Ghost Dogs

Last night, New Year’s eve, the transition between one year and the next, I lay in bed with a fever and heard Moppet’s bark, a single bark from a dead dog. I recognized it immediately. I had no doubt. I had heard her bark a thousand times. It didn’t seem a dream. I couldn’t distinguish is from waking reality. It was equally real but impossible. I lay in bed thinking it one of those experiences on the edge of dreams, between sleep and wakefulness, and then I heard Mizzen’s bark. A single, unmistakable bark.

Both Mizzen and Moppet died last year. I had been beside them at their death. Hearing them bark could only be a hallucination, probably the result of the fever.

I had been reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s  book On Divination and Synchronicity, The Psychology of Meaningful Chance. She writes about the activation of archetypes and access to the collective unconscious. I thought perhaps my unconscious mind was aware of a danger and using a hallucination as a warning. What more appropriate image of warning than a dog’s bark?

I checked the entire house armed with a .38 caliber revolver. Nothing. The sound of a frame house cracking its joints in the cold, the whirring and humming of motors, my own heartbeat. Otherwise, nothing. No smell of smoke or burning insulation. No footsteps. No shadows fleering in the corners.

Entire worlds might fit in
that space between what is
acknowledged and what
ignored.

Logic assured my conscious mind that no one was in the house but my wife and myself. The perimeter was guarded by alarms. Nothing was likely to get in. There was no immediate risk. I slept uneasily the rest of the night, more awake than asleep. Nothing happened.

But the experience of my dogs barking was so realistic, indistinguishable from reality, that it had significance for me. Of course I could ignore it as an anomaly, symptomatic, random synapses firing in my fevered brain, but that’s what most of us do when confronted by something inconsistent with our definition of normality. In doing so we narrowly constrict what is real. We exclude what doesn’t fit. Entire worlds might fit in that space between what is acknowledged and what ignored.

Today, the first day of the new year, I read in von Franz’s book about animal helpers in fairy tales. Wherever there is a helpful animal in a fairy tale, there is an assurance of success.

Native Americans believed in totem animals, spirit helpers. It’s no longer a common belief in Western cultures enamored with science but perhaps it remains valid in the unconscious where archetypes are less affected by fashion. Although it sounds absurd perhaps my hallucination was a helpful sign, a reassuring sign, rather than symptomatic. It’s a small thing but I’ll take it.