Cauchemar

14 04 2010

A folk phenomenon among the Creoles of color of southern Louisiana, the cauchemar is an evil spirit that comes to ride on the chest when its victim is asleep. The evil spirit or witch is not visible, but can be felt pressing on the chest, not allowing the victim to be heard. In contemporary French, “cauchemar” is just another word for nightmare, but for the Creoles of southern Louisiana, it was interpreted as a preternatural phenomenon, often sent as a warning not to commit a particular kind of transgression. AG’s aunt once told her as a child about it, although AG thought that she was just making all of it up. It was also known as “witch riding”. Remedies for the cauchemar have much in common with other methods of “fooling” preternatural spirits found in other places:

…what my mamma said for me to do is put some stones or some beans under my bed, under my mattress, and put them in a circle ’cause he can’t count and, ’cause he doesn’t come in the daytime. He only comes at night. And, uh, she said cauchemar’s gonna see the stones under my bed, and he’s gonna keep counting in a circle, and he’s so dumb that he won’t know to stop, and then by the time he finished keep counting it’s gonna be daytime. Or he counts the . . . put a fan in your window and he counts the little holes in the screen and by the time he finished counting it’ll be daytime.

More information of the cauchemar can be found in Katherine Roberts’ essay on the subject