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



9 responses

18 04 2010

sleep paralysis is definetly terrifying – experienced it once over five years ago and am still worried now and then that it’ll happen again.

15 04 2010

@ mcmlxix

This makes a lot of sense (what the curandero said concerning the water glass). In a lot of traditions, water is seen as the spiritual element par excellence, including the Judeo-Christian. Spirits are seen as similar to water in essence and are attracted to it. Running water is also said to keep negative spirits away. I wonder, though, if this isn’t sort of a double-edged sword. If water attracts spirits, couldn’t a glass of water by your bed be just as negative as it is positive, unless blessed?

14 04 2010

I’ve heard of some mythologies about vampires that when pursued by one, scatter something like seeds or rice, and they’ll stop to count the grains. Obsessive-compulsive?

How do succubi and incubi compare with cauchemar? I know that with the former the intent is sexual. But they all seem sleep related, and current scientific thought is succubi and incubi are a manifestation of sleep paralysis.

I visited with a curandero once for an issue (not sleep paralysis) and he told me that something has been following me for a while. He also said that I’m particularly vulnerable when asleep, and that in addition to a spiritual cleansing, I should keep a glass of water next to my bed when I sleep to draw it away from me.

14 04 2010
The Shepherd

ditto on the sleep paralysis. I’ve had it once after waking from a real bad nightmare. I was awake but simply couldn’t move. It’s a very freaky feeling.

14 04 2010
random Orthodox chick

People I know with sleep paralysis actually do see things when they are paralyzed.

14 04 2010

I have heard of this also as an old hag sitting on the person’s chest. Allegedly the old hag is very visible to the victim. This is the first time I’ve read about it as offering a warning.

14 04 2010

Thanks for posting the interesting link. Here’s something cross-cultural about the phenomenon:

I used to have some trouble with this, primarily when subject to serious internal conflict (trying to internalize values I don’t really share). None of the traditional cures worked, but a more-or-less Chinese approach – buy off with offerings any spirit you cannot chase away with exorcism or clever tricks – finally did the trick.

14 04 2010

I’ve actually experienced this before. A lot of the odd things I’ve experienced have been dream-related or have occurred just prior to or just after sleep, now that I think about it. It is not a fun experience, to say the least. I was terrified. I know that modern science has an explanation for this, but I’m a folk-tradition kind of guy. The remedy for it is also very traditional and is prescribed to ward off a host of supernatural creatures. For some reason, supernatural entities seem to have a fascination with counting!

14 04 2010
The Western Confucian

A student of mine here in Korea had such an experience, in the dormitory of one of Asia’s most prestigious science and technology universities. I’ve heard many ghost stories from the dorms. It may be related to the fact that there is about one suicide per semester.

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