Do You Dream of Monsters?

The world is filled with monsters. We only have to see them for what they are. Every culture around the globe has its fair share of creatures that lurk under the bed or slink through the shadows. Rarely do we cast a light on the denizens of our nightmares.

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Often monsters are a product of our own overworked imagination. Take the work of the Linares family and the “Alebrije”, which translates to woodcarving. In 1936, an artist named Pedro Linares succumbed to a high fever, causing him to hallucinate. In these fever dreams, he saw a forest with rocks and clouds, each transforming into wild and multicolored creatures with wings, horns, tails and fierce teeth. After he recovered, Pedro created the creatures he saw, using papier-mâché and cardboard. The Linares family kept this art form alive. The Alebrije pictured above was created by Miguel Linares.

Looking back through history, it’s easy to see similar nightmarish figures sprung from out imagination. Take the Singha for example.

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Not all monsters need to be bad. The Singha is a temple guardian in Thailand. Half-man and half-lion, it guards temple entrances such as Wat Benchamabophit in Bangkok. The name derives from the Sanskrit “simha” meaning lion.

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The Fen Huang is another guardian monster, though this one heralds prosperous times. The Fen Huang only appears to mark the beginning of a new era—the birth of a virtuous ruler. During peaceful times, the bird will nest, but if trouble or war arises, it vanishes to its celestial abode.

The Chinese compound term Fèng Huáng means Phoenix. The Feng Huang controlled the five tones of traditional Chinese music, representing the Confucian virtues of loyalty, honesty, decorum and justice. Artifacts show that the the Phoenix (female) as associated with the Dragon (male). The two are mortal enemies or blissful lovers. When shown together, the two creatures symbolize conflict and wedded bliss, and are a common design  in many parts of Asia.

鳳 = Fèng, Male Phoenix    凰 = Huáng, Female Phoenix

 

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The Leshy is another guardian spirit, though you’d never guess it by looking at its fearsome appearance. This creature lives in the forests of Eastern Europe, specifically near the Slavic countries like Bulgaria and Czech. The Leshy’s hair and beard are made of leaves and grasses. It protects wild animals and will play tricks on any who wanter into the forest.

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Look at this skull. What do you see? A monstrous cyclops? Then your imagination would be on par with the ancient people of the Mediterranean. The big round space in the center of the skull, which looks like an eye socket, is actually the nose hole of for a mastodon. We so want to see monsters, that sometimes our mind creates them where they don’t exist.

What sorts of monsters inhabit your dreams? Are they there for protection or to haunt you?

Tim Kane

 

The Surreal Terror of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis has a logical and scientific explanation. It’s a phenomenon where you partially wake up from sleep, but your muscles still remain frozen. A biological glitch in our bodies causing one part of us to wake from the dream, while the rest of the body is on lockdown. Perfectly explainable. Yet try telling that to someone who’s lived through it.

The experience can be terrible. You’re still dreaming and the things you see appear real. But you cannot move or speak or scream.

You are frozen in terror, staring up at the monstrous creations of your subconscious.

Sleep paralysis is actually a protection mechanism designed to keep you safe while dreaming. The images and scenarios in your dream are vivid and seem real. If a tiger leaps out, you scream and run. Your muscles are locked down to prevent you from flailing about or making a large racket (that would have attracted predators back in the day).

Even as we understand more about this phenomenon, there’s no denying the surreal quality it evokes—to see your dreams as real, right there before you. Photographer Nicolas Bruno has captured some of these images. He is a victim of sleep paralysis and his photos are a window into his subconscious mind.

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Bruno began to jot down notes about his dreams. He wanted to recreate them using recurring imagery (like gas masks, bowler hats, or lanterns) and compose them the way a painter would. His photos show a haunting world that Bruno describes as  “a bittersweet homage” to his dream-world life.

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Often times, dreams serve as a way to work through the events of a day. But dreams aren’t logical. They are an emotional outlet. You typically see your fears come alive, such as being buried alive. The fears don’t make sense. It’s your minds way of dealing with them.

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Because dreams mash up images, the result can seem surreal and downright strange. We move from place to place instantly.

The glitch of sleep paralysis has haunted humanity for thousands of years. Over that time, cultures created creatures that stalk us in the night as a way to explain the frightening sessions of paralysis. They myths center around nocturnal monsters or demons.

In the Amazon, we have the Boto, a river dolphin that transforms at night into a vaguely human creature. It wears a hat to cover it’s blowhole. In Africa, the night prowler takes the form of a bear. Known as the Tokoloshe, it slinks in at night and bites the toes off children as they sleep.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

The folks at the Sleep Paralysis Project, along with director Carla MacKinnon, have created a documentary about sleep paralysis. This both serves as an explanation and a terrifying vision of the phenomenon. Be warned, if you don’t suffer from bad dreams, you will after watching this.

The film Devil in the Room depicts the grotesque creatures alongside the scientific explanation. It was meant to evoke the feeling of sleep paralysis and I say it does a damn good job.

Tim Kane