A six hundredth post should not be a repost, should it?

Ideally it should be a piece of feel-good comedy which goes viral with ease, an 800-word guffaw.

But occasionally the laughs will not come to order, and today I seem fixated upon the Mare.

The Mare is the ancient Nordic – and English, and  Rumanian, and Indian – explanation for what we call, these days, sleep paralysis. She appears in myths across the globe.

I have never met her: I generally sleep well. She is pictured, usually, crouching on the chest of a sleeper, a small dwarfed hag perched usually on some winsome Victorian beauty, because as any artist knows,  any ugly little witch who controls us as we sleep should be shown in the starkest contrast possible.

She sits on your chest and you can’t move.

It happens when you are drifting off to sleep, or perhaps waking up. These days we know that what is really happening is that we remain aware while our body shuts down for REM sleep, or the rapid eye movement stage.

Not only is movement impossible, but research*  shows the part of the brain involved in hallucination is very much active. So we might experience waves, or vibrations, or tremors; sound quality may get richer, or someone might hear crackling or ringing tones; you could perceive vibrant or surreal colours, or small details might become incredibly clear. You might feel pressure, or be floating, flying or even feel squeezed through a tunnel.

No wonder the traditional myth places someone malevolent squarely in the room with the sleeper.

First, some German myths say, the hag sits on your feet; then your legs; then stomach, and finally your chest. Some believe there are ways to stop her: if you cross your legs and arms just before you begin to go to sleep, for example; or if you call her by name and offer to lend her something. Then she must come to see you the next day in human form to collect the loan.

It helps if you put your shoes by your bed with the laces and toes facing outward as you sleep. And beware families with seven children in them: for one of them will invariably be a mare, and will know nothing about it.

The Mare haunts many mythologies, from Nordic to Indian. She is a night shadow, a conjured terror, a means to explain something our brain does when it is stressed, or overwrought, or sleep-deprived.

She is a symbol of all that is polarised. She is an extreme: for could anything be worse than a witch-hag sitting on one’s chest? And if we can handle her, surely we can handle anything?

Yet to plunge us into extremes is like throwing a frog into boiling water: we get out as fast as we possibly can. We are bathed in fear from head to toe.

Perhaps the real solution to our problems is in viewing life’s events- large and small – as somewhere on a continuum.

The week ahead, for each one of us, carries unknowns. Some of us cannot wait to get started: others, like me, will be willing ourselves through the days. To everything, there is a season. There will come a time when things are simpler and more enjoyable once more.

But each unknown is neither a hag nor a winsome maiden, but somewhere in between. It is rare indeed that we are subjected to waking Mares. Instead we ride an ocean which is sometimes rough, sometimes smooth; sometimes stunning, others ugly; always, changeable.

Now that’s a different kind of Mer. The sea: a great essential wonder of our planet which never looks the same twice, which shimmers from flat to choppy, which can wrest control from the greatest ocean liner yet accord it to a small tug boat.

And there is a man who captured its essence; the very absence of extremes, the rise and swell of its curves, its existence along a continuum. Claude Debussy wrote La Mer at the beginning of the 20th century, completing it whilst gazing at the English Channel. His gift for capturing tiny detail alongside grand event, and everything in between, is never more potent than in his music-sketches of the ever-changing waters.

Tonight, I lay me down to sleep. And I shall turn my back on the folklore which bids me face unknown terrors. Instead I shall listen to the sounds of the sea, and consider how changeable, and varied, and wonderful this great ocean of a life is.


Conesa J, “Relationship between isolated sleep paralysis and geomagnetic influences: a case study,” Percept Mot Skills 80 (3 Pt 2): 1263-1273 (Jun 1995).


64 thoughts on “Mer

  1. I do hope Debussy in your head puts you to sleep easily and peacefully, to dream happy dreams and awaken refreshed. May the week too, deliver the best of suprises and the happiest of times.

  2. OML ~ I never knew there was a name for her!!! I am not easily freaked, however, her memory is clear as day as I was reading your post. The old crone came a haunting in college. It was the worst.thing.ever. I feared sleep for about a week after that…it is unnerving, even if you ‘think’ you’ve got your rational brain in tact. Thanks for the insight. Back then, there was no Google to ‘google it’ ~

  3. I know her/him well – haha – blogged about it once – women are supposed to have the male version (incubus) and I only knew of the female as succubus. Mine took the form of a giant possum 😉 though I have had sleep paralysis a few times without the creature, just couldn’t move – I call it sleeping with my eyes open. Congrats on your 600 post – onwards and upwards (and sweet dreams).

    1. Gabrielle, a giant possum on your chest: I cannot imagine what that must have been like, for I have never met a possum. i’d love to read that post of yours, if you had a moment to send a link…

      1. Here’s the link Kate
        The giant possum was actually near the door (size of an adult male), not on my chest, thank goodness – but I couldn’t move. I originally titled the blog ‘tales of the sleep-disordered: succubus and incubus’ but changed it when I edited it slightly for technorati. At one stage a neurologist thought I might have narcolepsy as my dream stages often go in the wrong order – REM first, when it should be third.

  4. 600 post is an enormous amount – entertaining, historical, interesting, and fun to read posts. Perhaps I am completely wrong, but I think we are possible talking family here. If so, I do sincerely hope everything goes well.

    1. Thanks, Rosemary.Life goes in cycles: if you had read posts from a couple of years ago I think you might have found them more humorous, a bit more carefree. They’ll be that way again soon, I am sure.

  5. I have never experienced this – sounds horrid. I do get ‘the falling off the cliff as a I’m trying to fall asleep’ though sometimes, with a huge involuntary muscle contraction – a hypnic jerk.

    Congratualtions on the huge number of posts you have acheived! But never mind the quanitiy, look at the quality 🙂

    1. Thanks, Pseu. Now I have an immoveable picture of you on a market stall somewhere in London hawking my questionable wares….

      A hypnic jerk. I’ll remember that one.

  6. In too many parts of Miami, Florida USA it is the sounds of bullets of gangs and thugs that rule the night and our sleep as well, I am approaching #500. It’s been a joy but quite an effort.

  7. congratulations for achieving a big milestone… and let me tell you, you have many gems in all the work published here, if not all… 🙂

  8. “willing yourself through the days” is not the picture I had of you from the posts you offer us so regularly. I was glad to read the last paragraph. Can’t go to sleep for someone else, and can’t go to life with energy for them either. We each have our own tide which comes and goes. thanks fo rthe reminder so beautifully put

  9. Although I often find it nearly impossible to sleep through the night, I have never had a vision of anything haunting that effort. The sounds of the sea are always helpful and soothing for rest and relaxation. Hope The Mer helps you this week.

  10. I know the Mare well, Kate – the brain is so fascinating but can conjure up some horrors. Congrats on your 600th post, and sweet dreams to the sounds of Debussy. Hope all goes well this week.

  11. Intriguing post, Kate. I’ve not seen the hag, but have experienced sleep paralysis, always in the morning. Both Jennifer and I do and when we talk about it everyone looks at us strangely.

    600 posts! That is not an easy thing to do, and do as well as you do on a daily basis. Congratulations and keep on writing.

    1. It is strange that so many who come here daily have experienced it, Penny. It much be more common than we give it credit for! Phil had it once and did not enjoy it….

      Thanks for those words 🙂

  12. Ah the Mare – could tell you many a hairraising tale about that one (though I had a different name for him)… and having been there, I have theories of my own time/space won’t let me get into here/now. And anyway, don’t want to go back there – I’ll take Debussey any day (or night)! 😀

    1. Yup: Debussy: a dead cert. A lovely accompaniment to the night. We used to sleep, when Maddie was little, to recordings of the sea. I quite fancy dong that again, if only I could do without the night time audiobooks…

  13. 600! I am so impressed. I may hit that a few years from now but not sooner and hopefully the Mare will stay away as she has done for a very long time. Enjoy the sea.

  14. Six hundred posts! Congratulations on being so dedicated to a wonderfully informative and creatively crafted blog, Kate. In the evenings I listen to a radio show called Coast to Coast which addresses many topics of the paranormal. Given my relatively low tolerance for things “spooky” I can’t tell you why I listen. But when the conversation moves to the “Old Hag” stories I usually have to turn it off. I get too jumpy! People call in with their personal experiences and they’re quite terrifying. I’ve not hear the term “The Mer”–how different that is from Old Hag! On the other hand, Debussy and anything to do with the glorious ocean brings me such calm and peace. I would really suffer if I couldn’t see the ocean. Here’s to your next posting milestone! Debra

  15. Congratulations on your 600th, Kate. I had a little gasp at the end – with you going off to sleep. It was a “what if she is cleverly putting the blog to bed?”.

    No!! Our Kate would not do that to us.

    I’m waiting for the 601!!

    You are a gift to the blogosphere, Kate Shrewsday…NdeP! 😀

    1. Amy, you must have been reading my mind a little 🙂 I did wonder whether it was time to stop, and try a different way to reach people. But the very act of applying myself to some theme and researching absorbs and calms. I have had a trying day but as usual, I end it thinking about tomorrow’s post which diverted me beautifully. The world is full of such gifts, waiting to be unearthed. If I wrote for fame and fortune or even recognition on a large scale I would stop here. But the wonders of the world are simply too absorbing. What might I uncover in the next hundred posts? Your guess is as good as mine! It’s an adventure.

      1. Kate, we know not where blogging is going. Perhaps one could extrapolate various posts of certain themes and do something for a broader market. Two writers suggested I consider that using some of my childhood stories, but I’m not “there” yet – if ever..

        As of now, blogging provides me with an outlet for self-expression. My subjects may seem disconnected, but there is a rudder cutting through the weeds and barnacles. I’ve been learning a lot about myself and people’s taste in general. I’ve been validated, surprised and titillated.

        For me, the process conjures more respect for the authors who wrote in the dark with no feedback, persisted with the publishing challenges and then had to deal with cutting feedback.

        How did they know to believe in themselves? Maybe they, too, wrote because they couldn’t NOT! 🙂

  16. She makes me jerk before dozing off. MTM says I do it every single night. 🙂 Usually, my legs, but sometimes my whole body. It seldom wakes me, though.

    600 posts is a ton, Kate. An accomplishment deserving of celebration. What will you do tonight to fete yourself? You must do something.

  17. Congratulations Kate on 600 blogs!

    I didn’t know all those macabre folk tales and I’m quite glad I missed them! 🙂

    This version of La Mer is bound to give you sweeter dreams…

  18. Congrats on your 600th post! Woot! Woot!

    I suffer from sleep paralysis when I am extremely stressed and it is the worst feeling in the world. Now I know the hag is the cause of it! I never had a name for it before 😉

  19. Magnificent wave in that picture! So, another approach to the sea. Mine was a lot less serious!

    Well done on a 600 postmark! You have truly put your stamp on this envelope!

  20. And now I have an answer for Felix when he asks, “Mama, why is it called a ‘nightmare.'”

    Though I think I’ll leave out the bit about the hag on the chest. He’s an imaginative kid…

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