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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Champlain's Dream

An author, distinguished historian David Hackett Fischer, tells us how Champlain, a pragmatic, thoughtful French explorer of the early 1600’s, experienced the cultures of the Algonquin Indians whom he encountered.  A man who’d emerged from the bloody violence of France’s religious wars with an open, rather than a closed mind, Champlain understood how to induce people of varied backgrounds to cooperate. His belief in the universal nature of humankind, whatever their nation, allowed him to approach the Indigenous Sauvage with an attitude of respect.

A dream - so ephemeral a thing! Here is one that Champlain experienced 400 + years ago in the forests north of the lake which is now named for him. With a war party of sixty Indians, he and two other Frenchmen traveled into the forbidden territory of the Iroquois, with whom the Algonquin’s were eternally at war.  They traveled at night, and every morning, as they drew closer to danger, the places where the guardians of the Eastern Gate, the Mohawk, lay in wait for their enemies, the chiefs asked Champlain “if he had dreamed about their enemies.” For many days, “no” was the answer.  Then, one morning, about 11 a.m. he awoke and called the Indians to him. At last, as they’d seemed to expect, he’d dreamed.

“I dreamed I saw in the lake near a mountain, our enemies, the Iroquois drowning before our eyes. I wanted to rescue them, but our Indian allies told me that we should let them all die, for they were worth nothing.”

David Hackett Fischer then adds: “The Indians recognized the place in Champlain’s dream as a site that lay just ahead, and they were much relieved…To Champlain’s Indian allies, dreams not only revealed the future. They controlled it.”

A few days later, the Mohawk encountered European firearms in battle for the first time. Surprised by a man in armor and two sharpshooters with long-distance, deadly weapons stationed amid the enemy’s ranks, they were defeated. Champlain’s dream, seen as a prophecy, was true.

To me it seems that Champlain, surrounded by a gigantic, primal forest and the aboriginal people who inhabited it, had moved into another kind of consciousness, one which transcended his European world view and linear time.  The chiefs were content, pleased that their new friend had dreamed so positively, while Champlain, privately, may have been amazed - and even more so in the aftermath of the battle.  



Juliet Waldron
Historical Novels

Quotes taken from Champlain's Dream by David Hackett Fischer


  1. It is interesting that they turned to Champlain as the dreamer. Perhaps it was a way of honoring him as a brother.

  2. Apparently, according to the book, all the Indians were examining their dreams. As Champlain had presented himself as "chief" among the French, so his dreams too were of interest. Champlain is the source for the story, probably because the circumstances, as they unfolded, were astonishing. As we learn so little about him on this side of the border, I'm finding this book a fascinating piece of early colonial history.

  3. Just a note--in the early-17th century, European guns weren't superior to Native bows.

  4. This is true--but they certainly had that terror effect--of a new--and impressively loud--weapon. Thanks, Kim...