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Category: Nightmares

Comparative Mythology

” … Of special interest in this connection are the resemblances between some of the Indian and Babylonian myths. The writer has drawn upon that “great storehouse” of ancient legends, the voluminous Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and it is shown that there are undoubted links between the Garuda eagle myths and those of the Sumerian Zu bird and the Etana eagle, while similar stories remain attached to the memories of “Sargon of Akkad” and the Indian hero Karna, and of Semiramis (who was Queen Sammu-ramat of Assyria) and Shakuntala.

The Indian god Varuna and the Sumerian Ea are also found to have much in common, and it seems undoubted that the Manu fish and flood myth is a direct Babylonian inheritance, like the Yuga (Ages of the Universe) doctrine and the system of calculation associated with it. It is of interest to note, too, that a portion of the Gilgamesh epic survives in the Ramayana story of the monkey god Hanuman’s search for the lost princess Sita; other relics of similar character suggest that both the Gilgamesh and Hanuman narratives are derived in part from a very ancient myth.

Gilgamesh also figures in Indian mythology as Yama, the first man, who explored the way to the Paradise called “The Land of Ancestors”, and over which he subsequently presided as a god. Other Babylonian myths link with those found in Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, Iceland, and the British Isles and Ireland. The Sargon myth, for instance, resembles closely the myth of Scyld (Sceaf), the patriarch, in the Beowulf epic, and both appear to be variations of the Tammuz-Adonis story. Tammuz also resembles in one of his phases the Celtic hero Diarmid, who was slain by the “green boar” of the Earth Mother, as was Adonis by the boar form of Ares, the Greek war god.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis

“Under the names of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis, the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia represented the yearly decay and revival of life, especially of vegetable life, which they personified as a god who annually died and rose again from the dead. In name and detail the rites varied from place to place: in substance they were the same. The supposed death and resurrection of this oriental deity, a god of many names but of essentially one nature, is now to be examined. We begin with Tammuz or Adonis.

The worship of Adonis was practised by the Semitic peoples of Babylonia and Syria, and the Greeks borrowed it from them as early as the seventh century before Christ. The true name of the deity was Tammuz: the appellation of Adonis is merely the Semitic Adon, “lord,” a title of honour by which his worshippers addressed him. But the Greeks through a misunderstanding converted the title of honour into a proper name.

In the religious literature of Babylonia Tammuz appears as the youthful spouse or lover of Ishtar, the great mother goddess, the embodiment of the reproductive energies of nature. The references to their connexion with each other in myth and ritual are both fragmentary and obscure, but we gather from them that every year Tammuz was believed to die, passing away from the cheerful earth to the gloomy subterranean world, and that every year his divine mistress journeyed in quest of him “to the land from which there is no returning, to the house of darkness, where dust lies on door and bolt.”

During her absence the passion of love ceased to operate: men and beasts alike forgot to reproduce their kinds: all life was threatened with extinction. So intimately bound up with the goddess were the sexual functions of the whole animal kingdom that without her presence they could not be discharged.

A messenger of the great god Ea was accordingly despatched to rescue the goddess on whom so much depended. The stern queen of the infernal regions, Allatu or Eresh-Kigal by name, reluctantly allowed Ishtar to be sprinkled with the Water of Life and to depart, in company probably with her lover Tammuz, that the two might return together to the upper world, and that with their return all nature might revive.

[ … ]

The tragical story and the melancholy rites of Adonis are better known to us from the descriptions of Greek writers than from the fragments of Babylonian literature or the brief reference of the prophet Ezekiel, who saw the women of Jerusalem weeping for Tammuz at the north gate of the temple.

Mirrored in the glass of Greek mythology, the oriental deity appears as a comely youth beloved by Aphrodite. In his infancy the goddess hid him in a chest, which she gave in charge to Persephone, queen of the nether world. But when Persephone opened the chest and beheld the beauty of the babe, she refused to give him back to Aphrodite, though the goddess of love went down herself to hell to ransom her dear one from the power of the grave.

The dispute between the two goddesses of love and death was settled by Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should abide with Persephone in the under world for one part of the year, and with Aphrodite in the upper world for another part.

At last the fair youth was killed in hunting by a wild boar, or by the jealous Ares, who turned himself into the likeness of a boar in order to compass the death of his rival. Bitterly did Aphrodite lament her loved and lost Adonis.

In this form of the myth, the contest between Aphrodite and Persephone for the possession of Adonis clearly reflects the struggle between Ishtar and Allatu in the land of the dead, while the decision of Zeus that Adonis is to spend one part of the year under ground and another part above ground is merely a Greek version of the annual disappearance and reappearance of Tammuz.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 1922, The Myth of Adonis, np.

Glimpses of the Egyptian Tuat Repeated in the Coptic Representation of Hell.

This is the testimony of Bishop Pisentios, as rendered by E. A. Wallis Budge, in The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

“The bishop having taken up his abode in a tomb filled with mummies, causes one of them to tell his history. After saying that his parents were Greeks who worshipped Poseidon, he states that when he was dying already the avenging angels came about him with iron knives and goads as sharp as spears, which they thrust into his side, while they gnashed their teeth at him; when he opened his eyes, he saw death in all its manifold forms round about him; and at that moment angels without mercy came and dragged his wretched soul from his body, and tying it to the form of a black horse they bore it away to Amenta.”

“Next, he was delivered over to merciless tormentors, who tortured him in a place where there were multitudes of savage beasts; and, when he had been cast into the place of outer darkness, he saw a ditch more than two hundred feet deep filled with reptiles, each of which had seven heads, and all their bodies were covered as it were with scorpions.”

“Here also were serpents, the very sight of which terrified the beholder, and to one of them which had teeth like iron stakes was the wretched man given to be devoured; for five days in each week the serpent crushed him with his teeth, but on the Saturday and the Sunday there was respite.”

“Another picture of the torments of Hades is given in the Martyrdom of Macarius of Antioch, wherein the saint, having restored to life a man who had been dead six hours, learned that when he was about to die he was surrounded by fiends, some of whom had the faces of dragons, others of lions, others of crocodiles, and others of bears.”

“They tore his soul from his body with great violence, and they fled with it over a mighty river of fire, in which they plunged it to a depth of four hundred cubits; then they took it out and set it before the judge of Truth. After hearing the sentence of the judge the fiends took it to a place of outer darkness where no light came, and they cast it into the cold where there was gnashing of teeth.”

“There it beheld a snake which never slept, with a head like that of a crocodile, and which was surrounded by reptiles which cast souls before it to be devoured, when the snake’s mouth was full it allowed the other reptiles to eat, and though they rent the soul in pieces it did not die.”

“After this the soul was carried into Amenta for ever.”

Budge concludes, “The martyr Macarius suffered in the reign of Diocletian, and the MS from which the above extract is taken was copied in the year of the Martyrs 634 = AD 918.”

“Thus, the old heathen ideas of the Egyptian Tuat were applied to the construction of the Coptic Hell.”

—E.A.Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, 1904, p. cxxxii.

—Hyvernat, les Actes des Martyrs de Egypt, Paris, 1886, pp. 56-7.

On Fear, Anxiety, Angst, and Mythology

“Fear is to be met and managed by the hero on his path to manhood, and an encounter with fear plays a major part in initiation ceremonies.”

[…]

Simply, there are two faces to panic: lived out in relation to a stimulus and called fear; held in with no known stimulus and called anxiety. Fear has an object; anxiety has none.  There can be panicky fear, a stampede, say; there can be panicky anxiety in a dream. In either condition, death can result. Psychoanalytic and psychosomatic case reports, as well as dream research and anthropological studies (for instance, on Voodoo death) provide instances of the fatal consequences of anxiety.

The anxiety dream can be distinguished from the nightmare in the classical sense. The classical nightmare is a dreadful visitation by a demon who forcibly oppresses the dreamer into paralysis, cuts off his breath, and release comes through movement. The anxiety dream is less precise, in that there is no demon, no dyspnea, but there is the same inhibition of movement. (A collection of these dreams is given by M. Weidhorn, “The Anxiety Dream in Literature from Homer to Milton,” Studies in Philology 64, pp. 65-82, Univ. of NC., 1967). A literary prototype of the anxiety dream, emphasizing an inhibited peculiarity of movement, occurs in the Iliad xxii, 199-201 (Achilles in pursuit of Hector):

“As in a dream a man is not able to follow one
who runs from him, nor can the runner escape,
nor the other pursue him, so he could not run
him down in his speed, nor the other get clear.”

[…]

Contemporary existential philosophy gives to anxiety, dread or Angst a more intentional, a more fulsome interpretation. Angst reveals man’s fundamental ontological situation, his connections with not-being, so that all fear is not just dread of death, but of the nothing on which all being is based. Fear thus becomes the reflection in consciousness of a universal reality.

Buddhism goes yet further: fear is more than a subjective, human phenomenon. All the world is in fear: trees, stones, everything. And the Buddha is the redeemer of the world from fear. Hence the significance of the mudra (hand gesture) of fear-not, which is not merely a sign of comfort but of total redemption of the world from its “fear and trembling,” its thralldom to Angst. Buddha’s perfect love, in the words of the Gospels, “driveth out fear.”

“…to further mix the contexts: let us say that the world of nature, Pan’s world, is in a continual state of subliminal panic just as it is in a continual state of subliminal sexual excitation. As the world is made by Eros, held together by that cosmogonic force and charged with the libidinal desire that is Pan, an archetypal vision most recently presented by Wilhelm Reich–so its other side, panic, recognized by the Buddha belongs to the same constellation. Again, we come back to Pan and the two extremes of instinct.

Brinkman has already pointed to the bankruptcy of all theories of panic that attempt to deal with it sociologically, psychologically or historically and not on its own terms. The right terms, Brinkman says, are mythological. We must follow the path cleared by Nietzsche whose investigation of kinds of consciousness and behavior through Apollo and Dionysos can be extended to Pan. Then panic will no longer be regarded as a physiological defense mechanism or an inadequate reaction or an abaissment du niveau mental, but will be seen as the right response to the numinous.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp. xxvi-xxviii. (James Hillman, “An Essay on Pan.”)

Pan & Synchronicity vs. Causality, Space and Time

“Jung worked both systematically and hermeneutically upon chance events in connection with the problems of synchronicity. This term refers to meaningful coincidences of psychic and physical events for which no satisfactory account can be given through the usual categories of causality, space and time. Jung considered synchronicity to be a principle equal to the other three and, like them, a part of nature. He found that synchronistic events happen mainly when instinctual (emotional, archetypal, symbolic) levels of the psyche are engaged.

[…]

“If the principle of synchronicity is another way of speaking about Pan, then we may also begin to understand why anyone occupied with this field of spontaneity, called parapsychology, becomes a renegade from the civilized order of rational men. As synchronicity is the devilish fourth principle, so Pan is the devilish shadow of our dominant archetypal Trinity. The integration of parapsychology into respectable science and psychology would then require a revaluation of Pan and a view of instinct and nature from his perspective. Until then parapsychology will tend to be cast in his shadow, a field of sentimentalities and natural religion, something at once comic, untrustworthy, obscure and lunatic.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp. lviii-lix. (James Hillman, “An Essay on Pan.”)

Nightmares as the Experiential Base of Religion

“The nightmare reveals this, par excellence. There the healing reeducation might begin because there the instinctual soul is most real. Jones (p. 71) reminds us that “the vividness of Nightmares far transcends that of ordinary dreams.” Roscher and Laistner both observed this, and Jones (Ibid.) quotes others who have stressed this reality:

“The degree of consciousness during a paroxysm of Nightmare is so much greater than ever happens in a dream….Indeed I know no way in which a man has of convincing himself that the vision which has occurred during a paroxysm of Nightmare is not real…( J.Waller).

“The illusions which occur are perhaps the most extraordinary phenomena of nightmare; and so strongly are they often impressed upon the mind, that, even on waking, we find it impossible not to believe them real….(R. Macnish).

“From this kind of experience Jones draws his main point condensed into the second motto I placed above: the vividness of the nightmare experience has given rise to the belief in the objective reality of personified demons and Gods: the nightmare is the experiential base of religion.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp. lxii. (James Hillman, “An Essay on Pan.”)

Numbers 7, 9 and 40, and the Omphalos.

“Later he became fascinated with more abstract topics: numbers in Greek medicine, the numbers seven, nine and forty, and the concept of an imaginary middle point, the omphalos or world-navel, a recurrent theme in Greek, Roman and Semitic mythology.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp., pg. v.

Jung on the Prophetic Significance of Dreams.

“Just as the largest part of the past is so far removed that it is not reached by history, so too the greater part of the unconscious determinants is unreachable.

History, however, knows nothing of two kinds of thing, that which is hidden in the past and that which is hidden in the future. Both perhaps might be attained with a certain amount of probability; the first as a postulate, the second as an historical prognosis.

In so far as tomorrow is already contained in today, and all the threads of the future are in place, so a more profound knowledge of the past might render possible a more or less far reaching and certain knowledge of the future (…)

Just as traces of memory long since fallen beneath the threshold of consciousness are accessible in the unconscious, so too there are certain very fine subliminal combinations of the future, which are of the greatest significance for future happenings in so far as the future is conditioned by our own psychology… it appears from time to time, in certain cases, significant fragments of this process come to light, at least in dreams. From this comes the prophetic significance of the dream long claimed by superstition. 

 The aversion of the scientific man of today to this type of thinking, hardly to be called phantastic, is merely an overcompensation to the very ancient and all too great inclination of mankind to believe in prophesies and superstitions.”

 –Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, 1916.

Mirrors as Labyrinths.

“My other nightmare is that of the mirror. The two are not distinct, as it only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth. I remember seeing, in the house of Dora de Alvear in the Belgrano district, a circular room whose walls and doors were mirrored, so that whoever entered the room found himself at the center of a truly infinite labyrinth.”

— –Jorge Luis Borges, “Nightmares,” Seven Nights, 1984, pg. 29. 

Borges on the Demonic Origin of Nightmares.

“In all of these words there is an idea of demonic origin, the idea of a demon who causes the nightmare. I believe it does not derive simply from a superstition. I believe that there is–and I speak with complete honesty and sincerity–something true in this idea.”

 –Jorge Luis Borges, “Nightmares,” Seven Nights, 1984, pp. 28-9.

Borges, Dreams, Nightmares, Metaphysics.

“For the savage and for the child, dreams are episodes of the waking life; for poets and mystics, it is not impossible for all of the waking life to be a dream.

This was said, in a dry and laconic fashion, by Calderón: “life is a dream.” It was said, with an image, by Shakespeare: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” And splendidly by the Austrian poet Walter von der Vogelweide, who asked, “Ist mein Leben getraäumt oder ist es wahr?” –have I dreamed my life or is it real?

I am not sure. It takes us certainly to solipsism, to the suspicion that there is only one dreamer and that dreamer is every one of us. That dreamer–let us imagine that I am he–is, at this very moment, dreaming you. He is dreaming this room and this lecture. There is only one dreamer, and that dreamer dreams all of the cosmic process, dreams all of the world’s history, dreams everything, including your childhood and your adolescence.

All of this could not have happened; at this moment it begins to exist. He begins to dream and is each one of us–not us, but each one. At this moment I am dreaming that I am giving a lecture on the Calle Charcas, that I am looking for things to say (and perhaps not finding them); I am dreaming you.

But it is not true. Each one of you is dreaming me and the others.”

–Jorge Luis Borges, “Nightmares,” Seven Nights, 1984. Pp. 26-7.

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