The Terrors of the Night: Charms against the Nightmare and the Mythology of Dreams

Pp. 78-116

  • Louise S. Milne
Keywords: body, dreams, dream imagery, lullabies, mara, maranightmare, sleep, spells


This article takes a semiotic and structuralist approach to understanding the characteristic nightmare package of imagery, or image-constellation, which appears also in charms, curses and lullabies to do with disturbed sleep. Elements of the nightmare package – its mythos – is related to a spectrum of charms and related belief-narratives. Charms against the nightmare are investigated, as are sleep charms as representative of the nightmare narrative of threat coming close to fruition. Detail is provided on spiritual beings believed to attack the sleeper, as well as on charms as methods to ward off such attacks. Psychological explanations are considered, such as the nightmare antagonist being a disguised avatar of the self.