Author and Reiki Master Cat Wheeler shares a variety of extraordinary experiences from her time living in Singapore and Bali over the past two decades. She talks about how she learned to clear spaces of unwanted energies and achieve fearlessness.
Detail from “The Birth of Hanoman,” I Gusti Made Deblog, 1936, Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
Introduction. Extraordinarium features personal experiences of the extraordinary as a way to explore their diversity and to broaden the conversation about how such experiences impact people’s lives. Publications such as Fate and Fortean Times have featured such personal experiences over the decades as a way of giving experients a voice, and part of Extraordinarium’s mandate is to do the same – to ensure that those who have extraordinary experiences have a forum in which they can share them first-hand, in their own words. From there, critical inquiry and respectful discussion can follow. (See below for details on how to share your own experience).
Welcome to the second installment of “In My Own Words.”
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Foreword by Christopher Laursen. Cat Wheeler, better known in Ubud, Bali, as ‘Ibu Kat’ (Mother Kat), has been living on the Indonesian island since 2000. A Canadian expatriate who was raised in Vancouver, she is a writer, social activist and Reiki Master. Her book Bali Daze (previously published as Dragons in the Bath) is a lively series of brief anecdotes about living there, building her own house, adjusting to the way of being on the island and even having the occasional encounter with strange things. Bali Daze is required reading for anyone considering resettling in Bali, and it is well worth reading for all who are coming to visit. It sets the scene for the nuances of Hindu-Balinese culture that is truly unlike any other in the world. Cat writes about how one must become more flexible to live there, respecting and adapting to the ways of the Balinese people, sharing their own knowledge while maintaining one’s own personal integrity. She writes a column, Greenspeak, for the expatriate English language newspaper the Bali Advertiser, and actively converses with people – locals and those from afar – sharing their lives and the issues they have to deal with on a daily basis. For Cat, writing on the environment extends concerns of preserving nature, land use, and pollution to virtually everything that may impact a person in the place where they live.
I sat down and had tea with Cat one cool, rainy season afternoon at her shady home in Ubud which is situated on the edge of a ravine – the place where an alternate dimension exists, where the Orang Sungei – the River People live. She writes in her book, “The River People are generally friendly and sociable, but have been known to become angry when people throw rubbish down the riverbanks. Then they will drag the polluter down, sometimes to his death.” One of her dogs, Kasey, had met such an unfortunate fate in the gorge beside her home. Afterward, Cat recalled to me, she would dream of him and record these dreams – to find out that her housekeeper Wayan Manis had shared the same dream. In Bali Daze, she recounts the joys and frustrations of living on the island, of taking care of rescued animals, of growing gardens, and the friendship and humour she’s shared with her Balinese staff, Wayan Manis and Nyoman.
Cat shared several extraordinary incidents that she experienced over the past 20 years, both in Singapore – where she lived in the 1990s – and since moving to Bali. Here, she shares six of these moments. What I find striking about them is the variety of experiences. Encounters with sword-wielding apparitions, shoe-throwing energies, things going mysteriously missing, a moment of transoceanic synchronicity that led to a friendship, and possessed schoolgirls.
The Haunted Rowhouses
Early on in Singapore, I lived in a row of old houses that had been built by the British. After independence, they went downhill, from being officers’ quarters to being drug dens with prostitutes and gangs – really rough trade. It was like that for about 30 years. Just before I moved in, they’d been all bought and gentrified, so they were old and restored. But they were hopping! And because they were cheap for Singapore, the people who lived there tended to be artists, writers, designers, landscape architects, creative people who were travelling a lot so the houses were often empty.
A good friend mine [Donna]… moved into a house two doors down from me. And because she was on the road almost all the time and her furniture had not yet arrived, she was over at my house most nights for dinner. One night she came over, we visited and ate dinner with some friends and I, and she went home. A few minutes later she was back, her eyes like saucers, saying there’s something weird going on in my bedroom. There were four of us altogether. Nicole, Donna and my friend Jenny, who is very psychic and intuitive, and very open. She and I learned Reiki together and had been doing very interesting work together for several years at that time.
So we all went next door and up the stairs, opened the door to Donna’s bedroom, walked in, and there’s a WHOOSH of cold energy. Whenever I’m in the presence of something like that, my left side feels chilled. So I knew, Ooo! something’s cooking in here! Nicole and Donna went running out in alarm and huddled together half way down the stairs. Jenny entered the bedroom and immediately doubled over and started howling. I didn’t experience any of this; I started to channel. I put my hands on her shoulders, just moved with her and tried to keep her grounded. And after a little while, I thought, This is getting boring. Now what is really going on here? I opened all of the doors and windows. For some reason, Donna had about 40 pairs of shoes in there, and I felt moved to pitch them all out onto the balcony. I said, Okay, that’s enough! Out you go! I started jumping up and down, making loud noises. I had no techniques at that time. There was a kind of sound and a blast of energy went out the bedroom door. Donna and Nicole said they felt it go past them on the stairs as a cold wind, then it was gone. I thought, Well, I wonder what happened there?
This was my first experience, a long time ago. I wasn’t so well connected at the time. I phoned around to a few people and asked, How do you clear spaces? No one had any idea. So I had to create a technique, which I did. And because this kind of thing is all about intention, it worked. After that I started to get some calls from neighbours. There were a lot of old energies from that period of gangsters, drugs and prostitutes – a lot of really sad, stuck, lost spirits.
I had a big upstairs room where my Reiki Master would teach when she was in Singapore. I apprenticed with her for 18 months before I became a teacher myself, mostly at my house. One evening after a workshop when the students had left, several of us were unwinding over dinner downstairs with some wine. There were five or six of us in the house — Reiki masters, level twos, level ones. No one was upstairs. Suddenly there were two loud bangs overhead and I was sent upstairs. My Japanese roommate kept her shoes in a bookshelf at one end of the long narrow hall. Something had taken her shoes and thrown them down to the other end of the hall. So we all had to go upstairs, open up the doors and windows and clear it. It took some time, I guess because we hadn’t cleared the room where we’d been raising energy for two or three days and it had really built up. Finally we felt it was gone and went and finished dinner. Donna returned home and immediately discovered that it had moved to her house! In one way or another, we got quite a bit of practice.
It’s spiritual housekeeping. If you’re in a space that’s dirty, you have to clean it! It’s not dangerous. The energies are not angry or malevolent. They’re just sad and stuck. But I always protect myself well first as standard operating procedure.
Cat Wheeler and Chiko, an eclectus, a bird native to eastern Indonesia.
The Dinner Guest
Cat’s house seems far from the bustling main roads of the cultural centre of Ubud, Bali. For visitors to find her house, she needs to give detailed directions that involve finding the narrow alley where she lives. She tells me,
This is a very highly charged piece of land, according to the Balinese. I’ve had a couple of Balians – shamans – visit me here, walk around, come back and say, Not many people could live here.
Sitting on a daybed overlooking her garden and the jungle beyond, Cat gives me a sense of the space around her. She points to the north. “The big death temple is there.” That’s where high caste cremations occur, the final part of a long process after Balinese-Hindu people die, which begins with ceremonies, processions, and often a burial. When a priest chooses the right date for cremation, the body is exhumed and further rituals are carried out before the body is paraded down the street on a platform and taken to the cremation grounds. Cat points to the east. “The river frontage is right below us, in a deep ravine.” This is where the River People reside, and Cat’s house is right on the edge of it, her fence forming a physical boundary between her backyard and an altogether separate dimension where Balinese people generally do not venture. To the south, “The priest’s house is there,” Cat points out. He is her landlord. “It’s a very lively piece of land,” she adds, pointing. “The dogs sometimes just stand here and stare at that corner.” She indicates a spot where the jungle crawls up from the river to shade the edge of her garden. What could entrance the dogs at the edge of the deep river gorge? Cat launches into a tale about an encounter she had with something on the perimeter of her property.
I had a dinner party once and eight people were sitting around the table. I was sitting with my back to the forest. I was chatting to a friend who was sitting beside me, and she happened to look past me [to the forest] and said, Oh my god! I turned around and just caught the edge of this huge face rising up out of the dark jungle on the other side of the wall, the face was perhaps three metres high. Just as I was trying to focus on it, it pixelated and just dissolved away. Colleen and I were the only people who saw it. Did it want to join the party?
Because this is such a highly charged piece of land, because of the work I do, I put up a barrier, a boundary wall which very clearly separates my side/your side. I’ve asked that it be respected. It’s not unseldom that things happen on the other side, but they do honour our agreement and stay out of the house and garden.
One of the strangest things that ever happened to me took place before I moved here, more than 15 years ago. I went up with a friend to Candidasa in August, the cremation season. We were staying in a little place near the sea. Our room was a small cottage with an ylang ylang (grass) roof. I’m allergic to grass roofs and I asked if I could have a bed made up on the bale in the walled garden, so I could sleep outside.
A bale, which literally translates to something like ‘space out platform’ according to my Indonesian language teacher, is a simple wooden structure composed of a platform and a roof held up by four wooden pillars. It is traditionally found out in the rice fields, a place for farmers to have a siesta in the heat of the afternoon, or for friends to sit in when they visit. Such structures are also found at hotels, in villas and in Balinese compounds. Cat continued to recount her experience.
Of course the Balinese consider it absolutely mad and terribly dangerous to sleep outside, because of all the spiritual activity. They themselves sleep in closed-up rooms, usually with the windows tightly shut.
I’m a Reiki practitioner and teacher. Before I went to bed, I laid symbols [that I use for various rituals] all around the bale. It just felt like a good idea.
All around – at the beach, in the mountains, in the distance and not so far away – there was chanting, gamelan music, there was drumming, all kinds of death ceremony rituals going on in the night. Lots of energy in the air. I had a hard time falling asleep. I opened my eyes at one point thinking, What is going on here? It’s so lively. I sat up. And coming at me out of each of the three walls of the garden were these apparitions: faces, masks, swords, severed hands. They’d fly out of the walls right up to the edge of the bale. And then they’d disappear, pixilate, where I’d laid the symbols and protection. Just like a movie! And it would not quit.
I wasn’t frightened. But after quite a while I felt, Give me a break, guys! Hours of this! Only when it began to get light did the action stop. I was absolutely exhausted, but intrigued.
“Have you told Balinese people about this?” I ask Cat.
It’s very difficult to describe what happened in Indonesian. They would think, Why would you sleep outside? That’s crazy, all kinds of spirits walk at night.
The Possessed Schoolgirls
One day there was a possession in the school across the street. I heard people screaming and running and the school loudspeaker ordering everyone to go home, quickly. My Balinese staff told me I should go help. I asked, should a foreigner go over there and do that? Is that appropriate? They said yes. So I put protection around myself and climbed the steps of the school against a tide of hysterical teenagers and teachers and started to hold the space for this girl who was possessed.
“She was what?” I ask.
They do have possession here. I looked it up on the Internet afterwards, and it seems to be not uncommon with teenagers of a certain age in many countries.
There were two girls. One was catatonic and the other I can only describe as crazed, enraged. I sat and held space for the catatonic one. Her friend, to her credit, was bravely cradling her. The other girl was possessed by a dark entity, she was full of ferocious energy. If she’d had a knife in her hand, she would have disembowelled everyone in sight. She would rage then periodically collapse and huddle, shivering, behind the school temple. Wayan Manis came and joined me after a while, which was very brave for a Balinese. This probably went on for an hour, until finally someone sent a car around and they took the girls away. I asked for holy water and the principal, who was also a priest, sprinkled it over Wayan and me. The teachers told the girls to take a month off, go see a Balian and do what needs to be done. But a week later, the girls insisted on coming back to school and the same thing happened again.
“Catherine Wheeler, it is not your time to die…”
About thirteen years ago I was thinking about moving to Bali from Singapore. I came here with several friends and we stayed on the south coast. One morning four of us went walking by the sea. It was a quiet, early morning, not stormy at all. We were walking on the sand about three metres from the waterline. Suddenly, almost right in front of the hotel, a huge rogue wave came up, two metres tall – a wall of water – and hit us like a train. My three friends were swept up a surge channel. I was luckily thrown into a breakwater because I can’t swim. We were all banged up a lot, but we all survived. It was a very traumatic experience.
Three or four years ago, maybe ten years after this event, I got an e-mail out of the blue from a woman in Argentina. She said, You’re going to think I’m absolutely mad. She studied dreams and she wrote, Last night, I had a dream that there was a bay in a tropical area and a boat was rocking and the waves were high. There was a feeling of danger, but a voice said very clearly, “Catherine Wheeler, it is not your time to die.” I Googled Catherine Wheeler and your name came up. You must think I’m crazy. Does it make any sense to you?
I wrote back to say that’s really very interesting! [laughs] That’s exactly what happened! She’d dreamed about an event that happened to me a decade or so before. A very immediate dream with my name very clearly stated, so she was able to find me. What is going on there? One person’s name clearly enunciated to a complete stranger on the other side of the world. Go figure…
We became friends. She’s a journalist and has featured me in a couple of articles in the Argentinean women’s magazine she writes for.
Cat Wheeler’s book Bali Daze can be purchased for Kindle from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, or Amazon.ca – or from Ganesha Books in Ubud, Bali.
Dealing with Dark Forces
Ibu Kat has encountered many things living in Asia. But, as she shows in the following experience, she has empowered herself to maintain control of the spaces she occupies. It is a skill that she’s developed over decades through the practice of Reiki and intention.
My first house in Bali was also by a river, and there was a really dark energy around it. Horrible house! Things were constantly disappearing. I’d be alone in the compound with the front gate locked. I’d put a hammer on the table, go answer the phone, come back and the hammer would be gone. It was constantly happening. Things would be gone, never, ever to reappear, which I thought was just very, very annoying.
Then one night, my puppy disappeared. He was on a long chain on an overhead line because the fence had not yet been finished and the house was near a busy road. I went to the gate to see off a visitor and was gone for maybe 30 seconds. When I got back to the house the dog was gone. The chain was gone. There had not been a sound. I was absolutely furious by this time. This was intolerable. You guys – this is going too far! So I stood on the porch and shouted, “Alright, that’s enough! This is my space, not your space. This has got to stop! I’m really fed up with this. It’s over! Go! And send back my puppy!” I was so worked up, I went and sat in my office and huffed. Two minutes later there was the sound of a rattling chain and this wet, muddy little puppy runs in to sit at my feet. Where had he been? How had he disappeared in utter silence trailing that long noisy chain? He was pretty spooked.
That was a big lesson for me. I learned that here in Bali especially, you must have very strong, clear boundaries. Sometimes, the spirits are malevolent here. There’s a lot of black magic being thrown around out there by the Balinese. People are directing black magic toward other people all the time. It’s very dangerous. I protect myself against it. It’s sad to see the Balinese feeling very vulnerable to all of these energies. They feel they are helpless against negative energies and can only be protected by a priest. They don’t understand that they can do that work themselves, they can protect themselves with intention and simple rituals.
Be fearless. Fearlessness is different than courage. It’s a state of being. You get there after being frightened a lot, you eventually work your way past it. There really is nothing to fear except fear itself.
The extraordinary incidents Ibu Kat has experienced remain mysterious and unexplained. “Bali is an energy vortex,” she says. “There’s always something going on. Keep your balance. And don’t be afraid.”
Intruders and incubi: The waking nightmare of sleep paralysis
Brian Barrett Motherboard
© Nicolas Bruno
Once, when I was 17, I woke up in the dark and couldn’t move.
I could hear, at least. That’s why I was awake to begin with: someone was banging on the front door in the middle of the night, insistent, sharp, angry.
I could see, too. My eyes were open to the ceiling above me. My head, though, was locked into position by some invisible vise. I tried to yell, to warn my parents about the angry intruder outside, and the irrevocable harm I was convinced he would do. I couldn’t yell. The knocks got louder.
No matter how insistently I begged my body to jump out of bed and find a place to hide, it remained a slab. Something terrible was about to happen to me, to my family. The door was going to give way. The outsider was going to come in. I was going to face whatever—whoever?—came after completely immobilized and alone.
It was the most afraid I’ve ever been in my life. What I realized, looking back later, was that it still would have been even if it weren’t for those knocks on the door, and my certainty that something awful would follow. My deepest fear came from the realization that my body, in that moment, had become completely dissociated from anything I recognized as myself. It was a car sinking to the bottom of a lake, my mind its captive passenger, waiting to drown.
I don’t remember how long it lasted, but eventually it wore off. I quickly found out that the person on the porch was my older brother, home at an unexpected hour on an unexpected visit from college. It took me a few more years to figure out that the other part, the immobility, the sense of self reduced to flickering consciousness, even the deepness of the fear I felt, had a name. It was sleep paralysis.
At least, that’s what we call it now. Dr. S.A. Kinnier Wilson coined the term in a 1928 edition of the medical journal Brain. His description then should feel familiar to anyone who has experienced sleep paralysis today: a man dreamed of a murderer, then carried that dream over to a conscious state. The patient in question “lay thus, flat on the floor, motionless but suffering acute mental stress.”
That’s not to say that sleep paralysis is a relatively new human experience. A Dutch physician named Isbrand van Diemerbroeck published several case histories that accurately describe sleep paralysis in 1664, one of which, titled “Of the Night-Mare,” may as well have been penned by Mary Shelley.
“In the night time, when she was composing her self to sleep, sometimes she believed the devil lay upon her and held her down, sometimes that she was choaked by a great dog or thief lying upon her breast, so that she could hardly speak or breath, and when she endeavored to throw off the burthen, she was not able to stir her member,”van Diemerbroeck wrote, suggesting moderate exercise and plenty of juice as a possible remedy to the invisible nighttime demon attacks. [17th century sics implied throughout.]
Even that landmark medical documentation isn’t remotely the first reported instance. Go back further still, and you’ll find references to sleep paralysis in medieval Persia and Ancient Greece and even more ancient (400 BCE) China. There’s probably a cave drawing somewhere that depicts a red-eyed saber-toothed tiger sitting atop a paralyzed Neanderthal’s chest. Sleep paralysis is as ageless and as universal as fear itself.
It’s not quite as simple as simply being afraid, though. It’s a complex confluence of physiological and psychological occurrences that force you to experience your deepest nightmares with eyes wide open.
Take a normal night of sleep, assuming you still have those once in awhile. Your body cycles through five sleep stages, the last of which is REM, which you probably remember from your high school biology class as being your brain’s lights-out, shut-it-down, dream-time state.
Which is great! Dreaming is wonderful, especially if you ever wondered what it might feel like to fly down Rodeo Drive with a soft serve twist cone in one hand and a chainsaw in the other. Dreaming, though, can also be dangerous, because your big dumb body doesn’t necessarily know that your brain is just playing pretend. Given the opportunity, your body will act out those dreams, which can lead to a whole other terrifying condition called REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).
You’ve heard of sleepwalking, which can technically be a type of RBD, depending on whether it occurs during the REM stage of sleep. Many RBD episodes are much more involved than just puttering down the hall, however. Think of it like this: juggling with tennis balls and juggling with flaming swords are both technically types of juggling, but you’d never confuse the two.
Comedian and storyteller Mike Birbiglia turned his experiences with RBD into a very entertaining show, book, and film called Sleepwalk with Me. Well, entertaining but also terrifying; at one point in his mid-20s, Birbiglia threw himself out of a closed, second-story La Quinta motel window. At the time, in his dream, he was trying to escape an incoming guided missile.
The reason more people don’t experience RBD is that the brain also has a safety valve. “During dreaming… bursts of neural activity called PGO waves spread through the cortex, producing the imagery we experience during dreams,” explained James Allan Cheyne, sleep paralysis expert and professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo. “Simultaneously, activation spreads down the spinal column causing spinal interneurons to suppress signals that normally would produce muscle movement.”
Your body, in other words, paralyzes itself during REM sleep to keep you from throwing yourself down a stairwell when you dream about laying out for touchdown pass to win the state championship.
Sleep paralysis, then, is what happens when you wake up before that effect has had a chance to wear off. Your body has frozen to keep you from acting out your dreams. But also, haha, good joke, you’re still dreaming.
“You have aspects of REM sleep that are going on when you have waking, conscious awareness,” said Brian Sharpless, assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University and author of a recent book about sleep paralysis. “First, you’re paralyzed, and second, you are having dreams, but unlike normal dreaming these two things are happening while you’re awake and able to look around the room.”
Not just any dreams, though. Sharpless estimates that while a little less than a third of our normal dreams could be considered nightmares, 80 to 90 percent of dreams experienced during sleep paralysis qualify. “You can kind of imagine why,” he said. “If you’re lying on your back and can’t move, that’s scary enough. And if you’re having hallucinations that are scary as well, that’s a bad mix.”
My own sleep paralysis, then, was fairly textbook. The banging on the door vaulted me into consciousness but not out of REM, leaving me frozen in a liminal hell of the mind, waiting for a bad man with an axe to bust down my door. Actually, I got off easy.
As it turns out, sleep paralysis nightmares can be divided into three tidy categories, two of which—the Intruder and the Incubus—would make for decent Paranormal Activity sequels. The third is “vestibular and motor,” a less-fun name for a more-fun condition.
Cheyne cautions that these categories are broad, and the experiences the describe can vary greatly. On the other hand, he also is one of three authors of a landmark 1999 scientific paper, published in Consciousness and Cognition, that helped define them.
Vestibular and motor incidents—Cheyne calls it “Unusual Bodily Experiences” in his 1999 paper—are relatively harmless, potentially even enjoyable. “It’s fancy term for feeling like your body is being moved without its volition,” Sharpless explains. “You could feel like you’re floating, or levitating, or your arm is being lifted.” Not so bad, right? Your standard Sigourney-Weaver-in-Ghostbusters scenario.
The other two, Cheyne says, have no such upside potential.
“For Intruder experiences, the main sensation is the sensed presence—a feeling of something in the room,” he recently explained over email. “That something may then also be seen, heard, or physically felt. It may move around the room, approach the bed, and sometimes climb onto the bed.”
Scary! But remember, at this point you also can’t move. As far as you know, you may never be able to move again, even if you somehow survive being horribly violated by the shadow monster in your periphery. Screaming would at least be cathartic, but you can’t scream, and you can’t breathe all that well, so all that’s left is to wait.
I was fortunate in that my Intruder scenario involved an actual (friendly!) person. That gave quicker closure, presumably, than some hallucinatory demon-dog lurker might have. I was fortunate, also, that I didn’t draw an Incubus instead:
“The Incubus experiences often continue this sequence by climbing on top of the ‘sleeper,’ Cheyne continues, “perhaps smothering, and even assaulting them physically and sexually.” This is how your brain works. This is van Diemerbroeck’s devil.
© Nicolas Bruno
Beginning in February of 1995, reports began to circulate throughout Zanzibar of a spirit that assaulted men and women in the dark of night. Its name was Popobawa, which means “winged bat,” because that was the form it was said to take most often, though it was just as often invisible.
As social anthropologist Martin Walsh detailed in 2009, Popobawa attacks spread quickly throughout the country, jumping from person to person, house to house, and village to village, eventually constituting a full-blown paranormal pandemic.
The bat demon was said to sodomize its victims. The response was violent. At one point, residents of Zanzibar City murdered a suspected Popobawa who unsurprisingly turned out to be a human, one who had visited the capital in search of mental health treatment. The terrors, both spiritual and corporeal, continued. Then, three months after they began, the Popobawa incidents stopped.
An entire nation plagued by a sex-starved bat demon would laughable as a SyFy channel script. As reality, it seems impossible. That it led to mobs and murder, more so.
It happened, though. And again, to a lesser degree, in 2007 (“Sex attacks blamed on bat demon” read the restrained BBC headline that time). How?
“A typical [Popobawa] assault involved somebody waking up in the night to find themselves being attacked by an amorphous or shape-shifting intruder, which was most frequently described as ‘pressing’ or ‘crushing’ their chest and ribs, and of suffocating them until they had difficulty in breathing and passed out,” Walsh wrote. “In general all of the victims experienced extreme terror, and were often frozen speechless when they were assaulted.”
An intruder. An incubus. The inability to move. The loss of respiratory control. The Popobawa, Walsh concludes, was no demon. It was textbook sleep paralysis, at a massive scale.
Zanzibar’s example is extreme, but far from isolated. Every culture has its bogeyman. Every century has ghost sightings. Everyone has heard things go bump in the night.
“We believe that sleep paralysis is a good, naturalistic explanation for a lot of paranormal beliefs,” said Sharpless. “Alien abductions that occur at night; visits by ghosts and demons; more recently, shadow people. If you look at people’s first-hand descriptions of these events, they map really well on to sleep paralysis.”
“Different cultures have come up with unique names for sleep paralysis that are descriptive of various common experiences in how it manifests,” explains Kevin Morton, who five years ago founded a site dedicated to better understanding sleep disorders as part of an undergraduate project at Stanford University. “In Japan it’s been known as ‘Kanashibari’ (retaliating spirit), in Thailand ‘Phi um’ (enveloping ghost), or the ‘Hauka’I po’ (night marchers) in Hawaii.”
In the same way that we might ascribe a happy coincidence to a guardian angel or God, we paint sleep paralysis with the brushstrokes of our deepest terrors.
Sleep paralysis being blamed on ghosts, spirits, and demons transcends cultures, but you can count on Japan to give it the perfect anime treatment.
Estimates vary as to how many people will experience sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime. Sharpless pegs it at 8 percent of the general population, with students (28 percent) and psychiatric patients (32 percent) even higher. Sharpless thinks that spike may be attributable to those groups having disrupted sleep patterns to begin with, making sleep paralysis more likely. Cheyne notes that incidence rates are higher still “in societies with an active tradition of haunting night spirits.”
Despite the prevalence of sleep paralysis, especially among certain groups, there’s been no large intervention trials to determine an effective treatment for it. In a 2014 paper, Dr. Sharpless and co-author Jessica Lynn Grom outlined a few preemptive methods (e.g., changing sleep positions and patterns), as well as techniques to help mitigate the impact mid-episode. Among the most effective of those? Simply trying to calm yourself down in the moment, if you can manage it. Focus on trying to move your extremities. Don’t worry about the demon on your chest.
That’s more easily accomplished if you’re aware that you’re experiencing sleep paralysis, or even of what sleep paralysis is. It’s a condition that’s been largely (apologies) in the dark, in part because it’s not an easy thing to talk about. I didn’t tell anyone about my experience for years, and even then it was only after I had found out what it was. Until then, I was too worried that it signaled something deeply wrong with my body or mind or both.
“Sleep paralysis has quite a large awareness bias associated with it,” says Morton, whose site has received hundreds of submissions from people who have lived it, and a magnitude more visitors looking for answers. “It is such a crazy experience–waking up with your body paralyzed, often hallucinating frightening dream imagery, occasionally of a sexual nature–that those who experience it often don’t talk about it with others, usually out of fear that they will be seen as crazy or possessed, or just otherwise stigmatized if they bring it up.”
Morton is optimistic about the internet’s power as a great normalizer; all it takes is a quick search of symptoms to find out that you’re neither possessed nor insane. Sleep paralysis also seems to be having a larger cultural moment beyond the web, if a phenomenon as old as consciousness itself can be said to have moments.
That’s a brief clip from The Nightmare, a documentary from Rodney Ascher, which brings brings to life people’s real descriptions of sleep paralysis events. Ascher, who previously directed the critically lauded Room 237, pursued the topic after experiencing it himself. Devil in the Room, a short film released in 2014, takes a similar approach, while photographer Nicolas Bruno has a series of photographs depicting the horrors he has experienced in his years of sleep paralysis.
Most dreams stop when they want to, not when you tell them. A modicum of awareness, though, helps with what comes after. Even if you can’t beat sleep paralysis, you can cope with its reverberations.
There’s comfort in knowing that the demon on your chest actually resides in your mind. Or at least, that yours isn’t the only mind with demons.
The Charlie Charlie Challenge – what is the spooky craze?
A strange new viral phenomenon has left social media buzzing with attempts to summon a Mexican spirit.
Although it has been around for quite some time, the challenge, which involves using pencils and a piece of paper to summon a spirit named Charlie, has really taken off this week.
To play, participants are required to take a piece of paper, balance two pencils in a cross shape in the middle and then write the words “yes” and “no” at the four corners of the page.
To begin, those taking part must then clearly recite the phrase “Charlie, Charlie, are you here?”.
If the pencil moves then, according to the myth surrounding the game, the spirit of Charlie will have arrived to begin answering your questions.
Despite the widespread uptake of the challenge on social media this week however the mechanism behind this alleged paranormal communication is actually very simple – the pencils will invariably move by themselves no matter what because they are so precariously balanced.
The vibration of a footstep, someone shuffling around in the room or even a subtle draft from a window or door can make it seem as though Charlie has come out to play.
Nevertheless with the “Charlie Charlie Challenge” becoming increasingly popular online it is likely that we will be seeing quite a few reaction videos of pencils moving over the next few weeks.
A Drug Addict Changed His Ways When He Saw Something Strange In This Photo
While some consider ghosts to be expert photobombers, they’re certainly not alone in the world of paranormal photobombing. Demons also seem to be quite good at it. In fact, demons might actually be better photobombers than ghosts, which is something Joe Martinez learned a few years ago in the most shocking way.
Martinez, who was heavily involved with drugs at the time, went with his wife to his in-laws’ wedding anniversary celebration. It was a fairly ordinary party by all accounts. At one point in the evening, however, someone snapped a picture of Martinez posing with his wife. No one thought anything of it…until the picture was developed.
Could it actually have been a demon? Perhaps it was a trick of the light? According to Martinez, several reputable paranormal investigators examined the photo and found no evidence of tampering. Even stranger is the fact that the demon creature did not appear in any other photos from the anniversary party. Fake or not, at least this photo did some good in getting Martinez to clean up his life.
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