Tag Archives: cleanse

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).

Swedish Sauna

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota and is of Swedish and Finnish decent.

Over Easter Brunch, the informant provided me with this unique Swedish sauna tradition.

“One time, when I was little, I went with my mother to Minneapolis where there was a Polish community to go to the sauna. It was the one and only time I went. There were too many naked women running around for me to want to go back. Anyways, what you did in the sauna was essentially take a steam bath. After you got all sweaty and steamy, in the old country, you would run out and jump in a snow bank. In Minneapolis, we just poured ice water over ourselves. In the old country, after this you would hit yourself with pine branches, but we didn’t do that here. The point was to open up your pores, and invigorate yourself—to stay healthy.”

Like the informant said, this ritual seems to be about purification and rejuvenation. I would guess that the steam is meant to cleanse the body. Following a steam bath with cold water would also cause pores to snap shut, blocking out any future dirt. I’m not sure what function the pine needles would have served but perhaps it also had something to do with invigorating the flesh.