads and corpse paths along which the departed travel, whether in corporeal or more incorporeal form as fairies or ghosts, or even the terrestrial correlates of the flight paths of witches or shamans. I realised that the road off which Castle Lane runs in real life – Bournemouth Road/Winchester Road – was the route along which the body of King William Rufus was carried from the New Forest to Winchester. I couldn’t resist trying out some cartographic dream interpretation/divination when I unfurled the 1:50 000 OS map and the two foot ruler, to see if any patterns emerged.


The tomb of William Rufus in Winchester Cathedral depicted in 1832 (Wikimedia Commons).

Results, while inconclusive, were suggestive. In extending the alignment of the straight section of Castle Lane as it approaches Bournemouth Road/Winchester Road a series of road junctions and old farms seemed to converge on the line. The pattern was slightly more promising along the eastern length – it includes the junction of Mortimers Lane and Winchester Road at Lower Upham (by the Alma Inn – named after the Crimean War battle), a Bronze Age round barrow in woodland at Hazel Holt, and grazes the southern terminal of a Neolithic long barrow known locally as Giant’s Grave, in the shadow of Old Winchester Hill. [In fact, as of 9/1/16 I found a rather more compelling alignment from that Castle Lane junction, which I shall outline in a future post]. For reasons explained below, the place name Hazel Holt was part of an arresting coincidence when I  revisited this alignment on the evening of October 10th.

Stronger than death

I had no forewarning until the evening of its broadcast on October 10th of a major documentary on the poet, Ted Hughes. Once I found out, I hadn’t anticipated a TV programme with such enthusiasm for years, and I wasn’t disappointed on watching Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death. His birth and early years in the village of Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge, resonated with a weekend stay in the town three years before when my wife, Jo, and I attended a dayschool in commemoration of the arrest and trial of the Pendle Witches in 1612 (see here). A fascinating consideration of Ted Hughes as ‘Shaman of the Tribe’, written by Brian Taylor, was published in Hebden Bridge-based Northern Earth magazine a few years ago, a pdf of which can be found here, a theme further discussed on Brian’s Animist Jottings blog here.


Needless to say, the shadow of Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the tragedy of their relationship loomed large on September 29th 2012 when John Billingsley, dayschool organiser and editor of Northern Earth, led a party of us that evening to Heptonstall churchyard, where Sylvia Plath is buried.


Remembering this excursion, it dawned on me that the ruined church of Heptonstall (its successor stands yards away) offered a model of the church I had dreamt of a few nights before, just as much as Holy Rood in Southampton, maybe more so. As I’ve just read, the old church is dedicated to the martyr, St Thomas á Beckett. The graveyard is reputed to contain the remains of over 100,000 people.


The realisation that Heptonstall contributed part of the composite imagery of the dream led in turn to the realisation that the unidentified woman in the dream, who I had observed from about a 100-yard distance indicating to turn towards me but didn’t arrive, could now just as well have been Sylvia Plath as my sister-in-law, Ginnie, at least at that distance.


Sylvia Plath


Watching the documentary on October 10th I was disquieted by the visceral theme of a radio play written by Hughes and first broadcast in January 1963, The Difficulties of a Bridegroom, a storyline which now I find impossible to disentangle from a passage in a letter to Olwyn, his sister, dated 10th February 1963, about visiting his lover, Assia Wevill:

I drove up to London, ran over a hare (by pure chance – it’s impossible to do it deliberately) sold it to a butcher’s in Holborn and he gave me five bob. I spent it on roses – 4 I got for 5/-, smashed two, & gave 2 to Assia.

It was suggested on the documentary that hearing the play may have unsettled Sylvia Plath, who took her own life on February 11th, 1963. According to this site the play was broadcast on the Third Programme on February 9th; the site quoted the following synopsis:

Sullivan, driving up to London to see a girl, runs over a hare. Its death triggers off in the invisible world of his mind a sequence of happenings which determine what shall be allowed to happen in the visible world. The outer freakish accident seems almost to have been arranged purposely to fit the inner events.

On checking the cast list of the play I was astonished to find one of the characters identified as ‘The Women’ was played by someone called Hazel Holt.


After the documentary finished, I looked for the file of pictures taken on the Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall visit. I opened up an image of one of the many old gravestones in Heptonstall churchyard. I was mindful of the florid heart motif which, as John Billingsley had informed us, symbolises the soul in funerary iconography, in style almost assuming the facial characteristics of the head carvings in their embellishment.


As I regarded the picture, the phone started ringing. It was past 11pm. Concerned, I answered the phone. It was a close friend with news of his father, who had that day suffered a massive stroke and was not expected to survive. He passed away a few days later.

This week, sat in the van, I was writing on a piece of scrap paper an account of what I’d dreamt on Joshua’s due date, the part where the vat of soaking laundry became a starry space and the white cloth or swaddling clothes resolved into the form of a lamb. At the same time as I was writing this, a piece of music called Adieu, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, was introduced and played on the radio. Stockhausen dedicated the composition to the deceased son of a friend, who had been killed in a car-crash.

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.   
You are the baby in the barn.
Sylvia Plath,
Nick and the Candlestick
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