As I reach out to meet his kiss,
my lips caress the rancid mouth
of a decaying corpse.
Heart-jarred and lucid,
I stumble through
mora, mara, mahr
Eyes forced open.
Pinioned to my bed,
I lie, terror-frozen.
ag rog, subida del muerto
It sits, invisible,
the weight of death
upon my chest.
gǔi yà chúang, kanashibari, ma đè, gawinullim
My voice strangled,
each laboured breath
karabasan, tindhihen, phi am
An eyelash flutters,
a finger twitches,
the hag’s hold is broken.
I walk in mundane daylight
and hear, beneath the hammer of my heart,
the whispering memories
of dreams more vivid
than life itself.
Sleep paralysis occurs in susceptible individuals either when falling asleep (hypnagogia) or awakening (hypnopompia). It is accompanied by terrifying and powerful hallucinations.
Most usually the sufferer wakes from a nightmare in her (or his) bed, aware of the room she sleeps in in all its detail. She is crushed by a weight of someone or something, visible or invisible, sitting on her chest. Utterly terrified, she will struggle to move or to scream but she is paralyzed. Once she manages to make the slightest movement, even the twitch of a little finger, the spell is broken and she will wake to full consciousness, her heart still racing. Even if she manages to return to normal sleep, the shadow of that terror will linger into the next day.
This physical phenomenon occurs across cultures and through time with similarity in both the descriptions and explanations.
The information set out below is drawn from the Wikipedia article Night Hag which contains a far greater range of cultural occurrences than I have listed. I assume the information is correct but please let me know if any of it isn’t.
The word mare comes through from Old English (mære, mare, mere) and is found in other older versions of languages (mara in Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Icelandic and Old Swedish). It is an evil spirit or goblin in Germanic folklore which rides on people’s chests while they sleep, bringing on terrifying dreams (or ‘nightmares’). The mare is often similar to the succubus or incubus.
In Greece and Cyprus, it is believed that sleep paralysis occurs when a ghost-like creature or Demon named Mora, Vrahnas or Varypnas (Greek: Μόρα, Βραχνάς, Βαρυπνάς) tries to steal the victim’s speech or sits on the victim’s chest causing asphyxiation
In Newfoundland, it is known as a visit from the ‘old hag’ (Irish: Ag Rog)
In Mexico, it is called subida del muerto (the dead climbing on top)
In Chinese folk culture, sleep paralysis is referred as gǔi yà chúang (鬼压床), literally: ‘Ghost press bed’ – 鬼: ghost, 压: press, 床: bed. The belief is that a spirit or ghost is sitting or lying on top of the individual while they were sleeping, causing the sleep paralysis. This is thought to be a minor body possession by the forces from the dead, and usually doesn’t cause any harm to the victim.
In Japan, sleep paralysis is referred to as kanashibari (金縛り, literally: ‘bound or fastened in metal’ – kana: metal, shibaru: to bind, tie, fasten)
In Vietnam, sleep paralysis is known as ma đè, meaning a ghost or spirit lying on top of or pressing down on the person.
In Korea, it is referred as Gawinullim, (가위눌림) literally in English: ‘To be pressed by Gawi.’ The meaning of Gawi is unclear but generally known to mean ‘spirits’ or ‘demons’.
In Turkish, as karabasan (literally: ‘dark presser’ – kara: dark/black, basan: pusher, presser. Most Turkish people believe that it is a metaphysical incident, and especially religious people believe that it is a jinn that causes the discomfort; so generally some kind of prayer is advised.
In Indonesia, Javanese peoples called it tindhihen (To be seated upon)
In Thailand it is believed that sleep paralysis and discomfort is caused by a ghost of the Thai folklore known as Phi Am (Thai: ผีอำ)
Some scientists believe that many supposed occurrences of alien abduction, out-of-body travel, and other seemingly paranormal events may actually be due to misinterpreting the sensory effects of sleep paralysis.
©Catherine Merrick 2016