Epigraphy and Sympathy
By R. D. Flavin


     Last week I received a curious e-mail from a stranger It read: “Hello Rick, I saw these symbols in my dream last year. can you help me understand its meaning. Regards.” Attached was a photograph of a rectangle with three 'symbols' drawn at an odd angle between lines of cursive-script from what appears to be a letter. I hit around a 7.2 on the excitment scaled before the presence of a Phoenician majuscule letter 'A' tethered me to something modern and cryptic. Honestly, I glanced at it sideways and could almost force the word 'tea' to form.

The 'symbols' in question.

     Okay, the several seconds of excitement was a cheap thrill and I tried to force just a taste of it back. Bypassing John Dee's Enochian keys (or cryptic letters), oh what joy could be had with a copy of De Occulta Philosophia by Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1533; Cologne: J. Sotor). A veritable carnival of cryptic delight could be easily had, ...but the presence of the majuscule letter 'A' prevented any such flights of epigraphic fancy or teasing of transliteration.

     We already have the provenance: either hypnopompia or hypnagogic states of consciousness and sleep. Yet, context is absent, I didn't know the stranger, so I wrote an e-mail of inquiry: “Interesting, however before I give you my final opinion-translation, may I ask are you a Mormon, have you been reading any books on the occult lately, and finally, is the pic you sent the exact angle as your dream (i.e., sideways, a banner, etc.)?  Looking forward to your response. Regards,Rick.” The questions were uncomfortable, but necessary.

     Honestly, I was betting on the stranger being a Mormon or someone engaged in an occult hermeneutical hoax, and the answer rather surprised me: "Rick,Thanks for showing interest on translating the symbols. I am not a Mormon. I believe in the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Spirit. And Jesus the only Son of God. I saw these symbols last year, in a dream or while praying i don't remember. I had been fasting and praying for 7 days. Meditating on chosen generation, sanctification and The Holy Spirit. The Symbols came zooming in slow rotation and stopped, then disappeared. Then the next symbol came in the same manner. I saw the letters all individually. Regards.” Well, that answer certainly surprised me!

     Usually, when someone self-describes their religion only a single word is used, like 'Christian', 'Jewish', 'Muslim', 'Catholic', 'Methodist', 'Episcopalian', 'Lutheran', 'Baptist,', 'Satanist', etc., but this answer was much more detailed. An unknown form of Catholicism, a Fundamentalist Baptist, or a personal hybrid of different Christian faiths seemed most likely. Such commitment required I begin to think outside the 'box'.

     Much of so-called “American Epigraphy” eventually turned out to be misinterpretations of Native American rock art and tallies, with some Odd Fellow and cowboy graffiti thrown in. Oh, and lots of hoaxes, fakes, and frauds as well. However, 'Dream Epigraphy' is an entirely different sandwich...

     Some months back, an old friend offered to employ me to translate what he termed “Carpathian Archaic.” The photographs he sent were correspondence props from the 1922 German film, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. Okay, definitely high on the hokey-meter, but still capable of some investigatory fun.

Three sheets of "Carpathian Archaic."

     The art director and person responsible for the “correspondence” in Nosferatu was Albin Grau, a real-life occultist and member of Fraternitas Saturni, an Aleister Crowley-inspired magical order. For inspiration, Grau likely drew upon the above mention work of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Francis Barrett's The Magus (1801; London: Printed for Lackington Alley, and Co., Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square), and various books by the French occultist, Alphonse Louis Constant, aka Eliphas Levi. I considered disassembling the “Carpathian Archaic' and identifying which sections were copied from individual works and authors, but like attempting to do a bibliography for Robert Graves' The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, it would be a fool's pursuit with little or no gain.

     Now, returning to the “dream symbols or letters,” the temptation to scribe some cryptic values to the 'U' character with a scary crescent moon or mask above it and the 'E' character with a bit of a tail which could be significant or an accidental ink artifact, continued to pull at my imagination, but I had to resist. Epigraphic pareidolia is an easy trap to stumble into...

"Dream" 'U' figure with unknown addition.

     I had to set aside epigraphy and cryptography and concentrate on the basics – a devout Christian had a series of dreams in which the same “symbols” or letters appeared. As such, the discipline of psychology would appear necessary to assist with a solution. In the course of taking classes in the History of Science at Harvard Extension, I've studied many wacky (usually 'behaviorist') psychologists and have learned much of the field work, experiments, and results concern the WEIRD ("western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic"). Not a big fan of psychology, but until our understanding of neuroscience gets better, it'll have to do.

     So, here's my best guess: based upon the stranger's strong religious background, I would interpret the top character as a 'U' (perhaps with something malevolent atop) and representing 'Utopia', that is the Garden of Eden. Below are an 'E' and an “A' which I would say represents Eve and Adam being cast out from Utopia. A meaning of personal loss and failure in a relationship or job would seem to indicate regret and remorse. There! That's all I've got and if I'm correct I have nothing but sympathy for his suffering.

     Others are likely better equipped to handle the dilemma of “dream symbols,” but I'm not familiar with them. I have many epigraphic colleagues, yet I believe a little sympathy was required, and so I made this attempt. May the stranger's problems be resolved, his heart put at ease, and he stop dreaming about letters... Or, at least letters with something concerning a more joyful meaning!

Addendum: From the Stranger.

"Rick, I read your report.  That was a great effort to understand what the symbols could mean,  I would take it like this.  Maybe it was a warning for me to beware of the original sin of the garden.  Eating the fruit was the secondary sin.  The primary sin which lead to independency from God.  Before the hand the heart sinned!!  Thank you.."

still scratching that itch,

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