Every culture has a name for it….or “them”. The Chinese call it guǐ yā shēn, which translates literally to “ghost pressing on body”. The Japanese call it kanashibari, which means “to be bound”. Mongolians call it kara darahu, meaning “to be pressed by the Black”. In Tibetan culture, it is know as dip-non, meaning “oppressed by a shadow”. In Hmong culture, your experiences with these beings is caused by a nocturnal pressing spirit known as dab tsog. Dab tsog attacks sleepers by sitting on their chests and attempting to strangle their spirit. In Vietnam, it is “ma đè”, which is “held down by a ghost”, or bóng đè; “held down by a shadow”. In Turkish culture it is a creature that attacks people in their sleep, known as karabasan. Kurdish culture says it is a demon that attacks people in their sleep, but partcularly young children. Hungarians attribute their visits to the entities of wraith, witches, fairies, and demon lovers. Subirse el muerto, is the spirit of a dead person in Mexico. Newfoundland calls it the old hag, which in Newfoundland folklore says the old hag is summoned by reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards. Here in our highly sophisticated (jokes) Western culture, we call it Sleep Paralysis.
The “shadow people” describes the entities, beings, or hallucinated figures, that one is visited by during sleep paralysis. I have experienced this phenomenon once in my adult life, and it scared the hell out of me. The day was like any other ordinary day, however, after having been asleep for a few hours I had an experience that terrified me to my core. I had never been so frightened and fearful in my entire life. As a background, let me first tell you that I don’t become scared easily. I am not religious. And I have never had a spiritual experience during my life to this day that has given me a tangible ability to say that ghosts, demons, angels, and/or ‘supernatural’ powers exist.
The first time that I had ever heard of sleep paralysis was during my time in New Zealand. I was with a group of friends at a house party when it somehow began being talked about in conversation. I remember several of my friends enthusiastically talking about their experiences with something that held them down. I brushed the conversation off as complete conjecture just as I do any conversation about “ghosts” and “hauntings”. I left the conversation after about two minutes of listening, while thinking it must be some foreign thing that I had never heard of. I really knew nothing about it, nor did I have any idea that a little over a year from that moment I would be experiencing it myself.
Like I said earlier, the day my sleep paralysis occurred was a completely normal day. After I went to sleep fairly late, around one a.m. I was asleep for about two-hours when I was instantly awaken by what felt like a piercing-thrusting sensation in my back. My eyes instantly popped open. Check with your mom for permission before you keep reading, because it gets a little graphic from here. A dark black caped figure walked into my room and began holding me down. As I was being held down from above, I was being raped by this ‘thing’ from below. I had no idea what to call it. And before you start thinking this is some convoluted gay sex fantasy, it’s not -_- There was nothing enjoyable about this experience. And sexually abusive encounters are recorded fairly frequently in cases of sleep paralysis. I felt so much pain as if I were being stabbed repeatedly with a knife. I opened my mouth to scream out, but no sound came out as my mouth was wide open attempting to call for help. I tried to move, but I felt paralyzed as there was another one hovering over me holding me down on the bed. I couldn’t move. It’s physical strength was unsurpassed. I say “holding me down”, but physically, the one above me was not touching me. The way it gazed at me felt like it had spiritual or mental power over my body as to prevent my brain from executing movement of my limbs. I struggled to break free, but my body would not budge a millimeter. This went on for several agonizing minutes. Then the sensation of pain stopped, and this creature hovering over me turned around and walked out of the room. Although I could see very vividly, it was impossible to visualize any detail of the creature because the room was dimly-lit and it wears a dark black cape which covers its head. Its face only exists in what seems like an endless gaze into a hooded-figure. I also remember it having very long arms. I searched the internet to find some images to help you better visualize what I saw.
Almost instantaneously, after it left my room I leaned up from my bed and quickly turned on the light switch beside me and began sobbing like a baby. I was mortified. I had never felt that type of anguish before in my life. Being tortured and completely helpless at the same time. It’s hard to imagine any type of situation in your life where you are completely and totally helpless. You can always do something if you are able to move your body. But feeling paralyzed gave me such a deep sense of helplessness that I had never felt before. In my now completely conscious and awake mind, what just had happened felt like 100% reality. I was so afraid that whatever it was could come back that I wasn’t going to dare try falling asleep again. After grabbing my phone, I sat in the corner of my room because I didn’t want it to be able to sneak up behind me. I texted some people and then turned on Spongebob on my TV to help change my mood.
This feeling that it left with me didn’t fade away like the feeling after waking up from a nightmare does. Nor did I ever have a sensation of actually “waking-up”. This was all one fluid experience in my mind. In hindsight, I question whether my eyes were in fact open or closed during this experience. After being awake for around ten minutes, I still had no idea what I had just gone through. I didn’t know if it was a nightmare or if I was attacked. It definitely didn’t feel like nightmare. It felt much worse. This is coming from someone who regularly has nightmares. I did what most people do when they have or experience something that they don’t know what is, I looked to Google. I just Googled “thing holding me down in my sleep”. Millions of search results were displayed, so I clicked on the first one which was a Wikipedia article: “Sleep Paralysis”. After reading just the first few sentences, I knew with certainty that it was what I had experienced. Now that I knew what to call this thing, I could look for more information on it. I read many things about it on the internet, including watching YouTube videos posted by tons of people who had gone through what I did. It wasn’t until the next day that I had an ‘a-ha’ moment of realizing this was what my friends from New Zealand were talking about over a year ago. Having known practically nothing about sleep paralysis from that conversation with them, I researched it more on my own. I learned that sleep paralysis experiences do vary slightly from each person, but they all share one thing in common: being visited by the shadow people. This terrified me even more! How can a nightmare, or something that exists in my head that I had never heard of or experienced before be visiting millions of people across the world?! I’m still searching for that answer…
The day following the incident, I had another ‘a-ha’ moment. When I was a young kid, I had nightmares very frequently. I remember waking up screaming in my bed in the middle of the night on many occasions because I was scared. My Mom or Dad would rush into the room to see what was the matter. I just told my parents there was something scary in my room. They probably just asked the typical “did you have a bad dream?”, and I probably nodded. When your parents tell you it was a bad dream, at that age, you just believe them. You don’t question it. I remember having seen the shadow people when I was really young. The more I reminisced on my early childhood, the more descriptive it became and I began to remember specific times it had occurred. I had sleep paralysis many times as a young child, and often refused to stay in my bedroom after it happened. As a young child there is no way that I could have developed the vocabulary, language skills, or intelligence to describe to my parents what I had just seen and experienced. By the time I was 7-8 years old I stopped crying for my parents in the middle of the night. I never had sleep paralysis again until the encounter I mentioned above some sixteen years later.
Every culture has a different name for it, and most have mythical folklore to explain what kind of demon it is trying to steal your soul (Asian cultures), or why you should say your prayers before bed or it’ll get you (Middle-Eastern cultures), or why you should get more sleep, eliminate stress in your life, and eliminate irregular sleeping patterns (Western culture) . Most are vastly different and contradict each other. I view explanations of this experience like I do religions. All theories cannot be correct. There is only truth.
I believe that if I had known anything about sleep paralysis prior to having experienced it, then I wouldn’t have been as scared. Not knowing what it was, or if it were real was the most terrifying part. One thing is for sure, whether this experience is “real” or not, it doesn’t effect us in this world. Maybe it is what psychologist’s say, a strange phenomenon that occurs only in your mind, or maybe it is real, but just in some other dimension that we visit in our sleep…I don’t know. But I do know that I never want to experience it again. If I do, I just hope that I can remember that it won’t have effected me after I wake up.