(ORDO NEWS) — Ideas about dreams and nightmares in cultures around the world have changed dramatically over the centuries – we spend a third of our lives in sleep and dreams.
In popular culture, the Sandman is a folklore creature that helps us fall asleep, where he controls whether we have nightmares or dreams. It is also the center of Neil Gaiman’s popular comic book series (1989-96), on which the new series is based.
The personification of sleep as a mythological or literary character has been variously presented as benevolent or ominous, and these conflicting images reflect our uneasy relationship with the nature and meaning of dreams and nightmares.
These conflicting personifications of sleep (and nightmare) reflect our ambiguous cultural understanding of dreams. Dreams are associated with supernatural messages, divinatory art, and psychotherapeutic insights.
Despite seeming contradiction with the rationalism of modern times, dreams and works of dream fantasy, such as The Sandman, continue to provide a much-needed sense of fascination in our age.
The personification of sleep is rooted far back in history. As befits the creature that controls the changing realm of dreams, he also does not have a specific name, he is called Morpheus, Onyeros, the King of Dreams, the Sandman, etc.
The ancient Greek and Roman civilizations understood dreams as messengers and messages. In Homer’s Iliad, Zeus sends Onieros, the personified dream, to the Greek camp in Troy to induce Agamemnon to fight.
In Hesiod’s Theogony, the oneiroi are the children of the dreams of Nyx or Night. In Roman mythology, Morpheus served Somnus, the god of sleep.
Although Morpheus was a relatively minor figure, he attracted the attention of classical poets. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he is one of the thousand children of Somnus, a werewolf of sleep and a “master of mimicry”, moving “on silent wings”.
Morpheus demonstrates the psychological sophistication of classical mythology, a rich body of stories that explained not only the workings of the natural world, but also the inner workings of the human mind.
By the 19th and 20th centuries, Morpheus, or the Sandman, had become a more benevolent character. No longer a servant of the gods, he was often cited as the man with the ability to reunite lost lovers in a dream.
Such feelings can be found in Alexander Pushkin’s poem “Morpheus” and in Roy Orbison’s song In Dreams, where the Sandman becomes a “candy-colored clown” scattering stardust. In the 1954 hit “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes, he is asked to send them a dream lover before they get too old.
However, the Sandman has also taken on menacing features. In a disturbing tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Sandman” (1816) says that the titled boogeyman throws sand in the eyes of children who do not want to sleep, causing them to bleed.
He then puts them in a sack and takes them to his owl children, who peck out their eyes as food. This more sinister incarnation of the nightmare has been updated as Freddy Krueger, star of the horror film franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Gaiman’s Sandman combines both concern and menace. A figure who seeks to protect dreamers and the Dreaming, the place we enter in dreams, he also holds a grudge and punishes the dream creations that challenge his benevolent authoritarian rule.
These personifications of sleep and nightmare encourage the unsettling feeling that such things are coming from outside. Many ancient civilizations considered oneiromancy, the interpretation of dreams to predict the future, as a form of supernatural power.
Similar ideas found dramatic application in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Oneiromancy survived and was updated for an increasingly urban and literate population in the 19th and 20th centuries with the advent of dream books.
These popular entertainment publications contained AZ dream images that helped dreamers interpret their dreams and predict the future.
The laid-back, uncontrollable, and meaningless nature of dreams disrupted our modern understanding of rationality and reason, causing them to be dismissed as mere unconscious mind games.
When the pioneers of psychotherapy in the 19th and early 20th centuries worked with dreams, they tried to rationalize the meaning and function of their seemingly random and illogical content.
Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) argued that dreams provide insight into psychological repressions and traumas, mostly of a sexual nature. Applying rationalized interpretations, the dreams were not psychic garbage, but told about the forbidden desires of individual minds.
Dreams were no longer external influences delivered by divine messengers, they settled firmly within us. Interestingly, the sinister nature of Hoffmann’s Sandman story caught Freud’s attention in his 1919 essay “The Unexplainable”.
However, it is Freud’s former friend and rival, Carl Jung, that Gaiman owes the most to the idea of The Dream. The common realm of Morpheus’s dreamers is a fictional expression of Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, a place of archetypal figures, symbols and images that appear repeatedly in all of our dreams.
Like all good fantasy works, The Sandman questions the dominant story that Western society has repeatedly told itself for over three centuries: that we have become rational, disillusioned, free of the fantastical ideas of the past.
As the abundance of fantasy series on Netflix shows, such a world requires the compensatory allure of fantasy, fiction, and dream.
Borrowing a line from Tori Amos’ “Tear in Your Hand”, we’ll be in touch with the Dream King for the foreseeable future.
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