You wake up unable to move, barely able to breathe... you feel an oppressive weight on your chest... and you sense some evil presence in the room with you...AND THEN... THE OLD HAG STRIKES!
A reader writes:
"About a year and a half ago, I was awoken in the night by a strong, warm breeze. I could not move and could not scream. It lasted about 30 seconds and was gone. I saw nothing. Last week it happened again. I was lying in bed and again was awoken. I felt a very strong force holding me down. I could not sit up. I tried to scream for my daughter and could not get any noise to come out. I tried to hit the wall with my arm and this force would not let me. It again lasted about 30 seconds and was over. I really don't believe in ghosts and didn't see anything at all. I am just really scared and confused."
Have you ever had a similar experience? The above incident is a classic example of what has become known as the "old hag" syndrome and is one of many such letters I receive from readers each month. The victims awake to find that they cannot move, even though they can see, hear, feel and smell. There is sometimes the feeling of a great weight on the chest and the sense that there is a sinister or evil presence in the room. And like the above reader, they are often quite frightened about what is happening to them.
The name of the phenomenon comes from the superstitious belief that a witch - or an old hag - sits or "rides" the chest of the victims, rendering them immobile. Although that explanation isn't taken very seriously nowadays, the perplexing and often very frightening nature of the phenomenon leads many people to believe that there are supernatural forces at work - ghosts or demons.
The experience is so frightening because the victims, although paralyzed, seem to have full use of their senses. In fact, it is often accompanied by strange smells, the sound of approaching footsteps, apparitions of weird shadows or glowing eyes, and the oppressive weight on the chest, making breathing difficult if not impossible. All of the body's senses are telling the victims that something real and unusual is happening to them. The spell is broken and the victims recover often on the point of losing consciousness. Fully awake and well, they sit up, completely baffled by what just happened to them since now the room is entirely normal."
Confronted with such a bizarre and irrational experience, it's no wonder that many victims fear that they have been attacked in their beds by some malevolent spirit, demon or, perhaps, an alien visitor.
The phenomenon occurs to both men and women of various ages and seems to happen to about 15 percent of the population at least once in a lifetime. It can occur while the victim is sleeping during the day or night, and it is a worldwide phenomenon that has been documented since ancient times.
"In the 2nd century, the Greek physician Galen attributed it to indigestion," according to The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. "Some individuals suffer repeated attacks over a limited period of time; others have repeated attacks for years."
In March 2003, I investigated four sinister cases of 'Old Hag Syndrome' across Liverpool. The syndrome has been recognized by psychologists for many years, but no one is sure whether the cause is supernatural or simply the product of a half-awake mind. Victims wake up in bed to find that they cannot move, even though they can see, hear, feel and smell. They often experience the feeling of a great weight on their chest and sense that there is a sinister or evil presence in the room. This presence sometimes manifests itself as an old hag with evil-looking eyes, hence the name of this syndrome. A fortnight ago, a 27-year-old man named Tony woke at his home in Kensington at three in the morning and found himself unable to move a muscle. He panicked, as he struggled to breathe, then he opened his eyes - and saw an old woman with a black shawl leaning over him. She started to cackle, and she started to stroke Tony's face with what felt like bony fingers. The face of the night visitor looked very sinister, and the woman muttered something unintelligible. She leaned forward and began to kiss Tony, and a terrible stench filled his nostrils. He tried desperately to regain the power of movement, and he suddenly screamed out and pushed away the eerie figure. The old hag was nowhere to be seen.
Six days after that report, in the leafy neighborhood of Calderstones, a 45-year-old man living on Booker Avenue named George retired to his bedroom at 10 pm. His wife remained downstairs ironing clothes. She said she'd be coming up to bed in about an hour. However, at around 11 o'clock that night, George was awakened by someone climbing into the bed. He turned to cuddle his wife and found no one there. George thought perhaps he'd been dreaming, and he laid back to relax. As he was about to drop off asleep, George felt something heavy pushing down on his chest. He opened his eyes - and found himself paralysed from head to toe. A dark shape was on top of him.
George felt as if the presence was stealing the life out of him, and that if he didn't fight it he'd die. An unsightly face leaned over his face. It was the face of a very old woman with evil staring eyes. George could see a flickering golden light in those eyes. The woman put her mouth to George's mouth and her breath smelt rancid. The putrid breath seemed to fill his head. George had classed himself as an atheist, but that night he called upon God to save him from the evil hag. The wrinkled face grimaced as if in great pain, and then the eyes turned completely white.
The weight was lifted from George, and the hag had vanished into thin air. George felt movement return to his big toe, then the whole of his leg and the rest of his body in turn. He raised himself up and leaned against the bed's headboard, gasping for breath. His heart pounded. He looked about, and saw the room was empty. George then ran down the stairs to tell his wife about the ghastly experience. She immediately noticed a strong putrescent odour, and sniffed his mouth. George then realised the hag had been no dream. He gargled with a mouthwash and brushed his teeth repeatedly until the horrid vestiges of the hag's kiss had gone.
These are just two of the four cases that have been reported to me. The other two incidents occurred in Aintree and Garston, and both victims gave a carbon copy description of the old hag who terrorised the men in the aforementioned cases. They also mentioned smelling an unpleasant odour during the 'assaults'. Until I know more about the old hag phenomenon I will be unable to offer a theory. In the meantime, I hope you sleep well...and don't have nightmares!
Stay Tuned For Part Two!