Or—even worse—smelled the putrid breath of a ghost or spirit as it sits on your chest, so that you can’t breathe or even scream? These terrifying experiences, long attributed to the supernatural, are also the symptoms of a sleep condition known medically as sleep paralysis. This is the original Night-Mare, cross-culturally known by many names such as the Old Hag and the Succubus. Sleep paralysis has played a dramatic role in history, including the creation of 19th century works Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as well as deadlier roles like the Salem Witch Trials. While contemporary dream science has demystified some of the biological origins of this night malady, millions suffer the dread alone, as to be haunted by demons in the 21st century—this Age of Information—is to be doubly cursed. The good news is the causes of sleep paralysis can be managed. And there is an even less-known bright side to this unique vision state: sleep paralysis is a reliable portal to other extraordinary states of consciousness, including lucid dreaming, out-of-body experiences, and life-changing encounters with transpersonal figures, including angels, aliens and ancestors.
Ryan Hurd is author of Sleep paralysis (Hyena Press, 2011) and the Lucid Immersion Guidebook (Dream Studies Press, 2012). He is editor of DreamStudies.org, and a board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. Ryan lives in Philadelphia, PA, and presents internationally about dreams and consciousness studies.
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