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The Nightmare Encyclopedia


The Nightmare Encyclopedia: Your Darkest Dreams Interpreted by Jeff Belanger and Kirsten Dalley

Have you ever been in one of those Stephen King-like nightmares where ugly screaming aliens who look a lot like your mother-in-law chase you across a bombed out urban landscape? And you feel like your legs are stuck in syrup, so you can’t run fast enough to escape the monsters? Where do weird, frightening dreams like this come from? Was it the jumbo pizza with the extra hot peppers you ate last night or that old horror movie you saw on the rerun channel?

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, with much of the night filled with dreams. Peculiarly vivid, disturbing dreams leave behind impressions that are hard to dismiss. But what are nightmares? And what significance do they have for the dreamer? Questions like these have been asked and answered in all time periods in all of the world’s cultures.

The Nightmare Encyclopedia examines ideas about bad dreams found in different parts of the world, in different periods of Western history, in recent clinical research, in current theories of the occult, and in popular films. Most of the world’s traditional societies are taught that our souls leave our bodies and travel to other realms when we dream, so maybe nightmares are the result of getting lost in one of dreamland’s bad neighborhoods. In medieval Europe, it was thought that demons could attack and rape human beings in their sleep. In contrast, modern psychologists tend to view nightmares as repressed conflicts that return from our unconscious to haunt us in our dreams.

The Nightmare Encyclopedia includes interpretations of dream symbols found in nightmares. Large bodies of water, for example, often symbolize the unconscious. So a bad dream about drowning might represent being overwhelmed by issues that have been repressed into the unconscious mind. A nightmare about beheading, on the other hand, might reflect traumatic memories and guilt harbored about our bad judgements and wrong decisions.

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