- In folklore, a 'mare' or 'nightmare' is not a distressing dream, but a supernatural being who crushes a sleeper's body by sitting on it (see *hag-riding); the word is sometimes mistakenly associated with 'mare' = 'female horse'. Around Durham, it was thought that the experience was 'caused by some witch turning the unlucky sleeper into a horse or mare' and riding him or her through the air to a sabbath (Brockie, 1886: 32).The usual charm to prevent nightmares was hanging a *holed stone over the bed, but horseshoes wrapped in red flannel were used in the same way, for example in early 20th-century London (Lovett, 1925: 12). The earliest account is from a 15th-century manuscript, where the stone is combined with a rhymed prayer to *St George:Take a flynt stone that hath an hole thorow it of hys owen growynge, & hange it ouer the stabill dore, or ell ouer ye horse, and writhe this charme: In nomine Patris &c. Seynt Iorge, our ladys knyght, he walked day, he walked nyght, till that he fownde that fowle wyght [foul creature]; & when he her fownde, he her beat and her bownde, till trewly ther her trowthe sche plyght that sche sholde not come be nyght with-inne vij rode [seven rods] of londe space ther as Seynt Ieorge i-namyd was. In nomine Patri &c. And wryte this in a bille and hange it in the hors' mane. (MS Bod. Rawlinson C 506 fo. 297)Shakespeare gives a similar verse in King Lear (iii. iv), invoking St Withold:Swithold footed thrice the old (wold, moor),He met the night-mare, and her nine fold (foals?),Bid her alight,And her troth plight, And aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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