“This scares me and I don’t know what it is. I have been seeing them since I was a little girl. Always outta the corner of my eye a tall black shadow. I always feel like something or someone is by me. Last night I went down to my bedroom. There it was. Standing next to my dresser. I ran upstairs crying to my mom. She went down and looked saying it was only ’cause I was overtired. But I KNOW what I saw. It was so scary. I don’t know what it is. I need all the help I can get!” – Jessica’s cry for help, 10, January 2010.
Tales of walking Shadows come from across the world. Some of these Shadow People wander through the periphery of our lives; others stay for years. People can rarely make out features of these darker-than-night, human shaped entities other than an occasional set of blazing red eyes. Shadow People often appear dressed as a Medieval monk, wearing a fedora, or bald and sexless. These entities may simply trek through our bedroom at night never to be seen again, while others may lurk in doorways, just watching, day after day. Still others attack with energy-draining fear.
What are they?
I’ve studied the Shadow People phenomena for the past decade, and have come to the conclusion the term “Shadow People” is a catchall for entities that exhibit certain characteristics – but their origins can be wildly different. Through research and personal experience, I’ve categorized these creatures by behavior.
Benign Shadows: Shadow People that seem to travel briefly through a person’s life. I saw these entities as a child. They appeared to walk with purpose through my room, never acknowledging me, and never straying from their path. I never felt an unholy fear, just the fear of watching a dark human-shaped trespasser walk past my bed.
Negative Shadows: Although these Shadow People tend to simply lurk, they are associated with a feeling of unnatural terror.
Red-Eyed Shadows: These entities are always negative, but stare at experiencers with blazing red eyes. Victims often say they feel this creature feed from their fear.
Hooded Shadows: Dressed as an ancient monk, people who encounter these Shadow People feel a deep rage bubbling behind the black cowl.
The Hat Man: This entity is the most curious. Dressed in a fedora, and sometimes appearing to wear an old-time business suit, the Hat Man appears to people in cultures across the planet.
Shadow People may be demonic entities, ghosts, inter-dimensional travelers, or other denizens of the dark realm we call the Unknown. Regardless of their label, Shadow People could very well be more than just one type of being. Brad Steiger, author of “Shadow World,” has studied the paranormal for more than 50 years and agrees – there are many possible explanations for Shadow People. “I would say that experiencers are seeing all of the above and giving them/it the name of Shadow People.”
Whatever these entities are, they’re shocking to those who see them.
A gray sheet of clouds stretched across the sky as 12-year-old Doug ran to the corner store. “It was overcast but not raining, and in the middle of the afternoon,” Doug said. The day was shadowless, and decades later he still doesn’t know what he saw on his way home from the store, arms laden with food. At first, he thought it was a friend. “As I approached the corner to turn onto my street, I saw something black sticking beyond the bushes in the front of my house,” Doug said. “I yelled, ‘Andre,’ and started running toward my driveway where the bushes are.”
The dark figure wasn’t his friend Andre. A black, man-shaped Shadow grew from behind the bushes in this quiet afternoon and began running toward Doug’s house. “After a few steps I saw the Shadow running down my driveway toward the back yard,” he said. “I ran up the driveway to the gate that leads to my back yard. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Doug stood at the gate as the black Shadow in the shape of a man ran across his yard and disappeared through a fence. “I was shocked,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This thing; what could it be? Why was it black when most stereotypical stories said that ghosts were white? Could this be demonic? Could it be like me, just a person?”
What did Doug see? A ghost? A demon? A dimensional traveler? Or was it all in his mind?
“I’ve been visited by what I presume to be the same Shadow three times in my life, and the memories have haunted me ever since. When I was six, I saw it at my dad’s new house, towering over my bed. I couldn’t move, and I don’t remember what happened next. All I remember is trying to scream, but there was this horrible weight on my chest.” – Luke Purdy
Most of the Shadow People encounters I’ve collected over the years are readily explainable. The experiencer wakes to find a black, human figure standing in the doorway of their bedroom, or leaning over their bed, just watching. A tightness grips their chest like the weight of a person is upon them. They can’t breathe. Suddenly the choking eases, and the Shadow being is gone. This type of encounter is common, and psychology has a name for it – sleep paralysis.
April Haberyan, a psychology professor at Northwest Missouri State University, said most Shadow People encounters are probably the product of dreams. When people sleep and enter the REM phase, “it’s very common for them to see things,” Haberyan said. The fear, the paralysis, and the entities are normal. “There are hormones in REM sleep that paralyze the major muscle groups and it’s called paradoxical sleep,” she said. “(Although) this happens during REM, these people don’t stay asleep and the hormones are still in their bodies. It can last up to eight minutes and they feel pressure on their chest and can see people.” When the experiencer becomes fully awake, the Shadow Person encounter is over – all that’s left is the fear.
Other Shadow People encounters – as well as those of ghosts/UFOs/Bigfoot for that matter – can be attributed to the same trick of light and shadow that allows us to see faces in clouds and carpets. These sightings can also be from electrical stimulation to certain parts of the brain, or drugs. Chemist Rick Toomey said anything that throws off the chemical balance of the brain causes all sorts of problems. “All sensation is in the nervous system and it’s all chemistry,” he said. “If every neurotransmitter is chemistry, you can wreak havoc with that.”
However, many encounter Shadow People in full consciousness and full daylight, removing the logical, scientific answers, and leaving something terrible.
The Religious World
“My best friend, when he was a boy he was laying on his bed with the lights on. A shadowy figure emerged from his closet and moved towards his bedside. The Shadow being reached out a finger and touched my buddy’s leg. He screamed and the figure vanished, and his folks were there in moments. My friend’s father noticed that the closet door was open, and his parents knew he NEVER slept without it closed. The black spot on his leg remained visible for several years, but the Shadow being never returned. To this day my friend has no idea what happened, but he does know one thing – it was real.” – Paul Sycros
Although most reported Shadow People encounters involve an entity simply appearing and disappearing, many aren’t that innocent. Negative Shadows, Red-Eyed Shadows, and Hooded Shadows, all bring a feeling of horror when they step into someone’s life. These creatures are known by different names, demons, jinn, dark shadows, sgili, but their nature is the same.
Bishop James Long, pastor of St. Christopher Old Catholic Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has studied demonology for years and knows Shadow People well – to him they are something evil. “Shadow People must be taken seriously and they can be quite dangerous,” he said. “When a human spirit tries to manifest itself, its form is black, or otherwise known as Shadow. It is energy trying to manifest itself so that it can appear to have the physical characteristics it had when living on earth.” These entities can move, communicate, and attack, drawing energy from their human victim. “Certainly Shadows that attack are demonic in nature and should be avoided at all times,” Long said. “I would strongly encourage anyone who witnesses a dark Shadow to be careful.”
Cody Lilly’s family has encountered this type of Shadow for years, a black, human-shaped figure, featureless except for a wide-brimmed hat. “We called him the Cowboy because he kind of looked like the Marlboro man,” Lilly said. The Cowboy stepped into Lilly’s life his sophomore year of high school in Clarinda, Iowa, and visited almost nightly for two years, pacing about his room, waiting for something. The entity, with fiery red eyes, never spoke, and never approached him, but Lilly knew why it was there – it hungered. “It was feeding,” Lilly said, convinced the Cowboy was absorbing energy from his terror. “The first time I saw it I was completely incapacitated by how scared I was of it.”
Lilly soon went to college thirty miles south and the visits stopped until after graduation in 2011 when he moved to Nebraska. “My girlfriend that is now my fiancée is in Kansas City and I’m in Omaha. I was crashing with friends here,” he said. “My car started acting up, I’m in the process of looking for a job, finding an apartment, buying an engagement ring. I had a lot of stuff on my plate, which might have brought on what happened.” What happened was the Cowboy. “I’m sitting in my car on the phone with my mom. I don’t know much about cars, but my mom does.”
As Lilly described the car’s behavior to his mother, he noticed a movement in the corner of his right eye. Lilly turned toward the passenger side window and saw it – the Shadow Man that once tormented him in the night. The Cowboy. “It was full on. A Shadow Person in an old fedora,” Lilly said. “It was standing there. It leaned over like it’s bending to look at me.”
As Lilly stared in horror at this red-eyed Shadow Man in full daylight, the Cowboy reached out it’s arm and knocked on the car window. “It knocked two times,” Lilly said. “After it knocked it dissolved in my vision. It just showed up, knocked on my window and was gone.” Lilly wonders if the Cowboy wanted to let him know it was still around. “It’s been quite some time that I saw him,” he said. “I’m just kind of thinking he just showed up. I was feeling stressed out and I think he showed up just to feed on that.”
In Islam, the supernatural Jinn can be a companion, or a dark, Shadowy predator. “Jinns are invisible entities believed in by most all Muslims and Middle Eastern folklore,” said religion expert, Dashti Namaste. “Jinns get in and out of human spheres regularly, and it is believed that any human is able to make contact with a Jinn.” Although Jinn can be benevolent, some Jinn are wicked, appearing as dark figures that lurk in ruins and cemeteries, waiting for an unsuspecting human soul to stumble by. The wicked Jinn, much like the demons of Christianity, are deceivers and may present themselves as the ghost of a loved one to insert themselves into a human’s life.
Wahde, a Cherokee, said the nature of Shadow beings in the American Indian tradition are just as dark. “They’re humanoid shaped, but not proportionate to a normal person,” Wahde said. “Their appearance is more monstrous in nature.” These Shadow beings are the product of medicine men that have strayed from the path of healing. “There seem to be a classification of spiritual beings that are Shadow for the most part. These things can be manipulated by bad medicine or bad magic,” Wahde said. “They either take that form to attack other people, or they use some other spiritual being as a spiritual attack.” In the Cherokee language, these dark medicine people are sgili, or witch. “They’re still alive to some degree, but they’re not necessarily considered human.”
“I have a young boy shadow/spirit in my home. He appears as a solid black cutout-like figure. He is a prankster, too, but he’s NOT mean, or evil. He let’s us know he’s here at times by playing with the animals. Kittens, dogs, puppies, etc. PLAY, not mean. The dogs and puppies are wagging their tails. He moves my Barbies if he really wants my attention. And the other day he didn’t want the door to his room closed, so he opened it. He’s a good kid.” – Kim Tamsor
A family sees a black figure come down the stairs at the same time at night, turn into the kitchen and disappear. A dark man in an out-of-date suit walks through a child’s bedroom and down the hallway. Some Shadow People encounters – benign ones like these – could very well be disembodied spirits wandering the earth. D.H. Parsons, president of The Bliss-Parsons Institute of Metaphysics in Columbia, Missouri, has encountered many Shadow People while investigating a haunting. Although many fellow investigators consider Shadow People demonic, Parsons doesn’t necessarily agree. “My feeling is that a Shadow Person is another representation of a residual memory of a person who had such a strong personality in life, that a bit of their energy remained here in this dimension after their spirit crossed over,” Parsons said. “Most of the time the spirit beings are either friendly to us, or confused by us, or curious as to why we are there. But they have never done us any harm, not even the Shadows.”
Not so for eighteen-year-old Dave Stanfield. Stanfield didn’t expect something to be waiting for him in his room when he woke. Something was – something dark. A strange feeling pulled Stanfield from a deep sleep. As he lay in the gray room, staring at his bedroom wall, he saw it. “I woke for no reason, had no weird dreams, and I wasn’t groggy or half asleep,” he said. “My room was dark other than some stray beams coming through the blinds, and I could see a man, darker than the night like a void.”
The figure stood at the end of the bed. “I could only make out the silhouette of his head and shoulders. The rest of him just went straight to the floor,” Stanfield said. “There were no legs or feet. No red eyes, no facial features whatsoever.” Terrified, Stanfield slid low in bed, pulling the covers slowly over his face, watching the black, man-shaped figure standing over him until his blankets hid the horror from his view and Stanfield fell back to sleep.
Stanfield is now 29, and although he doesn’t know what this Shadow Being was, he knows he saw it – and it haunts him still. “Only in the past couple of years have I been able to find anything on the subject matter,” Stanfield said. “It’s almost like re-victimization when reading stories from other people that describe experiences like mine. I never knew it could be so widespread and am still dealing with the shock.”
But, as with Parsons’ encounters, this being didn’t harm Stanfield. At least not physically.
“Harmless. Just a watcher is all.” – Don Hall
Most Shadow People encounters are benign, a dark figure lingering in the corners of your life, watching. Could these entities simply be watching us from a realm barely removed from our own? Marie Jones, author of books exploring science and the paranormal, thinks other dimensions could be homes of Shadow People. “In my research into quantum and theoretical physics, I came across … concepts that really opened up the possibilities to me that entities from somewhere else could be coming here” Jones said.
One of these concepts is wrapped around different dimensions. “Theoretically, if these infinite other universes exist, we really should not physically be able to access them,” Jones said. “Yet even theoretical physicists entertain the thought that perhaps the laws of physics on the other side allow for some crossover.”
Clark Kent’s* grandfather died in 1977 and his grandmother moved to a small apartment leaving her old house empty. Shortly after, ten-year-old Kent’s family moved in. “My first friend in the new neighborhood was my next-door neighbor, Jim,” Kent said. “We are good friends to this day.” On a day in 1979, Kent invited Jim to his house to play Ping Pong – and it’s haunted him since.
That day after school, Kent and Jim had about two hours before Kent’s parents came home from work, which meant Ping Pong in the basement between peeks at the forbidden stash of Playboys in a dusty alcove. It was there Kent saw something he didn’t expect. “During our game, I was facing the alcove,” Kent said. “At a certain point, something caught my attention.” Standing in the alcove was the shadow of a man wearing a fedora.
“It was creepy, and I had to pause,” Kent said. “I could not figure out how any combination of the boxes could cast such a shadow. Then it moved.”
Kent stood at the Ping Pong table, staring at dark figure watching him from the alcove. He then quickly looked at Jim who was looking at him. “He realized I had seem something,” Kent said. “I was struck by the realization that no man was casting a shadow on the wall, the Shadow was solid and was not attached to any object. I turned and scrambled up the stairs with Jim right behind me.” At the top of the stairs, their breath coming fast and heavy, Kent slammed and latched the basement door, then “looked at Jim with wide eyes.”
Jim denied seeing the Shadow man that day and for nearly thirty years after. As the two met for a long needed reunion, Kent mentioned the Shadow Man in his basement. “Jim sunk into his chair and spoke in a whisper, ‘I’ll never forget that hat.’ I was stunned,” Kent said. Then he asked the same question he’d asked three decades ago, did you see it? “Yes, I did,” Jim told him. “I was scared.”
But did this entity, this watcher, step into Kent’s life from a parallel universe?
Although some physicists entertain the idea of these multiple universes, physicist David Richardson isn’t eager to join them. “I hate to bring this up in this context, but if there were extra dimensions … (Shadow People) might actually be people,” he said. “I’m skeptical of that, but it’s possible. We’re just starting to figure out that sort of stuff.”
Ghost? Demon? Jinn? Sgili? Traveler? Regardless of the nature of these entities, regardless of their intentions, the advice for each encounter is the same – proceed with caution.
*Yes, this person’s name is actually Clark Kent. Although bearing the name of Superman’s alter ego may be a burden to some, Kent said his name has netted him many free bottles of beer from strangers at taverns. Who doesn’t want to buy a drink for the Last Son of Krypton?
Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt
The images used in this post are for illustration purposes only.