The following is an excerpt from my new book 'Following the Fairy Path' which should be released in 2018. It will be the third book in my Fairycraft series. This excerpt is discussing one particular type of spirit being or fairy that comes at night and torments sleepers.
|The Nightmare, John Fuseli, 1781, public domain|
They are a type of being who come at night while you are sleeping, paralyzing you, and bring fear and nightmares. The name for them, Måran or singular Mår is related to the same root word we get our modern word nightmare from, and indeed that is why we have the word – nightmare, night mare, a mare that comes at night. Mare is the Old English while Mår is the German which I use to avoid confusion with mare meaning a female horse. The word Måran is usually translated as goblins, night-goblins, or incubi but I would suggest that Måran are best understood as entirely their own type of being. Much like so many other of the beings we have discussed they are not straightforward though, and there are also some Mår who are human witches with the ability to intentionally or unwittingly project to people at night and oppress them, and as well Måran are often confused with other similar nighttime beings and occasionally with elves (Seo Helrune, 2017). It is important when dealing with them to learn to differentiate between a possible attack from another human that has the same symptoms as the Måran, malicious activity by elves, and activity by Måran.
In folklore Måran are always seen as female beings and it is possible to capture them, usually by blocking whatever place they entered through; it was believed that unless they could go out exactly as they had come in they lost their power (Ashliman, 2005). In several stories a man captured a Mår and then married her, something much like we see in the Selkie tales, and the new wife would act like any other human woman, even giving him children, but if she could ever get him to show her the place she’d entered that he’d blocked and clear it she’d leave immediately. In one tale a Mår is captured when the victim stays awake and sees her enter as a cat and then nails one of her paws to the floor; by morning she has transformed to a young woman (Ashliman, 2005).
When Måran appear they generally come alone and afflict a person in their sleep by perching on their chest. They cause a feeling of paralysis and fear, and can also sometimes make breathing difficult, creating a feeling of pressure or weight on the chest. In folklore they can kill both people and animals (Ashliman, 2005). An old term for this is ‘Old Hag’ although nowadays its known as sleep paralysis and scientific explanations remove spirits from the equation (Seo Helrune, 2017). Some people who are attacked by Måran also experience a sexual overtone to the experience which is partially why the word was translated as incubi and also why I think they are associated with elves, who themselves were often associated with incubi as well. It should be noted however that elves or in this case specifically the Anglo-Saxon aelfe were usually male and the Måran were believed to be female beings, suggesting that we may indeed be looking at two different beings here with a similar method of attack in some cases. This idea is supported by Alaric Hall in his article ‘The Evidence for Maran: The Anglo-Saxon ‘Nightmares’ in which he argues persuasively that Måran were in fact always seen as female and the translation of incubi was an early confusion between texts, and might more properly have been given as succubi.
Because attacks by Måran where not uncommon in the past there are many methods of dealing with them. Blocking the keyhole (if the door has one), placing your shoes backwards – ie laces facing the bed - by the bed, and then climbing into bed backwards can protect you from attack; animals can be protected by placing a broom near them (Ashliman, 2005). Also Måran like many fairies, ghosts, and spirits can be warded off with iron which should be placed near or under the bed. A salve or powder can be made with herbs including Lupin, Betony and Garlic (Seo Helrune, 2017). Mugwort can also be burned to ward off dangerous spirits. There are also a variety of charms to protect against Måran, such as this one which uses a single hair of the person’s head to mime tying up the Mår while saying:
“The man of might
He rode at night
With neither sword
Nor food nor light,
He sought the mare,
He found the mare,
He bound the mare
With his own hair,
And made her swear
By mother’s might,
That she would never bide a night
What he had trod, that man of might.”
(Black, 1903; language modified from Shetland Scots)
There is also this one from Germany:
“I lay me here to sleep;
No night-mare shall plague me,
Until they swim all the waters
That flow upon the earth,
And count all the stars
That appear in the firmament!”
I have had an experience with a mår once so far. I have never had sleep paralysis before in my life but I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to move or speak, surrounded by a pervasive sense of malevolence and dread. There was a strong sense of presence with this and a kind of impending doom. At first I was disoriented, because I'd been asleep but then honestly I got really angry because I'd had a long difficult day and I was so not in the mood to deal with anything supernatural. I drove the spirit off and forced it out of the house by visualizing bright light shoving it away. Took several minutes of slow effort but it worked.
In talking later with other people on social media I was surprised to find out how common these encounters seemed to be among people I knew, even casually. I think for those who deal with extra-ordinary things and Otherworldly beings it’s important to be aware of the Måran and know how to combat them if they attack either you or anyone you know.
Seo Helrune 'Maran, Night-Walkers and Elves, Oh My! https://seohelrune.com/2017/09/12/390/
Black, G., (1903). County Folk-Lore, vol. 3: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands
Ashliman, D., (2005) Night-Mares http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/nightmare.html