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.