Academic journal article Folklore

Bedding the Nightmare: Somatic Experience and Narrative Meaning in Dutch and Flemish Legend Texts

Academic journal article Folklore

Bedding the Nightmare: Somatic Experience and Narrative Meaning in Dutch and Flemish Legend Texts

Article excerpt


Most texts generated by folk narrative research in Flanders and The Netherlands fall into two main categories: memories, and stories with little immediate basis in experience. "Nightmare" texts occur in both groups. The nightmare appears in two guises: in the memories as a horrible nocturnal experience; in the stories as a woman with whom the male subject has sex. This formal division into two categories does not, however, imply that nightmares appear quite differently in them. The memories, like the stories, can be read as referring to a sexual experience. [1]



In Flanders and The Netherlands, the main collecting of narrative folklore texts took place during the period from the Second World War to the beginning of the 1970s. In Flanders, students from the University of Gent and, more especially, the University of Leuven were sent out, each to cover a particular region. Although students were only active for a couple of months at most, with varying results, this project produced as many as thirty-eight thousand texts (see Peeters 1965). Only in the early 1960s was this kind of oral collecting taken up systematically in a number of Dutch areas. Since folklore was not an academic subject in The Netherlands, and therefore students were not available for fieldwork, folklorists depended on local fieldworkers (Dekker 1978). On average, these worked longer and covered a larger area than their more numerous Flemish counterparts. Notwithstanding methodological differences, the Dutch fieldworkers also produced an impressive number of texts--around thirty-two thousand. Both Flemish and Dutch collectors were instructed to concentrate on "folk beliefs" (volksgeloof) and were given lists with motifs to look out for. However, this was just a euphemism for what had been called "superstition" (bijgeloof) and not a fair description of the beliefs of the people interviewed. Unlike the Frisian Dam Jaarsma, few collectors, besides legends, also collected fairytales and anecdotes (see van der Kooi 1984). In general, the legend texts are selective fragments of people's opinions, knowledge, and memory. This applies equally to the fifteen hundred or so texts in which the nightmare figures: [2]

   The mare. I did hear about it, but I can't explain it further
   (Dreezen 1967, no. 270). The nightmare. I often heard about it.
   That was bad. You got it with you when you were lying in bed.
   Something came to lie on top of you and you couldn't do anything
   against it. They could hear it coming, but then it was already too
   late and you had it on you before you knew
   (Heupers 1984, no. 2759).

   [Nightmare] That wasn't only with horses. It also occurred to
   humans. It was a kind of ghost in the form of a horse. When humans
   had it, then they got frightening dreams; they couldn't move
   anymore. With horses you could see it from the manes: they were
   totally entangled at night. Then they had to put a horse's skull on
   the stable; then they were not bothered by it any longer (Kooijman
   1988, no. 2012).

   Here people talk about the "mare" too! "He is ridden by the mare,"
   they say. The mare only comes at night and lies on top of people
   and you cannot shout or even breathe (Luyts 1956, no. 36).

   They weren't dreams--you were awake. It was just like dreaming, but
   you were awake. They say it is stagnation of the blood. But you see
   a lot and you hear a lot. But you cannot move. You are terribly
   afraid. As soon as you are able to shout, it is over (Michielsen
   1964, no. 153).

   It happened to me; I was ridden by the mare. I used to know my way
   really well, and this time I didn't find it--no way. I walked and I
   walked and sweated a lot. And three times I ended up at the same
   chapel. Finally I found my way back more or less (Pauwels 1969, no.

   My brother. Every night he was ridden by the mare. … 
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