Editor's note: Ugh. Looks like we were fooled on this one. This whole website and story is a hoax.
I can't remember the first time I saw the composite image of the face of the man thousands of people have claimed to see in their dreams, but by now it seems like decades ago. It's not even exactly a timeless face, one you could imagine appearing commonly among strangers; more so, he looks like someone who might turn up in the newspaper, wanted for killing dozens of people.
According to the website devoted to him, "This Man," as he is regularly referred to, first appeared in New York in 2006, when a psychiatrist sketched the face of a man who had begun showing up in her dreams repeatedly, bearing intimate knowledge of her life, and found that several of her patients claimed to have been also visited by the same person.
Since then, as the image spread, people all across the world began to come forward claiming to have also seen him, to have had various sorts of relationships with him, to have been given strange advice. His presence seems both menacing and foreboding at the same time, unclear in purpose, but haunting to those in whom he does appear.
Whether its some kind of urban legend, or an idea spread by suggestion, or whatever other explanation, there's something penetrating about the idea of a person being able to lace his way through countless dream worlds. Whatever the reasoning, there is something penetrating about the image, the way it seems to watch you, to know more about why you are looking at the image than even you do.
Recently, I got in touch with Andrea Natella, the person who runs the This Man website and database, to try to uncover more information about the phenomenon.
VICE: What was your first experience with "This Man"?
Andrea Natella: It was during the winter of 2008 when This Man popped up in a dream. He invited me to create a website to find an answer to his own appearance. I used facial composite software and I took the first one I could find and designed his face: round shape, bushy eyebrows, thin lips, and a receding hairline. I circulated this draft among the colleagues of mine at my advertising office and among some international artists I know who all liked the project concept. I collected feedback and hints and so I built thisman.org, following This Man's instructions from that dream.
Do you remember what his voice sounded like, or how he communicated, any specific mannerisms, and/or where you were physically as a location in the dream?
I'm afraid we don't have acknowledgment of his voice. Usually in our dreams we tend to remember more the visual part and rarely the audio one. It's very rare to find someone remembering a voice; at best they can remember a song. Usually This Man never speaks; sometimes he just stands by a door, and if he does speak, he uses a native language of dreamers.
The sketch on your website kind of looks like what I stereotypically imagine when I think of a pedophile. But he also kind of looks like a dentist I used to have. Have you ever seen someone in real life that you thought could be This Man, or heard significant stories of people who have?
We receive thousands of [letters in the mail] each month. One third of them are about who This Man resembles. The most common associations are The Man from Another Place from Twin Peaks, the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, or The Twilight Zone Dummy. A lot of people are confident they are themselves This Man like the Indian guru Arud Kannan Ayya who uses him as proof of his powers.
In many of the accounts of his interactions with people, This Man seems passive, like his presence alone is stronger than anything he could say or do. And yet that inactivity, the repeating appearance, seems somehow active in itself, violent even. Throughout the reports you've received, have you heard of any examples of concrete actions taken by This Man?
Actually we have two big categories of dreams. The first one concerns typical nightmares where This Man scares, chases, kidnaps, and sometimes kills the dreamer. The second category is totally different. Here, This Man is friendly, he just stares at the dreamer sometimes helping him in such a way. It seems like a gnostic struggle between evil and good but it could also be a complementarity, as Yin and Yang.
Outside of this classification we have a mysterious phenomenon. Several dreamers report an "order" given by This Man. He says to "Go North." This imperative appears in very different kind of dreams, but there is no coherence between these dreams. We look forward to finding an explanation.
Here are some dreams about this phenomena from our database. [Editor's Note: The written accounts have been edited for clarity]
Date: January 5, 2014
I was in my room and I heard muffled screams coming from my parents room. I heard things being dragged in the hallway outside my room and my door slowly started to open. There was "This Man" walking into my room while dragging both my parents behind him. He slowly propped them on the wall, both staring at me. He wrote something in blood on my wall and stared back at me. It was too dark for me to see it, so I slowed my breathing and tried to pretend to sleep. After a while, my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and I could see the writing on the wall: "I know you're awake."
Date: September 2, 2013
City: Palm Beach
Starting when I was seven, I had the exact same dream on Tuesdays and Friday for ten years. I'm 17 now, and I have became very familiar with this man, although I do not have very nice dreams about him. I dream that I'm laying in my bed and he is wearing a cowboy hat, leaning over me and making a strange noise—almost as if he was growling at me. And on his shirt is a gold round pendant that has moulded into the gold, " GO NORTH." Other nights, he would be standing across my bedroom, staring at me. Every morning when I wake up, I burst into tears for absolutely no reason, it's like "This Man" is giving me hormonal problems. When I saw the pictures on this website I started crying out of fear. He never spoke to me. He only made weird noises.
Date: March 7, 2013
I dreamt of this man… He was following me through a park in the dead of night. I couldn't understand why he was following me, so I started running. He easily kept the same pace as me. He gave a small groan and sped up until he was in front of me. He put his hand out, stopping me from running. He pulled me close to him, but he only spoke 21 words. I still think about them every night: "On April 9, 2021 go North. It's the only way to survive." After saying this, the man ran away. I tried to catch up to him to ask more, but I couldn't keep up. As I watched him fade away in the distance, I got a strange feeling. I woke up immediately after he left my line of sight.
Date: January 9, 2011
City: Fort Lauderdale
I dreamt of this man… A couple years ago I had to see a couples therapist because I was having reoccurring dreams about this middle-aged man who kept attacking me. He never said anything. I woke up soaking wet in sweat every night. This was the same time I met a guy in college who was very creepy and stalked me. He always found a way into my dorm and would sit there all night. I was put on Trazadone to help me get through the nights. I also have a dream where someone is always telling me to go north. Just like someone else wrote under the dream link. I got it tattooed on my ankle because I swore it meant something. I'm almost positive "This Man" is the one who comes to see me in my dreams.
VICE: What do you think This Man wants?
Andrea Natella: We constantly try to understand this point, but we have no clue about what This Man wants, or if he wants something at all. One thing seems clear: This Man is a kind of wormhole. Some people are confident he is just my invention, but I am only a point in a time loop. This Man was dreamed even before I could draw his face. Even before the first patient identified him in New York.
We have evidence of people dreaming about him 30 years ago. Every day we receive news about kids who have begun dreaming about him somewhere new in the world. I believe it's not This Man who does time traveling, but it's us who moves through a fourth dimension. It's a loop with no chicken, nor the egg.
I think the key factor of This Man's success on the web is his ability to represent an extra dimension. As we travel in the global space with a click, we can also "time travel" with a dream. He is a kind of star in the nights of Captain Ahab who help us to catch our inner whale.
Is there anyone people who have not dreamed of This Man could train themselves to find him in sleep, or even in person, or online?
Of course we could induce ourselves to dream about This Man. Dreams are made of thoughts and daytime facts. Everyone who saw the design sketch could dream about him. Once, someone even attempted to increase the number of dreams by putting a picture of him on the bedside table and this appeared to work well. Perhaps they don't really dream This Man, they only dream a simulacrum of him.
So we should prefer people that have recognized him only after having really dreamed him. We actually don't really know if This Man is a set of dreamlike facts, or if he is a man at all, or a simulacrum of himself. But if This Man really is a wormhole among dimensions, maybe this distinction is futile.
Follow Blake Butler onTwitter.