Thursday, February 16, 2006

I'm a senseless filly

"That'll be Joyce," said my father, "to say that Albert's died." He was correct - it was his sister on the phone, and her husband had just died. That was the first time I ever paid much attention to my father's family's weird acquaintance with death. The earliest episode I know of was in the First World War, when my great uncle, back on leave from France, told my great-grandmother that she wouldn't see him again. And she didn't.

In 1998, my future wife and I drove around Greece looking at ancient sites, and we went up to Levadia to look at the springs of Trophonios, which I'd read about in Pausanius' Guide to Greece, an ancient travel guide. At Trophonios, visitors used to drink from the two springs Lethe and Mnemosyne (forgetfulness and memory), then get lowered into a hole where they would hallucinate furiously before being dragged out and made to write about their experiences on a wooden tablet.

The site, though set beautifully between mountains, is a concrete shambles, so you don't exactly get a feeling of reverence. Two thousand years of earthquakes have changed the landscape somewhat, but there are still springs there.

Now I'm a scientific rationalist, and while I'm fascinated by ancient Greece, I'm not about to start confusing their religious superstitions with fact, and what better way to prove this than to drink some of the spring water? I stuck my hand in, had a slurp, and thought nothing more about it. You can see where this is headed, right?

We were staying in a room right next to the Herkyna, the river which flows from the springs, and that night, freezing and deafened by the noise of the river, I experienced something somewhere between a dream and a hallucination. It was very clearly a premonition of the death of my father. I woke up devastated, and stayed upset for weeks.

Less than six months after we visited Trophonios my father was dead.

Now for me the only connection we can possibly make here is that I was worried about my father and had been reading too much Pausanius. They combined in an unpleasant dream and my father's death was just a coincidence. If those waters had anything in them then presumably the whole of Levadia would be having regular hallucinations and druggies would be heading there en masse in an attempt to get permanently tripping. The odd series of family events is just a statistical quirk. If you live long enough, you'll see some weirdness you don't understand just because so many things happen to us. Like I said, I'm a scientific rationalist.

And then recently I had a similarly nasty dream about the death of another family member, and I'm getting damned sick of my subconscious playing these tricks on me. So all in all, when dealing with people like me who think we're having premonitions, I think it's best to use Kevin O'Brien's unique combination of hostility and condescension:

Marianne Rodgers: fellow senseless filly

I'm a senseless filly, and that's the end of it.