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THE DREAM JOURNAL
OF L. CARUANA


THE HARROWING OF HELL
July 7th, 1990

      After a long journey through Eastern Europe, I landed in Malta. The night of July 7th, 1990 was hot and sleepless, with dogs howling and children crying throughout most of the night. Towards morning, I fell into a deep sleep, and had an amazingly brief but revelatory dream.

       I dreamt, quite clearly and vividly, that I saw a Buddhist monk meditating in a forest of trees. He was floating among the branches of a tree, although this did not seem unusual. Suddenly there was a terrible burst of flourescent flames, accompanied by a host of demons. To my shock and surprise, the monk exposed himself to this holocaust, with neither fear nor denial, while the flames and unholy host greedily devoured him.

      I awoke with a start. After calming myself, my first thoughts turned to a film clip I’d seen – of a Buddhist monk who had, in protest, immolated himself. I also remembered how another man had risked being beaten by truncheon-bearing soldiers to kiss the ground before this burning effigy. That was a modern image of faith!
      Then, in my morning revery, the image of the monk slowly transformed into St. Anthony as depicted in Schongauer’s engraving (also devoured by demons), and from there, to Christ. I saw Christ, cross-legged like the monk, rising in the air due to his resurrection or transfiguration. And around him swirled countless demons in flames.
      Once back in Toronto, I began drawing the Christ devoured by demons. For some reason, I drew him rising from the tomb. At the time, I was reading voluminous accounts of various myths, including the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which described in some detail Christ’s ‘Harrowing of Hell’.
      So, I drew Christ rising from the tomb, but, like the Buddha, he was cross-legged. And a host of swirling demons were rising with him from the open tomb. These demons took no particular form, but were roughly sketched in with faint outlines. Only gradually, over the next few years, was each of these seven demons illuminated in turn, revealing a strange, unexpected form. One line in particular from the Gospel of Nicodemus kept repeating in my mind as I was drawing:“And all the dark places of Hades were illuminated.” (Acts XXI:3) So, I included this text at the base of The Harrowing of Hell.

painting: The Harrowing of Hell

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