6. A drop of water dropped on his forehead. He was in Italy, was sweating violently and was drinking white Orvieto wine.
“There are no dreams that are absolutely reasonable and that do not contain some incoherence, anachronism or absurdity.”
While ill (and being cared for by his mother) Alfred Maury, one of the grandfathers of oneirology, had a dream of the Reign of Terror (his mother?)
and the French Revolution (revolting!), of which the guillotine is a symbol.
The one sickness (Revolution) engendered the other (Reign of Terror).
In the dream, after witnessing many executions, Maury was summoned before the tribunal, headed by Robespierre and Marat, which found him guilty of treason. He was then led to the platform to join those about to be executed. His head was placed on the lunette. He observed with horror as the blade descended and struck his neck.
Upon waking, he discovered that the canopy over his bed had fallen and the rod had landed upon his neck in the exact place the guillotine’s blade would have hit had he been beheaded. True to his belief that the source of the dream was in sensory impressions, he claimed that the entire dream had transpired in the extremely short time between the blow to his neck and his awakening.
La Guillotine has been cited by many oneirologists, most notably Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud interpreted the dream to reveal a latent desire to die a hero’s death as compensation for the frustration Maury had experienced as a failed politician.
Maury himself devised many experiments to prove his theory that our dreams reflect the conditions and phenomena of our direct environment. Experiments included:
- His lips and the tip of his nose were tickled with a feather.––He dreamt of a frightful form of torture: a mask made of pitch was placed on his face, and then pulled off so that it took his skin off with it.
- A pair of scissors was sharpened on a pair of pliers.––He heard bells pealing, followed by alarm-bells, and he was back in the June days of 1848.
- He was given some eau-de-cologne to smell.––He was in Cairo, in Johann Maria Farina’s shop. Some absurd adventures followed, which he could not reproduce.
- He was pinched lightly on the neck.––He dreamt he was being given a mustard plaster and thought of the doctor who had treated him as a child.
- A hot iron was brought close to his face.––He dreamt that the ‘chauffeurs’ (The ‘chauffeurs’ [heaters] were bands of robbers in La Vendée [at the time of the French Revolution], who made us of the method of torture described.) had made their way into the house and were forcing its inhabitants to give up their money by sticking their feet into braziers of hot coal. The Duchess of Abrantes, whose secretary he was in the dream, then appeared.
- A drop of water dropped on his forehead.––He was in Italy, was sweating violently and was drinking white Orvieto wine.
- Light from a candle was repeatedly shone on him through a sheet of red paper.––He dreamt of the weather and of the heat and was once again in a storm he had experienced in the English Channel.
~The Interpretation of Dreams
Freud concluded (and others since—probably quite correctly) that what Dr. Maury actually studied were hypnagogic hallucinations (a term Maury himself coined) NOT actual dreams. Hypnogogic hallucinations could be influenced by sensory impressions while we sleep, whereas dreams occur in an altogether different stage of sleep. While hypnagogic hallucinations are often dream-like in nature, they occur in transition between consciousness and sleep when the brain is most dominated by alpha and theta waves, intermixed with some REM sleep. During this transition time, sleepers have some awareness of environment and external sensations. Dream sleep is entirely REM sleep; meaning we have no awareness of our external environment at all.