cultures in their mythology spirits are said to aid people
when they have nightmares.
In Japan, these spirits are known as the "Baku”.
The Baku are
said to have many different characteristics, but for the
most part, they are pleasant creatures who help human beings
even if they do have a ferocious appearance. The
chief characteristic of a Baku is that he "eats"
bad dreams. In
doing so, nightmares can turn bad into future good fortune. It
was considered good luck to have a Baku spirit around to
protect you when you need it, but not necessarily to have
one around all the time.
While most of the stories about the Baku are
positive, there are also some accounts of the Baku, which
might make it an unwelcome visitor!
The Baku are said to have a
very curious appearance, being a composite of several
different creatures. While
there is some discrepancy between representations, it is
usual to think of Baku as having the head of an elephant
(including the tusks) with a lion's mane, the body of a
horse or a lion, legs and feet like a tiger, and the tail of
a cow. Other images may have a pig-like appearance, although
retaining body parts from other species. In
many cases, it was considered helpful to have an image of a
Baku in your bedroom. Therefore,
some people would stitch the Baku's name into pillow cases
or sheets as a way to invite him into the room. In
modern times, children are sometimes given a stuffed Baku to
sleep with as protection against bad dreams. In
addition to having images of Baku present, people who want
their dreams eaten should wake from a nightmare and say
"Baku, please devour my dreams!"
There are many legends and
stories surrounding the Baku. Sometimes,
they are said to respond to human entreaty, only going where
he is needed and eating those dreams causing the person
sleeping distress. However,
another less common depiction of Baku has them existing
almost as an infestation in peoples' homes, eating every
dream rather than just the bad ones. People
in this situation would thus lose all their dreams, and may
even have trouble sleeping at all. Nevertheless,
stories like this are not common.
In fact, it is most common for people to view the
Baku as beneficial spirits.
are many different images of the Baku now available, with
many people turning to this centuries-old belief to aid them
with their dreams. Ivory
carvings of the Baku from the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries are popular, as are lithographed prints. Like
the Native American Dreamcatcher, the Baku is proving that
mythological spirits can cross cultural boundaries.
Who knows, if you implore him to, this creature may
even visit your bedroom to eat up your bad dreams!