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Paranormal

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.

Paranormal

Descended From The Wolf? Myths And Traditional Beliefs

Wolves are big predators. As a result, it is no wonder that wolf possesses enormous symbolic power in a wide range of cultures in both the past and the present. Often, wolves were not regarded in a positive light, which is presumably connected to their associations with both danger and destruction. For example, the Norse believed that the Fenris-wolf was fated to kill Odin, the King of the Gods, at Ragnarok before being torn in twain by Odin’s vengeful son Vidar.

Likewise, the Zoroastrian text called the Avesta states that wolves are a creation of the hypostasis of evil called Angra Mainyu, thus making them the cruelest of the animals that can be found upon the Earth. With that said, it is important to note that other cultures saw wolves in a much more positive light, often by associating them with warriors and war-making.

She-Wolf and Romulus and Remus

For people in the West, the most familiar example might be Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars and Rhea Silvia who were abandoned in the wilderness but nursed by an old she-wolf. As a result, the she-wolf became a symbol of the Roman Empire, which sprang up from the city that claimed Romulus for its founder. This is the reason that ancient Romans never killed wolves for sport in the arenas in spite of the fact that slaughtering animals was a core component of ancient Roman entertainment.

Descended From The Wolf? Myths And Traditional Beliefs

She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, Ludovico Carracci, 16th century fresco, Palazzo Magnani, Bologna

Descended from Wolves

Likewise, there are a number of cultures that believe that they are descended from wolves.

There is a Turkic myth in which a boy is rescued by a she-wolf named Asena, who gives birth to ten half-human, half-wolf sons when she is subsequently impregnated by the boy. Of these ten sons, Ashina goes on to establish a ruling dynasty of the Turkic peoples, which is of course called the Ashina clan.

Also in Turkic mythology it is believed that a grey wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland Ergenekon, which allowed them to spread and conquer their neighbours.

Oghuz Khan

Oghuz Khan was a legendary and semi-mythological khan of the Turks, first records dated back to 13th century. There are many legends surround this famous warrior character, and one of them particularly linked to the grey wolf.

Oghuz declares war on Urum Khan and marches his army to the west. One night, a large male wolf with grey fur comes to his tent in an aura of light. He says, “Oghuz, you want to march against Urum, I want to march before your army.” So, the grey sky-wolf marches before the Turkish army and guides them. The two armies fought near the river İtil (Volga). Oghuz Khan wins the war. Then, Oghuz and his six sons carry out campaigns in TurkistanIndiaIranEgypt, and Syria, with the grey wolf as their guide. He becomes the Khan of the Four Corners of the Earth.

 As with most ancient peoples’ beliefs, the wolf was thought to possess spiritual powers, and that parts of its body retained specific powers that could be used by people for various needs.

Descended From The Wolf? Myths And Traditional Beliefs

Oghuz Khan pictured with two horns as Zulqarnayn on a 100 Turkmenistan manat banknote.

Chechen Wolf

Chechens (Northeast Caucasian ethnic group) claim to have been born from a she-wolf, which explains why the wolf is a symbol of Chechnya as well.

There is one myth that the mythological founder of the Chechen nation, Turpalo-Noxchuo (Chechen Hero, who Chechens are descended from “like sparks of steel”), was raised by a fabled, loving “Wolf Mother”.

Old Chechen lore holds that the sheep was actually originally created for the wolf to enjoy, but man “stole” the sheep from the wolf (this is rather interesting considering that many Chechens in the past have in fact been shepherds). According to the ethnographic historian Jaimoukha, in olden times Chechens used to observe a wolf cult that would prevent lupine raids on sheep, by observing Saturday as being a special day.

Descended From The Wolf? Myths And Traditional Beliefs

Chechen (Ichkerian) seal bearing a wolf, the nation’s symbolic embodiment.

Wolf Symbol for Mongolians

The Mongolians tell stories about them having been born of a union between a doe and a wolf, thus setting them apart from all other peoples of the Earth.

Today, people don’t really believe in it literally, but it still has its symbolic meaning forged in every Mongolians heart. They believe that wolves are spiritual animals and even if you wanted to hunt a wolf, it wouldn’t be seen to any hunter, but to a person with high spiritual power and who is meant for something great. The wolf symbolizes spiritual power, luck and expresses strong instincts.

Descended From The Wolf? Myths And Traditional Beliefs

Eagle hunters in Mongolia (Image Source)

Summed up, there are plenty of cultures that have seen wolves in either a positive or a negative light. However, whichever the case, the wolf has always been a symbol of considerable importance, which seems to remain as true in the present as in the past.

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Paranormal

Luminous Being: The Humanoid of Necochea Beach, Argentina.

The human eye sees everything that is inside of the light spectrum. When I mention the light spectrum and hit the light spectrum of the sun.

With increased intensity of light would blind man. His senses would not notice a higher form of vibration.

It can not therefore see the world resulting on a different frequency, although located around beside him.

It is therefore invisible to the human eye. If it goes into the vessel by its frequency, it means that moves slower than the maximum speed.

This makes it the human eye sees. It manifests itself in the form of light. Reducing the speed to changing light and the human eye, the ship must appear as a solid object.

If the moving ship and if it stays on the molecular level, the maximum rate will remain invisible to the human eye.

The people of the corpuscular vessels reduces its frequency to a protein molecule in the cell become visible to the human eye.

They therefore come secretly and suddenly appear before you in the form of light and energy.

At that moment comes the light source, the energy in the form of spirit.

You will be influenced by your spirit will be affected the most energy, which manifested itself around you and you will be allowed contact with corpuscular ships.

In contact with them you should not worry.

Believe me, it’s something natural. There is nothing mysterious. Only one who manifests the spirit of mentally able to take this energy will be able to experience the transition from one age to another.

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Paranormal

The mysterious encounter of some children with a “little blue man”

There are many strange reports that can be found when searching among the accounts of encounters with mysterious beings. Among these is the report of what can only be described as a “little blue man”, who crawls out of some parallel and truly strange world.

mysterious encounter

One of the strangest stories is of a kind of little blue man that comes to us from Bedfordshire, in England, and was published on March 3, 1967 in the “Dunstable Gazette”. According to this article, on January 28, 1967 a group of six young people played in the common on the way to school. The day was cloudy and rainy, however, the boys hit a blast when out of nowhere a thunderbolt fell crashingly close to them .., and if it had something to do with what happened next is not clear yet, but they would have a very surrealist with something beyond human understanding.

Just after the lightning, one of the witnesses, Alex Butler, 10 years old, looked over to see standing about 20 meters in front of some bushes a small blue man about 3 feet tall, with blue beard and wearing a Weird one-piece suit, a high-wing bowler hat and a black belt with a black box in front. In addition, the little man was also described as bathed in a faint glow that seemed to emanate from him. Alex called his friends and they ran to see the strange entity for themselves. Then everyone ran towards this strange little one, maybe to scare him away or maybe to try to catch him, after which the little man disappeared before his eyes in “a cloud of smoke”.

When the group of children arrived at the place where the man had been standing a moment before, they could not find any sign of him, so they decided to look for him. Soon they found the little blue man, again standing about 20 meters away, and once again disappeared into the air when they approached. He did this more times, always appearing about 20 meters away. However, they continued hoping to find this enigmatic little man again, and they did, choosing to look at him from behind some bushes … but this time things would get a little stranger, and the original article of what happened then he describes it this way:

Looking at it through the small bushes, they noticed “voices” that describe a continuous and incomprehensible babbling, which comes from a point in the bushes closest to them .. A feeling that the little being had associates that communicated with he and who answered, although they could not detect any movement on his part. It induces a sense of caution that discourages them from rushing towards him. Instead, the boys continued to spin until they could look down, so they saw him for the fourth and last time still standing as always in the same place.

mysterious encounter

The students continued to tell their teacher, Mrs. Newcomb, about their strange experience, and even though she did not believe a word, she had them separately write down their own versions of what had happened. These accounts were then collected and pasted into a book called “The Little Blue Man On Studham Common.” from RHB Winder, who met with some of the witnesses, who showed him where their meeting had taken place and delved into the story with some intriguing details. He would write later:

The blue color turned out to be a faint blue-gray glow that darkened the outline and details. However, they could distinguish a line that was a strip of hair or the bottom edge of the hat. Two round eyes, a small triangle apparently in place of a nose, and a one-piece dress that extends to a wide black belt with a black box at the front of approximately six square inches.

The arms seemed short and kept straight near the sides at all times. The legs and feet were indistinct. The “beard” is interesting: apparently it extended from the neighborhood of the mouth down to divide and ran on both sides of the chest. Although he agrees that it could have been a breathing device. the children could not see clearly enough to be sure and this thought had not occurred to them. The disappearances caused me some difficulties at first, but they became more understandable after the explanation of the “smoke” was apparently a spinning cloud of blue-yellow mist fired at the pursuers, possibly from the box in the belt.

They agreed that it could have entered the bushes before this camouflage cleared, although it dissipated quite quickly. They did not hear more sound than the voices and saw no movement at any time. They did not smell any smell or see anything strange in the vicinity, on the ground or in the air.

A very interesting detail about the case is the mention of lightning. Although there is no concrete connection between the beam and the report given by the boys, it does lead to speculation. In recent years there has been the idea that lightning could sometimes announce a kind of gap between dimensions, allowing us to look through another reality, or for the beings of that parallel world to enter into ours. Could it be that the Little Blue Man was an inhabitant of another universe that was lying against ours, a type of interdimensional traveler? Did he go through that tear in the veil between dimensions, either intentionally or by accident? Or was the beam perhaps an effect of some kind of ionization caused by a powerful device, perhaps from the box that the man wore on his belt or even from a UFO?

Is all this just tricks and stories, or is there something else for that? If so, what could these beings be? Whether they are ghosts, extraterrestrials, interdimensional travelers, or just stories, the cases of the little blue men are still intriguing anyway. What do you think? Leave your comment below!

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