USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘nightmares’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cure for Bad Dreams

A friend, CB, was visiting me from Texas, and heard me talking with my roommate about the bad dreams she had been having. Camila jokingly proposed that my roommate try this remedy that her mom always made her and her sister do whenever they had nightmares. It is used to remove bad spirits. CB’s mom is very spiritual and uses folk remedies and prayers often.

“So you need an egg and a glass of water and you say a prayer and then rub the egg all over your body in cross motions. After that you crack the egg in the water, put the egg under your bed or near your bed, and sleep. When you wake up the egg has collected all the bad energy and dreams around you and you have to flush it down the toilet to remove the energy.”

It’s interesting that an egg is chosen to soak up the negativity. From reading other sources it seems that the egg would start to smell after some time and the bad smell represented the bad energy that you would throw away. Another blogger mentioned that when it dries it leaves circles that look like the evil eye. I’d be curious to see if any more reasons behind it exist or if there’s anything that has to do with fertility.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Greek Nightmares

In Greek tradition if you have a bad dream and you tell someone before you eat anything your nightmare will come true.  However the same thing is not true if you have a good dream.  If you tell a good dream before eating in an attempt to make it come true, the gods will see through your trickery and it will not happen.

My roommate is half Greek and she learned this tradition from her mother.

This tradition is interesting because it reaffirms the power of spiritual beings as being above us.  This is humbling in a way and reinforces the idea that mere mortals should never try and outsmart the gods cause they will always be one step ahead.  The tradition is also interesting because it speaks to a very negative aspect of the culture, in this situation no matter what you do, it ends up with nothing good happening.

The tradition seems to also be related to the idea that if you have a wish and you tell it to someone it will not come true, like birthday wishes or wishes on a shooting star.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Nightmares to the Water

Form of Folklore: Folk Belief (Protection)

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: Since I was young, my mom told me that if I ever had a nightmare at night, to wake up the following morning and go to the bathroom, turn on the sink, let the water run, and tell my bad dreams to the water… as a way of letting them be washed away and not come true. And I did this for a very long time and often, if my dreams are bad enough, I still follow through with it just to give myself the reassurance.

Informant Comments: The informant does not truly believe that telling her nightmares to the running water in the sink really protects her from having her dream come true. Doing it does, however, offer her some comfort when she has had a horrible dream. Since there is no harm in telling the water about what she had seen in her dreams, the informant continues to do so just as a part of her morning routine after a bad dream.

Analysis: In this and many other folk beliefs for protection, water seems to be used as a method of purification or cleansing. Somehow having the water running as the bad dream is being told, removes the danger of having the evils in the nightmare come true. Since water is physically used to clean, it makes sense that it is also used as a metaphorical cleaning agent for bad dreams. Like the informant, I do not see any harm in using this folk protection but would not consider it to be a necessary action; if one forgets to tell their nightmare to the running water in the sink, they should not panic (if they do, they could always find another source of running water).

Folk Beliefs
Myths

Nightmare

Informant Bio

My informant is an office manager living in Hollywood, California. He grew up in the midwestern United States and moved to Los Angeles to attend USC’s graduate program in film production. He now does media work in an office at USC, and in his spare time stays active with creative endeavors like creating web videos and writing a web comic that updates twice weekly. He completes the daily crossword puzzle at lunch every day, and is the type of person who probably always wins Trivial Pursuit.

The Cauchemar

I was chatting with my informant (my boss) at our office – near the water cooler, yes,  it actually happens – and he told me a strange story about his roommate who had recently attempted astral projection (magical transportation of her consciousness to another place) by putting herself into a meditative state. Though her attempt was not successful, she did descend deep enough into her meditation that she had a dreamlike vision of a small, humanoid creature sitting in darkness. She asked it, “what are you doing?” It replied, “waiting.” Frightened by the image, she quickly snapped herself out of her meditative state.

My boss thought the creature sounded like a cauchemar. The cauchemar, he explained, is a demon-like creature whose name means “nightmare” in French. He had first learned of it from a friend who lived in Louisiana, though he suspected stories about the creature had been brought to Louisiana by the French because the myth “seems European.”

According to my informant, the cauchemar is an evil creature, that chooses its victims at random. It sits on your chest while you sleep and either: rides your sleeping body where ever it likes, or sucks the breath out of you, killing you slowly while you sleep. My informant thought that the cauchemar sounded like an explanation someone might have given for conditions that cause sleepers to wake in the middle of the night feeling pressure on their bodies, like sleep apnea.

Because the cauchemar does not discriminate when it chooses a victim, it seems to me to be a simple personification of nightmares. Its impossible to control whether or not one will have a nightmare, and that lack of control, especially while vulnerable (unconscious), is frightening. Giving them a face makes nightmares easier or us to understand, and even if depicted as a hideous, malicious creature, this is comforting.

Authored Forms

This painting of the creature from the 1700s  by Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Fussili supports my informant’s suspicion that the mythological creature may have been brought to the United States from Europe. It depicts an impish creature with large ears and fur covering its body, sitting on the chest of a woman in white. In spite of its comical appearance, the distressed pose of the sleeping woman, and the alarmed face of her horse suggest that this is indeed a creature to be feared.

Cited

Image found at: “Cauchemar.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 4 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cauchemar>.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Protection Ritual— India

The practice as described by Anish:  “So when I was younger and I used to have nightmares and stuff, there’s a concept in India that you have a ‘bad eye,’ or like a negative energy looking down on you.  So what you do is you put a black dot underneath your left ear, and that’s supposed to keep away bad thoughts and bad energy from you.”

Anish told me that he learned this practice from his parents, who would draw a black dot behind his left ear from the time when he was a baby until he was around ten years old.  He said that he did not think this practice had religious origins, as his father is Hindi and his mother is Christian.  Instead, he always considered it a secular practice, more like an Indian/geographical superstition rather than a religious one.

Anish said that he had to walk around in public with a large black dot under his left ear very often when he was growing up, but that he never thought it was unusual even though he didn’t understand the exact reasoning behind the practice.  He said that he sometimes felt strange if other children pointed the black dot out, but for the most part it was a common practice in the part of India in which he grew up.  Others would also have the black dot occasionally, and it didn’t seem unusual.  The fear of the “bad eye” or “negative energy” was common, and there were several other practices to get rid of it.

Although Anish did not specifically use the term “evil eye,” opting instead for “bad eye,” the concept sounds very similar.  This practice is likely just another way for people to ward off evil spirits and feel more comfortable after performing a superstitious act.  The black dot probably acts like another eye staring back, keeping the “bad spirits” from entering into your brain.

This is likely a way for children to feel better about their nightmares and more protected by their parents.  Anish said that only children have the black dot drawn behind their ear, which is likely due to the fact that children have a hard time understanding and dealing with things like nightmares.  Children feel comforted knowing that their children are protected from the “bad eye,” and parents feel comforted knowing that their children feel protected.

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