Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Demon

I awoke to the morning light, to see the ceiling fan circling lazily above my bed. I felt incredibly lethargic, almost unable to move, but I was able to turn my head toward my wife where she lay to my left side. I saw that she’d pulled the sheet up completely over her head. She was only a human shape under snow white.

I wondered why she was there. She should have left for work already on this day. Then she turned her head toward me underneath the sheet. I could see the soft cotton flow over her cheek, see it poke up above her nose and then lie down against the sockets of her eyes. And I realized. This shape under the covers wasn’t my wife.

The shape moved toward me, hitched itself toward me under the sheet. I saw that its mouth was open; I could see the hollow darkness beneath the cloth that veiled it. I suddenly wanted to scream but when my own mouth opened nothing would come out.

The shape hitched toward me again. With intense effort, I lifted my left arm to block its approach, and a hand, covered by sheer white, flashed out to grasp my wrist. I did scream then. I think I screamed. The hand held me, fingers like a vice on my wrist. It felt neither warm nor cold. It felt like nothing, but it held me still.

I realized then what it was. A hundred years ago I would surely have called it demon. But I knew it wasn’t. I knew its name and, just as it is supposed to be with demons, knowing its name gave me power over it. “Sleep Paralysis,” I muttered in my own head. “It’s only sleep paralysis. Nothing is there. Nothing. Relax.”

I relaxed, forced myself to. The sheet deflated; the shape was gone. I found my arm wasn’t extended into the air. But the ceiling fan was turning. The room was exactly the same as it had been a moment before, except that I was alone. And now I could move. I took a deep breath. And another.

What I’d experienced was a relatively rare form of sleep paralysis. Common sleep paralysis is when the paralysis that normally accompanies dream sleep doesn’t end when the dream ends. You wake fully up, but you can’t move from the neck down. It’s not uncommon.

However, sleep paralysis sometimes takes a different form. You believe you have completely awakened, but though your eyes may be open and your consciousness seems clear, you are still in the grip of the dream state. Your body is paralyzed from the neck down, and dream-like phenomena continue to occur. They seem real to you in a way normal dreams don’t because the dream incidents get added on top of the real stimuli flowing in from the world around you. For reasons unknown, many of these experiences are frightening, although not all.

Many scientists suspect, and I’m one of them, that such events are the explanation for many cases that are typically described as alien abductions or ghost/demon encounters. The experiences are often terrifyingly real, and unless you know something about dream phenomena you are likely to come up with an explanation for them that flows from your own particular mindset. Even the images are drawn from one’s own life and imagination. Today one might see an alien. Our ancestors would have seen gods and angels and demons. Perhaps primitive humans saw sabertooths and cave bears.

I wonder if tonight I’ll have another “visitor.” I’d call one up if I could. For I feel confident I could put him down again. Mostly confident.

34 comments:

kaye said...

That must be so scary...

David J. West said...

I had a similar experience, mine was a demon strangler. Pretty eerie.

Lana Gramlich said...

And I dream of such mundania as grocery shopping. *sigh*

the walking man said...

Want to borrow the fifty pound puppy for awhile? There is no way to be paralyzed when she starts to lick your face to wake you up so she can go out then eat. Between 2—3AM.

Of course once she gets what she wants she goes back to sleep like she is paralyzed or tranquilized but you will only want to shower that dog breath off—and so begins the day.

I had a sleep test done a few years ago and they told me I never entered REM state. I know I slept albeit uncomfortably but I remember waking up somewhat rested, *shrug* Nothing odd ever happens when I sleep or just wake up. I guess there is enough weirdness during my normal day.

Phyllis Bourne said...

Yikes! That's scary.

It's been a long time since I've dreamed about anything.

Charles Gramlich said...

Kaye, it was very freaky at the time but in retrospect I'm pretty glad about it.

David J. West, makes for a good memory after it's over, but during the experience. Wow.

Lana, I sorry.

Mark, thats unusual, to not enter REM. Did they give you any idea why they thought it happened? I've only heard of a couple of cases like that.

Phyllis, if you've been going to bed really tired you will spend less time dreaming. I know when I'm working hard at school I often don't remember my dreams well. But when I get enough rest I start to again.

Evan Lewis said...

Was it really sleep paralysis, or was it a demon? Be careful tonight, Charles.

Charles Gramlich said...

Evan, I simply "must' believe it was sleep paralysis. You'll understand why. :)

jennifer said...

I have had dreams that left me shaken with the feeling of an evil presence. Sleep paralysis would certainly terrify me. I'm glad I read this post - it makes me feel a bit more prepared for the boogie man.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Our minds and bodies are such complex, wondrous things. This is intense. Is this the first time you've experienced sleep paralysis? I have many kinds of dreams, vivid, precognitive, weird stuff. I've awoken feeling like the bed is shaking, but I've never had what you experienced. Thank goodness! Thanks for sharing and gah, tell your super powers to behave themselves! ;-)

laughingwolf said...

can't recall anything like that...

what i do get, as did my dad, and now my son as well: fights, with unknown entities, while asleep... the thrashing around, punching and kicking, along with shouts, sometimes in terror, other times just sheer hate... then wake up!

any ideas?

Charles Gramlich said...

Jennifer, in most cases when I have 'nightmares' I'm not afraid because I turn out to be the worst thing in the dream.

Jodi, I've had 3 incidents of sleep paralysis and a number of experiences that are called hypnopomic hallucinations, which are related. All three sleep paralysis episodes occurred within a 2 week span.

Laughingwolf, some folks do move around a little bit in their dreams. you are normally paralyzed from the neck down but it is not complete paralysis in some folks. Sounds like your family has a genetic trait that sometimes lead you to move around more extremely during dreams, especialy emotionally intense dreams.

Ron Scheer said...

I have them all the time, one only a couple nights ago. Once in college, a bunk mate heard me moaning in my sleep as I tried to wake from one of these, but hesitated because he couldn't tell whether I was having a bad dream or a good dream. Ha.

laughingwolf said...

indeed... mom would wake up with bruises from dad's 'fighting with demons', my ex suffered the same....

Charles Gramlich said...

Ron, lol. I told my wife not to wake me in either case. I'll enjoy it one way or the other after I'm awake.

Laughingwolf, ouch. Lana slapped me pretty good one night but it was just in rolling over. Don't think there was any dream to it.

Mary Witzl said...

You had me really scared there -- the part where it grabbed your arm and you couldn't scream. And its open mouth -- that part got me too.

Nothing like this has happened to me, but now I'm thinking it would be pretty neat if it did. Especially if I could wake up afterwards and know it was all a dream.

Heff said...

FREAKY. Never had that happen to me !

Erik Donald France said...

I remember having this kind of experience when I was very young. The memories are still strong of ghosts coming through floor grilling, goblins coming out of walls, etc., even though this was decades ago. Maybe there is something about the demon angle . . .

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't use drugs, my dreams are frightening enough.
M. C. Escher

Charles Gramlich said...

Mary, it makes for a good story to tell my students.

Heff, maybe it's all the alcohol keeping it away!

Erik, I'm afraid to believe that. But it certainly was pretty powerful.

Patty, indeed. I can see that.

X. Dell said...

The first year of my blog I posted a series on psychological opinions regarding reports of alien abduction. The sleep paralysis explanation is rather common (as is FMS).

Obviously this is more your territory than mine, but I would wonder why the uniformity in accounts if dream language itself reflects a mixture of archetypes, personal and social symbolism. It seems to me that if a person dreamt of ghosts or demons (say as part of a nightmare) than I would wonder why they wouldn't have dreams that at least started out as yours (or continue with erotic themes, e.g.), or have the diversity that dreams themselves have. And though it took you awhile to realize that the experience was a dream, you did recognize it as such. What prevents others from doing so?

Quite interesting. And for the record (as I've written elsewhere for the record), I don't believe in ghosts or alien abductions. I'm simply wondering about sleep paralysis as an explanation.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, I recognized it primarily because of my training in the topic. Without that training the thought might not even have occurred to me. AS for the uniformity, I think that's likely explained in 2 ways. 1). there is some uniformity because most people's knowledge of demons or aliens comes from a common set of images provided them through books and films that they've read or seen. 2), I think a lot of uniformity may well come from 'post experience' retelling. In other words, the actual experiences are filtered by the waking mind after the fact, and the images are forced into a framework that makes sense and can be "told" about.

jodi said...

Charles, I would run to the nearest sleep clinic. I, like Mark had one done years ago and never entered REM. No wonder I love my naps!

Charles Gramlich said...

Never entered REM? Wow, you and Mark are definitely unusal. But hey, we knew that already. :)

Jewel Amethyst said...

I've had that happen to me before. My mother calls it "jumbie pressing" (akin to ghosts). It is really scary because sometimes no matter how you will your mind to move, you just cannot move.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jewel, it seems every culture knows of this phenomena and there are some fascinating names for it, most of it having to do with possession or powerfully negative spiritual forces.

Gabby said...

Even though you know what was happening (or realized after the fact), it's still a scary experience. I HAVE heard of this experience through Ghost Hunters -- people make claims about a ghost sitting on their chest as they sleep, or seeing something as they're coming awake, but not being able to move. And, the guys on GH explained as more than likely it being sleep paralysis. But, it's still interesting. (I can't recall ever having experience something like this myself.)

Leigh Russell said...

How scary! I've never experienced anything like this, although I often have difficulty stirring when I wake up - especially when I have to get up to go to work! I wonder if this was what Tolkien had in mind with his Nazgul and JK Rowling with the night riders (I can't remember what they're called) in Harry Potter.

Liane Spicer said...

I've experienced this several times over my lifetime and it used to scare the crap out of me. I taught myself not to fear it, to relax and say a prayer, and soon I fall asleep and reawaken in a normal state. The dream explanation is interesting, but doesn't explain why every time it happened it was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of an evil presence.

I've also been fully awakened by a sense of an evil presence. Once, we found cigarette butts outside the bedroom window the following morning. Another time, there were signs that a petty burglar had made off with things we left in the laundry room outside.

We are indeed complex creatures still trying to fully understand the interplay of the physical and psychological.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

In the l9th century they used to call those monstros incubi and succubi.
Name the incubus, and you shall have power over it, the authors then said...I guess that's what you did.
I think you were visited by a succubus, usually lies under the bed and sucks the spirit out of you.
Well, well well. Hoo dat callin'!

Charles Gramlich said...

Gabby, I always talk about this in my psych classes. The students usually find it pretty fascinating, and a few of them have had similar experiences.

Leigh Russell, it's been several years since I've had any such experiences. I could use a refresher. :) You may be onto something with your mention of Tolkien and Rowling's inventions.

Liane Spicer, I didn't feel any overwhelming sense of evil but the thing definitely felt malevolent to me. I would imagine it's because the imagery is activating emotions in a primitive part of the brain that doesn't really make a rational interpretation of the events. Interesting about the cigarrette smoker and the burgler though. Suggests you might have been aware at some level of the presence of someone who meant you no good.

ivan, I think the term incubus is sometimes interpreted as meaning crushing demon. It would sit on someone's chest and slowly increase it's weight, crushing and suffocating them.

Akasha Savage. said...

This has happened to me too. Years ago when my daughter was a baby and asleep in the cot next to my bed, I woke up to see a strange man standing at the foot of Katy's cot, just standing there, staring. It was really spooky, just like you I couldn't move but I wasn't scared as a sense of well-being and calm was radiating from the man. Eventually I drifted back to sleep, but I can still remember it as clear as anything.
Weird....

Charles Gramlich said...

AKasha, I'm glad the feeling was positive. that is apparently fairly rare but does happen.

Shauna Roberts said...

Fascinating post, Charles. Now that you've described the phenomenon, I can remember two weird experiences that probably were the result of sleep paralysis.

This finally solves the question of why, when I woke to find my childhood bedroom filled with angels, they all looked like my dolls.