Demon on chest, Demons, Evil, Ghost Stories, Halloween, Sleep paralysis, The Old Hag, True Stories
Have you ever awoken from sleep to find yourself paralyzed with fear as something dark and evil sitting on your chest has pinned you down? You try to scream or move, but find that you cannot. You are overcome with terror.
It’s more common than you think. About 15% of us, male and female, experience this at some time in our lives. Sometimes it happens over and over on a nightly basis; sometimes only for a brief period of time.
It happened to me more than once when I was a young mother. On evening when I went to bed, I was so bone-weary my body felt like lead. But before I could drift off I felt someone climb into bed with me, straddle my stomach and lean on my chest. One of my young children, I was sure, had come to me because they couldn’t sleep or had had a nightmare and wanted my attention. I was so tired I didn’t not want to get up and laid there for a while hoping they’d go back to bed on their own, but they didn’t.
So I finally gave in and opened by eyes to see which child needed me. But when I did, nothing was there. No child. Nothing but a heavy pitch black darkness that was staring me in the face with such a sinister and evil intent that I tried to scream and scramble away. But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream. I tried with all my might but could only squirm helplessly, and move my mouth but nothing would come out.
I’m not sure how long this lasted, and how I finally managed to get the attention of my husband who was sleeping next to me. When I did, it broke the spell. The heavy darkness disappeared and I was able to move. I told Dale what happened, and he said he could hear me moaning and wriggling, but saw or heard nothing else.
It happened the next night too. First the feeling of something crawling over my legs and then climbing on my chest, staring malevolently at me and holding me down. Again I was frozen with terror and could not move or speak. Again I was finally able to alert my husband.
The third time it happened, Dale felt it too! Felt something scampering across our legs. He jumped out of bed and flipped on the lights. But nothing was there.
It happened twice more, each time Dale feeling it too and jumping up to investigate. We knew it wasn’t the children who were sound asleep in bed. We wondered if it could be our parrot (we had no other pets at the time) but Sinbad was on his perch in the family room, and besides, whatever scampered across our legs was much heavier than a bird, even a large one.
Could it be a rat? It would have to truly be a gigantic one. But none of those things accounted for the heavy dark thing that crushed my chest and paralyzed me. None could account for the horrible sense of evil malevolence staring me in the face.
It never returned after that fifth visit. In fact, I’ve never experienced anything paranormal or spooky or ghostly since then. But years later I was stunned to see in a magazine a picture of the very thing that had sat on my chest. In this artist’s depiction, the dark, evil presence was in the form of a demon, and I “recognized” it at once, even though at the time I had seen only darkness. But the demon exactly matched the sense of grotesque, malevolent evil I had felt staring me down.
I was surprised, and somewhat relieved, to find out that this sort of occurrence is common across many cultures, and each has its own name and explanation for the demon. In some southern states, the visiting demon is known as “The Old Hag”. In Mexico it is referred to as “subirse el muerto” (dead person on you). In Scandinavian folklore the paralysis is caused by a mare, a damned woman. In Turkey, it is a supernatural being known as a dijinn. In other cultures it is an incubi or succubi.
In recent times this phenomenon has been thought to be a form of “sleep paralysis” or narcolepsy. Wikipedia defines it this way:
“Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. More formally, it is a transition state between wakefulness and rest characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions (e.g. an intruder in the room), to which one is unable to react due to paralysis.”
While this certainly describes my sleep-state and my paralysis, and even perhaps my terror, it does not account for the feeling of something crawling across my legs, or the fact that my husband, who was not paralyzed, felt it too! For those who have actually experience this demon-like presence, the sleep-paralysis explanation does not come close to describing the full extent of this horrifying experience.
Whatever it is, it is vivid enough and frightening enough to have inspired the drawings and paintings of several artists through the ages, as you can see in the photos illustrating this post. Poets too have been inspired. Here’s a bit of what Erasmus Darwin wrote in his poem “The Botanic Garden”:
“On his Night-Mare, thro the evening fog,
Flits the squab fiend o’er fen, and lake, and bog,
Seeks some love-wilder’d maid, by sleep opprest,
Alights, and grinning, sits upon her breast.”
I found this on a blog post by Mike Rendell called “The Night Mare, the Nightmare, and the Night Mayor.” It’s an interesting and fun read on how artists through the ages who have depicted the event, some in humorous and politically expedient ways.
While I have been happily free of supernatural occurrences since the last visit of this “demon,” I cannot end this series without relating another attempt at demonic possession, or at least an evil intent, that tried to influence me while living in that haunted house as a child that I wrote about in my first post.
The “thing” that trod across my bedroom in the night so long ago, that knocked my mother to the floor, tried, for one brief moment at least, to inhabit me.
More about that next time.
This is Part V of an ongoing series leading up to Halloween of true life ghost stories, experienced either by me or by people I trusted.
You can read the full series of ghost stories at the links below.
- True Ghost Stories, Part I – Growing Up in a Haunted House
- True Ghost Stories, Part II – Attack of the Poltergeist
- True Ghost Stories, Part III – When the Dead Refuse to Leave
- True Ghost Stories, Part IV – Resident Evil: In the Belly of the Beast
- True Ghost Stories, Part V – A Demon on My Chest
- True Ghost Stories, Part VI – Evil Incarnate
- True Ghost stories, Part VIII – Do I Believe This Stuff?
Yes, an incubus or succubus. I remember seeing those old paintings and also recognizing something I’d seen in sleep – so creepy…
How Cow! That is so scary! My adventures in the supernatural have been much more benign!
You are lucky! Hope it stays that way.
You’ve got me hooked! Today I thought…maybe there’s another post written for the ghost series today. I checked, and sure enough, here it is!
This is really interesting. It used to happen to me regularly when I was younger and it was just as you describe and totally terrifying. I didn’t actually see a gremlin but I did see shadowy intruders who weren’t that friendly. A couple of times however the presence was really benign. Once it was my dead friend sitting on the end of the bed and once it was an old man who whispered in my ear ‘I am your friend from Tibet’ !! In those circumstances I just tried to relax with it and by doing that it all melted away.
It’s reassuring to know we are not alone in having these experiences! I love the one about your friend from Tibet. It would be fun to hear find out what he’s all about and what he might share with you.
Chrys Fey said:
I’ve never experienced a dark entity sitting on my chest, and I hope I never do, but I have experienced sleep paralysis. In my nightmare, I was running from an alien robot (like on War of the Worlds). I thought I got away, but all of a sudden it was standing over me. One of the legs lifted and crushed me to the ground, killing me. A family member actually woke me up the moment I died in my dream, but I could only look at them in shock and confusion because every part of my body was paralyzed for several seconds. I still remember what that felt like and it was terrifying!
Thanks for sharing that, Chrys. It is a terrifying feeling.
Ribbons Undone said:
I’ve never had that happen to me, but I have friends who have had it happen. Reading about your experience gave me the shivers! My experience with the supernatural has been..weird, but not dangerous. Thank God. I was once praying for somone that the entity which was oppressing them be removed and I saw something hit the dirt and heard a thump when it did, but there was nothing there. I could see the shape in the dirt, though. I’ve had entities speak to my spirit so loudly that I thought I was losing my mind. Like I said. Just weird.
It’s strange isn’t it that so many people have these weird things happen to them. Thanks for sharing.
Wow! This is incredible. I always thought that that kind of events belong more to our Hispanic world… I experienced something similar living in panama. But when I talk about it here in Spain people tend to think of it as the result of our super superstitious culture. I’ll keep reading.
Take care 🙂
I’m glad you are liking the series. I’ll bet there are people in Spain who have experienced this too–they are just not saying!
That is so freaky! Did it reassure you knowing that your husband also felt the presence of the “demon”?
It did reassure me! I didn’t want him to think I was crazy.
I saw a TV programme about this where it tracked the issue down to two small nodes in the brain in the base of the skull. One node is responsible for switching you to sleep and the other for switching you to being awake. Only one is meant to be active at a time but for some people they can both be active at the same time. This can result in interpreting your dreams as being real.
That doesn’t explain how your husband felt the same thing but that could be something like empathy pains – your suggestion or the way you felt made him feel it also. I am glad I don’t have this – not much you can do if you can’t wake up!
That’s interesting! There’s so much we don’t understand about how the mind works. I like the idea of being awake and asleep at the same time–I could see how that would be disconcerting enough to cause one to feel that something eerie or demonic is happening. I’ve always loved the idea of lucid dreaming too, where you’re “awake” enough to know you are asleep and therefore can control you dreams. So glad you shared this. Come again, anytime.
Had an experience with the ghost about a year ago. Actually, I found out that the ghost was by my side a longe time. It was the ghost of a female relative who died a long time ago after some personal accident. She was so lonely in that in-between world and wanted to pull me in with her. I don’t sleep usually on my back, but at that time I did few times. So she (it) climbed often on my chest and pushed the air out of my lungs shortly before I would awake. The fortunate part is that I managed with the help of one wonderful book to free her from this miserable existence. The ghost are not evil, they died with some false judgements in their psyche, so couldnt naturally shift from this dimension to another. I am glad that I could share my experience with you, it is nothing scary once we demystify what it is.
PS: When I said ‘false judgement’ I also ment – a thinking of a dying person that he left some unfinished business. I just red the fascinating story of your grandmother and her Hawaii visit, so this could be it. I didn’t knew that ghost can actually take over completly the body of another person. It is not my preocupation so I wasn’t untill now searching for similar cases, but I am glad I could share mine for the first time.
these are wonderful!
and how surprising! i’ve actually had the sleep paralysis happen to me many times over my years, and i never understood until now why it was so terrifying.
I am so delighted that you read all these! Sleep paralysis (if that’s what is was) is so terrifying. I was surprised to find out how common it is. Thank you for reading and commenting.