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Friday 16 October 2020

The Dream That Led to Murder

      There are so many anecdotes of accurate premonitions of danger, either waking or dreaming, that we must accept this form of ESP as one of our evolved survival strategies. A strong premonition of this sort commonly induces the percipient to alter his behaviour in order to avoid the danger. But what if there are serious consequences of such an action? What if cancelling your plane flight at the last moment means losing both the fare and the cost of your holiday? What if your boss insists you make the journey? Worse still, how do you know that attempting to avoid the danger won't make it come true?
    The blog of Professor emeritus Michael Swords - bless him! - put me onto a fascinating book by Catherine Crowe published in 1850 entitled, The Night-Side of Nature You can read or download it here and here. So far, I am only in the first few chapters, but already it is full of revealing anecdotes.
    Thus, chapter 5, or "Warnings" tells of Dr W., who dreamed that he was called to a patient several miles away, and while he was crossing a moor on horseback, he was attacked by a bull. Only by locating a spot inaccessible to the bull was he able to escape, and there he remained until some people discovered his plight and rescued him. The next morning, he received a summons from that very patient. "What an unusual coincidence!" he thought. But as he was crossing the moor - lo and behold! - there was a bull, the last thing you would expect on the commons. Need I say more? The action played out exactly as per the dream, and it was only because of the dream that he was able to find the safe site where he spent four hours held up. Obviously, if you receive a warning dream, it is a good idea to heed it.
    Or is it? The most disturbing story was one she culled from a newspaper, although she did not provide a citation, only the text. Although the original story came from Germany, I presume she was quoting a Scottish newspaper, because of the use of the term, "baillie" for a certain type of municipal official. A Hamburg locksmith called Claude Soller was approached by his apprentice, who related his dream of the previous night. He had been murdered on the road to Bergsdorff, a small town about two hours' journey away. (This is presumably different from the modern town of Bergsdorf, which is a long way off.)
    We must imagine a frightened lad in his late teens. The locksmith scoffed at his worries. It was only a dream, after all. And to demonstrate his contempt for the idea, he immediately gave him a mission to Bergsdorff. Soller's brother-in-law lived there, and since he (Soller) owed him 140 rixdollars - which was no doubt a lot of money in those days - the apprentice was to take them to him. The poor boy begged and complained, but to no avail, so at 11 am, off he went.
    Halfway to his destination, he came to the village of Billwaerder (now Billwerder, an outer suburb of Hamburg), where the terror of his dream took hold of him. Seeing the "baillie" supervising some workmen, he told him of his dream and implored him, because he was carrying money, to allow one of the workmen to accompany him through a small wood en route. The baillie was happy to oblige.
    Next day some peasants brought in the corpse of the apprentice, his throat cut, along with the blood-stained reaping hook found next to the body. The baillie immediately recognized it as the instrument he had given to his workman to trim the willow: the same workman he had appointed to be the apprentice's guide. It just goes to show you should never contemplate murder if you are completely stupid. The workman confessed, and admitted it was the apprentice's story of his dream which had put the idea into his head.
    There is a common motif in fiction whereby attempting to outwit a prophesy actually causes its fulfilment, but in real life, a premonition of danger usually allows the recipient to avoid it. However, in this case, the murder would never have taken place if the victim hadn't dreamed about it, and then talked about the dream. Of course, it could have been just be a coincidence: a bad dream with no psychic overtones, but which inspired two people to act it out. I hope so, because if it wasn't, it raises disturbing questions about causation, free will, and destiny.
    Anyhow, if I ever have a premonition, I hope it is about a plane crash, because my cancelling will not cause it to crash. At least, I hope it won't.

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