As we advance into the darkest days of the year, I start to feel the grip of anxiety and fear. It’s often my children who make me feel real, heart-stopping fear. I am afraid for them. Before children, I was almost fearless. It was youth, maybe. Youth is crazy and doesn’t think much, and you can blame a lot of unrealistic behaviors on it. Now, as a mother, I can barely watch five minutes of a horror movie and I get nightmares.
I had a nightmare recently. It was an epic one. It will go on the list of the ones never to be forgotten. My nightmares have always been very vivid and cinematic. I never learned how to deal with them properly, but I tried. I was obsessed for years with lucid dreaming, finding ways to control the dream world, and making this beautiful thing that dreams can be work for me instead of against me. Because when they turn against me they are so bad! I can never forget. There was the building with long and dark staircases, with closed-door rooms aligned on unknown corridors where I had to run and hide from what was after me. Then there was the shadowy figure with long, dark hair and and antique-looking axe who was following me in the large courtyard surrounded by tall brick walls. There was the road lined with coffins where I was the only one walking alive. There are all those ones where I cannot move when I want so badly to run, and I cannot say a word when I need to scream.
A nightmare is scientifically defined as a dream occurring during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that results in feelings of strong terror, fear, distress or extreme anxiety. The scientific community has long believed that most nightmares may be a normal reaction to stress, and they might aid people in working through traumatic events. Another theory is that nightmares and all dreams are just meaningless creations of the sleeping brain. The cortex is given random signals from the pons area of the brain during REM sleep and it tries to interpret these signals creating a whole story out of this fragmented brain activity. Science never found a way in which people could keep nightmares at bay.
My daughter has inherited my “gift” for bad dreaming, and a lot of my anxiety and negativity. I want to protect her and teach her to deal with it all better, and I think she will. But when I find myself again in the dark season of fears, I worry that I’m not doing enough for her, that she’ll never escape for good and will never become one of those adults who outgrow nightmares.
The mære (Old English), called similarly in almost every European culture (in Romanian it is cosmar from the French cauchemar, meaning “trampling demon”) is a female evil creature who will ride over sleeping people’s chests at night, causing them to feel panic and pain. The horses that the demons ride at night are found in the morning by people all sweaty and exhausted. Holed stones have been used as talismans against the mære. Actually, it seems that stones with natural holes in them (also called hag stones, or mare stones) are part of many superstitious beliefs and are seen as helpful in many situations, like treating illnesses, aiding fertility, bringing general luck.
We use many talismans and rituals to keep the mære away. Sometimes you simply have to believe. And considering the few options that science gives us, it is not surprising that we are more attracted to mythology and folklore. Those remedies might not work too well, but at least they give hope.
Now off to find a holed stone.