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Fuseli - The Nightmare

Waking Up to the Devil in Your Room

During the summer of 2012, film-maker Carla MacKinnon would frequently wake to find herself unable to move, deeply afraid and convinced there was someone or something in the room with her. On occasions she would see or hear people around her bed, and one night even woke up to find a giant spider hovering over her.

MacKinnon was suffering from ‘sleep paralysis’, a term used to describe the experience of waking to find your body paralysed, a crushing pressure on your chest, a feeling of fear or dread, and sometimes also hallucinations (both auditory and visual) of people or even monstrous creatures beside, or on, your bed. It crops up in the history and folklore of many cultures – the modern word ‘nightmare’ actually has its origins in this experience, with the Old English ‘mære’ denoting “an evil spirit or goblin in Germanic folklore which rides on people’s chests while they sleep”.

Inspired by her experience, MacKinnon created Devil in the Room – an “experimental docu-horror” film supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and made as part of an MA in Animation at Royal College of Art:

For more on the folkloric aspects of sleep paralysis, take a look at David J. Hufford’s seminal book The Terror That Comes in the Night, and for online information (including a list of resources) check out The Sleep Paralysis Project, which MacKinnon’s film is a part of.

For a survey of the experience in lecture format, see also Professor Chris French’s presentation “Something Wicked This Way Comes: Causes and Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis”:

Do you, or have you, suffered from sleep paralysis? Rodney Ascher, director of the cult documentary Room 237 (about perceived meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining), is currently making a film about the phenomenon and is looking to talk to people about it:

I’ve been obsessed with it ever since it used to happen with me (in my case, I saw sort of a living, 3D shadow looming over in me in judgement)… The film is going to be largely built on interviews with people who’ve had vivid, first-person experiences with it (and have given some serious thought to what’s really happening to them) – if anyone wants to share their stories, the easiest way is to contact us via the film’s Facebook page.

(via Mind Hacks and Boing Boing)

  1. bumps in the night
    I just saw a show on this with aliens and incubi. There was a study of this done like a few years ago, where scientists used a machine to put a small electric current through one side of the persons brain which triggered the feeling of a presence or being surrounded by other beings that the subject sensed where “not human.” The question then comes down to what causes this when you are NOT hooked up to the machine? Electric pulses in the nerve ending in the brain or remnants of a “psychic” instinct that humans were once more in tune with?

    My friend had an interesting experience such as this, to the point the “being” was telling her to “come with it” into a strange room. She couldn’t move, but her dog saved her by biting and licking her (this is a dog that wouldn’t harm a fly) viciously to arouse her. Fortunately she did, my friend truly thinks she would have died if not for the dog.

    Also I have been woken up by a crab, a softball sized hermit crab named Oliver who has been my pet for the past 3 years. Damn thing likes to escape from his tank, scratch the walls and scare this bejesus out of me. 😛

    1. neighbors
      I have some neighbors that go out to party in the evening, apparently in independent groups. Which is kinda normal.

      When they get back they all discuss it on the street, and wake me up. Sort of, not that what they say is interesting.

      Some nights, because I go to sleep way earlier, their harmless banter shows up in my dreams as tresspassing – what are they doing in my house ??

      Not that they are there in reality of course

  2. Many of my strange
    Many of my strange experiences occurred either while going to sleep or while stirring from sleep. Though I was never paralyzed, and the moment I chose to move was able, and the experience concurrently ceased. Experiences included: vibrations running through my body, while it felt as if I was bouncing/hovering many inches off the bed, electrical charges coursing rhythmically up and down my spine, exploding at the chakra points, with a loud roaring in my head, but not unpleasant, loud booms, and the occasional after image where on opening my eyes, I see visions that are not there, and fade away after a few moments.

    Since all these occurred either prior to falling asleep or after waking, but not yet moving, my mind is always perfectly clear. I interpret these as natural psychic channels my mind is attuned to while in this relaxed state – they differ from dreams in my opinion, of which I’ve experienced many types including lucid dreams.

  3. When I was a young child I
    When I was a young child I had a few episodes of sleep paralysis but with no psychic fireworks – just a sense of being awake but unable to move. I distinctly remember one during which my mother was playing Beethoven on the piano downstairs, and I was hearing it but unable to get up and go downstairs. It felt as though the music itself had cast a spell over me.

  4. Materialism prevents knowledge
    Many who practice it will think that they know what’s going on. For example “sleep paralysis” will be viewed as having gained knowledge about a set of experiences. In fact, it is just a term that holds value simply because it fits with the canon of materialism. It explains nothing. It simply isolates only the physical symptoms( much like drugs being extracted from plants) and labels those as being the totality of the experience.

    IOW if there were a demon causing such an experience (not what I believe BTW) materialism would never discover it. At its most open it would claim something along the lines of “changes in brain activity for reasons we don’t know cause the person to think that . .blah, blah.”

    It really is such a sad, silly and inaccurate way to assess but its priests and laity fervently continue to hawk its wares.

  5. Strange Awakenings.
    I used to experience sleep paralysis, with all the accompanying weirdness, quite often. It seems to have gone away in recent years. The most memorable was circa 1998. I woke up, on my side and facing the wall, with a very strong feeling there was someone in my room. But I couldn’t move! I was completely paralysed. I felt a sharp pain in my lower spine. With an almighty effort, I managed to turn my head to look over my shoulder… and saw someone in a dark robe, its face obscured by a shadowy cowl, sticking a long thick metallic needle into my back with gloved hands. I promptly fell back asleep. I also recall the flat being lit up by incredibly bright light, with many thin, humanoid beings flitting around. I slept on a futon at this time, so the being with the needle must have been short or kneeling. It was a year later I started reading UFO and alien abduction material, and came across the exact same scenario in a Whitley Strieber book.

    I’ve had other experiences when I woke up with the distinct feeling someone was sitting next to me on the edge of the bed. As I woke up and turned to look, I literally felt the bed moving as if someone really had been sitting on the edge. Once there was an indentation — even though that side of the bed was against a brick wall. Many times I’d just wake up paralysed, attempting to yell for help but my voice was strangled and all I could do was moan loudly. In fact, this happened just the other day.

    This happened regularly up until a few years ago. I won’t be going to a hypnotherapist anytime soon though! Nowadays, I’m sure it’s just the cat sitting on my chest.

    1. The subject of sleep
      The subject of sleep paralysis is further complicated by the likelihood that entities wishing to interfere with us probably know the mechanics of it well enough to employ it as a temporary disabler.

  6. i think media is sensationalizing sleep paralysis
    i’ve had many dozens of sleep paralysis episodes, starting from a young age (7 or so?). I just would find it hard or impossible to move when i woke, after a while (or through wiggling toe or pinky finger) i would be able to move. I never saw, heard, or felt anything out of the ordinary.

    I agree with Greg H. and emlong that this is most a likely a state of consciousness that opens awareness to other realities and also that other entities can exploit this opening to their own advantage. re: RPJ’s comment, interestingly one of the ‘fail safe’ means of getting back into the bod during and OBE is to move a toe or pinky finger. And i have not had any SP for decades now, however in the time frame i’ve been practically plagued by abortive OBEs, and more recently the odd successful OBE. It seems as if my consciousness is moving from, in childhood, very passive altered states of consciousness to attempting to develop a more active and aware state of mind which still allows access to the astral plane, or the realm of the mind, emotions, and dreams.

    Now i’m very interested to look at the movie and looking forward to Mr. Ascher’s upcoming film! Happy Day! steph

  7. Sleep paralysis, the ‘old hag’ syndrome.
    While I cannot definitively say what is going on…. (aliens, demons, et. al.) I have experienced this numerous times.

    Yes, at first it is frightening, and moving a small finger or toe WILL bring you out of it (eliminates aliens).

    I believe it is a precursor to OOBE, as someone has already commented. Now I do OOBE willingly and consciously, and just let my spirit fly, and my body stay behind. No SP since then!

    Nothing to fear but fear itself.

  8. The mainstream narrowly
    The mainstream narrowly defines sleep paralysis as a physiological glitch between waking and dreaming. To suggest anything more is to invite the “Laughter Curtain”, as Linda Murphy calls it in her blog, Out of Darkness.

    I’ve had the experience of sleep paralysis and I knew it was only that; however, I know people who have legitimate alien abduction experiences. The difference is not a mere feeling of paralysis and presence, but a more profound psychic connection with the “entities” present.

    Also, other people such as a spouse can also simultaneously experience the paralysis. One doesn’t necessarily have to be asleep in bed in the classic sense to experience paralysis. My father experienced it while looking out the window of his home at a UFO landing in a field across the street.

    Reality is more complicated than we initially perceive. Perhaps we will realize it in time.

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