Sleep Paralysis And The Visit From Hell
Say hello to the old hag as she crawls up the bed towards you
I remember a number of years ago going to London with Laura to see an exhibition of gothic art. In pride of place, as you entered the gallery, was Henry’s Fuseli’s 1871 painting, ‘The Night Mare.’ A young maiden, dressed in white, is splayed on a bed in deep slumber while a night mare, i.e. as in a female horse, with strange demonic eyes, peeps it’s head through some drapes. An incubus squats on the chest of the young woman. An interesting aspect of this incubus is that it stares out of the painting to catch our gaze, drawing us into the scene as voyeurs, also making us complicit in its demonic seduction of the young maiden.
The story I’ve been writing (these past two years!) has a character Dr Cecil Chadwick, veteran of the Napoleonic wars, who is plagued by the nocturnal visits from something called the night hag. She is the precursor to his post traumatic nightmares, as she crawls up the bed towards him and sits on his chest. The night hag, or old hag, holds a similar place in folklore to the incubus/succubus, whose victims are female/male respectively.
When I was on a ‘sleep-in’ at work, Laura, in a hypnogogic state, experienced a visit from the night hag. She said she felt the compressions on the bed as the wizened old woman crawled on her knees over the bed towards her, until she reached her and squatted on her chest. Laura said she had a powdery, ancient smell and for a few seconds she thought the old hag was totally real and she was victim to a break-in. Suddenly she remembered the folklore to do with this experience and that she needed to move a muscle in any of her limbs to dispel the vision/hallucination. This is because the hag is associated with night paralysis, a fairly common phenomena that can be experienced between sleep and wakefulness.. Dispel the paralysis and you dispel the hag. After some difficulty Laura managed to move her little finger and the hag vanished.
Although I have experienced night paralysis before, which is terrifying enough, I have never experienced the accompanying hag, as Laura did that one time. But after she told me her experience I thought it was too good not to include in my writing, particularly as the chapter involved nightmares and…