Things that go Bump in the Night – “Nightmares”: Germanic Elves

Kansi-net
by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The original German word for “nightmare” is Nachtmahr, a Mahr, Mare or Mara being a kind of nightly Alb (Elf) believed to ride people, trees or horses while they are sleeping and bringing on dreams or visions.

Even today we still know the English word “mare” for horse and several Germanic tribes, especially the Saxons, regarded horses as sacred walkers between worlds, animals with Shamanic qualities.
Loki’s equestrian offspring, eight-legged Sleipnir was given to Wotan and in later mythology it is Wotan instead of Frau Holle who is leading the “Wild Hunt” at night; a nightly spectacle in the sky in which spirit-beings and Alben are wildly dancing and celebrating.

buchcover_wildejagd

The word mare is also related to the German word “Mär”. It has been mistranslated as “story” or “fairy tale”, but it really means “message from the spirit realm”.
We can see this from one of the traditional Christmas Carols where it says, “From Heaven above is from whence I come, I bring you many good messages” (Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, ich bring Euch manche gute Mär).

Nowadays nightmare is called “Albtraum” – Elf Dream, formerly “Albdruck” – Elf Pressure, since the Alben were believed to sit on people’s chests when riding them.
Of course what we associate with the word nightmare nowadays is a bad dream, something that stems from Christian influence unsurprisingly.
The Alben were demonized, the messages from the other realm considered satanic. When the belief in these messages persisted, the Christians did what they do best, they made up a distinction between “good” messages coming from heaven and “bad” messages coming from demons.
The Christians went as far as turning the Shamanic riding into something sexual. Female Alben, the Succubi and their male counterparts, Incubi, were believed to either rape or seduce men and women in their sleep, stealing semen and children and causing barrenness.
The Germanic people did not make a distinction in quality between the dreams that dark elves and light elves brought them, all messages were equally important.

Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_053

Johann Heinrich Füssli’s painting already shows the Christian misconception of the “night-rider”/nightly Elf being demonic and “evil”

If you are unsure whether you were visited by an Alb the previous night, check your hair. Legend is that if your hair is extremely ruffled in the morning or you inexplicably have a few braided strands of hair that an Alb or Frau Holle herself brought you a message.
In Ireland it is not Frau Holle but the Mórrigan (her name obviously related to OE “maere”), the “phantom queen” who brings such Shamanic dreams.

morrigan3

Other German night-beings are the Frankish Nachtgiger, possibly related to the Butzemann (bogeyman, boggart) which kidnaps children that keep playing outside after duskfall. It carries them so far away from home that they never find their way back.
In Swabia this being was called Nachtkrabb, which has nothing to do with the word “Krabbe” meaning crab, it comes from OHG hraban, raven. Ravens were mystical birds of the dead and the other realm. (Wotan, the later “god of the dead” is often accompanied by his two ravens Hugin and Munin and so is the Irish Mórrigan.)

Winselmutter-01

Winselmutter

The Winselmutter, Whining Mother (White Lady) is a Thuringian night-spirit who haunts the houses of severely ill and dying people, crying for their pain and calling them to the other side. She is described as either an elderly lady, a white light or even as an anthropomorphic cow, a fact that reminds of the relation between Holle (Frigg) as described above and Audumla, the cosmic cow, Mother of all.

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