Video 9. Mirage / Sleeper
The masters must exist as a kind of walking phantom in the minds of their followers, haunting them in powerful recurring illusions, and more specifically taking the shape of a mirage. For the mirage is a form of desert sorcery that combines all the many experiences of unreality, manipulating imaginary states as if they were the different steps of a ladder: the dream, the nightmare, the hallucination, the fantasy, the vision, and the simulation. Here we will undertake just three principles of the mirage:
- The mirage occurs at the moment of pure desperation. Thus the master also appears at the outer threshold of frailty, the breaking-point of survival and critical need, his clock set to the split-second before the other’s surrender, as a figure who rules us in the state of emergency.
- The mirage arises from the void of deepest thirst. Thus the master also arrives as the incarnation of a certain terrible longing, hearing pleas of the unsatiated ones, his jaws set as an almost vampiric spirit of deprivation to answer the call of another’s unfulfilled desire.
- The mirage is not a force of euphoria but rather dysphoria. Thus the master here does not dispense pleasure but only release from pain, bringing temporary numbness to the other’s agony, promising no ecstatic departure but only an anesthetic to otherwise open wounds, a calming of the unbearable.
Such is the affective logic of the mirage, itself an ancient instrument of the desert’s trickery, an event happening somewhere between shadow, ghost, and conjuration. It manifests in our lowest hour, as a spectacle of excess and salvation, providing the mere appearance of banquets that quench no one, offerings that solve nothing, except to draw us further down into the sand dunes, luring and inspiring the will at the instant of its absolute defeat.
To continue this thought of the mirage, we can turn to a creature often described by those who experience sleep paralysis, a figure that occurs in different forms in different cultures to explain the sensation of waking in the middle of the night and not being able to move. Thus the mind becomes conscious while the body remains immobile, causing many to then see someone or something perched upon their chests in hideous delight. To this end, Scandinavian tales abound of an incubus or succubus (accursed woman) who crouches on the rib cages of unsuspecting sleepers to cause them nightmares, whereas the swampland/bayou folklore of southern America speaks of the “old hag” or “night hag” who constrains breath by straddling the victim’s upper body, and Pacific islanders refer to a possessive process called kana tevoro (“being eaten by a demon”) through which one might obtain crucial answers from a dead relative’s spirit in the midst of soul-feeding.
Still further, the Mongolian shamans of the dark side coin the notion khar darakh (“to be pressed by the Black”) for which the polluted shadow-dimensions of the universe themselves are supposedly at work, while still the Turkish concept of karabasan (“the dark presser”) asserts a specific demonic origin to this supernatural being (part of the jinn race) from whose stranglehold only the recitation of the Qur’anic Throne Verse will achieve release, and numerous further versions such as the Bangladeshi idea of boba (the being inducing “speechlessness”), the Nepalese Khyaak (a ghost living beneath the house’s staircase), the Nigerian ogun oru (“nocturnal warfare”), or the Kurdish Motakka (attacker of children for reasons of jealousy, familial feuding, or moral punishment). Beyond this, the stories extend endlessly, whether derived from goblin lore, wraiths, or scorned wives. There is the creature of the German Alptraum (meaning “elf dream”) who parasitically drinks blood from male and female breasts and tangles sleepers’ hair into elfknots, fearing only the sign of the Cross; or the Catalonian Pesanta, a massive dog with steel paws that bewitches reclining sleepers by laying astride their torsos; or the Brazilian pisadeira (meaning “she who steps”), always taking the shape of an old woman characterized by white disheveled hair, bloodshot eyes, foul green nails, and cackling laughter, and who waits residing on rooftops to jump on the full stomachs of the bed-dwellers below.
Lastly, there is the old Persian naming of the sleep paralysis creature as Bakhtak (literally meaning “small fortune”), a little being of distended stomach who amuses itself in blanketing, smothering, and dismantling nerve-endings (to bring about the Unfeeling), and yet whose spiritual-physical infiltration can be turned from a malevolent burden into a stroke of freakish luck. In one rendition, upon waking in the sleep paralysis condition one must somehow claw Bakhtak’s nose from its face, revealing its loathsome deformity in the moonlight, whereas another rendition encourages the waking sleeper to snatch Bakhtak’s hat to expose its bald head, in either instance allowing one to enslave it to grant continual wishes or share treasure.
Thus one finds an old antidote to trauma and terror given to us here: for like the mirage, the sleeper must fight against the feeling of Being’s heaviness, must lash out against the creature’s claim to Reality and its choking-effect by making a wild movement through air. More than this, one wonders after the covert ties between destiny, the gift, and the vision of night or desert, as if the only way to gain ultimate freedom were through violent engagement with the faces of nocturnal oppression.
Author: Jason Mohaghegh; Video Editor: Ghazal Zamani
[Part 1] James L. Stanfield. “Bedouin Woman, Oman.” National Geographic, 1995.; Steve McCurry. “Afghan Refugee, Pakistan”; Hassan Kausar. “Sufi Shrine” from HIDDEN WORLDS’ Mysticism & Street life in Lahore Exhibit; Matjaz Krivic. “Urbanistan Series”; Oppenheim Architecture + Design. “Wadi Rum Resort”; Egypt Tailor Made Tours. “Bedouin Safari”; Traveler Corner. “Wadi Rum, Jordan”; Nomade Aventure. “Wadi Rum”; Viator. “Wadi Rum Luxury Desert Camp”; The Whole World Playground. “Petra by Night: A Candlelight Visit to the Ruins of Petra”.
[Part 2] Three images from Chiharu Shiota. “During Sleep,” 2002.; Dariaen Dresen. “Kevlar”; Allison Janae Hamilton. “Haints at Swamp II,” 2014.; Charles Walker. “Incubus,” 1870.; John Henry Fuseli. “The Nightmare” (two versions), 1781.
Score: Susan Deyhim. “Orchestral Performance,” 2008.