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Nightmares and Crimefighters

October 20, 2011

I’m behind on reading The Week, so I set my current book aside today and read the latest issue of the news magazine on the bus to and from work today. Two things that I thought were interesting:

1) In “The Last Word” section, there was a story about sleep paralysis (when your body is paralyzed while in REM sleep, which is normal, while your mind is awake, which is not normal). It also talked about people who die in their sleep from nightmares. But what I thought was most interesting about the piece was the etymology of the word “nightmare.” I would have guessed it was an evolution of “night terror,” but the mare is from the German mahr or Old Norse mara, both referring to a usually female supernatural being who lays on the chest of the sleeper and suffocates them. In fact, this notion of a spirit-creature manifestation of the suffocating feeling a person has during sleep paralysis is common across cultures. The word for sleep paralysis in Indonesia translates to “pressed on,” in China it’s “held by ghost,” “witches’ pressure” in Hungary and “hag ridden” in Newfoundland. This all makes nightmares seem much creepier. More on the subject can be read in a new book by Shelley Adler, Sleep Paralysis: Nightmares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection

2) There have been countless movies about superheroes, and a few recent films about vigilantes inspired by the superhero tradition. Apparently it’s old news, but in Seattle there’s a group of real-life costumed vigilante crimefighters, the Rain City Superhero Movement, led by Phoenix Jones. What a strange world we live in.

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