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Fuseli's The Nightmare

Dark Intrusions: The Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Dark Intrusions: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences, by Louis Proud (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK). Reprinted with permission of Louis Proud and Anomalist Books.


The year was 2001 and I was seventeen when my Sleep Paralysis (SP) experiences began. I had previously been living with my father and brother in Tenterfield, New South Wales, in Australia, and had just moved down to Healesville, Victoria, to live with my mother. My new home was a Buddhist retreat center, where my mother worked as a caretaker. My room, no. 25, was located near the office and the main meditation hall. It was a reasonably small and humble room and, like most of those at the Buddhist center, would have suited a monk better than a teenager. Still, it was agreeable enough.

The year 2003, the year after I graduated from high school, was an idle period in my life. Events had taken a rather unfortunate turn, and my future did not look bright. I began to spend most of my days alone, reading in my bedroom with the curtains drawn, and occasionally writing in my journal. The activities I did to keep myself occupied were rarely ever constructive. I would start building something, a model plane, for example, suddenly become discouraged, and put the project aside, never to complete it. Whenever I felt nervous, stressed, or depressed, my SP experiences would become more frequent and more intense. Often, when life becomes unpleasant, one attempts to escape by finding comfort in sleep. But for me, that was becoming less possible.

It wasn’t until mid-2007 that I fully recognized the fact that I suffered from SP. Ever since I first started having episodes back in 2001, I had no idea what was happening to me. I had heard of the phenomenon before, but not enough to know anything substantial about it. At first, I worried obsessively about the state of my mental health. I even began to suspect that I might be developing schizophrenia, or some other serious and debilitating neurosis. When I did finally investigate the subject, I was both astonished and relieved to discover that other people had undergone, and were undergoing, the same bizarre experiences as me.

My SP experiences have changed over the years, gradually becoming more and more intense. They have now reached a kind of plateau, in that most of them are pretty much the same these days, and I know what to expect. Every now and then, however, I will have a particularly frightening or compelling episode, and I will not be able to forget it for a very long time – or at all. Instead of describing any single episode – of which there are only a handful that I remember with total clarity – I will attempt to shed light on what a typical episode involves. To do so, and in the most veracious way possible, it’s necessary that I refer to a short story I wrote in 2005, during the first year of my diploma at RMIT University.

Written as an assignment for class, I gave it the rather sensational title “Beware of the Spirits who Feast on your Soul,” and, although I didn’t realize it then, the story relates directly to my SP experiences. Which is not to say, of course, that I had no idea what I was writing about at the time. I knew perfectly well what I was writing about – the bizarre and frightening experiences that were, and had been, happening to me at night; it’s just that I did not have a label to assign to these experiences. Not wanting to have my mental health questioned, I gave no indication to either my classmates or my teacher that “Beware of the Spirits” was based on real experiences in my life.

What follows is an excerpt from “Beware of the Spirits.” It’s an accurate description of what I experience during a typical SP episode. The protagonist in the story, a teenage boy, is lying in bed, trying his hardest to get to sleep. He feels stressed and anxious. Frustrated that he cannot get to sleep or stop his mind from racing, he climbs out of bed and switches on the light. After listening to music for about half-an-hour, he attempts, once again, to go to sleep, and this time succeeds. It’s then that things start to get interesting.

“After what seems like a short time later, I wake-up, but not completely. I can feel something touching my forehead; it is this that has drawn me kicking and screaming into a semi-conscious state. But in truth, I cannot kick or scream; in fact, I can’t move a single muscle in my body, even though my mind is awake. For god’s sake I can’t even open my eyes. All I can do is lie there as this thing attends to my forehead with delicate, loving strokes. Whatever it is, I can smell the stench of its presence. I can taste its mind just as much as it can taste mine. But its love, its child-like affection, is sickening me, and all I want is for it to leave me in peace.

“I continue to lie there, engulfed by the darkness as the shadow strokes my forehead. It then moves over to the left side of my body and proceeds to lie down beside me. It writhes around annoyingly until it finds a comfortable position. Then, once it’s finished messing around, it puts its arms around me. Its grip is so tight that my chest is aching. I want to scream out in fear and disgust, but there is nothing I can do.

“When it becomes too unbearable, I manage to find the strength inside myself to scream. It’s only a faint scream, but it communicates the full extent of my rage. Right now, this is the only weapon I have. It’s also a way of telling my assailant that I am not to be messed with. But in truth it’s ridiculous, for the shadow is only encouraged by my raw expression of fear. Because fear is what it feeds on. And in response, as if in competition, the shadow screams as well. And its scream is far more powerful than mine; so powerful in fact, that it almost tears me apart.

“With greater strength than ever before, I force myself to wake-up by fighting the paralysis that grips my body. All the while, the shadow attempts to stop me by drawing me into the realm of sleep. But in the end I manage to break through. When I open my eyes and gaze around the pitch-black room, I see the shadow swirling above me, now in the form of a hideous, dark serpent. But I no longer fear it, for I am the victor in this battle. Now that I’ve woken up, it’s powerless to hurt me.

“The shadow, I notice, looks vulnerable and weak. As it floats above me, it twists and flexes its body as if suffering from a fit. I repeatedly strike at its ghostly black form, but my hands pass straight through it. In defeat, the shadow floats up to the top of the ceiling and slithers across the underside of one of the rafters. Once it reaches the other side of the room, I lose sight of it amongst the shadows.

“I jump out of bed, switch on the light, and gaze around the room in an attempt to find the shadow. Just as I expected, it’s nowhere to be found; it has returned to the ghostly realm from whence it emerged. I climb back in bed and try to collect my thoughts. I now know the shadow is well and truly gone, and this fills me with a sense of relief. I also know from experience that, even if it were to return, it would be incapable of reaching me while I’m awake. Which is why, for the time being, I decide not to drift back to sleep.”

As the reader would have gathered from reading the above passage, SP experiences can be absolutely terrifying. Of all the episodes I’ve had over the years, about 90 percent of them were frightening to some degree. Fear plays a very significant role in the phenomenon, the main reason being that all SP attacks contain an element of helplessness. To quote again from “Beware of the Spirits”: “I felt like a man who had been intentionally buried alive. I was trapped inside a dark, cramped coffin, thousands of meters underground, and my oxygen supply was running out quickly. And, to make matters worse, there was an evil, vicious thing outside, trying its hardest to penetrate the paper-thin walls surrounding me.”

Apart from the fact that one is unable to move one’s body and can sense a threatening presence nearby, there is another reason that these experiences generate so much fear, but it’s difficult to put into words. One SP sufferer explained it best when they wrote, “I literally fear for my soul.” The following comments, written by SP suffers, validate the blood curdling nature of the phenomenon:

  • “The presence was of a demonic nature, purest evil, out to possess my soul…The presence was ALWAYS evil, and I could always feel it trying to enter my body…I find this utterly terrifying, beyond anything I can imagine experiencing in the real world because it is so contrary to ‘reality’, and yet feels entirely authentic…Not so much ‘die,’ more like losing possession of my soul.”
  • “The greatest primal terrors that I have ever witnessed: Character forming stuff – I can’t imagine anything in reality that could cause greater fear than these episodes.”
  • “How about ‘overwhelming terror?’ These attacks leave me shuddering and crying. Sometimes I’m so scared I get sick to my stomach.”
  • “Fear is not a strong enough word! Terrified or panicked might be a better choice.”

While in this aberrant state between wakefulness and sleep, there is usually nothing but total darkness inside one’s mind. It’s uncommon to see images in one’s mind’s eye. Sometimes, however, one is able to open one’s eyes ever so slightly and sense some movement. One might catch a glimpse of a translucent, ghostly form, leaning over one’s body and moving so quickly that it’s difficult to make out. Such has been the case in my experience – not just once, but on several occasions. Or, one may see a dark figure standing or floating in the bedroom, staring with piercing black eyes.

While struggling for freedom, trying hard to wake up and to fight the paralysis gripping one’s body, one can not only sense the presence of the being that is trying to “possess” you, one can also “taste” its mind – just as I have described in the story. It feels as though the entity has managed to “lock onto” your very soul using a powerful suction cup. It’s a very peculiar and highly unpleasant sensation. The word “rape” springs to mind. To be in total communion, in absolute mind-to-mind contact with another soul, is something that words fail to convey.

When I say that, during the SP state, one can “taste” the mind of the being that is attached to you, I mean exactly that. “Taste” is the best verb to use, though “smell” would also be suitable. Those of you who, like me, are highly intuitive and are sensitive to the vibes of people and places, would know exactly what I mean by this. The vibe of a person or place can sometimes be so powerful, I’ve noticed, that one can actually feel its radiation penetrate to the very core of one’s being. In the SP state, one’s soul is totally exposed, and no barrier exists to block your psychic impressions. In this peculiar state of consciousness, you are about a thousand times more sensitive to the psychic radiation emanating from people and places than when you are fully awake.

During the SP state, one is conscious of the fact that one possesses a “soul.” One can sense, in other words, that your mind exists independently of your physical body, and that the former is secondary in importance to the latter. One can also sense that your being has an energy body of its own. This non-physical body is commonly known as the astral body. My research seems to indicate that the majority of SP attacks occur on an astral level, and that the SP state involves a partial dislocation of the astral body from the physical body. According to many occultists, the astral body leaves the physical body regularly during the sleep state, while dreams are often memories of the astral journeys we take. We will explore this theory in far greater depth, once we come to the work of the late Robert Monroe, an expert on OBEs.

In my experience, the sensations of the astral body are very different from those experienced by the physical body. For instance, the “hand” of a spirit feels slightly synthetic, almost rubbery, but in no way lifeless. “Spirit skin” feels nothing like human skin. In “Beware of the Spirits,” I described what it’s like to feel the touch of spirits. One time I felt a pair of hands around my neck, as a rather vicious being tried to choke me to death. I honestly thought I was going to die. During less sinister, even pleasant, encounters, I have felt the tiny playful hands of spirits touch me on the chest, side, and shoulders. I could sense they meant me no harm.

In “Beware of the Spirits,” the protagonist is attacked twice by a powerful, invisible entity. I have already mentioned the first attack. The following is a description of the second attack, which, it should be remembered, was written at a time when I was almost completely ignorant of the SP phenomenon.

“Once again, I half wake-up and my body is entirely paralyzed. As usual, I can feel and sense a presence nearby. This time the shadow is sitting at the end of my bed, and the weight of its body is crushing my legs. Unlike the previous night, I decide not to wake myself up, as I’m curious to know what the shadow will do next. As if in response to my thoughts, the shadow slithers closer. Now I can hear and feel its warm breath on my face. This sensation, both irritating and sickening, reminds me that the shadow is a living, breathing creature, and not at all a figment of my imagination.

“The shadow crawls across my stomach, closer to my face. I feel a curious sensation as it attaches something to my mind. To have my mind touched, prodded, almost tickled, is a feeling that words fail to describe. All I know is that my mind is being violated, as nothing has ever gotten so close to my soul. But still, out of burning curiosity, I let the shadow continue. Now I can hear the shadow’s voice in my head: ‘For a long time I’ve waited for this moment.’ I let these words echo in my head, so that I have a chance to taste the shadow’s essence. Surprisingly, its voice is nothing like what I expected; it’s clear, polite, almost robotic, and not at all sinister.”

In my story, I describe sensing an evil presence nearby. This experience, called the “sensed presence,” is a common aspect of the SP phenomenon. Sometimes one feels that the presence is trying to take over or invade one’s mind, or is attempting to steal one’s very soul. According to one SP sufferer, “There is usually always an intense feeling of extreme evil surrounding me. I also feel a presence in my mind (like something sinister or evil) that is trying to draw me into an extremely deep, permanent sleep. I feel that if I succumb, I will never wake up.”

Sometimes, during the SP state, I also feel that my attacker “is trying to draw me into an extremely deep, permanent sleep,” and that, if I let myself succumb, I will not be able to wake up, perhaps even die. I have described this feeling in “Beware of the Spirits.” Here are those words again: “With greater strength than ever before, I force myself to wake-up by fighting the paralysis that grips my body. All the while, the shadow attempts to stop me by drawing me into the realm of sleep. But I manage to break through.”

“I manage to break through,” means I manage to wake up, which, by the way, can be one hell of a struggle. Imagine you’re underwater, with lead weights attached to your feet, and you’re trying to swim to the surface, but the weight keeps dragging you down. That’s what it feels like. The reason I manage to “break through to the surface,” so to speak, and have on every occasion, is because of my powerful will to survive – which is something we all possess.

When confronted by a dangerous, life-threatening situation, one is often able to draw on enormous reserves of energy. We’ve all heard those remarkable tales of survival, whereby, following an accident, people have managed to lift cars off the bodies of their loved ones. The same rule applies to the SP phenomenon. Believe me, when you feel that your soul is being stolen by the devil himself, you will not take a passive approach. On the contrary, you will fight as hard as you can to resist, and you will not give up.

Featured in the second half of “Beware of the Spirits” is a good description of this feeling. The protagonist has just emerged from a nightmare, in which the “shadow” made an appearance, and has now entered the SP state. The entities responsible for SP episodes are, by the way, able to invade one’s dreams, turning them into nightmares. I will explain this aspect of the phenomenon later on.

“Suddenly, something flashed inside my mind, and I realized I was dreaming, that none of this was entirely real. Right then, I desired nothing more than to wake up. I had to get out of this evil place. I had to evade the demon who was trying to capture my soul. For some reason I felt that he was the only real part – the only real danger – of the nightmare I was struggling to escape from. And so, I kept trying to wake myself up. I pushed hard against the invisible barrier that separates the world of dreams from the world of physical reality. I used every ounce of strength that I possessed. After making a small amount of progress, I could tell that my physical senses were starting to come back. My body, in other words, was gradually returning to a state of sensation and control.

“Although the world inside my head was dark, and I couldn’t see, I could sense that the shadow was close by. It was trying to draw me back into the world of sleep – where it normally dwelt – so that it could consume me. With ever increasing force, it was attempting to take possession of my mind and body. Determined not to give in – although it was tempting – I kept up the struggle. As I fought harder, I gained more awareness – both physically and mentally. And, after a short while, I was conscious of the fact that I was lying in bed. However, I was still unable to move my body, or, for that matter, see; all around me there was only darkness – a darkness that stretched on for eternity. But this darkness was not without life…”

Dark Intrusions is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

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