Imps and Magical Thinking -or- The Gothic Flame of Passion

Supernatural and Superstition -or- The Butterfly and the Forces of Nature

Many still believe in the "supernatural". My own belief is that many if not all so-called supernatural phenomena are in fact explainable by the forces of nature. Technology on our planet is still primitive, we still do not completely understand how nature operates. It has been only alittle over 100 years since the scientific discoveries of "quantum" mechanical reality and Einstein's "space-time". Non-linear processes like the "butterfly effect", appear like a magic act of nature. What we often call supernatural is in fact magical thinking that is common form of thinking in childhood. Superstitions about supernatural phenomena include such magical beings as "imps", who can still be found in dreams of those living in the 20th century. 

Here is one such dream (1) that an adult patient reported having when he was a child. 

Patient: "The fear of selling myself to the devil takes my thoughts back to a dream I had at age 5 or 6 years. I was sleeping with my mother at the time. I woke up trembling very violently. I thought I saw a phantom fly across the room. It was like a flame, and yet it was like an imp grinning at me. It flew across the room and out the window. I was scared to death." 

Therapeutic Dialogue -or- The Devil and the Romantic Flame 

The dialogue below between therapist and client follows the "Socratic method" of question and answer. In the case of talking about dreams, the question is "what does it mean?". Here are some of the questions, and some of the answers; 

  • Therapist: What is the flame you would get if you were sleeping with your mother?
  • Patient: Love of my mother, I suppose.
  • Therapist: What is the flame you would get if you were sleeping with a young lady?
  • Patient: Passion. 

Next Therapy Session; 

  • Patient: Perhaps I'm scared of a girl because I'm terrified that my sexual feelings might run away with me, and I might not act rationally.
  • Therapist: What might you do?
  • Patient: I might love her to much.
  • Therapist: What would that lead to?
  • Patient: My desire would be to put my arms around her, and tell her I love her. But I was scared.
  • Therapist: Does that seem so terrifying?
  • Patient: Well, I might have sexual intercourse with her: that would be going to far.
  • Therapist: Would it?
  • Patient: Well, perhaps not as far as sexual intercourse. If that is the devil, he is quite a harmless devil. Perhaps the sooner I went to the devil the better.
  • Therapist: If that's all there is to it, why is there all this scare?
  • Patient: Apparently all this time I have been afraid of being possed by my own nature. 

Children's Fears and the Gothic Flame -or- Going to the Devil 

From a "psychohistory" perspective which relies on biographical information, this childhood nightmare had a key psychological influence on the clients cognitive and emotional development. This client does not stand alone in his associating women with the devil. The dream interpretation "Confessions of a Porn Addict" talks of a similar pre-occupation and obsession. In his conversation with his therapist, the client associates the flaming imp in his dream as representing "love" and "passion". 

In "The Gothic Flame" Devendra Varma discusses the psychological difference between "horror" and "terror". Gothic terror arouses dread, which anticipates the object of fear before the terrifying experience happens. By contrast,  the feelings of horror and the arousal of revulsion usually occurs as a consequence of a frightening encounter with something seen, heard or sensed. Said differently Varma tells us that the difference between terror and horror, is the difference; "between the smell of death and stumbling against a corpse." The child's fears in the nightmare, were either never discussed or taken seriously by his family. This created a psychopathological fixation that associated the devil with sexuality, which then grew into a full blown obsession and psychological "splitting" disorder. 

From an artistic perspective, Henri Fuseli's "The Nightmare" (images in the theatre above) provides the Gothic romance and horror background of the archetypal demon in the painting, as well as in the dream above. Perhaps on a final note, from a popular music perspective, The Doors "Light My Fire" provides the sentimental poetic background song and lyrics for this dream of passion. 

Further Reading: 

  • 1. Sebastian de Grazia, "Errors of Psychotherapy"
  •     Gaston Bachelard, "Psychoanalysis of Fire"
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.