Author Archives: Ryan Hurd

Nightmares: Dark Crossroads of Creativity and Vulnerability

From the perspective of cognitive psychology and clinical neuroscience, when it comes to treatment, a good nightmare is a dead nightmare. Since the days of Freud, we have been hell-bent on eliminating all varieties of bad dreams equally without discrimination and as a result, we know surprisingly little about ordinary nightmares. That’s a problem that isn’t going to go away by itself.

Wolf nightmares

My own life has been sculpted by the gritty winds of horrible dreams, leaving me confused about how to work with the dark energies that are stirred up for days afterwards. For example, for years, I was tormented by dreams of being chased by wolves and packs of angry dogs. Usually I would wake up from fright, but sometimes not before one of them sank their teeth into me or scratched at my hands and face. In waking life, I’m a dog lover who raised and trained several dogs. In particular, I helped raise a beautiful German Shepard mix named Bandit who was also a quarter wolf. So my nightmares do not come from a fear of unknowing, but rather a legacy of love, which always confused me further. What am I so scared of?

A few years ago, I told a psychotherapist friend about my wolf dreams and my inability to proceed when the animals attack, despite often becoming lucidly aware in the dream. As with many lucid dreams, my self-awareness seemed to bungle the dream rather than provide clarity. There are no guides in the lucid dreaming literature besides a somewhat pedantic attitude that eliminating fear will shift the dream. I didn’t want to eliminate the wolves, though. I wanted to work with them somehow. Should I fight them off? Allow myself to be devoured as some sort of initiation rite?

She suggested a different approach: “Reach into your pocket and pull out a gift for them.” I was struck by the simplicity of this action. I asked how would I know what to give them and she answered, “That is up to the dream, not you.” Read the rest of this entry

Real Succubus Tales: Sleep Paralysis and the Genesis of Erotic Horror

"Succubus 2" by Mike Teves, used with his permission

“Succubus 2” by Miles Teves, used with his permission

I was struck by Richard Gavin’s recent commentary in which he observed that most horror fiction is rarely horrifying, but rather tends to focus on peripheral unpleasantness, such as nausea, gore, or bloodlust. As I read this, spontaneous images immediately welled up in my mind from some of the most horrifying moments of my life that were not only chilling but also erotically charged: sleep paralysis night-mares. This tangential response from the body/mind — unbidden but undeniably seductive — is the focus of this essay.

During sleep paralysis, terror and the erotic often come together in a dizzying array of ambiguity. It is precisely this ambiguity — am I safe? Is it okay to feel this way? — that can escalate a merely creepy scenario into one of apocalyptic dread and sexy terror.

While all fiction doesn’t necessarily have its genesis in real life, there is undoubtedly a close connection between sleep paralysis and literary horror. Some of the most famous examples of direct influence would be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” [1] (Teeming Brain founder Matt Cardin has also written about the creative horror connection here and speaks eloquently about it here).

This makes me wonder about the direct influence of erotic sleep paralysis nightmares on culture and literature. I’m not a literary expert, especially concerning erotic horror, but I do know quite a bit about sexy devilish imps because, well, they have stolen into my own bedroom at night. By outlining the experiential roots of the real life succubus, as well as some of the science behind it, I hope to start a discussion about this potential correlation as well as the significance of this neuro-mythological pattern in the human psyche. Read the rest of this entry

Horror for the Holidays: Santa, Krampus, and the Dark Divine

Watching the children get chastised is part of the Krampus fantasy (Nikolaus and Krampus in Austria; newspaper-illustration from 1896).

Watching the children get chastised is part of the Krampus fantasy (Nikolaus and Krampus in Austria; newspaper-illustration from 1896).

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For a kind of companion piece to this one, see Ryan’s “Have a Very Scary Christmas!” over at]

This Christmas Eve as you lay the children down to sleep and lock the doors, you will have the chance once again to notice that feeling of holiday vulnerability creeping on up. You may feel it especially when you hang the stockings with care or leave out a plate of cookies for Santa. Something feels hollow. It’s a subtle, diffuse sense that we usually dismiss as misplaced nostalgia or a bit of underdone potato or undigested beef. A vague foreboding on the periphery of awareness. A nagging intuition that something important has not been acknowledged.

Many of us, perhaps even most of us, simply ignore the feeling and go to bed (perhaps to be plagued by unpleasant dreams of unformed menace). But if we take the opposite approach, if instead of forgetting this annual sense of emptiness and dread we focus on it, follow its thread, and let it take us where it wants to lead, what we will discover is nothing less than an ancient tale about the horror of the holidays: the real nightmare before Christmas.

He sees you when you’re sleeping

Although there are many roots buried beneath the Santa Claus complex, American Christmas traditions come mostly through the Pennsylvania Dutch, those German-American settlers who arrived in large numbers in the Eastern woodlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. The name “Santa Claus” appears to be a corruption of the Dutch settlers’ “Sinter Klaus,” or St. Nicholas. [1] But in the German Alpine traditions, jolly old St. Nick does not ride alone. His wingman is the Krampus, a beastly “anti-Santa” that has been present throughout the last three hundred years of Christmas tradition in Europe. Read the rest of this entry