The Origin of Nightmares and Sleep Paralysis in Mythologies Around the World

In this article we will be exploring the world of nightmares and their causes in various mythologies and folklore. Almost every mythology around the world has some kind of explanation for the nightmares. Here, we will be looking at some of the most fascinating and outlandish creatures thought to bring about nightmares. To some people these are very real, to others they are made up stories. Whichever you believe, it could always be good to know more about what could be lurking in the darkness, right?

A Few Things to Know First

credit: theguardian

Before we hop in, let’s clear up a few things first. Mythology has been described as a collection of myths, typically belonging to a specific cultural or religious tradition. It can also be an umbrella term for the study of myths. Examples of mythologies include Norse, Egyptian and Aztec, though there are hundreds in the world.

Nightmares are something that many people experience. They are more common in children than adults but anyone can have them. Nightmares are described as disturbing dreams that are associated with negative feelings. The negative feelings are often anxiety and fear which can wake you up, often in a cold sweat.

An important distinction between nightmares and night terrors is needed. Nightmares occur during REM sleep while night terrors happen when a person is abruptly awoken from a deep, dreamless sleep. Both nightmares and night terrors are more common in children but can be experienced by anyone. Nightmares can often be remembered once the person has woken up, but the screaming and flailing often seen with night terrors are not remembered.

Mares, Scandinavian Mythology

Mare, Scandinavian Mythology
The Nightmare, credit: ericwedwards

The Mare, often seen in Germanic mythology, has been described as a goblin or evil spirit. This creature sits on sleeping peoples’ chests and causes them to have nightmares. The earliest mention of Mares dates back to the 13th Century in the Ynglinga Saga. In the saga King Vanlandi Sveigðisson of Uppsala was killed by a Mara after the creature was summoned by the sorceress Huld.

Not only do Mares ride the chests of sleeping people, but they also ‘ride’ horses. When a Mare rides a horse, the animal is left covered in sweat and exhausted in the morning. Furthermore, it has been said that Mares have the ability to tangle sleepers’ hair as well as animals’. This resulted in the victim having ‘marelocks’, or as we call it today, Polish plait phenomenon. The victim’s hair would tangle so severely that it became similar to dreadlocks, matted and often sticky. Humans and animals are not the only victims of Mares. Trees could also fall victim to the creatures, resulting in their branches becoming tangled and twisted.

Mares, in one form or another, appear in many different folk tales. In Romania they are known as Moroi and in Slavic countries the term Mora is commonly used. Some variations state the creature takes the form of moths or wisps of hair, in others they are beautiful women.

How to avoid a visit from a Mare?

  • There is no avoiding it, simply hope it does not happen

Alû, Sumerian Mythology

Babylonian Carvings depicting Mythology
credit: Wikipedia

These are Babylonian spirits that can take the form of black dogs or half human half animal beings. Typically, however, it is thought that an Alû is androgynous and has no lips, mouth or ears. They are associated with other demons such as Liliu and Gallu and are known to ‘attack a man’s breast’. In folklore they are seen as vengeful spirits that often visit the underworld. They lurk in the dark and seek out trouble, often in the street corners or old ruins. Often they can cause storms, illness and, of course, nightmares simply by being in a location. The name Alû may be considered a synonym for ‘demon’, although the name translates to ‘tempest’ or ‘storm’.

To cause nightmares, the very presence of an Alû could be enough. If it is not, the creature will push down on the victim. Sometimes the creature will go so far as to suck out the sleeper’s breath to induce the nightmare. Not only are these creatures able to cause horrific nightmares when they enter your home, but they are known to cause sleep paralysis and even comas.

How to avoid a visit from an Alû?

  • Do not walk around at night, the Alû will follow you home

Pisadeira, Brazilian Mythology

Pisadeira, the Nightmare Crone
Pisadeira; credit: destaquenoticias

The Pisadeira has been described as an old crone with long, claw-like fingernails and long, messy hair. At night she often lurks atop roofs in search of victims. In more rural areas of Brazil the Pisadeira has been rumoured to be a fat Afro-Brazilian humanoid. The appearance may not matter much as the creature will still do the same thing – induce nightmares. She will find a victim with a full stomach and step on them as they sleep, inducing disturbing dreams.

In north-eastern Brazil, near the São Francisco River, there is another Pisadeira variation. Here, she wears a red cap but otherwise has the same physical appearance. Much like the djinn, if you are able to steal her cap, she will grant you a wish in return for it.

How to avoid a visit to Pisadeira?

  • Do not eat too much before you go to bed.
  • Do not sleep on your back

Sandman, Scandinavian Mythology

The Good Sandman
credit: pinterest

The Sandman has been a well-known European entity for hundreds of years. He goes to children while they sleep and sprinkles dust over their eyes to bring about good dreams. Or does he? Folklore states that the Sandman as we know him may have an evil brother, who, coincidentally, has the same name. This version of the Sandman is not sweet or kind, but will lurk in the darkest corners, waiting for you to fall asleep. He will chant tick tock, tick tock like an old grandfather clock and send you into a deep sleep.

Once you are asleep, this Sandman will eat you. Other tales say he will throw sand in the eyes of children who will not sleep, so that they fall out and he will collect them. The eyes of his victims will be taken back home with him to the moon, where he will use them to feed his own children. This version of the Sandman, rather than being a friendly face, has eerie long fingers, sharp teeth and the discoloured skin of a dead man.

How to avoid a visit from the evil Sandman?

  • Hope and pray you are visited by the king brother who will bring you good dreams.

Kikimora, Slavic Mythology

Kikimora, a Nightmare Inducing Creature
Kikimora; credit: wikipedia

The Kikimora could be the long lost cousin of the Mare. This creature hails from Slavic folklore and has been thought to be one of the most frightening. She, usually along with her husband, a Domovi, reside in houses unwanted. These creatures live in houses where children may be buried beneath the house or could have simply died. They could also represent maternal misfortunes such as miscarriages or be there due to the death of an unbaptized child. According to lore, Kikimoras’ appearances can vary significantly. At times they may be horribly deformed tiny women or beautiful maidens, typically with a long braid. Whether beautiful or deformed, the tales say that they all have some kind of physical deformity, such as bird extremities or hooves. They are hardly ever seen but can be heard under floorboards, in attics or behind stoves.

The creature is mischievous, often leaving footprints around the house and disturbing those who live in the home. These creatures get the blame for bringing about nightmares, sleep paralysis and even for food that spoils overnight. Anyone living in the same house as a Kikimora will feel haunted, and as if eyes are always watching them. The faint, but noticeable sounds ruminating from under the floor, or above your head, will never allow you to feel calm again.

How do you avoid living in the same house as a Kikimora?

  • Do your research and make sure no children have died inside the house
  • Find out if previous tenants have had miscarriages on the property
  • Do everything you can to make sure no bodies of dead children are buried under the house

Nocnitsa, Slavic Mythology

Nocnitsa; credit: villainsfandom

Nocnitsa, also known as Plasky, Kriksy, Night Hag or Night Maiden, are powerful entities in Slavic and Russian folklore. They have the power to use other creatures such as Incubi or Nue to accomplish goals. A Nocnitsa will often torment those in places of power, such as kings and other powerful leaders. They will appear to humans in their dreams and corrupt them, making them exhausted and feel pain. Unlike other creatures of the dream world, a Nocnitsa can kill you in dreams as they only reside in the dream world and have no physical form. However, this also means that they themselves are able to be killed. To kill a Nocnitsa, a powerful dreamer is needed to overcome the creature. If you are able to kill one of these creatures, their body will become a cocoon, out of which a Shtriga will hatch.

How to avoid a visit from a Nocnitsa:

  • Keep a stone with a hole in its centre
  • Placing a iron knife under children’s cradle
  • Draw a circle around a cradle or bed with an iron knife
  • Find a Baku to devour the nightmare (they are rare due to the Nocnitsa hunting them down)

Avoiding Nightmares, According to Traditions Around the World

Avoiding Nightmares
credit: hindustantimes

Everybody would like to avoid nightmares, so what if there are ways of doing that? These methods may not work in all nightmares, but might be worth a try if you often have bad dreams. Some of these methods may seem outlandish, but keep an open mind. It may be possible that the most unexpected thing could help you get a better night’s sleep.


Dreamcatchers - catch your nightmares
credit: timesofindia

Dreamcatchers or ‘Sacred Hoops’ are a well known symbol of Native American culture. They are made to catch bad dreams and let the good ones pass, so that the sleeper can enjoy them. These talismans have often been used to protect sleeping children from nightmares, but can be used by anyone if they suffer from bad dreams. Many Native Americans believe that the night air is full of dreams, some good and some bad. All of the bad dreams that are caught by the dreamcatcher are destroyed in the morning by the sunlight.

Daily Tasks According to Astrology

According to those who believe in astrology, there are several things you can do to get a good night’s sleep. Below are some of the most common preventative measures taken to get rid of nightmares for good.

  • Wash your feet with lukewarm water to clear your dreams
  • Keep a packet of Alum (also known as Fitkari) for a week and then burn it.
  • Apply coconut water on your forehead to bring a positive outcome during sleep
  • Place a clove of garlic under your pillow before sleeping
  • Keeping a packet of yellow rice will also help you to avoid a bad dream.
  • Keep some fennel seeds inside a white cloth under your pillow
  • For women, it is advised to tie their hair properly before going to sleep. Open long hair during the night time attracts negative energies
  • Clean the floor of your house with salt water every day.
  • Avoid keeping your footwear near or under your sleeping area.
  • Put some clean water in a copper vessel covered with cloth near your sleeping area.
  • Keep your head in the south and feet in the north while sleeping.
  • Every morning, pour some water on plants in order to get rid of negative thoughts that might affect your day.

Other Ways of Preventing Nightmares

Specialists say that nightmares occur during the REM cycle of sleep when the intervals begin to lengthen. While we cannot, in reality change our REM to a drastic extent, there are some things that could help. The first thing to do when you experience nightmares frequently is to get into a good wake and sleep rhythm. Additionally, exercising helps alleviate stress, which adds to the likelihood of having nightmares.

A few other natural remedies for nightmares include:

  • Have a warm bath before bed to help you relax
  • Drink green tea around bed time
  • If you do not like green tea, try some warm milk
  • Do not eat sugar before bed, give yourself a few hours between your sugary snack and bed
  • Do not eat too close to bedtime, you need to give yourself at least half an hour between eating and sleeping
  • Try journaling before bed instead of watching TV or playing games on your phone
  • Do not watch scary movies before bed. This may affect some people more than others but it is best to avoid them before bed just in case
  • Yoga would be beneficial if you find yourself in need of relaxing, try it out before bed and even during the day
  • Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day. We all like to have a sleep in but it may not always be the best thing for our brains
  • Try not to sleep on your back. You are more likely to wake yourself up from snoring. This has nothing to do with a demon sitting on your chest (or maybe it does?).

Are Nightmares a Figment Of Our Imagination?

Do your nightmares have a meaning? Are they caused by otherworldly creatures sitting on your chest or sucking the breath from your lungs? Have you ever seen something lurking in your bedroom that you just cannot explain? Maybe our brains really are capable of coming with crazy things, maybe not. We would all feel far safer if we knew that what we saw with our eyes shut was the work of our imaginations. But do we know that for certain? Where do you think nightmares come from?

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