Spent a couple of days laid up with some unpleasant non-COVID crud that both Lady Marilyn and I picked up traveling. Felt bad enough to miss a day of work on Tuesday, which is a rare occurrence for me. Made use of the down time, though. Several readers have recounted tales of strange sleep encounters with a “Night Hag.” (See comments on Working the Trapline — Wood Elves & Highlanders).
I once was called to help a guy out who claimed on a stack of bibles that what looked like an ugly old woman was sitting on his chest trying to choke him in his sleep. He had no history of mental problems before or after, but sat in his truck white faced whilst I poked about the house for the aforementioned night hag.
In about 1986 my brother and I moved into a older house, in the area of the old town, right at the edge of the former frontier army post (Fort Hays). It was a rental while we were attending college.
A few weeks after moving in, I had the couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move beautiful woman that turned into a horrible hag setting on my chest experience happen multiple times. Sometimes I had just woken up, a couple times I just got into bed. (I also was grabbed by the arm and on the shoulder a couple times walking in the house at night). The woman, cloud, horrible hag would be on top of me, float, squeeze, pinch, and grab.
…about 25 years ago I lived in a 100 year old apartment building and woke up with the old hag on top of me and she wasn’t a lady friend of mine.
Matthew described a similar feeling but described a demon rather than a hag.
Of course, this was a sidetrail that needed to be explored…
Turns out that the “Night Hag” is associated with sleep paralysis The internet is full of descriptions of “Old Hag Syndrome,” tying it strongly to Newfoundland folklore. Dr. Leslie Eillis:
Locals will warn you never to sleep on your back in Newfoundland, or risk a visit from the Old Hag. She steals in on the night fog just as you are falling asleep. She is an apparition that crawls up from the foot of your bed and sits on your chest so heavily you can’t breathe or move. Sometimes she may try to seduce you, other times, to kill you. These terrifying experiences are so common in Newfoundland, they have become the subject of a tv series aptly called Hag. They are also the subject of research into the relationship between sleep paralysis and folklore.
There is a physiological explanation for sleep paralysis. And there are good reasons these peculiar events feel like visitations by the Old Hag or some other kind of apparition. Sleep paralysis episodes are not limited to Newfoundland and in fact, are fairly common worldwide and throughout human history: roughly 8 percent of us will experience one in our lifetime, and some will have recurrent episodes. Students and psychiatric patients have a much higher prevalence of about 30 percent, likely because it is more common in people who are sleep-deprived and stressed. Sleep paralysis is not a nightmare, but rather a form of sleep disturbance, a parasomnia.
Folklore intersecting with daily life? That’s the mythic land of Fennario. Unpacking this raises some questions though. As far as I can tell, none of the encounters described by FP readers are connected to Newfoundland — so is it really a culturally derived hallucination? Why is the hallucination so consistent and persistent? Four people just around this campfire described a very similar experience — three of them involving the Hag. What is up with that? Why and how would unrelated individuals experience what amounts to the same hallucination at widely varying times and places?
My answer to such questions always reaches for Carl Jung and the notion of the collective unconscious. I’m not deeply versed in Jung, so if I stray, let me know — but it seems to me that encountering the same Old Hag in a state of semi-consciousness is perfectly explained as a moment of tapping into the great river of the collective unconscious of humanity. And, as terrifying the moment is, there’s something mystically significant — and maybe even comforting and beautiful — about that.
I am a great fan of John Buchan, widely regarded as the father of the modern spy thriller. Best known for the World War I-era novels The Thirty-nine Steps and Greenmantle, he also threw down some weird tales. His most famous protagonist, Richard Hannay, is a gentleman Frontier Partisan, who honed his capabilities in Rhodesia. In my time on the couch, I soaked up this worthy BBC documentary:
Our friends at Rock Island Auction Company have given us a nice primer on the Guns of 1923.
Speaking of folklore the next Hellboy movie will use apparently use Appalachian folklore.
I’ve read the story line the movie is apparently based on, The Crooked Man. It’s a tribute to Manly Wade Wellman among other things. I think the trade paperback even had a short biography of Wellman.
Quixotic Mainer says
Thanks for the lore and research Jim, hope you and yours are on the mend! Interesting thought about the collective legends of mankind, especially in our simultaneously overwhelming and pigeonholed age. Humanity may be quite disparate now, but we all sat around similar fires once.
I sent a couple of new readers to the blog yesterday, whom I met at the range. They originally came over to see the .22 knockoff of a Colt Revolving carbine I was doing readyups with, but asked about the FP patch on my pack.
Hah! That’s cool.
J.F. Bell says
Two gun shows back I missed out on buying a double rifle…probably one of the few times I’ve lost sleep on a gun not bought, balanced some by still having a functioning right shoulder and what I can only assume is the astronomical outlay involved in the of feeding of a .500 Nitro Express. I think I may have to content myself with an eventual Lee-Speed clone.
I did make off with a pre-Model 20 Smith & Wesson in good shape, though. Been hunting one of those a long time and .38/44 High Speed, odd through it may be, is still in nearer reach than the kind of munition necessary for African heavies.
One of these days….
The right call, surely, but I relate to the desire and the pain…
The many cultural variations of the night hag in mythology have always been fascinating to me. I’ve only had a couple “waking dreams” /sleep paralysis where I felt I couldn’t move while seeing some tripping things. They’re frightening even when you understand the sleep science behind them, so I can only imagine how our ancestors felt after such an experience.
David Wrolson says
I think Mark Steyn (who describes himself as an “old-school British Imperialist 100 years past sell-by date”) has described his (Buchan’s) memoir “Memory hold the Door” as one of his favorite books-I read it-but it was not fully to my taste.
I will have to watch the Buchan video-thanks.
Thanks for posting that John Buchan video. I hadn’t see it for several years. About forty years ago I read most of Buchan’s adventure novels, and recently finished his granddaughter’s fine biography, “Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan.” I’ve always thought that Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of “The Thirty-Nine Steps” was more enjoyable than the original novel, but that’s probably due to terrific acting chemistry between Robert Donat and Madeline Carrol. As someone who always writes with a fountain pen, I found it odd that this great BBC production had Buchan using a modern ball point pen twice and once with a fountain pen when it portrayed the author writing at his desk. Incidentally, Buchan’s hand writing was almost indecipherable. If you can get a copy of Janet Adam Smith’s well illustrated “John Buchan and His World” you will find it a very pleasant, quick reading experience. John Buchan was certainly a remarkable man.
He was that. I will track down the “John Buchan and His World” book — I’m betting it will hit the x-ring.