I had just now one of the worst nightmares I have ever had in my life.
… which is strange. I don’t really have nightmares much. I used to. I remember the first real nightmare I had and most of he real killers since: the kind that wake you up and don’t let you get back to sleep for fear of our own mind.
My grandfather used to love his nightmares. My grandmother used to wake up to his screams and twistings in bed, as she told us, only to be chastised for it. “Why did you wake me up?” he would say, and she would reply “you were having a nightmare.” “I know he would shout indignantly, “why did you wake me up? I was having a good time?”
I have had nightmares before that I have enjoyed, but are they then really nightmares? It seems to me that, among dreams, there are those that we see that have such strangeness that we do enjoy them. For example, I have not had the nightmare of being chased for a long time, probably because I enjoyed it too much. I used to play nighttime games of tag with my brother and friends all the time. In high school, which was a partial boarding school, a group of us used to go out and play in the group of bungalow-style buildings that comprised the lower school (K—6) and there was nowhere except inside the houses or out of bounds that was forbidden. We would wind up on the roofs, leaping from building to building. I think that experience made me enjoy dreams where I was being hunted, but tonight was something else.
No, there is a kind of dream that shakes us to our very marrow. It comes from a deep place within us, and is combined with something outside of us but not present to us in our waking awareness. The result is something truly frightening, of ourselves and yet simultaneously alien. What is more, this nightmare has taught me something.
I don’t want to tell you the dream, even though I know that it will not carry the horror for you that it did me. Suffice it to say that one facet of it, the setting for some of it, was an underground … complex … that styled itself a night-club, one that banked on vampire / BDSM chic — if you know what I mean — to draw people. This was a ruse. The entire complex was actually an abattoir for the unsuspecting visitors: a maze of corridors and tricks that inevitably led to the butchering of those who entered in some of the most horrible ways imaginable. I remember one young man having his head split into five sections, giant nets of people dropped onto grills of white hot, rotating spikes — and even worse for those who figured out what was happening and tried to escape.
Now, I know this sounds very contrived. In the clear thinking of the waking world you can come up with any number of reasons why such a setting would never be believable, but the setting was only part of the dream and I tell it to you in order to write what I set about here to write. There were other things in the dream that were much worse than this.
Waking up from this dream with that sickening feeling in my stomach, I lay there in the silence of our bedroom, my wife and baby’s breathing so still in the 4am darkness that they were completely silent, thinking about the dream and why I had dreamed something so disturbing. In the pain of my fear and horror I first thought that it was a reminder of what hell could be — as though by questioning my adherence to Christianity I needed a slap upside the head to put me back on course. The visions I had certainly matched any number of monks dreams from the Middle Ages of what hell was like, but I insisted on thinking more about the dream. I analyzed it, went through it to find its sources in the day preceding (there were not many), and sat there in the dark with my fear, convinced that the dream was a manifestation of some internal reality — internal awareness — that was more than a spiritual slap on the wrist … and then something then occurred to me that I had not thought about in years.
When I was younger, somewhere about ten or eleven, I used to draw enormous diagrams of buildings designed to butcher stick-people. In these diagrams, the stick people would enter whole and then proceed through a diabolical maze of vicious engines of slaughter until they were nothing but a pile of small, bloody line segments. I realize how this may sound, but I am (as any good character in a story by the esteemed Mr. Poe will tell you) perfectly sane. You might say that it was the angst of puberty that sparked such a composition, but the shock of the memory brought with it something else: mercy.
I don’t think I drew these pictures out of the desire to see people butchered, but in my young mind, with its very limited visual or emotional vocabulary, I wanted a great cause for mercy: an out-flowing of sympathy for those I saw being ground within an inescapable and openly hostile system. The socio-political implications should be obvious, but I may elaborate on this later.
This memory came immediately after recalling Alan Moore’s ‘Promethea’: specifically the issues centering on the Cabbala. In one issue, demons attack the city in Malkuth, the realm of the physical world, while Promethea and her companion (it’s a long story) travel up the sephiroth. Entering the fifth, geburah or judgement, they get fired up, overly judgmental, and slip over into Qlippoth — the inverse of the ten sephiroth. This event was Moore’s way of illustrating the idea that the Cabbalistic Tree of Life, or ten sephiroth, had two manifestations: one filled with divinity, God’s presence, and one that was a husk, devoid of divinity, called Qlippoth. This husk is a kind of inverted mirror of the divine sephiroth, with Geburah thus becoming hell: a place of tormenting judgment. The only way to defeat the demons of the Qlippoth of Geburah and move back into the proper, divine sephiroth, is to eat them: admit that these demons are the products of ourselves when not in proper relationship with the divine.
Thinking this as I lay there in my post-nightmare haze, I suddenly realized that this was no vision imposed on me from without, but a manifestation of something that was intrinsically mine. There was nothing to fear but myself, and once I could own the source of my fear, whatever it was that spawned the dream, then I would not only gain release from the fear but a much greater sense of myself from within. Perhaps a better formulation of this would be that I, some higher faculty of my awareness, invented the dream, but my conscious self, the ‘I’ that I think with in the light of day still unaware of itself in this higher sense, saw the dream as something imposed from without and thus fearful.
I think the thing that terrifies us most is almost always our self. After all, What else is more unknown than our true nature?