The Witch is Riding You

One thing that I miss about being a missionary were the ghost stories we shared. They had more power then, when I believed in the world of the spirits. The dead were constant companions. One night we were riding our bikes to a dinner appointment in the countryside, and the silhouettes of the forested hills that surrounded us were darker than the night sky. As the three of us pedaled along, one companion talked about friends of friends who had talked tough about what they would say to Lucifer and then who were paralyzed with fear when he appeared to them at night. When I spoke about the time that some LDS prophet had seen Cain walking through the woods, forever cursed to wander the earth, my big Kentucky rancher companion told me to stop and admitted that these stories “scared him shitless.”

When we taught a teen schoolgirl and her mother about the spirit world, we were surprised (and delighted) to find that they already knew all about it. In fact, Sachiko had already had kanashibari (lit. “bound in metal”) experiences lying in her futon late at night, in which she felt so paralyzed by the invisible spirits that it was like being bound up in chains. I shared a similar experience and my companion and I witnessed that these spirits were real and that these things were indeed true. It was fear-inducing and a delightful bonding experience.

Contrast these stories with my experience a few years ago.   In the dead of night, I opened my eyes, looked down at my chest and saw a disembodied hand holding a tube of anti-bacterial ointment. The skeptic in me immediately kicked in, thinking “no way,” and the hand quickly faded. My mind immediately filled in all the gaps: I was still dreaming, even though my eyes were open; my daughter had cut herself the day before, and my subconscious drew on my parental worries about infection. No spirits were necessary, though it’s probably that I would have interpreted and spun the experience differently when I was a believer.

I’ll close with a link to the Wikipedia article on Sleep Paralysis. It seems like a universal phenomenon, but it’s amazing how it’s interpreted within each culture. Apparently interpretation has serious consequences for some–Hmong males may actually die from the fear-induced stress.  Here are a few of the names and folk-explanations for sleep paralysis:

  • In African American culture, isolated sleep paralysis is commonly referred to as “the devil riding your back”
  • In Hmong culture, sleep paralysis describes an experience called “dab tsog” or “crushing demon” from the compound phrase “dab” (demon) and “tsog” (crush). Often the sufferer claims to be able to see a tiny figure, no larger than a child, sitting on his or her chest. What is alarming is that a vast number of American Hmong, mainly males, have died in their sleep prompting the Centers for Disease Control to create the term “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome” or “SUNDS” for short.
  • In Japanese culture, sleep paralysis is referred to as kanashibari (金縛り, literally “bound or fastened in metal,” from kane “metal” and shibaru” to bind, to tie, to fasten”).
  • In Iceland folk culture sleep paralysis is generally called having a “Mara”. Mara is an old Icelandic word for a mare but has taken on the meaning for a sort of a devil that sits on ones chest at night, trying to suffocate the victim.
  • In New Guinea, people refer to this phenomenon as “Suk Ninmyo”, believed to originate from sacred trees that use human essence to sustain its life. The trees are said to feed on human essence during night as to not disturb the human’s daily life, but sometimes people wake unnaturally during the feeding, resulting in the paralysis.
  • In Mexico, it’s believed that sleep paralysis is in fact the spirit of a dead person getting on the person and impeding movement, calling this “se me subió el muerto” (the dead person got on me).
  • In Ireland it is also known as “the hag.” The expression originates from reports of an old woman that was believed to be seen near the sufferer during paralysis.

19 thoughts on “The Witch is Riding You

  1. I have a very boring dream-life: most often I don’t dream (although when I do, they’re doozies!) but I find that I end up with waking visions similar to what other people describe as dreams. It’s like seeing something without my eyes. A particular one comes to mind from your post. Back when we were still dating, I woke up & walked across campus to meet my husband for breakfast. I’d showered, packed my bags, &c. and was fully awake (this is important). When I got to his dorm, he was asleep, so I sat on the edge of his bed to wake him. As he turned sleepily toward me, his face was a skull & he was shrouded in black. Then I blinked, and it was gone.

    I don’t think I’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis (except when I’m actually asleep), but I do remember skeletons hanging in my closet after the lights went out. And I still love horror movies. Really good horror movies, that make you need to have a wall behind you (none of this Saw crap). Perhaps facing fears is a primal part of us: religions give it to us with spirits and devils; secular society with the Scream franchise.

  2. When I was still in school, I took a social problems class. We were talking about the difference between mentally ill people and people possessed by spirits. My teacher told us that when he was going to school, one of his FHE (sorry for Mormon Speak) sisters had been possessed by a spirit and her roommates called him and his roommates over to cast it out. According to him, a couple of them had to hold her down while my teacher performed the exorcism. He reported being thrown a little ways away from her after having done so. To this day (especially given my new found doubt) I’m not entirely sure what to do with this story. Did it play out the way it did because that’s how they all expected it to? What had they been discussing before the incident happened (my teacher said the girls had been fighting)? Did the girl ever have another episode?

    Anyway, I still get scared shit-less by ghost stories. I don’t watch creepy movies, I don’t read creepy books. I just stay far, far away.

  3. I’ve been subject to bouts with sleep paralysis since I was around nine or ten years old, that I can remember. It used to scare the crap out of me…I’d struggle to move and just couldn’t. Then I realized what was going on and learned that all I had to do was relax and drift back to sleep and then I’d wake up out of it.

    I don’t really buy it as an explanation for those who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. Having experienced it so many times, those experiences didn’t feel anything like what supposed abductees describe. Not saying that the abductee experience is actual aliens comeing to carry people off to do probes and stuff. I am saying that the sleep paralysis explanation for it seems to me to be kind of a reach, based on personal experience.

  4. I’ve never experienced sleep paralysis, but I have had some crazy dreams, but I’ve never attributed them to anything spiritual in nature, even when I was (shall we say) doubtless. Are there any scientific explanations for why this occurs?

  5. I EXPERIENCED THIS LAST NIGHT.. AND I WAS NOT IN A TOTAL SLEEP.. I HAD JUST LAID DOWN AROUND 2 AM. I FELT SOMETHNG AS I DOSE AS IF I WAS BEING TOUCHED, I WAS ON MY STOMACH I TURNED IN MY DARK RM TO LOOK ARD. I DIDNT SEE ANYTHNG 2-3 MINUTES LATER I HAD STARTED TO DOSE OFF AND I FELT LIKE SOMETHNG JUMP ON MY BACK. I TRIED TO TURN OVER AND COULDNT MOVE I WAS NOT ASLEEP I COULD SEE IN MY ROOM, BUT COULDNT MOVE OR SPEAK. I TRIED TO SCREAM AND COULDNT. I REMEMBER WHAT MY DAD SAID LONG TIME AGO THAT IF THE WITCH COME TO RIDE UR BACK SAY” I REBUKE YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS” MIND U THIS HAS HAPN B4. MU HUSBAND TLD ME THAT THE WITCH WAS RIDING ME AS HE WATCHED ONE TIME.. HE SD IT WAS SLAPPING ME VERY FAST MY HEAD WAS GOING FRM SIDE TO SIDE..SD HE TRIED TO TOUCH ME TO WAKE ME AND HE COULDNT MOVE..HE FINALLY SD WHAT MOST AFRICAN AMERCIANS ARE TAUGHT TO SAY TO MAKE IT LEAVE IS I REBUKE YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS.. HE SD HE MOVED HIS FOOT AND KICKED ME. I WOKE UP AND SAY WHY DID U KICK ME THT HARD..HE SD YOU DIDNT FEEL THAT THE WITCH WAS ON YOU.. TLD HIM I DIDNT FEEL ANYTHNG.,.I CUT THE LIGHT ON HE WAS DRENCHED IN SWEAT..LAST NIGHT B4 IT LEFT I HAD TO ACTUALLY SCREAM IN MY MIND I REBUKE YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS.. GET OUT OF MY ROOM, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, GET OUT OF MY LIFE AND JUST LIKE THAT STILL AWAKE I COULD MOVE.. I LOOKED AROUND AND NOTHING WAS IN MY ROOM..I CONTINUED TO PRAY UNTIL I WENT TO SLEEP. I DONT KNW ABT IT BEING A SLEEP PARALYSIS.. BUT I WAS AWAKE AND SOMETHING WAS ON MY BACK

    1. I agree. That was definitely a spiritual attack but as usual man has to come up with some man made reason for occurrences but believers of God are opened to what the truth is. Ive experienced this the other night and they claim you are asleep when this happens. This so called “sleep paralysis” No i was awake and i was aware that i was awake i turned over and as i closed my eyes i instantly felt as if something was pressing my down and i know i was awake because there is no way you can fall asleep in 2 seconds. I did exactly what you did i rebuked it and called on God. You did the right thing.

  6. on nov 12th 2010
    I had just dose off to sleep when I felt my bed shake really hard like some one claim in that was very heven i knew it was that thing that comes to me and put me into a stage where I can’t talk or move I fealt it take my left hand in it’s mouth than I fealt the teeth biteing down on my fingers harder and harder I tryed to scream but nothing came out.

    I made loud moaning noises but the biteing got harder so i found the strenght to cures it I said you S.O.B. and it left most time i try and say in the name of Jesus but it wouldn’t come out. Can someone please write back and tell me what is this thing is. I’ve been having them come to me since I was four years old. now i am sixty years old Please help me!!!!!

  7. What happens to me is I feel like in a excercism state and i see something in the corner of my eye and i cant move or speak and i get scratches im very scared I cant sleep and im only 13 please help I know im not crazy

  8. This happened to me last night. I was laying down watching T.V & something forced me to go to sleep. I woke up, & it felt like something was holding down my legs, arms. & someone was covering my mouth. I couldn’t move, & I couldn’t speak. I remember seeing a shadow above me on the wall, & I was following it with my eyes. I was trying to kick, I was trying to scream, & I was trying to bite. Nothing happened. Then, my back arched & my mouth opened. I felt as though I was being possessed. Finally, it let me go & I screamed for my mom. It was the most scary experience that has ever happened to me, & I’m very young. Please help, I don’t know what to do..

    1. Please pray and call out the blood of Jesus they will flee don’t be afraid They crave off fear Say In the name of Jesus good luck

  9. I just ran across the article When Dreams Kill: the Phenomenon of Sleep Paralysis, a fascinating discussion of what they’re calling the “nocebo” effect (the bad side of the placebo that makes you feel effects if you expect to feel them), from pretending to expose people to electromagnetic waves and giving them headaches to Chinese people dying sooner if they were born in an unlucky year.

  10. ooo, wee, john! ur a christian, too…with sleep prahlems like me…

    but usually, i just go home to the ol’ mrs. after work, get an earful of the complaints, help her cook (cause her 1 arm), and then kiss her and tell her she’s real smart (she gave up grad school for me, though i wish she didn’t cause i feel bad). she’s real pretty, too.

    my life is not as exciting as you and your wife’s sounds, but i go to sleep better knowing she’s next to me every night. i think that’s all i can contribute to your blog, though. you are so smart, man.

  11. come to think of it, i think its cause she has known me the longest and stuck around. i think that’s why i can sleep good at night most of the time.

  12. This has be happening to me since I was eleven years old I actually saw the beining clocked in black, I was truely scared. What puzzles me is why? does this happen to random people or are you chosen? Im now 44 years of age and Im still having these same issues why me.

  13. I been like that its done happened to me many times. Everytime i knock out of it i call my mama when you stuck just pray rebuke whatever it is jus say i rebuke you in the name of jesus god whatever i have done forgive me ffor all my sins protect me and my family amen.

  14. In the name of Jesus will free u from the hold u have to think of him as soon as this happens once the thought is established of Jesus say his name the witch or demon which ever Lengo people us hate Jesus name and is also afraid trust and have faith in God the Holy Ghost is here to fight for us all please say his name Jesus God bless

  15. I guess the witch rode my back too…I remember i was 12 and my mother had just died a few days ago and my mother’s sister & brother came up from Tennessee to discuss funeral arrangements with my brother so we drove to this restaurant & i had been so tired due to greiving my mother that i havent been able to sleep well. So i decided to stay behind in the car & sleep. Upon trying to wake up i felt like someone was suffocating me because i couldnt open my eyes, i couldnt breathe, and i couldnt move or scream!!! It felt like i was screaming with my mouth closed like i was in a coma state. It felt like someone was literally holding me down. All i know is when i did break free or whatever it was that was on me let me go, i was gasping for air. I thought i was gonna die if it lasted longer than it did. I was terrified i was only a kid…when i asked an older relative she said the with was riding my back and to this day if it is true i have no idea why. That was the most scariest thing ever!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>