“You will be a candle for us all.”



Recommended literature: Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, Moby Dick, Catch-22, The Brothers Karamazov, whatever bits of Lovecraft you enjoy. Yes, the first two are the same text, but they’re both interesting. Yes, I’m calling film literature. It’s accepted, I think.



Lovecraft is the right place to start, actually. The biggest Lovecraft trope, apart from fetishizing New England (and who doesn’t, am I right, unf), is the Cosmic Horror, which defies comprehension and the perception of which drives the mortal mind insane. It lives in the shadows, not because of secrecy but because none can bear (or manage) to relate its existence.


So, the awkward question: why is a bloated mollusk so terrifying that we can’t even mention it?


I mean, yes, obviously there’s some fear with something utterly massive that we know nothing about living at the bottom of the sea, as we’ve seen with whales and the kraken, but it’s not even close to insanity. So what gives? Why has the Lovecraft mythos taken such firm hold that we have Cthulhu plushies?


Of course, it’s because the squid isn’t just a squid, but rather a symbol for the Yellowstone volcano (or, more realistically, some other natural disaster which was more suitable for Lovecraft’s time). Cthulhu means that everything we strive for on Earth is pointless, is worthless, has no meaning or function, because whether it’s tomorrow or in a thousand years, Cthulhu (or the volcano) will wake and it will all have been for naught. (There’s more to it, but that’s a decent overview.)


This is why Lovecraft isn’t particularly scary for modern readers: in every instance, the horrors aren’t symbols, but have come to stand for themselves. Cthulhu has become just a squid. On the other hand, stories which didn’t grow so popular, like “The Color From Out of Space,” still have some oomph. That one, for the record, is about unknown disease and contamination in general and radiation in particular – in my eyes, at least. And disease, unknown disease that not only can’t be cured but can’t even be understood, is terrifying. (There’s more to that too.)


But, to get back to the point, the Lovecraftian narrator perceives the object, its symbol, and what it means.


And they promptly go insane.


This is where I suggest we try to replicate that experience, and where you wisely close this tab and never read my blog again.




Still here?




So why do the protagonists in Lovecraft always go insane? Simply: because what they are witnessing is such utter anathema to the worldview they previously had that they cannot reconcile the two. Their strength is tested against the danger which this new knowledge holds, and they fail and break.


(Of course, they don’t always go insane. Sometimes they just repress their memories, or hide from the truth some other way.)


And here it comes more clearly into view why this kind of story has caught on so firmly: we all have our worldviews, and we all have those terrible truths which could prove anathema. If we perceive these and break, we will go insane. There’s no question about it.


As a brief reassurance: Lovecraft’s characters tend to be unusually hard-headed early 20th-century know-it-alls. They are extremely inflexible in their thought and are almost painfully fragile, barring perhaps Carter from Kadash. They are the example of what goes wrong, and our lesson of what to avoid. Their disease can be summarized as such: they believe it is the terrible truth which has destroyed them, while in reality it was their own personal frailty, which in turn they impose upon all humans. That’s – well, classic narcissism. It’s not me, it’s the cruel world!


We can do better.


So, let us begin outlining nightmare therapy, wherein we imagine the worst horrors we can and survive them.


We all have beliefs and worldviews which define our thoughts and which define us. I’ll put one of mine on the table: I strongly believe that everyone can learn, grow, and live a good life, and that good discussion and reasoning can bring everyone to greater enlightenment. As such, I do not hate others or think of them as subhuman: I just haven’t had the chance to sit down and talk with them yet. (This doesn’t mean they’ll all listen to me as some visionary and accept everything I say, or that we’ll come to the same view on everything, which is pure arrogance. All it means is we’ll be able to come to some kind of understanding.)


The nightmare, then, is to assume this to be false.


Instead of inherent good and potential wisdom in everyone, there are harsh limitations in many which will doom them to wretched lives and manifest as evil. They will not be happy, they cannot be reasoned with, and they were born into this awful state. No kindness, no soft discussion, no effort from themselves or others can save them. They are doomed.


For me, this is the deepest kind of horror. To think that there are places which no kind of reason or goodness can reach terrifies me, because much of my conception of goodness is that it is universal, even if only in the abstract. For there to be null-areas for that which is supposed to be absolute nauseates me, in the same way that a small area which defies physics might nauseate some (See: R’lyeh). It utterly violates my worldview, and my mind recoils from it. I start to consider dark alternatives, like how to handle (destroy) the wicked of the earth, because it’s the only alternative left.


This might not be a nightmare for everyone. In fact, I know for certain that there are people who hold this view proudly, and although I don’t think it’s good for them, they clearly aren’t insane. This is my demon to conquer.


So how do I conquer it?


The simplest method would be to try to prove it wrong, to dig into kinds of evidence that show the nightmare to be simply false. I might look up studies, read supportive articles, or spend time with people to convince them of things. Of course, this will never help, because the secret behind all nightmares is that they are true. Not absolutely, but to some degree, and anyone looking to disprove them will only find more and more evidence that their nightmare is true, resulting in a spiral of obsessive, neurotic digging to try and prove their position which only gets them deeper into that hole. Nothing will ever be satisfying, and they will start believing no end of absurdities to try and string together incoherence, until finally they break – or become some variety of zealot, which is the same thing in the end. Frantic activity as a defense against impotence.


I don’t think I need to explain why totally ignoring the problem isn’t a solution, and between the two of these, we know how people are going insane. So what’s left? Totally giving into the nightmare? That’s ridiculous, because every position has its own nightmare. No, the solution is to figure out how to acknowledge the nightmare, account for it, without losing what was behind the initial position.


For my own beliefs on human potential for goodness, the root belief wasn’t so much about the nature of individual people as it was about goodness itself. Goodness needed, for reasons I won’t get into right now, to be a universal direction. And here, fortunately, lies a good answer to the nightmare.


Even if there are people who won’t be happy, who will cause evil, in this world, there remains the potential to move towards goodness. It may be slow, it may have setbacks, but the potential is there, and I can work with it. So, if I meet someone who seems beyond hope, it’ll sadden me for sure, but I can keep some (reasonably moderated) hope for them and a deeper hope for everyone. No, the lead-addled multiple rapist may not be good at heart, but that doesn’t mean nobody is or that hope should be lost. It just takes a bit more patience.


And so this demon, like every other, is laid to rest in a more mature position. It is no longer a threat, just a sad truth among many that we must work with. The nightmare ends.


There are other ways the nightmare can end, too. In many instances, the nightmare may itself be the best way of maintaining the deepest belief: this is known as conversion. (At other times, the nightmare merely seems it, and the convert blinds themselves in new ways. This is fine, so long as momentum is isn’t lost.) Whatever happens is up to the dreamer.


I should add: I put all this in a highly analytical manner, for the sake of providing a good mental framework to help guide people and keep them safe. The actual nightmare can’t be sanitized like this. If you want to gain anything from this practice, you need to fully sink yourself into the horror and pull yourself out. It has been, in my experience, normal to “wet one’s feet” by testing out how the nightmare feels before trying to resolve it, but your own method is up to you. The challenge is to engage with the deep nausea and horror of anathema directly, to endure your own nightmare, and survive intact. The practice will strengthen your soul, because if you’ve already confronted your deepest nightmares, nothing will ever be able to crush you.



All the works in the recommended section are highly potent examples of nightmare, and serve as excellent practice. Heart of Darkness is especially recommended; that book made me feel like something was crawling under my skin. Also, it’s original-English and ages out of copyright, so you can read it free online. Find something that gets to you in the worst possible way, and get really into it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.


Oh, and after, go out to some pleasant environment, natural for preference, and take a deep breath. Relax, and let the nightmare wash away. It’s a beautiful world, after all.

One thought on “Nightmare

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s