The Book of Onei is an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.
Notes found in the handwritten original of the Book of Onei
I was nearly forty years old when it first came over me, the strange feeling that I no longer knew myself. I was sitting in my own house at three in the morning, thinking back on the life I had lived. You start off with so many choices and then you start to pick between them, and every time you choose one path instead of another all your options start to narrow in. You become who you are, and it’s easy to forget you could have been a lot of other things. You could have been once, but you no longer can. Now you are whatever you decided to be, and there are no more open vistas.
The whole house was asleep. You can only have thoughts like that in the first place when everyone else is asleep, because that’s the only time when your mind is free enough. It’s the only time when no one needs you.
I looked up at the fan blades as they turned and turned, and their long shadows flew across the ceiling like angelic messengers moving rapidly before the sun. My wife and my little daughter lay asleep in their beds, but I hadn’t slept in at least three days.
What I was thinking as I was lying there is that yearning is everything. The whole structure of the universe is based on it. The craving for fulfillment is in every seed, reaching up for the untouchable sun. It’s not an anomaly; it’s right there in the blueprint. So when a little girl yearns for her mother, or a man for his lover, or a mystic for the god she serves, it’s not some pathos to be cured. That suffering and that yearning and that loss is the fire of creation.
“Maybe we should take a trip to the mountains,” my wife had said that morning, lying with her head up in the crook of my shoulder. She was trying to comfort me, trying to give me something to look forward to. But I wasn’t sad, exactly.
“We are what we are,” I answered her. “And we can’t pretend. The dead come easily to us and the angels don’t. How often do you see the shining ones? How often do you see the dead? You know what we are as well as I do. We are darkseers, not lightseers. I’ve been thinking a lot about the basement lately.”
“I don’t like it when you talk about the basement,” she said, and pulled back to look at me. The basement is where the door is.
So there I was, sitting up awake and alone at three in the morning, not at all certain how it got this way, how I ended up who I am. I watched the fan blades as they turned and turned, and a strange memory came over me. A strange hunger began to grow inside me, not completely unfamiliar and yet almost forgotten. I stood up silently and slipped my shoes on and went downstairs, moving quietly so as not to wake my wife up. Not only was the door down there (though it had long gone unused) but the book was too – The Book of Onei, my father’s crime.
The steps creaked as I walked on them, and the dead things whispered. The basement was where he had kept them bound, and they wouldn’t like my interference. But what else can you do with the dead? After all, you can’t kill them.
I took a match out and I lit the lamp, and rummaged around in boxes until I found the book. The door in the corner shuddered angrily, but I took the book out anyway.
The ancient chaos, the primal darkness. That was the answer to it all. My father had stolen this book from the Great Library of Onei, and the weight of that shadow had hung over us like an evil cloud. But I wasn’t convinced that what he did was wrong. Who are the Great Ones to withhold this knowledge?
The dead responded a few nights later. I had brought The Book of Onei up from the basement where it had slept for years. I had read aloud from its forbidden pages. I had begun to compose a few poems of my own about the dreams and the darkness, loose tributes to demonic geniuses such as Li Ho and Meng Chiao. I had even added a few of them to the Book of Onei.
In reading from the book and in composing those poems I had upset a fragile peace. The things in the basement slipped their bonds, which were only ever made of a certain mindset – a mindset I had not maintained. They came floating up after me late one night while I lay there staring at the ceiling in the lonely hours, believing myself to be wide awake.
My daughter stirred in her sleep and moaned. My wife opened her eyes. The whole house was permeated with a sickening dread, the presence that makes your skin crawl and the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The light in the kitchen blinked on and off. Deep in my stomach, nausea stirred.
“You’re going to do what your father did, aren’t you?” said my wife. “You’re going to go through the door.”
I nodded in the darkness of early dawn. “I’ve done it before,” I told her. “Before you and I were together. But I haven’t seen Onei in years.”
“You’re going over there to steal something.”
“Yes, of course. That’s what my father did, and it’s what I’ll do too. The things in the basement are getting restless, because they can sense the way I’ve been feeling lately. My father always said it was an evil book, that it had cursed him ever since he took it. But that’s not what I believe.”
“Why not?” she asked, a little harshly. “You’re endangering us all!”
“I think it scared him so much that he misunderstood it. He always told me that the dead things followed him over from Onei when he brought back the book, and that they were always warning him not to read it, not to use it, not to learn from it. But the primal darkness is the source of wisdom. He stole its secrets and then feared to read them, so he bound the dead up with spiderweb thoughts and left them down there to haunt his dreams. They made his last years one endless nightmare. I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want it to happen to my daughter either. She’ll inherit the book.”
“You could return the book,” she pointed out. “You could bring it back to the Great Library of Onei. Then the dead would leave us alone.”
“I’m not even sure that’s true. There is such a thing as retribution. And that would only make what he suffered completely meaningless. Prometheus didn’t give the fire back.”
“And look what happened to him! So what exactly are you going to do?”
“I’m going to learn how to use it. My father was never able to use the book, because he didn’t understand it, he didn’t know why it was so important to the dead. That is the knowledge I intend to steal.”
She was silent for a long time. The sun rose outside, and in the pale light my daughter stirred. She would soon be awake.
“How long will you be gone?” my wife asked. Her voice shook a little.
“Not long at all. I’ll be back before the sun finishes rising.”
“Or else you won’t be back. Not ever again.” I didn’t answer her that time. There’s no answer to the truth.
So I went down to the basement again and I heard the voices, whispering the things they always whisper, the threats and the warnings. I walked through the gauntlet of the voices as if they could not daunt me, although I was going into their place of strength. I had the book in my backpack. The door at the end of the basement jumped angrily as I approached it, rattled a few times, then settled in. I put my hand on the doorknob, said a prayer to the protecting powers, and paused for a moment in silent thought. Then I walked through into the land of Onei.
Image by Henry Fuseli