Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Nightmare by Lewis Spence 1920

The Nightmare by Lewis Spence 1920

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(Old English night and mara, a spectre). A disorder of the digestive functions during sleep, inducing the temporary belief that some animal or demon is sitting on the chest. Among savages and primitive people it is thought that the affection proceeds from the attentions of an evil spirit. Keysler in his very curious work, Antiquitates selectae Septentrionales et Celticae, has collected many interesting particulars concerning the nightmare. Nachtmar, he says, is from Mair, an old woman, because the spectre which appears to press upon the breast and impede the action of the lungs is generally in that form. The English and Dutch words coincide with the German. The French cochemar is Mulier incumbents or Incuba. The Swedes use Mara alone, as we learn from the Historia Seucorum Gothorumque of Eric Olaus, where he states that Valender, the son of Suercher, succeeded to the throne of his father, who was suffocated by a daemon in his sleep, of that kind which by the scribes is called Mara. Others, "we suppose Germans," continues Keysler, "call it Hanon Tramp. The French peasantry call it Dianus which is a corruption either of Diana or of Damonium Meridianum for it seems there is a belief (which Keysler, not improbably thinks may be derived from a false interpretation of an expression in the 91st Psalm ('the destruction that wasteth at noon-day') that persons are most exposed to such attacks at that time and, therefore, women in childbed are then never left alone. But though the Damonium Meridianum is often used for the Ephialtes, nevertheless it is more correctly any sudden and violent attack which deprives the patient of his senses. In some parts of Germany, the name given to this disorder is den alp, or das Alp-dructen, either from the 'mass' which appears to press on the sufferer or from Alp or Alf (elf). In Franconia it is die Drud or das Druddructen, from the Druid or Weird Women, and there is a belief that it may not only be chased away, but be made to appear on the morrow in a human shape, and lend something required of it by the following charm:—

"Druid to-morrow
So will I borrow."

These Druids, it seems, were not only in the habit of riding men, but horses also, and in order to keep them out of the stables, the salutary pentalpha (which bears the name of Druden-fuss, Druid's foot) should be written on the stable doors, in consecrated chalk, on the night of St. Walburgh. We must not omit that our English familiar appellation 'Trot' is traced up to 'Druid' "a decrepit old woman such as the Sagas might be," and the same may perhaps be said of a Scottish Saint, Triduana or Tredwin.

In Ihre's Glossary, a somewhat different account of the Mara is given. Here again, we find the 'witch-riding' of horses, against which a stone amulet is provided by Aubrey, similar to one which we are about to notice immediately below.

Among the incantations by which the nightmare may be chased away, Reginald Scot has recorded the following in his Discovery of Witchcraft.

"St. George, St. George, our lady's knight,
He walked by day so did he by night:
Until such times as he her found,
He her beat and he her bound. Until her troth to him plight,
He would not come to her that night."

"Item," continues the same ingenious author, "hang a stone over the afflicted person's bed, which stone hath naturally such a hole in it, as wherein a string may be put through it, and so be hanged over the diseased or bewitched party, be it man, woman, or horse."

Every reader of the above lines will be reminded of the similar charm which Shakespeare has put into the mouth of Edgar as Mad Tom in King Lear.

"Saint Withold footed thrice the Wold;
  He met the night-mare and her ninefold
  Bid her alight,
  And her troth plight
  And aroint thee, witch, aroint thee."

Another charm of earlier date occurs in Chaucer's Miller's Tale. When the simple Carpenter discovers the crafty Nicholas in his feigned abstraction, he thinks he may perhaps be hag-ridden, and, addresses him thus:—

"I crouch the fro Elves and fro wikid wightes
And therewith the night-spell he seide arightes,
On four halvis of the house about,
And on the dreshfold of the dore without,
'Jesu Christ, and Seint Benedight,
Blesse this house from evrey wikid wight,
Fro the night's mare, the wite paternoster,
Where wennist thou Seint Peter's sister."

A more modern author has pointed to some other formularies, and has noticed that Asmodeus was the fiend of most evil repute on these occasions. In the Otia Imperiala of Gervase of Tilbury, some other protecting charms are said to exist. To turn to the medical history of the Incubus Pliny has recommended two remedies for this complaint; one sufficiently simple, wild peony seed. Another, which it would not be easy to discover in any modern pharmacopoeia, is a decoction in wine and oil of the tongue, eyes, liver, and bowels of a dragon, wherewith, after it has been left to cool all night in the open air, the patient should be anointed every morning and evening.

Dr. Bond, a physician, who tells us that he himself was much afflicted with the nightmare, published an Essay on the Incubus in 1753. At the time at which he wrote, medical attention appears to have been very little called to the disease, and some of the opinions hazarded were sufficiently wild and inconclusive. Thus Dr. Willis said it was owing to some incongruous matter which is mixed with the nervous fluid in the cerebellum (de Anima Brutorum); and Bellini thought it imaginary, and to be attributed to the idea of some demon which existed in the mind the day before. Both of these writers might have known better if they would have turned to Fuchsius (with whom Dr. Bond appears to be equally acquainted) who in his work de Curandi Ratione, published as early as 1548, has an excellent chapter (I., 31) on the causes, symptoms, and cure of nightmare, in which he attributes it to repletion and indigestion, and recommends the customary discipline.

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