The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

letter from C.G. Seligmann to J.H. Hutton

caption: request for information on Naga dreams
medium: letters
person: Hutton/ J.H.Mills/ J.P.Balfour/ HenryHodsonShakespear
person: Seligmann/ C.G.
person: Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford
refnum: Hutton Ms. Box 348, 49-53
text: Court Leys,
text: Toot Baldon,
text: Oxford
text: 11/10/1923
text: Dear Sir,
text: Our common friend Henry Balfour tells me that he thinks you are likely to be quite willing to help me with regard to some questions concerning Naga dreams and omens. He also suggested that I should write to your colleague Mr Mills. I have done this and it seems that the simplest plan would be to send you a carbon of my letter to him. I shall be very grateful for any information you can give me.
text: I venture to think that investigation along the lines I have suggested affords - in the present stage of our knowledge - the only means of deciding how far the extreme migrational School of Ethnologists are in the right or wrong. Apart from this the whole matter seems to me to be of intense psychological interest.
text: I see in my letter to Mr Mills I have mentioned the fact that I am giving an address at the end of January - well it would be very pleasant if there were any new facts to chronicle before then, but I am, of course, not suggesting that if you can give me any facts I don't want them after that.
text: C.G. Seligmann
text: (copy of letter to Mills)
text: Dear Sir,
text: Our common friend Henry Balfour tells me that he thinks you will not mind being asked some questions about Naga dreams. I have to give an address at the end of January and am taking as a subject some points in the psychology of non-Europeans, actually most of my knowledge of dreams was gained in this country while doing "shell shock" work: an African expedition since then yielded something but not very much due to language difficulties.
text: A. Your book and those of Hodson and your colleague Mr Hutton have been of considerable assistance to me already, inasmuch as they have given me my first, and so far only, example of a symbol occurring among ourselves and also among Asiatics with the same interpretation. I refer to the tooth losing dream, thus:
_________"castration". There is a literary reference which I cannot find at the moment - also two of my own cases.
__________castration = death
text: B. Now there are certain other dreams occurring among Europeans in which the same symbol is used by so many individuals to mean the same thing that I think they may properly be called type dreams or symbols and this is one of the matters upon which I particularly want information among non-Europeans. I would suggest the following type dreams as being especially worth examination. In each case it would be valuable not only to establish their existence but to find out whether the interpretation, if you can get it, is a personal one, and if so whether it is possible to trace it to any particular event or fantasy, or whether it is a fairly common dream with a generally accepted meaning. I would especially suggest the following "type" dreams for your consideration:
text: (I) Flying dream - all variants occur among ourselves from huge leaps taken with only the slightest efforts, to levitation with speed in movement so that subject has no difficulty in rising and steering through an open first-floor window. Significance often taken to be sexual but not I fancy very clear (As far as I know wings do not occur).
text: There is a rather obscure passage in Shakespear's "The Lushei Kuki Clans" p. 104, which shows that flying dreams do occur among Nagas but does not make much else clear.
text: "If a man dreams that with his friend they are going to fly like 'Chawifa', and they, both carrying burning maize cobs wrapped in old cloths in baskets, intend flying from inside the house, and having come outside, his friend flies away, while he himself stands on the end of the roof and cannot fly, his friend who flew away will die quickly, while he who cannot fly will live. And he that flew away knew nothing of it, and the corn cobs wrapped in old cloth were thrown up, and the people saw them blazing like fire. This is extremely 'thianglo'."
text: (II) The Oedipus dream common among ourselves in a masked or more rarely manifest form. Freud "The Interpretation of Dreams" p. 224.
text: "For it hath already been the lot of many men in dreams to think themselves partners of their mother's bed. But he passes most easily through life to whom these circumstances are trifles".' (Act IV sc. 3).
text: If Psycho-analysts are right as to the profound significance of the feelings involved, the dream or fantasy ought to be found (unless very successfully repressed) all over the world.
text: (III) Climbing a tree or ladder (or going up a hill). Significance among ourselves often sexual but certainly has other connotations e.g. success.
text: Climbing a tree and going up hill do occur among Nagas signifying good luck. (Hodson p. 130).
text: (IV) Fire. I do not know much about fire in dreams but in fantasy among ourselves it is certainly associated with love, creative energy in its various forms. So it is interesting to have the Naga record (Mills p. 172) that it signifies children, a fire burning up well, a big family and a fire that will not burn, death in the house. Now do the people who in one aspect realise the creative aspect of fire dreams, also ever regard them (individually or collectively) as indicating a hot summer and ruined crops as Hodson (p. 130) has recorded that the Manipur Naga do.
text: C. Akin to type dreams is the following matter, the ethical excellence of the right as opposed to the left. The feeling is so clearly expressed in our own language that it needs no illustration, while it may even be dramatized by the insane as in one who, whenever he entered a room, turned three times to the left (on his own axis) to indicate his unworthiness. I have found the same idea in Arabia. Does it occur in non-Aryan and non- Semitic languages (examine Naga roots for right, left; good, bad; good luck, bad luck etc.) and does it occur in dreams? Among Europeans success may be betokened in dreams eg. by turning to right, and wrong things done after turning to left. So the ethical excellence of "up", "above", as opposed to "down", "below" is worth examination.
text: D. I need scarcely say how valuable would be the record of actual dreams and their meanings as far as can be ascertained. I enclose with this letter a note suggesting how to record dreams - but it must be realised that it is only a suggestion and has not been tested.
text: I also enclose a few remarks on the nature of dreams, a slight modification of a note which I was able to get circulated to a number of civil servants and missionaries in the Sudan.
text: On reading this through, I see that I have rather assumed that the subject will interest you as much as it interests me. I of course realize that this is not so and I can only say that I shall be extremely grateful for any information you may be able to give me, and that when this information is published naturally full credit will be given. I only hope you won't think I have bothered you with too long a letter.
text: Do you remember the passage in either your or Hutton's book in which you refer to a novel of Vachell's in which a dream of butchers' meat is taken to presage misfortune? I wrote to him about this and his reply is that the superstition came from his mother-in-law, who was half Irish and said that it came to her from that side of the family. He says there is no doubt that she believed it.
text: C.G. Seligmann