USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sleep paralysis’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Familial Legends: Dreaming of the Devil

Every family member on J.R.’s father’s side has experienced the same DREAM.

J.R. – “Every single person in my family on my dad’s side, as far back as, like, 4 generations, has had this terrible sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, and during this nightmare they see a manifestation which they believe to be the devil.”

Can you describe the dream?

“So essentially, uh, they – well, really, it’s not a dream, it’s that; when they come to, they’re completely frozen, and usually there’s a window or a door for some reason, and by the foot of the bed.  So what my father saw was a foot-tall figure, usually completely shadowed, has appeared on their bed and walked towards them with blood red eyes.”

“As soon as it gets really close to them, it goes black, and they wake up.”

“My grandmother’s was slightly different than my father’s: she was passed out on her bed, a similar situation to my father, and it appeared.  And the staple of this figure is definitely it’s blood red eyes.”

When you think about the possibility of that happening to you as well, what crosses your mind?

“I’m intrigued, especially because of my father’s family’s interesting relationship with religion.  My dad was a mormon at one point, but now he’s not even religious . . . my grandmother had some issues which kinda drove her away from religion . . . in my eyes, I wouldn’t put it past anything – just for me, I’m not super religious.  I don’t necessarily believe in that stuff, but I don’t think my dad ever has ever, and so I’m intrigued to say the least.”

 

This is fascinating to me.  The person who told me this story is a close friend of mine, and I would have known by now if he was in any way overtly religious.  I’ve known, in fact, that he isn’t particularly religious at all, and neither is his family.  So, it shocked me to hear this from him of all people, because I would never have imagined something so spiritual, so saint-like, could have happened to that family in particular.  Subjectively, I think think that this is a prime example of spiritual fluidity, going through all members of one family.  It’s also interesting to hear what this person, who had not yet had this nightmare, has to say about the possibility of it’s occurrence.  I’d be terrified, as I often am, although he seemed so cool about it.

 

Folk Beliefs

The Sitting Ghost

Informant was teaching and boarding at a high school in the mountains, a three-hour bus ride away from the city. The dorm was a foreign environment that frightened her. When she finally fell asleep, she was awoken by a strange presence that she sensed at the foot of her bed. She was unable to move, feeling as though something were pressing down on her, though nothing was above her. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she noticed a man standing at the foot of her bed, fully clad in an ancient Chinese military costume. Since he was watching her peacefully, she assumed that it was an acquaintance from a past life or simply a passing spirit and fell back to sleep in peace, believing that he was there to protect her.

In Western cultures this phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis, and psychologists have come up with scientific explanations. In Taiwan, however, the cause is attributed to ghosts. The phenomenon is known as “鬼壓床” (gǔi yā chuáng), which literally means “ghost pressing the bed,” and the symptoms are strikingly similar. Author Maxine Hong Kingston describes this phenomenon as the “sitting ghost” in her memoir The Woman Warrior.

Due to the prevalence of Taoism and Buddhism in Taiwan, the vast majority of the population—regardless of religion—believes in ghosts. Ghosts are not necessarily evil, as anyone could potentially become a ghost after they die. 

general
Magic
Myths

Sleep Paralysis and Devils

Sleep Paralysis

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Diamond Bar, CA. He is the son of a pastor whose church is in Diamond Bar. He lives with his parents and three younger siblings, a sister and two brothers. His father is Chinese and his mother is Korean.

The Story:

The first time that this happened to me was when I was either a sophomore or a junior in high school. I was lying on my bed, obviously in the middle of my sleep, when all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move my body, I couldn’t scream, there was no air in my lungs. I tried to scream but couldn’t and I started to freak out. All of a sudden… I felt super cold, from top, my head, down, to my feet. I don’t remember if I was outside the blankets or inside but regardless I felt the wind. Suddenly I felt a heavy weight on my chest, as if something was sitting on it, and a shadow on top of me. I don’t really remember what happened after that. All of these instances blur together after a while. This was the first time it happened. After that it happened on a weekly basis for at least a year. There are times when I know it’s coming. You just feel like you’re getting really tired, or sometimes you can just sense something is off, as if there’s something in your room with you. I’ve never seen anything in my room though, and it always happens at night. There’s nothing I could do except wait for it to pass… and I’m always alone when this happens.

The Analysis:

This is a different occurrence of the scissor lock that my other friend experienced. We talked about this in his room, and a couple other friends were present. As he continued to tell his story, our other friends slowly became quiet, and then silent. The way Trevor spoke was genuine and even though such an occurrence would be questionable, there was no doubt in his voice that this was true. In Trevor’s instance, this happens on a semi-regular basis, with the last one occurring a couple months ago. Before that, it happened once a week or once every other week. There is no basis for why he goes through the scissor lock so often, but his actions showed that he doesn’t get used to it, even though it’s happened numerous times. It is creepy that this has happened so many times that they all seem to blur into one for him. One aspect that was interesting is that he is a pastor’s kid. This was one difference I noticed between him and my other informant on this same topic – it is probable that his stronger faith or adherence to Christianity has an affect on these continual occurrences. Whether it is due to faith or not, I wondered if it was the devil’s doing, and led me to question the existence of the devil and it’s many forms.

 

Researchers have attempted to examine the causes of the scissor lock, dubbing it generally as sleep paralysis: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FB%3ADREM.0000005896.68083.ae

A different version of sleep paralysis from someone not religious can be found at: http://kerryonian.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-experience/

general
Magic
Myths

Scissor Lock

Scissor lock

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Los Angeles, CA. He is an only child and stayed in Southern California his whole life. He came over to my room one day and I randomly asked him if he had any good stories. I asked him specifically if he ever heard about the scissor lock and he told me:

The Story:

You’re asleep. You wake up in the middle of the night and you’re in your room. You see a figure in a corner – a grandma. She’s a Korean grandma wearing traditional clothing, not the nice kind of the type that commoners and poor people wear, with gray hair. She’s sitting on a chair, moaning and weeping. You want to get up and talk to her but you can’t. All you can do is move your eyes. You look to the right and it’s a blank wall. You look back at the grandma and she’s gone. Suddenly you feel a presence at the base of your head. You want to look up but you can’t – you’re petrified. You want to do something but you can’t because you’re stuck. You can’t move. Then I started saying prayers and singing praise songs and everything went away.  You wake up with your arms crossed and hands on your shoulders, like a scissor.

 This never happened to me, thankfully, but I know people who have experienced it.

The Analysis:

The scissor lock is an occurrence that I first came across two years ago. When I asked my friend to tell me this story, it was late at night around 11pm. The room was very bright and the story did not seem scary at the time. The scissor lock appears to be a common occurrence among Koreans, Korean Christians especially. This version included specifically seeing a grandma clothed in old, dirty clothes. It is not known whether this is a general case of a specific case for just my friend. The name scissor lock appears to come from the position in which one wakes up in, with your arms crossed diagonally across the body.

Folk Beliefs
general

Scissor Lock

“I’ve personally, firsthand experienced scissor lock. You know, sleep paralysis. I’ve experienced scissor lock multiple times, but this one is the most frightening and eerie. The whole day was just super eerie. It was one day when I was feeling sick and tired after school. My parents were at work and my sister was off at soccer practice. I decided to lay in my bed to try in sleep. Well, I was starting to drift off to sleep when I heard somebody downstairs, walking back and forth and opening drawers and cupboards. I thought my mom had come back from work early, so I just went laid back down. I got thirsty though, so I went out of my room and yelled downstairs, asking my mom for a cup of water. There was no response. So I went downstairs, but no one was there. Feeling weird, I called my parents and my sister. They all said they had not come home today, and told me I was probably dreaming. But I swear, I wasn’t dreaming, I heard someone. Feeling extremely weird, I decided to just shake it off and go back to bed. That’s when I experienced scissor lock. I experienced it three times in a row, it was the scariest thing ever. What happened was, I went to sleep. Then, I’m not sure if my eyes were even open, or if this was happening in my brain, but I was awake, but I couldn’t move at all. Inside, I was screaming out to my body to move, but I was just stuck, like I was under some binding spell. As this was happening, I saw the dark figure of a lady standing by my bedroom door and staring at me. I freaked out and somehow broke from the paralysis. I was thoroughly scared, but so tired that I just went back to sleep. It happened another time. This time, I could almost feel myself sleeping into scissor lock, even when I felt like I was screaming out to stop. Once again, I was frozen, even though I wanted to yell and flail my arms around. This time I saw the lady again, and she was closer to me, like right next to my bed. She was staring down at me. The worst thing is that I couldn’t even move to escape from her. Eventually after struggling I slightly woke up, groggily. Once again though, I fell back asleep again, almost immediately. This is the last time I had the scissor lock. This time the lady was sitting on me and staring down at me. I was so freaked out after waking up that I turned on all the lights and blasted Christian music.”

As my informant told me this account of his sleep paralysis, he became so scared again that he refused to go home. He said his sister and his other friends had also experienced this scissor lock before, which is the Korean version of sleep paralysis. This experience made him believe in the supernatural. He believes there is some kind of evil out there, whether it is ghosts or spirits or demons he does not know, but there is something. I have heard that sleep paralysis is called something different in each culture, and is scissor lock for Korean. I am not sure why exactly it is called this, although if translated directly from the Korean word for it, it has something to do with being pushed down. This goes along with the idea that sleep paralysis occurs when a ghost or spirit is lying on top of the victim, causing paralysis, which is what my informant saw the third time he experienced the paralysis. I have heard of different accounts of this phenomenon and different explanations for it, including religious ones that it is a demon trying to make scare or lure someone who is spiritually well. I just hope I never have to experience this, as it seems quite frightening.

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