A nightmare is in folklore, a bad dream caused by Demons, Witchcraft, or Sorcery. The term nightmare comes from the Anglo-Saxon terms neaht or nicht (night) and mara (incubus or succubus, “the crusher”). Until the mid-17th century, the term nightmare was used to describe nocturnal attacks that were believed to be of supernatural causes.

In medieval lore, nightmares were thought to be caused by witches called hags who sat on a person’s chest and “rode” him through the night, sometimes killing him from exhaustion. Amulets against hag riding were a penknife placed on one’s breast or a table fork placed under one’s head. A sifter placed under the head also prevented riding, for the hag would be forced to pass through every hole in it, taking her all night.

Nightmares also are a form of Psychic Attack in which magical means are used to summon and send demons to a sleeping victim. (See Dream Sending.)

In Filipino lore, bangungut, or “nightmare” is a killing illness caused by a Curse. The victims suffers violent nightmares every night until he or she dies. According to lore, there is no antidote for the curse.


  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves and Other Monsters. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2004.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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