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Dreams, Crypts and Grottos

A few nights ago I had a dream that made an impression on me. In the dream, I was involved in a centenary project concerned with a crypt. My role was to update the crypt website. The crypt had a story, a legend involving a seventeenth century woman who would steal down into the crypt perhaps to meet her lover (?) One night the crypt flooded and the woman persished. Her ghost walks the crypt to this day.

Dream Ghost in Grotto

The woman in the dream is, perhaps, a part of me, the crypt may symbolize or the unconcious, the hidden vaults, rooms, labyrinths of my mind. And that it is flooded? – I often dream of water – the sea, rivers, estuaries, swimming pools – emotions, the unconcious or memories. Centenary? … well, a hundred years ago, the First World War had just begun.

Dream Ghost in Grotto 2

Shell Grotto Lizard

I made some sketches of my dream but what illustrates it best are a couple of montages I made with an old illustration and photographs that I took when visiting the Shell Grotto in Margate in 2012.

The Shell Grotto is an amazing and mysterious place with an unknown origin. It may date back 3000 years. Some wonder whether it was made by the Knights Templar. The shells decorating the walls are all of local origin but some of the designs are similar to those of ancient Phoenicia and it is thought that the name of the Isle of Thanet, once an island where Margate now lies, derives from the Phoenician goddess Tanit. Could this be a temple to the goddess?

The grotto walls are encrusted with shells in patterns of turtles, flowers, Gods and Goddesses, phalluses, planets, wombs, skeletons and there is what looks like an altar and a skylight, the only source of natural light. One theory proposes that the Grotto imagery symbolizes a journey from Birth through Life and Death to the Afterlife. One walks down into the grotto along passageways until one arrives at the main Altar Chamber. It is mysterious, magical and quite overlooked in a way.

Shell Grotto Altar

The grotto suits the dream well although it’s not a crypt. The woman ghost or goddess of my dream wanders sea shelled passageways throughout the centuries.

Sound II

I googled flooded crypts and seventeenth century ghosts to build a story. I found lovely images of Winchester Cathedral crypt that floods at certain times of year. In Winchester Cathedral crypt stands an Anthony Gormley sculpture of a man contemplating water in his cupped hands; it’s called Sound II. Anthony Gormley believes that there is a connection between memory and the basic physical elements of the world. He wondered whether it is possible to make something fresh like dew or frost, “something that just is, as if its form had always been like this”. I think the flooded crypt and sculpture beautiful. (Image of Sound II by David Spender.)

2 thoughts on “Dreams, Crypts and Grottos

  1. This is beautiful. I think the montages are really wonderful & have a mystical quality. I have thought some about the connection between water and memory. One thing I think a good deal about is memory, since much of what makes us us is what we have experienced and recall, and if any of that survives somehow when we leave the world. If not, where does it go? If so, where does it go? This has got me thinking whether someone mightn’t make a crypt in which it intentionally floods so that the memories will always be there…

  2. Hi Reifyn,

    Thank you for your kind comment, it’s very interesting water and memory and a lovely idea of someone making a crypt to flood intentionally for retaining memories. We are indeed what we have experienced and what we remember – and we’re in the memories of other people and places too, possibly somehow imprinted in the undefined “substance” of place. It’s all interesting to ponder over.

    Hope you’re well,

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