Nachtmahr Box

Johann Heinrich Füssli 053
Johann Heinrich Füssli “Nachtmahr”, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Yay! I finally finished this edition of 12 Nachtmahr Boxes. And so here comes the Nachtmahr Box story as promised. There were several reasons why I pushed off from writing this blogpost again and again. For one, it is a little longish and complicated story. Unfortunately, delaying writing about it, doesn’t necessary make it easier.

So, let me start easy: What does “Nachtmahr Box” mean? Well, first of all this book is in the form of an altered matchbox, which accounts for “box”. Nachtmahr is the German name both for nightmare (a little oldfashioned word to use, though) and for the creature that is thought to cause nightmares by sitting on its victim’s chest.

nachtmahr box by H. Kurzke
Nachtmahr Box 4/12

The boxes are painted with black gesso and red acrylic paint. A figure, scanned, from Androvani’s Monstrorum Historia from 1642 (available for example through Paul K. – thank you!), modified, and cut-out, adorns the front. Inside the drawer you will find a selection of found objects: a piece of wood, a spade of grass, a dried leaf, a cherry stone, a piece of copper, and varying additions that differ from box to box: stones, glass pieces, a button, … On the inside of the box is a pencil drawing, showing a waning moon, shining over a grass plain (in the background there is a lake which is more or less apparent for different boxes) and a tree with all its leaves laid out in a pattern around it. – Plus the edition number and my signature. Once you emptied the box, you will find that on the backside of the drawer, a spell is written:

Nachtmahr Box 9/12 by H. Kurzke
Nachtmahr Box 9/12 – showing the spell

Nachtmahr, du lällek Dier,
komm van dese Nacht niet hier
Alle Water söllt gej waaije,
Alle Boome söllt gej blaaije,
Alle Spille Gras söj telle,
Komm mej vanne Nacht niet kwelle.

This is German, Rhineland dialect to be precise. From when the spell originates is unknown. And there lies – maybe that is a surprise – a long story. Well, let me first talk a little more about the book that is finished, before I dwelve into the genesis and research preceeding this book.

The following is a rough translation. The original German rhymes and has better rhythm than what I can immitate with English words. – I am not good at translating poems:

Nightmare you evil creature
don’t come here tonight.
All waters you shall wade,
All trees you shall de-leaf,
All spades of grass you shall count,
don’t come torturing me in the night.

And this should explain the presence of wood, leaf and grass in the box. All items in there were found in our garden and the immediate sourroundings, – though not completely on chance, I took my family on nightmare-box-completion-walks a couple of times during these past weeks.
The box and the objects can be used to put up an installation against nightmare on your nightstand, facing away from you (and toward the potential nightmare) as a last barrier before he can come to you. The spell on the back of the box can then be read and recited while lying in bed.

Nachtmahr Box 9/12 by H. Kurzke
Nachtmahr Box 9/12 – sample installation

The copper bits lay in dozens along our road. I can only suspect that they were some kind of clamps, used for some cable works, maybe? I found it wonderful how they glimmered in the summer sun and felt almost too hot to pick them up from the heat… I have chosen the specific objects to go into the boxes because I found them beautiful, because I felt they fit within the atmosphere I wanted to create, because I felt a connection somehow, and because I could give a meaning to them in this context. But you are invited to find your own meanings, use just some or all for your installation, or maybe add objects of your own.

Nachtmahr Box No. 9/12, Hilke Kurzke
Nachtmahr Box No. 9/12 – closed with scroll

The box is accompanied by a parchment scroll. This scroll merely contains information about the text and the image used on the box. But I used real parchment and bone beads so that it would fit in theme with the box, and if desired it could be part of the installation, too.

Well, so here comes the background story about the text. It is a bit of a science thriller, or at least it appeared so to me, while it was going on:

I hope this is a good cliffhanger, because it got so late while writing this, that I  just cannot continue right now. And the blog post is quite long already… I am planning to continue the story soon.

nachtmahr box by H. Kurzke
Nachtmahr Box 5/12 – sample installation

6 replies on “Nachtmahr Box”

    1. 🙂 Hold on tight then. I might finish tonight, or maybe during the upcoming weekend. We are house hunting and getting the children introduced into a new nursery at the same time -> crazy time with few downtime.
      I didn’t mean to end like that, I literally almost fell asleep typing the last paragraph and realized I couldn’t go on.

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