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John Henry Fuseli The Nightmare

Old Hag Syndrome

Have you ever experienced had a dream, most likely a nightmare, and suddenly felt paralyzed unable to move, defend, or flee? Then you may be suffering from Old Hag syndrome! The name of the syndrome comes from an old myth that a witch or “old Hag” is sitting on the victim’s chest. It is a thoroughly terrifying experience. In modern times the old myth belief has been dismissed and doctors call what is happening to you Sleep Paralysis.

The phenomenon is thought to happen to about 15% of people at one time or another. It can happen day or night, and has been documented since ancient times. Accounts of Old Hag Syndrome often reflect the cultural fears of the time. Past accounts have seen the symptoms accompanied by approaching footsteps, strange smells and apparitions of glowing eyes. Modern episodes of Old Hag Syndrome often include aliens in addition to many of the classic apparitions. Many sufferers however will tell you that this is not simple sleep paralysis and the apparitions they experience are real. These include the freighting belief that these bouts of Old Hag Syndrome may be supernatural psychic attacks by beings supernatural or otherwise.

At this point many may be tempted to think this explains a swath of paranormal phenomena. While this may be true in specific cases involving individuals it does not account for cases involving two or more individuals. It also fails to explain case where physical evidence is left.

What causes Old Hag Syndrome? Modern medicine suggests that it is merely a state of still being in REM sleep while being awake. REM state is the sleep period during which dreams occur. It is named for the rapid eye movement or REM that occurs during dreams. Paralysis during REM sleep occurs for everyone. The paralysis is believed to confer an evolutionary advantage in that it keeps us from harming ourselves during sleep and make detections by predators less likely. Old Hag Syndrome occurs when the waking state and REM state overlap. For some people this overlap can occur when they are over tired, or have had a disrupted sleep schedule. It is believed the brain gets a little confused because of these disruptions and in turn causes the overlap of the waking and REM state to occur.

Old Hag Syndrome is a thoroughly terrifying experience to those who suffer from it. Waking at night and feeling a presence on your person while being paralyzed is not what anyone would want, add to that the visions, inability to breath and many people will panic. In spite of its terrifying aspects can present a remarkable opportunity. The opportunity is lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming is in many ways similar to Old Hag Syndrome. The main difference is in lucid dreaming you are aware that it is a dream. Another key aspect of lucid dreaming is being able to influence the content of the dream. Lucid dreaming can be achieved by not fighting the paralysis but instead focusing on changing some aspect of the content of the dream. I’ve personally been successful at doing this only a couple of times in my life and for only a short time. It is like the best experiencing the best immersive movie game combo you can imagine. Unfortunately the two times I’ve attained this state, one was during Old Hag Syndrome, it was the excitement that accompanies it woke me up. Good luck and congratulations if you can achieve lucid dreaming.

An interesting item to note is African Americans may be predisposed to Old Hag Syndrome as indicated by this study. To be honest I’m torn between sympathy and jealously because while it is a terrifying experience it does offer more opportunities for lucid dreaming.

Every cultural group and race of man has experience the phenomena of Old Hag Syndrome. Although not always called “Old Hag Syndrome” there are documented cases of the phenomena from almost every modern culture:

Fiji : The experience is know as kana tevoro which translates as eaten by a demon. The fijians hold that the spirit is a recently deceased relative that has come back to communicate with the living. The person seeing the demon will often speak to it to shoo it away.

Thailand: Old hag syndrome is caused by the ghost Phi Am, the spirit is often said to cause bruises. Bruising is often reported as a side effect of Old Hag syndrome although those who believe it only as sleep paralysis will say that the victim causes the bruising to themselves from panic when they awake fully from their paralysis.

China: Old hag syndrome is seen as a “ghost pressing on body”

America: Reports of Old Hag syndrome were widespread throughout the Salem witch trials. Bridget Bishop, the first person executed for witchcraft, was reported to have attacked several of the men of Salem in their bedrooms! More recently Old Hag Syndrome has been put forward as a explanation for the alien abduction accounts and shadow people.

So whether it is sleep paralysis or Old Hag syndrome, or something else altogether such as aliens remember the Hag may strike at any time. Perhaps she will come for you tonight and if she does pray you can turn it into a lucid dream otherwise you are going to have a terrifying experience.

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