Sleep Paralysis: Cross Cultural Interpretations of the Old Hag Syndrome

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Sleep paralysis also known as dream paralysis and the "old hag syndrome" is a cross cultural phenomenon charted throughout history.

Sleep paralysis, or dream paralysis is one of the most frightening experiences in the realm of sleep disorders, a person can have. In this article we will discuss how sleep paralysis is seen throughout the world. A second article will talk about the symptoms, causes and treatment for sleep paralysis.

Origin and Folklore centering around sleep paralysis

It ancient times until recently dream sleep paralysis or dream paralysis was known as “the old hag syndrome. It got its name from a superstition or fear that an old hag, or witch was sitting on the person's chest making them unable to move or to breath while they were in bed and between sleep and wakefulness. The legends may date back as far as in the incubus and succubus in the paranormal world. At that time people believed it was the devil sitting on the victim's chest. Then there are other theories that the origin of old hag syndrome is Icelandic or Scandinavian and that old hag is the Goddess Mara.

Old hag syndrome is called “witch riding on your back” in African culture

It is known "pee umm" and "khmout sukkhot" in the Laotian, Thai, and Cambodian culture. Here dream paralysis is described as a ghostly figured holding a person down, but it is not possession by spirits which is referred to as "pee khao" and "khmout jool."

In the Hmong culture (people living in Southeast Asia, Laos, Viet Nam, Thailand, and Burma) it is known as "dab tsog" or "crushing demon."

In Vietnamese culture it is known as "ma ?è", meaning "held down by a ghost" or "bóng ?è", meaning "held down by a shadow". Many people in this culture believe that a ghost has entered one's body, causing the paralyzed state."

The Japanese call it kanashibari, meaning bound or fastened in metal.

The Maltese call it attack of the haddiela which are paranormal creatures likened to poltergeists. The Maltese will ward off these haddiela by hiding a knife under their pillow.

In the Kurdish culture dream paralysis is known as mottaka. This ghost appears if the person has done a bed deed of some sort.

The karabasan are creatures that attack the victim and robbed them of their breath, in the Turkish culture.

"se me subió el muerto, are the dead, in Mexican culture who sit on the chest of the dreamer.

A slightly different version is the "Suk Ninmyo" from New Guinea where the trees attack humans while they sleep, to sap them of their essence.

Whatever the origin of old hag syndrome and thus dream paralysis, this experience is truly frightening and the person experiencing old hag syndrome or sleep paralysis truly is unable to move, lying frozen in the bed, while all kinds of creepy things are going on in the room, or so they perceive.


1 comment

john doe
Posted on Mar 18, 2011