The Haunting

I was reading an article this morning in The Guardian online about a documentary called The Nightmare — the waking nightmare of sleep paralysis“, and it brought to mind a strange experience I had myself once many years ago while I was still a student at university, and probably going through some stress at the time.

It was about two or three a.m. when I had this very vivid dream. It was so vivid, in fact, that the boundary between the sleep state and the wake state seemed not to exist at all.

It is, as I recall, my first experience of the phenomenon of “sleep paralysis”. Perhaps you have experienced this yourself. It can be quite unnerving, in a quite literal sense. In the dream, a very pale old hag, dressed in flowing rags, was sitting upon my chest, leering and laughing, riding me like a horse (whence the name “night-mare”, I subsequently discovered). She was quite white and diaphanous.

I was paralysed. In fact, I would say that it’s now easy for me to understand the same paralysis of the Gorgon’s (or the Medusa’s) stare that turned men to stone. The Old Hag or the Medusa could very well be that same nocturnal figure reported in the article and documentary, which even kills.

I awoke from that vision startled, but also for a couple of minutes I was almost completely immobilised. I had no command over my body at all. I glanced around the dark room half expecting the demon to still be there.

A couple of weeks later, I was listening to a CBC radio broadcast dealing with folk legends of Newfoundland, and was startled to hear of the legend of the Old Hag. Children who misbehaved were told to be good “or the Old Hag will come for you”. And the description of the “Old Hag” matched my experience to T.

The famous “boogey-man” and the Old Hag are, presumably, the same figure despite being different images. There’s even a famous painting called “The Nightmare” (1781) by Henry Fuseli that depicts this unusual experience of dream paralysis,

Henry Fuseli -- The Nightmare

Henry Fuseli — The Nightmare

(Fuseli, as it turns out, was also a friend of William Blake’s, who wrote of him: “The only man that ever I knew / Who did not make me almost spew”).

Fuseli refers to these dream images as being “personifications of the sentiments”, which could be interpreted as the Jungian “archetypes’, and in the case of the Old Hag, one of “the terrors of the deeps”. In that sense of being “personifications of the sentiments” they also represent equally, one presumes, what Jean Gebser calls “concretion of the spiritual” or a concretion of mood.

And under certain circumstances, these vivid personifications or concretions can seem indeed “real”, so real in fact they can kill, as mentioned in the article in The Guardian amongst the Laotian Hmong people.  That belongs presumably also to nocebo effect.

The demons that often haunt our dreams, both waking and sleeping, are concretions or personifications of moods that seem to have a life of their own — a semi-autonomous existence. This is the realm of the magical or mythical or “Myth Time” or “Magic Time”. Castaneda also experienced these vivid concretions of mood in non-ordinary reality and altered states of consciousness as autonomous entities, including the “mold of man”.

In Magic Time or Myth Time, the personifications or concretions, benevolent or malevolent, are “real” entities. That’s why you also need the clarity of Mental-Rational Time, also. To die at the hands of the personifications of one’s own moods is a great irony, and I suppose Gebser would call that the magical and mythical structures of consciousness functioning in “deficient mode”. Without their shamans to protect them, the Hmong tribesmen apparently died in droves from Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) .

What we’ve been calling “Archaic Time” (or really timelessness), Magic Time, Myth Time, and Mental-Rational Time are different time-worlds corresponding to Gebser’s different “structures of consciousness” and modes of perception. They are just the thing we call “probable worlds”, and they do frequently cross-over and bleed into each other. There is no real physical boundary between them since they are affairs of perception.

Keeping your wits about you in such events is critical, because all this pertains to what Gebser calls “the irruption” of unconscious knowledge within our own (mental-rational) time — the “return of the native” is also the irruption of these older structures of consciousness — the different time-worlds. We should acknowledge their validity without, however, losing our marbles by lack of insight, or what Gebser calls “succumbing to the spell of the demonic” in the same sense as the Hmong tribespeople who found themselves strangers in a strange land without the protection of their shamans.

Reason is quite functional. “Disinterestedness”, “non-aversion”, “objectification” are indeed reason’s shield against the lure of the demonic — strategies for gaining psychic distance. Clarity (which is insight) conquers fear, but these concretions of personifications of mood have today become the common “projections”, which also belongs to the magical and mythical, and the disaster waiting to happen is the mental-rational now beginning to function in “deficient mode”, meaning also loss of clarity, loss of discernment.

The loss of distinction between subject and object also brings with it this potential for the loss of discernment between the various time-worlds — the irruption of the magical and mythical along with the attendant dissolution of the discipline and clarity of the mental-rational or what Seth calls “the enlightened ego consciousness”. Panic, paranoia, projection all attend the dissolution of the mental-rational. It is very necessary to keep your wits about you, and that means “polishing your shields” as don Juan told Castaneda.

“Polishing your shields” is a most peculiar metaphor for don Juan to use, because that’s what Perseus did in order to slay the Gorgon. By viewing the Gorgon’s head as a reflection in his shield, he was able to slay the Gorgon without succumbing to her paralytic spell. It’s insane, quite literally, to throw away your shields in these times of the “irruption”.

And this “irruption” of unconscious knowledges has indeed something to do with time and times. And we call it “times” in the plural because, intuitively, we recognise different time-worlds all jumbled together — time as arrow, time as cycle, time as spiral, time as reversible, or even timelessness. These various time-worlds are associated with different structures of consciousness or “species of consciousness” as Seth refers to it. Our confusion about time is very much connected to Gebser’s “irruption” of a new consciousness structure.


3 responses to “The Haunting”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Actually, it could be a somewhat arrogant attitude of the mental-rational consciousness to attribute all apparently sentient forces other than material ones to be simply projections of human (or animal?) material or physical consciousness.

    It’s possible to train to enter the dream state without losing awareness from the waking state. So if you do this in tandem with another, spend time in the dream state together and compare notes afterwards in the waking state and find that you have similar experiences, you begin to get a sense of how concrete and “real” (in the conventional sense we think of as “real” – though ultimately illusory since nothing can be separate from the Divine in Truth).

    You can maintain your mental rational faculties in full, though if you do this for awhile you will start to develop a kind of intuitive knowing which fully incorporates but goes beyond all that we normally think of as “mental rational” (even beyond most of what Gebser describes as “integral” consciousness – something he alluded to at times).

    Then it makes perfect sense that there are all kinds of sentient forces and beings in this universe (not necessarily the physical one we assume to be the “real” one but this doesn’t mean we’ve succumbed to mythic or magical thinking.

    All kinds of interesting things become apparent when we step beyond our deficient, duplicitous consciousness!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Actually, it could be a somewhat arrogant attitude of the mental-rational consciousness to attribute all apparently sentient forces other than material ones to be simply projections of human (or animal?) material or physical consciousness

      But, at root, it’s all one energy, in various states, phases, or stages of articulation or manifestation.

      Just moments before your comment arrived, I was pondering the need to re-tell my own story about that. Some readers of the Chrysalis have been with the blog since it began as the old Dark Age Blog some ten years ago (and I’m absolutely amazed that they are still here, still reading, even if some don’t comment much). They know the story, while new subscribers don’t know the story. So I think I’ll need to tell it again.

      The “veterans”, as it were, will remember that as “the dream of the fish” which was my experience in one moment when what we call “archaic”, “magical”, “mythical” and “mental” converged as one consciousness, although I didn’t understand it in those terms at the time, and was followed a few days later by what I called a “glimpse of nothingness” — when distinction between earth and sky dissolved. Difficult to describe, but maybe I’ll have another crack at it.

      • donsalmon says :

        Wow, that’s cool. After I wrote, I was just thinking of the problem of making too fine a “mental rational” distinction between Gebser’s various categories (mental, mythic, etc).

        And here you wrote expressing my very thought.

        As duplicitous, mentally deficient US radio talk show guy Glenn Beck would say, “It’s all connected”:>))


        and your comment about earth and sky recalls to my mind religious scholar Huston Smith’s observation about Robert Oppenheimer.

        Smith recalled Kipling’s “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.”

        He said at the moment of the first test blast of the atomic bomb, when Oppenheimer – the ultimate Faustian Westerner – recalled the words of the Gita (the quintessential Eastern scripture):” If 1000 suns were to blaze forth in the sky all at once, that would not equal the splendor of the radiance of the Supreme Spirit…..”

        Smith said that this was perhaps the fulfillment of the next 2 lines of Kipling’s poem, which are generally forgotten:

        “Until heaven and earth meet
        on God’s judgment day.”

        For Smith, East (in the form of the Gita verse) met West (in the form of Oppenheimer, who, by the way, taught himself Sanskrit and memorized all 700+ verses of the Gita “for fun” while an undergraduate student) in that moment of the atomic bomb blast and heaven and earth met on “God’s judgment day.”


        And as long as I’m randomly recounting anecdotes, here’s another related one: Smith taught religious at MIT, one of the US Citadel’s of the mental rational consciousness. He always though it ironic and amusing to be teaching humanities at such an institution.

        One day, in the cafeteria, a scientist/professor was sitting with him trying to come up with some way of capturing the fundamental difference between the sciences and the humanities (or rather, “Science” singular, and “the” humanities”)

        Finally, the scientist exclaimed, “I”ve got it! I count, and you don’t.”

        He probably meant this innocently enough, referring to the quantitative methods of science, but Smith quite quickly got the other more sinister meaning.

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