Pan and the Nightmare

Pan and the Nightmare cover

A quote in David J. Hufford’s brilliant The Terror That Comes in the Night, a study of “supernatural assault traditions” in dreams, put me onto the trail of James Hillman’s Pan and the Nightmare. Before I managed to track down this rare tome, I followed the lead into Hillman’s constantly inspirational oeuvre. But Pan and the Nightmare remained deeply sought-after because Hillman’s insights, connecting the wild Greek god of nature to the liminal experience of waking dreams, seemed to tap so directly into my odd meeting with a little black goat in Avebury.

I finally tracked down a second-hand copy for some quite extortionate price (but at the time, well within my means). It was no disappointment. The body of the work is a translation of a monograph by Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, ‘Ephialtes: A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity’. A co-founder with Nietzsche of the University of Leipzig’s Philology Club, Roscher is lauded by Hillman as a great example of the kind of nineteenth century scholar whose voluminous, wide-ranging knowledge and enthusiasm for the psychological reality of his subject led to flawed but valuable efforts of synthesis and comparison. As Hillman eloquently argues, the “psychological ferment” of the time (Roscher’s monograph appeared in the same year as Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams) means we “may not blame Roscher for the wide casting of his net nor for some of the odd fish he comes up with.”

Equally valuable is Hillman’s introductory essay, nearly as long as Roscher’s work, in which he applies his characteristically shrewd, penetrating and original psyche-oriented analysis to Roscher’s subject. Classic psychological concepts such as instinct, the uncanny, synchronicity and repressed sexuality are given fertile new frames via Pan’s irresistible force and the shock of the nightmare experience.

It’s a fantastic book, and it’s finally been reissued by Spring Publications. One for the wish list if you’re at all tickled by that shaggy beast of the Arcadian pastures…