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"Old Hag Syndrome" The Night Terrors

The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli.

Also See: The haunted Art of Henry Fuseli here!

Sleep paralysis is a condition characterized by temporary paralysis of the body shortly after waking up (known as hypnopompic paralysis) or, less often, shortly before falling asleep (known as hypnagogic paralysis).

Physiologically, it is closely related to the paralysis that occurs as a natural part of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is known as REM atonia. Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain awakes from a REM state, but the bodily paralysis persists. This leaves the person fully aware, but unable to move. In addition, the state may be accompanied by hypnagogic hallucinations.

More often than not, sleep paralysis is believed by the person affected by it to be no more than a dream. This explains many dream recountings which describe the person lying frozen and unable to move. The hallucinatory element to sleep paralysis makes it even more likely that someone will interpret the experience as a dream, since completely fanciful, or dream-like, objects may appear in the room alongside one's normal vision.

By Gary Shuster

The Nocnitsa, or "Night Hag", in Polish mythology, is a nightmare spirit that also goes by the name Krisky or Plaksy. The Nocnitsa is also present in Russian, Serbian and Slovakian folklore. She is known to torment children at night, and mothers in some regions will place a knife in their children's cradles or draw a circle around the cradles with a knife for protection. This is possibly based on the belief that supernatural beings cannot touch iron (Lindemans).

She is known in Bulgaria as Gorska Makua.

The Night Hag is almost certainly linked to the common apparition seen during the hypnagogic state of sleep. The night-hag of Russian, Polish, Serbian, and Slovak folklore. She torments children at night. In some regions, the mothers place a knife in the cradle or draw a circle around it with a knife. Hiding an ax or a doll under the floor beneath the cradle also prevents her from getting at the child (possible based on the belief that supernatural beings cannot touch iron). Other names for the hag include kriksy and plaksy. Her Bulgarian equivalent is the gorska makva, a hideous wood-hag.
Lindemans, Micha (2004). www.pantheon.org/articles/n/nocnitsa.html


The current usage of the term nightmare refers to a dream which causes the sleeper a strong unpleasant emotional response. Nightmares typically feature fear or horror, and/or the sensations of pain, falling, drowning or death. They can be related to physiological causes, such as a high fever; psychological ones, such as unusual trauma or stress in the sleeper's life; or commonly for no apparent cause. Nightmares can be so stressful as to suddenly wake the sufferer in a state of distress, which may prevent falling back to sleep for some time.

Occasional nightmares are commonplace, but recurrent nightmares can interfere with sleep and may cause people to seek medical help. A recently proposed treatment consists of imagery rehearsal.

SUDDEN UNEXPECTED NOCTURNAL DEATH SYNDROME

In the news:

Nightmare Death Syndrome is recognized as a leading cause of death in young men in Thailand, the Philippines and Japan, but the largest number of such deaths occur in north-east Thailand.

Spanish doctor Pedro Brugada discovered the cause of such deaths in 1986, linking them to an irregular heart beat that causes the chambers of the heart to pump out of sequence, halting blood circulation.

In Thailand, folklore has long held a different cause - widow ghosts. These ghosts are said to snatch the souls of young men when they are asleep.

To avoid nightmare death, some Thai men paint their fingernails red or wear lipstick at night to trick the widow ghosts into believing they are women and not men.

www.bangkokpost.com/breaking_news/breakingnews.php?id=120751

NIGHTMARES SUSPECTED IN BED DEATHS OF 18 LAOTIANS - New York Times
The syndrome is called ''bangungut,'' a Filipino word for ''nightmare,'' and is described in medical literature as ''nightmare death syndrome.

nytimes.com

 

Nightmare was the original term for the state later known as waking dream (cf Mary Shelley and Frankenstein's Genesis), and more currently as sleep paralysis, associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The original definition was codified by Dr Johnson in his A Dictionary of the English Language and was thus understood, among others by Erasmus Darwin and Henry Fuseli, to include a "morbid oppression in the night, resembling the pressure of weight upon the breast."

Such nightmares were widely considered to be the work of demons and more specifically incubi, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers. In Old English, the being in question was called a mare or mære (from a proto-Germanic *maron, related to Old High German and Old Norse mara), whence comes the mare part in nightmare.

Old Hag Syndrome: The Night Terrors

The mythology of the Sea Island people of South Carolina and Georgia describes the negative figure of the Hag who leaves her physical body at night, and sits on the chest of her victim. The victim usually wakes with a feeling of terror, has difficulty breathing because of a perceived heavy invisible weight on his or her chest, and is unable to move i.e., experiences sleep paralysis. This nightmare experience is described as being "hag ridden" in the Gullah lore. The "Old Hag" was a nightmare spirit in British and also Anglophone North American folklore.

This type of waking dream is called mareridt in Danish, nachtmerrie in Dutch, malson in Catalan, cauchemar in French, mardraum or mareritt in Norwegian, pesadilla in Spanish, Albdruck, Albtraum (from Álf, Old Norse for Elf) or Nachtmahr (older) in German, incubo in Italian, mardröm in Swedish, painajainen in Finnish, luupainaja in Estonian, pesadelo in Portuguese, èmèng in Mandarin, gawi in Korean, karabasan in Turkish , kanashibari in Japanese and bakhtak in Persian.

The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1802 (Frankfurter Goethe-Museum, Frankfurt)Various forms of magic and spiritual possession were also advanced as causes. In nineteenth century Europe, the vagaries of diet were thought to be responsible. For example, in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge attributes the ghost he sees to "... an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato...".

A mara, or a mare is a kind of malignant female wraith in Scandinavian folklore believed to cause nightmares. She appears as early as in the Norse Ynglinga saga, but the belief itself is probably even older (see below). "Mara" is the Old Norse, Swedish, Finnish and Icelandic name, "mare" is Norwegian and Danish.

The mara was thought of as an immaterial being – capable of moving through a keyhole or the opening under a door – who seated herself at the chest of a sleeping person and "rode" him or her, thus causing nightmares. In Norwegian/Danish, the word for nightmare is mareritt/mareridt, meaning "mareride". The Icelandic word martröð has the same meaning, whereas the Swedish mardröm translates as "maredream". The weight of the mara could also result in breathing difficulties or feeling of suffocation (an experience now known as sleep paralysis).

The mara was also believed to "ride" horses, which left them exhausted and covered in sweat by the morning. She could also entangle the hair of the sleeping man or beast, resulting in "marelocks", a belief probably originating as an explanation for polish plait – a hair disease. Even trees could be ridden by the mara, resulting in branches being entangled. The undersized, twisted pine-trees growing on coastal rocks and on wet grounds are known in Sweden as martallar (marepines).

According to a common belief, the free-roaming spirit of sleeping women could become maras, either out of wickedness or as a form of curse. In the latter case, finding out who the cursed person was and repeating "you are a mara" three times was often enough to release her from this condition.

The concept of the mara has very old roots in the folklore of the Germanic peoples, possibly the belief was shaped as early as in proto-Indo-European religion. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word can be traced back to an Indo-European root *mer, meaning to rub away or to harm.

Also See: THE HAGS OF NIGHT

Hypnagogic sensations

Old Hag Syndrome: The Night Terrors
Hypnagogic experiences occur as one is falling asleep, while hypnopompic experiences occur as one is waking up--both experiences occur within the time period between sleep and waking (or vice versa). Experienced qualities vary, and include fear, awareness of a "presence", chest or back pressure, and an inability to breathe (hence the folkloric notion of mara-like creatures tormenting sleepers), a falling sensation or a feeling of tripping, but sometimes also joy.

Auditory sensations are often described as incomprehensible noises rather than distinctive sounds.

During the hypnagogic state, an individual may appear to be fully awake, but has brain waves indicating that the individual is technically sleeping. Also, the individual may be completely aware of their state, which enables lucid dreamers to enter the dream state consciously directly from the waking state.

The hypnagogic state is sometimes proposed as an explanation of experiences such as alien abduction, apparitions, or visions.

A lucid dream is a dream in which the person is aware that he or she is dreaming while the dream is in progress. During lucid dreams, it is often possible to exert conscious control over the dream characters and environment, as well as to perform otherwise physically impossible feats.

A lucid dream can begin in one of two ways. A dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD) starts as a normal dream, and the dreamer eventually logically concludes that he or she is dreaming, or a wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) occurs when the dreamer goes from a normal waking state directly into a dream state with no lapse in consciousness.

Hypnos and Thanatos,"Sleep and His Half-Brother Death" by John William Waterhouse

"Sleep and His Half-Brother Death" by John William Waterhouse

People who suffer from nightmares would benefit from the ability to be aware they are dreaming. A pilot study was performed in 2006 that showed lucid dreaming treatment was successful in reducing nightmare frequency. This treatment consisted of exposure to the idea, mastery of the technique, and lucidity exercises. It was not clear what aspect of this treatment was responsible for the success, though the treatment as a whole was successful.

Identifying one's dream signs, clues that one is dreaming. Dream signs are often categorized as follows:

Action — The dreamer, another dream character, or a thing does something unusual or impossible in waking life, such as photos in a magazine or newspaper becoming 3-dimensional with full movement.
Context — The place or situation in the dream is strange.
Form — The dreamer, another character, or a thing changes shape, is oddly formed, or transforms. This may include the presence of unusual clothing or hair, or a third person view of the dreamer.
Awareness — A peculiar thought, a strong emotion, an unusual sensation, or altered perceptions. In some cases when moving one's head from side to side, one may notice a strange stuttering or 'strobing' of the image.
Cohesion — Sometimes the dreamer may seem to "teleport" to a completely different location in a dream, with no transition whatsoever.

Also See: Does Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis Involve More than Cognitive Neurosciences? By Jean-Christophe Terrillonand Sirley Marques Bonham

Bibliography

Adler, Shelley R. "Ethnomedical Pathogenesis and Hmong Immigrants' Sudden Nocturnal Deaths." Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 18 (1994):23–59.

Hufford, David J. The Terror That Comes in the Night. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Parrish, R. Gibson, Myra Tucker, Roy Ing, Carol Encarnacion, and Mark Eberhardt. "Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome in Southeast Asian Refugees: A Review of CDC Surveillance." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review 36 (1987):43–53.