The Terror that Comes in the Night

David J. Hufford: The Terror that Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. 278 pp..  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982. $22.50.

David Hufford’s The Terror that Comes in the Night represents the culmination of over ten years of research (from 1971 to 1982), and is arguably one of the single most important studies of the old hag to date. An interdisciplinary study, this work addresses its subject matter primarily from the perspective of folklore (the author’s background), with additional material on medicine, physiology, psychology, history and literature. It should appeal to a broad audience both within and outside of academia.

Hufford begins the account with a clear summary of his folkloric sampling methods, their limitations, and the possibilities of what he calls the “experience-centered approach” over the more prevalent cultural source hypothesis. What distinguishes this method is that it focuses first on a careful phenomenological study of witness testimony in matters of folklore, while resisting the urge to equate all experiences in terms of the overarching culture in which the witness lives. This approach, as Hufford indicates, was why he was able to isolate the old hag phenomena as a stable, cross-cultural experience. Following this, he presents case studies, comments and statistical data surrounding the prevalence and phenomenology of the old hag in Newfoundland. In doing so, he defines its primary and secondary characteristics, such as paralysis, pressure, lucidity and the feeling of a presence, that characterize the attacks.

Hufford then tests what one would expect to find under the cultural source hypothesis by examining individuals who have had experiences typical of the old hag without any previous cultural contact with the tradition. The results demonstrate the widespread nature of the experience, regardless of cultural context. This leads him to consider the scientific literature, which is the basis of much of the middle of the text. In this section the basic physiology of sleep and sleep cycles are discussed, with a particular attention to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the history of sleep studies. From this he concludes that while the old hag shares similar features with sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations, night terrors and REM dreaming, it cannot be reduced to any of these, or any simple combination available in the medical literature. Another source of scientific misclassification can be found in the psychoanalytic treatment of nightmares. Beginning with Ernest Jones’ Freudian interpretation in his 1931 work On the Nightmare, Hufford goes on to demonstrate how subsequent studies have consistently confused such phenomena as bad dreams, night terrors, nightmares, and incubus/succubus visitations, while offering largely superficial explanations of the purported subject matter.

Near the end of the text he considers possible associations with the old hag and out-of-body experiences, witches, hauntings, UFOs, as well as its specific cultural manifestations among Mormons, Filipinos and Eskimos. The text concludes with some potential directions for further research, and presents other folkloric phenomena, such as near death experiences, that may benefit from his experience-centered approach.

While some commentators may balk at a number of Hufford’s observations (he is not always kind to the prejudices of academics), this work is nevertheless an excellent example of focused scholarship balanced with an interdisciplinary breadth. Furthermore, his case study approach provides a degree of openness and accountability not seen in other comparable works on nightmares. Hufford’s treatment of the “superstitious” witness testimony that forms the core of his work demonstrates both his open mindedness and humanity. It is evident that he does not view their accounts as stupid, naïve or insane, but instead seriously considers the possibility that their observations (aside from the conclusions that they themselves draw from them) may well be ahead of scientific knowledge. However, as the author himself testifies, what is perhaps the most important contribution that this work makes to the study of the old hag and related phenomena is that it opens up a new beginning in which yet further work is now possible. For this, if nothing else, Hufford deserves praise.

For More Information:

http://www.amazon.com/Terror-That-Comes-Night-Experience-Centered/dp/081221305X

Silence: Gnostic Resonnance on a Platonic Dissonance, Part 2

Why is the fall of material reality necessary, and why must it be phrased in terms of a feminine agent? The answer may rest in Platonic origins of the concept of Mother-as-receptacle, and in the Platonic presupposition of the fallen nature of matter as an expression of imperfect “becoming” as opposed to the divine nature of “Being”. With Silence’s role in the first divine act, and in Her relation to the Father as something from which He emerged, it bears a striking resemblance to the receptacle in Plato’s Timeaus.

In the Timeaus, the receptacle is mythically represented as “a sort of wet-nurse” for physical matter. Like the Gnostic conception of Silence, it is an unchanging precondition of existence, for “[i]t both always receives all things, and nowhere in no way has it ever taken on any shape similar to the ones that come into it”. Furthermore, just as in the Gnostic tradition, Plato’s receptacle is conjoined with a conception of motherhood, with both an offspring and a “husband”: “it’s fitting to liken the receiver to a mother, the ‘from which’ to a father, and the nature between these to an offspring”. Yet, where the offspring of the Demiurge and the receptacle is the imperfect production of the material world, the offspring of the Mother and Father is the completion of the divine Pleroma.

This is where we begin to see the differences between the Platonic receptacle and the Silence of the Gnostics. Plato’s feminine principle is the cause of unbalance, which imperfectly conforms itself to the ideas of the Demiurge; whereas, as has already been seen, the Gnostic Mother is the complement of the divine Father. Another distinction is apparent when one considers that while Plato’s receptacle is fundamentally expressed in its shapelessness in three dimensional space, the Mother is characterized by Her silence in the extra-mundane space of the Pleroma, outside of the three dimensional world of matter.

This same purity of the Mother would be unable to cause the disorder of the material world, for She is the precondition of the transcendent Father who himself is perfect. Yet in order to avoid admitting of imperfections in the highest level of the Pleroma, while simultaneously accounting for the presupposed “fallen” nature of the material world, a subsidiary receptacle was needed. This receptacle would still be transcendent, being of the Pleroma, but fallen enough to permit of the creation of matter. This very concession shows some of the influence of Plato’s thoughts, for in the Timeaus a third part is always necessary to permit movement from the divine realm to the chaotic world of matter. As he states: “it’s not possible for two things alone to be beautifully combined apart from some third: some bond must get in the middle and bring them both together”. For Plato, this third would be the recalcitrant receptacle:

which always is, admitting not of destruction and providing a seat for all that has birth, itself graspable by some bastard reasoning with the aid of insensibility, hardly to be trusted, the very thing we look to when we dream and affirm that it’s necessary somehow for everything that is to be in some region and occupy some space.

These negative connotations draw some of their impetus from the Greek debate between the status of Being and Becoming in the created world which was particularly evident in the Platonic and Pythagorean schools, and it is just this ambiguity which also characterizes the figure of Sophia.

For the Gnostics, then, the requirement of the fall would need to be fulfilled by a lesser feminine force, because of the near total integration of the divine Father and Mother. A closer approximation to Plato’s receptacle would then be the partly fallen aeon Sophia, who scholars have already connected to Platonic influences on Gnostic thought. It is Sophia who gives birth to the visible world in a similar manner to Plato’s receptacle, but with an entirely different subtext about what this means for the nature of matter itself. Indeed, Plato’s receptacle is very close to the Gnostic Sophia, although it is couched in less overtly religious language. She is “the mother and receptacle of that which has been born visible and in all ways sensed as neither earth nor air nor fire nor water, nor as any of these things that have been born composites of constituents of these”. In this view the unruly nature of the Platonic receptacle in conforming to the ideas of the Demiurge is taken up in the erroneous desire of Sophia to try and fathom the Father, and rests in a similar, albeit also strikingly different valuation of the feminine substrate of the physical world. While it is true, as James Goehring states in “A Classical Influence on the Gnostic Sophia Myth”, the fall of Sophia can be viewed as either a sexual or philosophical act: “In the former, Sophia’s act is presented as an attempt to penetrate the mystery around the Father. In the latter, it is understood as an effort to imitate the Father’s creative power by generating a being apart from her consort. This mythos nevertheless echoes the Platonic receptacle’s “longing”, but inability to completely reflect the creative potential present within the father/Demiurge.

A Medieval Translation of Plato's Timaeus.

These Gnostic views of the universal substrate were likewise deeply ingrained in the Hermetic and Alchemical thought of the ancient world. For example, the same Gnostic conception of silence as something performative is again echoed in the Hermetic “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth”. This text connects the Hermetic tradition to Gnostic themes as well as to themes present in Middle Platonism. Most striking for our purposes is the text’s discussion of active silence, in which the prophet Hermes instructs his disciple: “Language is not able to reveal this [secret of the Pleroma]. For the entire eighth, O my son, and the souls that are in it, and the angels, sing a hymn in silence”. He then goes on to discuss how the proper form of prayer to the Pleroma is silence, both in terms of actual silence as well as secrecy. We can see here a definite point of unity between the two traditions and an explanatory device which we can use to help account for the importance of secrecy in both. They emerge from the same evaluation of silence as something creative, active and ultimately befitting transcendent subjects which is derived from the experience of the divine which is reached through negative theology.

Furthermore, insofar as the visible world is seen as being worthy of escape or redemption and also as it is created from the accident of a divine principle, both traditions have predicates which make it possible to reenter the perfect receptacle or divine realm, making the redemptive process of nature itself possible. This is particularly evident in the “Discourse of Hermes Trismegistus: Poimandres”, in which the prophet Hermes is given the task of leading “mankind to beauty and reverence of knowledge”, by taking them through the spheres to the Ogdoad. This language of the Ogdoad is also particularly important in showing the relationship between the two traditions, for just as it is a divine realm in the Hermetic Poimandres, it is the divine realm in “Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth”, in which the realm of the Ogdoad is also referred to as being part of the Pleroma.

Ultimately then, as has been discussed, to the early Gnostics, as also for their Hermetic counterparts, silence itself was an active principle, which paradoxically derived its creative potential from the stillness of its being. This performative principle was a reflection of the Gnostic reinterpretation of the Platonic receptacle into something both divine and co-perfect with the creative Father, while at the same time remaining the originative cause of the chaotic nature of the material world in the guise of Sophia. It would be difficult to separate the Gnostic account of Sophia and the Mother away from its partly Platonic inspiration, for in doing so we lose one of the richest interpretive frameworks with which to understand the divine drama of creation for both the Hermetic and Gnostic. Rather, it is more useful to see how these concepts are understandable in terms of a theological interpretation of the Platonic receptacle which finds itself purified in the Gnostic framework of the divine Mother which is Silence while also being preserved in the fallen, though ever repentant, Sophia.

 

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timaeus_%28dialogue%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library

Distilling Nature’s Secrets I: The Ancient Alchemists, Ed. Kyle Fraser. Halifax: University of King’s College, 2007.

Gnosticism: A Source Book of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period. Ed. Robert M. Grant. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1988.

Goehring, James E. “A Classical Influence on the Gnostic Sophia Myth” in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 35, No. 1. (Mar., 1981), pp. 16-23. Accessed at: <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0042-6032%28198103%2935%3A1%3C16%3AACIOTG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-B&gt;

Mead, G.R.S.. Fragments of A Faith Forgotten: A Contribution to the Study of the Origins of Christianity. New York: University Books, 1960.

The Nag Hammadi Library: In English. Trans. Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977.

Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House, 1979.

Pétrement, Simone. A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism. Trans. Carol

Harrison. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991.

Pearson, Birger A. “Gnosticism as Platonism: With Special Reference to Marsanes” in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 77, No. 1. (Jan., 1984), pp. 55-72. Accessed at: <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0017-8160%28198401%2977%3A1%3C55%3AGAPWSR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2&gt;

Plato. Timeaus. Trans. Peter Kalkavage. Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 2001.

van den Broek, Roelof. Studies in Gnosticism and Alexandrian Christianity. New York: E.J. Brill, 1996.

Things That Really Get Under Your Skin

I’m fascinated by the creatures which we so often find so horrible, because they can live with us. Pigeons, rats, mice, flies and other infestations. In some ways, I think, our squeamishness comes from the fact that, consciously or not, we see ourselves in competition with them. They eat what we eat, they can live where we live, indeed, they can, if left unchecked, out compete us in what we think of as our own environments.

This documentary takes this theme one step further, to the creature which not only live in the same environment, but for whom that environment is us. Some of which we could not live without, some of which can kill us, and some that are unpleasant to think about, but mostly harmless.

For More Information:

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/unknown-world/

Silence: Gnostic Resonnance on a Platonic Dissonance, Part 1

The concepts of Silence, Mother, Sophia and voice display a startling amount of fluidity in the Gnostic tradition, each seeming to lead into the other. Yet with a close examination of the Nag Hammadi Library, certain themes do begin to emerge. In a large number of the texts there is the view that silence, as a property of the divine, is more than a mere device of negative theology, but that silence itself is something performative and active. This is what accounts for the apparently paradoxical nature of voice to silence in the Gnostic texts, for silence is performative insofar as it is a precondition of voice, and hence of understanding. Not only this, but silence is the very agent, or signal of the divine presence which results from the arguments of negative theology. Furthermore, these concepts can be understood in relation to the Platonic influence on Gnostic thought, for Silence (the Mother) in some ways resembles a more perfect version of Plato’s receptacle, whose dark reflection is the chaos of matter under the influence of the Demiurge. In the Gnostic account, Silence, as the perfect receptacle, must then be mediated to the ultimately imperfect receptacle of matter through the error of a lesser receptacle, namely through the world-creating mistake of Sophia.

It is important to note, before any in-depth analysis can be made, that the texts under discussion represent a large cross section of different thoughts and traditions. The matter is further complicated by the murky definitions that exist in the academic community about the very classification of Gnosticism and the Gnostic. However, having said this, there are numerous points of contact in almost all the texts in the Nag Hammadi Library, despite their various subject matters and styles. This is particularly evident in the almost universal presence of the Mother and Sophia.

The concept of silence is intimately connected with the Mother who is also identified in the Gnostic corpus as “Silence”. Yet silence itself also has a semi-independent role to play in the nature of the divine order. In the “Gospel of the Egyptians” the three powers (the Father, the Mother and the Son) request and receive “[a] silence of living silence”, the same three powers also emerged from “a living silence” and Adamas, the incorruptible man, asks for a son “so that, through (the race), the silence and the voice may appear”. Furthermore, keeping with the strange relation between silence and voice, in “Thunder, Perfect Mind” there is a paradoxical affirmation from the unknown female narrator, who claims: “I am the silence that is incomprehensible / and the idea whose remembrance is frequent. / I am the voice whose sound is manifold / and the word whose appearance is multiple” and “I shall be silent among those who are silent, / and I shall appear and speak”. In both of these texts, as well as in the “Acts of Thomas” which will be discussed later, silence and voice are not simply opposites, but are conjoined entities, each leading one into the another. This is further evident in the “Gospel of the Egyptians”, in which the order of the cosmos is described: “Then, [providence came forth from silence], and the [living silence of] the Spirit, [and] the Word [of] the father. {The angels sing with} never-silent [voice] [to… and all the] pleromas […] which is [the great] Christ, who is from [silence]”. While it may be simply a literary technique, there is an undeniable unity in these passages which recount the movement of something resting in or originating from silence, which then emerges as a voice but which nevertheless still resides in silence.

While the role of silence here is something akin to what we will later see with the Mother, insofar as silence is a precondition and receptacle for a creative force, the Gnostics also appeared to have a more direct experience with it. Silence in this way was understood as the precondition of their ability to understand the divine. The crux of this argument rests in the Gnostic divinity’s utter incomprehensibility.

Parts of the Nag Hammadi Library

Negative theology is common in Judaism, Christianity and a number of other belief systems and is also present in Plato’s Timaeus, in which he prefaces his discussion of the creation of the cosmos by stating that when “saying many things on many topics concerning gods and the birth of the all, we become incapable of rendering speeches that are always […] in agreement with themselves”. As Roelof van den Broek describes it in his work Studies in Gnosticism and Alexandrian Christianity, negative theology: “is the idea that God is so transcendent that he can only be described [as] ineffable, invisible, incomprehensible, unbegotten, without beginning and without end, incorruptible, immeasurable, invariable, unnamable, etc”. Despite this immense gap of understanding, we can still have some indirect idea of the divine through these negative accounts.

Simone Pétrement elucidates this in her work A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism, in which she succinctly and elegantly oversteps the difficulty by stating that through negative theology: “it is silence that teaches about God”. Given the utter transcendence of the Gnostic God, this complete silence is what allowed the practitioner to nevertheless experience the insights of the revelation through a kind of “living silence”. In this way the unknown feminine in the “Thunder, Perfect Mind” can express the divine nature through a simultaneous action of silence and voice. It is also this kind of silence that the Mother (Silence) is representing when She is called upon in “The Acts of Thomas”: “Come Silence, Thou Revealer of the mighty things of all the Greatness; come Thou who dost make manifest the hidden, and make the secret plain! Come Holy Dove, mother of the two young twins; come Hidden Mother, revealed in deeds alone!” Silence demonstrates the divine through its sheer absence, as befitting a transcendental entity, and thus performs a religious function which is the apparent opposite of what one would expect. In doing so it is the precondition of religious gnosis and the foundation of the sacred knowledge. Thus it can be said that in this way silence spoke to the ancient Gnostics. It was a performative manifestation of the divine which exemplified its utter transcendence while at the same time making that self-same transcendence something tangible to its practitioners insofar as it was a creative, “living silence”.

As has already been seen, the relationship between the Gnostic concept of the Mother and that of silence is of primary importance, for “She (the Mother) alone exists as Silence”. Just as silence is the precondition of voice and the foundation which makes a divine encounter possible, the Mother is in some ways the precondition of the Father and the basis of His action in the ordering of the Pleroma, for: “He was one; having her in Himself, He was alone. Yet was He not ‘first,’ though ‘pre-existing,’ for it was only when He was manifest to Himself from Himself that there was a ‘second‘. Nor was He called Father before [Thought {Silence}] called Him Father”. It is sometimes difficult here to make the necessary connections, both because of the fragmentary nature of the text itself and because of the fact that depending upon Her manifestations the Mother is also called Thought, Silence and Grace, yet in many ways Her role remains the same insofar as she is the co-existent companion of the divine Father.

The Mother, as Silence, is the resting place of the Father, “[who came] fourth from the silence”. This is stressed a number of times in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” in which the Father comes “forth from the silence, while he rests in the silence”. Thus, like the quality of silence itself, the Mother is active in her stillness. This is particularly evident in the case of the divine coupling between the Father and the Mother, which results in the Mind, Voice, Word or Son in the Valentinian tradition, in which the Father is “in quiet and in deep solitude for infinite aeons. With him is [Silence]. […] Depth thought of emitting from himself a Beginning of all, like a seed, and he deposited this projected emission, as in a womb, in that Silence who is with him. Silence received this seed and became pregnant and bore Mind”. From Mind comes the other Aeons, which ultimately results in the final Pleromic principle, Sophia.

This view of the Mother/Silence as the dwelling place and generative base of the Father is one of the few stable themes that runs throughout the Nag Hammadi Library. This is also the view from the “Trimorphic Protennoia”, in which the Father’s resting place in Silence, Silence’s generative potential as womb and the relationship of silence to sound are all discussed. Again we have this same cyclic movement from silence to voice, in which the Son/Word describes himself as:  “a Voice [speaking softly]. I exist [from the first. I dwell] within the Silence […] And [it is] the [hidden Voice] that dwells [within the] immeasurable Silence”. The Son describes himself as the Word who dwells “[in] ineffable [Silence]. […] a Thought [revealed itself] perceptibly through [the great] Sound of the Mother, although it is a male offspring [that supports me] as my foundation. And it (the Sound) exists from the beginning in the foundations of the All”, furthermore, in this texts Silence herself speaks, stating that: “it is I [Thought/Silence] who am laden with the Voice […] uttering a voice by means of Thought. [I] am the real Voice. I cry out in everyone, and they know that a seed dwells within [me]”. This conception of Silence as the perfect receptacle of divine activity is thus mirrored in Her role as the generative substructure of the Pleroma. This is Her voice.

This matter is further discussed by Elaine Pagels in her work The Gnostic Gospels, in which she tries to classify the nature of the Mother. In this work Pagels examines Valentinus’ account, which begins with negative theology, but is qualified with the knowledge that the divine is:

a dyad; consisting, in one part, of the […] Primal Father; and, in the other, of Grace, Silence, the Womb and ‘Mother of All’. Valentinus reasons that Silence is the appropriate complement of the Father, designating the former as feminine and the latter as masculine because of the grammatical gender of the Greek words. He goes on to describe how Silence receives, as in a womb, the seed of the Ineffable Source; from this she brings fourth all the emanations of divine being, ranged in harmonious pairs of masculine and feminine energies.

As will become more prevalent in the discussion of Sophia and the Platonic receptacle, the Mother’s activity “gives birth” insofar as it is a reflection of the Father’s thought, just as Sophia’s fall is in some ways a product of her attempt to likewise be a reflection of the Father. This is the same idea expressed in the Apocrypha of John, in which “the Unknown Father saw himself mirrored in the light-water which surrounded him, he recognized himself, and immediately his thought became an independent female entity, Ennoia (‘Thought’)”. In both cases it is the stillness and productivity of the Mother/Thought/Silence which allows her to be the precondition of activity.

At the same time, there is the very real sense that the Father and Mother are inseparable components of one being, for the Father: “was [not] called Father before [Thought {Silence}] called Him Father”. Thus many strands of the Gnostic tradition recognize the dyadic property of the Father/Mother as a more complete unity resulting in an androgynous divinity. It will be this same unity and completeness with the Father that makes the Mother an unsuitable candidate for the fall of matter and requires a secondary receptacle in the form of the fallen Sophia.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timaeus_%28dialogue%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library

Distilling Nature’s Secrets I: The Ancient Alchemists, Ed. Kyle Fraser. Halifax: University of King’s College, 2007.

Gnosticism: A Source Book of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period. Ed. Robert M. Grant. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1988.

Goehring, James E. “A Classical Influence on the Gnostic Sophia Myth” in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 35, No. 1. (Mar., 1981), pp. 16-23. Accessed at: <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0042-6032%28198103%2935%3A1%3C16%3AACIOTG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-B&gt;

Mead, G.R.S.. Fragments of A Faith Forgotten: A Contribution to the Study of the Origins of Christianity. New York: University Books, 1960.

The Nag Hammadi Library: In English. Trans. Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977.

Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House, 1979.

Pétrement, Simone. A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism. Trans. Carol

Harrison. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991.

Pearson, Birger A. “Gnosticism as Platonism: With Special Reference to Marsanes” in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 77, No. 1. (Jan., 1984), pp. 55-72. Accessed at: <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0017-8160%28198401%2977%3A1%3C55%3AGAPWSR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2&gt;

Plato. Timeaus. Trans. Peter Kalkavage. Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 2001.

van den Broek, Roelof. Studies in Gnosticism and Alexandrian Christianity. New York: E.J. Brill, 1996.