The world of sleep and dreams has long fascinated mankind, and has held a prominent place in folklore, legends, and myths around the world for as long as we have been able to ponder such things. It is interesting that even now in the modern age sleep and dreams remain virtually as mysterious as they always have been, with no real concrete, agreed upon reasons for why we do either one of them. When we dream we might as well be venturing out to the boundaries of the known universe for all we know about them. One curious and recurring facet of this landscape of mystery and lore is the consistently reported presence of entities or demons, usually hostile, which appear to us in our dreams or upon awakening to watch, frighten, and torment us. Do such creatures exist, invading our subconscious as we sleep and lurking on the fringes of this shadow world? Or is there some other more rational explanation to all of this? Here is a peek into the strange world of dream demons.
Tales and myths of dream-dwelling entities and apparitions can be found in all cultures from every corner of the world, with the descriptions of such mysterious entities varying as much as the people who dream them. Japan has its Baku, also known as “eaters of dreams.” China has its dream-walking fox spirits. St. Lucia has its creepy dream spirits called the kokoma, which come in the form of babies that beat their victims with furious little fists. In Germany these entities were called the trud or alp, and they were said to come to people or even animals in their dreams to press down on them and in some cases even crush the victims to death, with the German word for “nightmare,” alpdrücke, coming from their name. Medieval Europe had its “old hags,” which were spooky apparitions that similarly invaded dreams to immobilize or hold their prey down, and there were also the incubi and succubi, which were dream demons that sexually assaulted their victims and fed off of sexual energy. In Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse lore these dream demons were called the mårt, or also the mara, mahr, or mare, which is indeed the origin of the English word “nightmare,” which comes from the word nightmårt.
Although such dream entities can be found in many different physical forms in far-flung countries across the world, the basic experience of encountering them is remarkably similar between cultures. The victim typically will awaken or partially awaken unable to move, as if being held down by some unseen force, and there is often a sense of something pressing down on the chest, a sense of breathlessness, or the terrifying experience of being actively attacked or strangled, and in some cases there is even sexual molestation or assault involved. In almost every case there is described as being some entity or presence in the room that exudes a nearly incapacitating aura of malevolence and dread, sometimes more than one, either peering from the shadows or the very thing sitting atop the victim or attacking. These entities are often accompanied by strange sounds or smells that the victim cannot explain and which feel incredibly real, often more potent than anything in the waking world. Professor Chris French, psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, says of the phenomenon:
It is a very common experience but typically people haven’t heard of it. I have people calling me about it and often they have the same story; they’ve been suffering and never told anyone because others would think they were crazy. In the whistles and bells version, people get a strong sense of a presence and they may also get hallucinations. They may see dark shadows and lights and monstrous figures, or footsteps and mechanical sounds or voices. They may feel as if they are being dragged out of bed. It is absolutely terrifying. There is also intense fear. It doesn’t have a dream-like quality; it feels incredibly real.
These are classic hallmarks of such attacks, and are present and incredibly consistent throughout cultures around the world. Indeed, many of you reading this likely have experienced such inexplicable, scary incidents yourselves, no matter where you are from, and many accounts of encountering such alleged dream creatures are harrowing. One report reads:
I couldn’t move a muscle. Something was in the room and walked across the bed. I tried to scream but only a slight noise came from my throat. Whoever or whatever was in my room then disappeared. Unfortunately, I have been getting this horrible paralysis for about two months now. The last time it happened I managed to open my eyes but still could not move my body.
Another was given by a young woman named Helena Adelina, 24, who reported a menacing, very vivid and real figure that would stalk her in her sleep and immobilize her nearly every night, and she became convinced that this was not just any ordinary nightmare. She would report:
He was a slim, tall figure but with no features, like a silhouette. My sense was that he was terrifying, an ancient being, very dark and pure evil. Sometimes I would wake and not see him but hear his voice in my ear talking about destruction, war and death. Sometimes he would grab me around the ankles and drag me under the covers. I would be fighting it and be struggling to breathe. Sometimes a woman would enter the scene, laughing and cackling. She would keep slapping me around the face and laughing and finding it very amusing. And there would be a serious ringing in my ears. When I came out of it my ears would be ringing very badly. At the time it was happening it felt like it was going on forever; how long it went on for I don’t know.
These are pretty typical examples of these sorts of reports, and while it may seem that this is all in the witnesses' heads, there are amazingly reports of these supposed entities having an actual physical effect on or presence in the real world around the dreamer. In these terrifying cases objects can move, the sleeper can be witnessed by others to be thrown about or struck, and those who have had these horrific dreams sometimes report having bruises, scratches, or bite marks on their bodies upon waking that could not have possibly been self-inflicted, and in the case of Incubus attacks exhibiting vaginal tears that cannot be explained. One prisoner gave a report of being attacked by a dream demon, which was actually seen by his cell mate, saying:
The last time it happened, I was tossing and turning and trying to get to sleep when a strange dark power pulled me off the bed and pushed me against the wall. My cellmate screamed when he saw what was happening.
The cellmate would report that before his eyes the victim had been physically lifted off of the bed and thrown against the wall in such a way that it could not have possibly been done by himself. In other cases, the visual hallucinations that victims report are seen by others around them, making them perhaps something more, and objects can be seen to move on their own. One elderly witness said of such an encounter in an article on the topic by Craig Hamilton-Parker called Demonic Possession, Attacks and Sleep Paralysis thus:
I am terrified at night as I believe that I am being menaced by a ghost or spirit. If I awake during the night, I see what I would call “smoke” in my room. One night my husband and I saw the harrowing sight of my bedclothes being slowly pulled off the bed. But the last straw was when I felt “it” move to the side of the bed and poke me hard in the arm. I prayed out loud but it wouldn’t go away.
In yet another report from the website Psychic Experiences the witness describes an evil being in his dreams that also left behind physical changes in the real world and holds hints of having some connection to the supernatural. The dream reportedly featured a shapeshifting entity calling itself the two names "Gamigin" and "Lillin." In this intense dream this apparition brings the witness to a house full of strangers, and the victim would say of what happened next thus:
Its an apartment filled with strangers who were waiting on me but would not tell mw why. Then fear strikes when it occurs to me this guy who brought me here is a demon, he then tells me the women in the room want my soul and hes brought me to them, that it was his job to give me to them and that by doing so he would be allowed back into hell. In my dream I began to pray which made the demon and the people in this place angry. The women came out from the room where they had been waiting on me and they were witches. I showed them the grey streak in the front of my hair, which I have in real life, and told them I was a witch too so while they were confused I tried to escape. At this point I was finally able to wake myself up. I ended up falling back asleep and right back into the dream, this time the demon came to me different but the same goal of getting my soul so he could return to hell. I finally woke and would not let myself go back to sleep. I looked up the names of the demon he gave which were actually real names to real Christian based demons. I have previously never looked into. Any type of demonology nor did I watch anything about it before I went to sleep in fact I have never heard any of the names before, which scared me a little more. I have always been sensitive to spirits and energy but never anything like this nor anything that ever scared me this much. I will also add that about 2 years ago my younger sister started dabbling in witchcraft and brought in a Ouija board and messed with it as well. I was not home during this time and she has since moved out but I fear she may have opened something she had no business to. Side note, the past few weeks I have had experiences with something cold on the back of my neck, the house being incredibly colder inside than the temps outside, lights turning off and on for no reason and weird unexplained noises.
One particularly odd report of such an apparition affecting the physical world around the sufferer can be seen in an account by a woman who seems to have been visited repeatedly by a classic Incubus. One report written of in an article on ThoughtCo., called Spirit Lovers: Incubus and Succubus Attacks, relates the tale of a frightened woman who was visited and tormented on a regular basis by a sex-crazed dream demon that also stalked her daughter and was able to cause objects to move and could be seen by other people. The witness explains:
My age is 47 and I am female. For about six years, my daughter and I felt walking on the bed and other surfaces that we sleep on. My husband and son thought we were nuts. It would happen while we were completely awake or even just getting into bed. The walking would be light and sometimes the bed would wave.
A couple of times, during that approximate six years, I would wake up to find something sexual happening. At that time I would shake it away. My husband had been sick for the last five years (stroke and other complications), and this past December passed away. A few months before he died, I found him sitting on the side of his bed looking ashen. He had told me that something jumped on his bed. It had happened before and he always blamed it on the cat, even though the cat was not in his room. This time he believed and was shaken.
On August 1, the entities were back in my bed, and this time I relented at a weak moment. I can’t understand how I could have because the thought of it frightens me. The first few times, my heart was beating like a drum. Once it started, it never ended. I developed an insatiable appetite for sex and didn’t stop thinking about it 24 hours in the day. Neither did "they." I rationalized that it was friendly spirits of the universe, but I knew in the back of my mind differently.
For three days, going on four, I had constant sex. They did not enter for long and then the next one would come. I could not get enough. Literally, I could not function normally.
The turning point came today. I was at work and something that was cold enveloped me starting at my feet and ending behind me. My hands, which were trying to type at the time, were frozen in place, not paralyzed. The thing seemed to scare the others away like it had some power beyond theirs. It had sex with me while I was sitting in the chair, but it was different. More mellow and soft. It scared me tremendously because it was outward and not inward, like the others. This is all going to wear me down if I don’t find some serious help. This is all true.
Such reports go on and on, always very potent and vivid, mostly while the victim is partially or even fully awake and aware of what is going on. What are we to make of such amazingly strange experiences? Well, the official scientific explanation is that this is all due to a natural phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis,” a sleep disorder which various studies have estimated around 20% to 40 % of the population, possibly more, will experience at some point in their lives. The whole thing works like this. When we sleep, we enter a phase of sleep called the REM stage, or the “Rapid Eye Movement” stage, which is accompanied by the eyes moving very quickly back and forth under the eyelids. It is this stage in which dreams come to us, and to keep our bodies from acting out on what we are seeing or doing in this dream world they release a neurotransmitter called glycine and a nerve receptor in the voluntary muscles called GABA, which effectively paralyze us.
In most cases, these chemicals will have dissipated by the time we wake up, but in some instances they can still be active even when the brain wakes up either fully or partially during REM sleep, keeping your motor functions inhibited even as you are awake. In essence, when this happens you become fully aware of your surroundings, yet you are still partially immobilized by your own body. According to this theory, the sense of a malign presence or spiritual attacker or apparition is the brain’s desperate attempt to explain to itself what is going on, eventually conjuring up these subliminal images of evil entities, demons, and ghosts. The disorder has been used to explain everything from dream demons, to poltergeists, to alien abduction and even demon possession, and supernatural explanations of this supposed phenomenon go back centuries.
While this is the scientific rational explanation, there is little knowledge of how this actually works or what it entails, and it remains poorly understood. Of course, despite this attempt to write this all off as misfiring brain chemistry and derailed sleep cycles, it is hard to reconcile this with some of the reports that describe actual physical symptoms of attack, effects on the real world, or episodes witnessed by other people, complete with inexplicable physical phenomena such as moving objects. There are also those who insist that what they have encountered is not the result of mere hallucinations or fierce nightmares, but rather something more, something with a malignant will, intent, and intelligence of its own. An article called The Dark Side of Lucid Dreams, by a Ryan Hurd, explains that there could be more to such entities than just hallucinations, saying thus:
This class of nightmares seems not to be merely reflections of fear, but to have an autonomous energy all its own. There is intelligence in the eyes of the dream figures, and they don’t like to be told that they are a symbol of some waking-life fear, or that they are not “real.” They have their own story to tell, but we often don’t know how to listen….yet.
Throughout history people have been haunted by such nocturnal, dream invading specters. Is this all the result of tricks of the human brain during sleep or could there be something more to some of these accounts? If so, what is going on here? If there are indeed at least some cases that go beyond the sleep paralysis explanation, then why could these entities be and what do they want? Whatever the answers may be, this is a universal phenomenon that has gone on since time unremembered, virtually unchanged across cultures and geographic boundaries, and only reasserts that there is much about sleep and dreams that we have yet to fully understand.