The Old Hag Syndrome

Posted by on October 13, 2011 ⋰ 11 Comments
The Old Hag
Image: cometstarmoon via CC by 2.0

It happens when all dark and evil things happen — the middle of the night.

What had been a peaceful sleep turns into a waking nightmare as you find yourself pinned and unable to move, shocked awake and paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of evil.

The old hag has paid you visit.

While this sounds like a run-of-the-mill urban legend, the curious thing about the “Old Hag Syndrome” is that it is a highly reported phenomenon.

People around the world have claimed, at one time or another, to have woken up in terror, paralyzed.

But this isn’t simply sleep paralysis, they say — they often report seeing or hearing strange things, such as eyes in the darkness or the heavy sound of footsteps. A dark figure looming over their bodies.

Just Doing What A Wicked Witch Does

The story of the Old Hag finds its origins in folklore, particularly in Newfoundland, though variations of the story are present throughout the world. Tales told of an old witch maliciously sitting on the chests of her victims while they lay in bed, or curses placed upon unsuspecting individuals causing them to meet this terror in the night.

The global pervasiveness of these experiences, however, has elevated the Old Hag Syndrome to something beyond urban legend.

Of course, the “Old Hag” could still be a case of sleep paralysis, which typically occurs when entering or coming out of REM sleep. A person may become “caught” in a state between sleep and consciousness, during which they remain aware of their surroundings, but are unable to move.

The sense of evil, or the noises, that accompany the “Old Hag” could be nothing more than hallucinations occurring in that state of half-dreaming.

But then, how do you explain the people who have reported similar experiences without the paralysis? The commonality of every reporting? And why, of all the possible hallucinations we could experience, do we sense evil?

Scientists and paranormal enthusiasts may be at odds about what causes the Old Hag Syndrome, but one simple truth may be enough to keep you up at night:

Whatever the cause, it does exist.

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Post by Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.


11 Replies to “The Old Hag Syndrome”

  1. When I was between the ages of 4-6 this happened to me, well as often as I can remember. As I got older and researched it I did conclude that it was Sleep Paralysis, I only remember seeing a figure one time, It climbed down my wall and I remember that I knew it was coming for me, I tried to scream and nothing would come out. Finally the thing was looming over me, I never saw a face.
    I am 22 now and I experience sleep paralysis maybe once a year, and its always the same, I am never terrified that I cannot move,its always that I know something is there even if I don’t see it.

    1. Creepy. Thanks for sharing your experience, Danielle.

      I’ve never suffered sleep paralysis, myself. I imagine it’s pretty weird to wake up and not be able to move, though, especially if you see something climbing down your wall.

      I wonder why some people experience it more than others…

  2. I too experienced this as a child (also around 4 or 5) – a tall, slim figure without facial features. It shaked hands with me and slowly vanished into thin air. That happened after a traumatic incident, and just that one time. I wonder if age has something to do with it. Anyway, love your site!

    1. Thanks for sharing!

      Interesting point about age. I always wonder how much (if at all) “paranormal” experiences are related to who we are as people. Age, eyesight, stress, etc. It could explain why some people experience this stuff and others don’t.

      Oh, and thanks for reading. I really appreciate it.

  3. Well i think i was around 10 or 11 when i first encountered this stuff i rememeber waking up with no senses to my disposal except sight i was so terrified by what i say that i couldnt move speak or breath i could only watch this girl around my height stand in my door way looking at me just standing there i tried screaming for my mother but i felt like this thing was controlling me but i quickly realized the more i tried to fight it the stronger it got so i started to close my eyes an act like it wasnt their the more i did that then the figure seemed to fade away so i almost had my eyes closed i could feel my strength coming back so i lurched with all my force an tried screaming as loud as i can but nothing this thing only came back stronger an it was alot more visable this time i rememeber my heart beating to fast i blacked out an when i rewoke minutes later it was gone i turned the lights on very quick an ran through the house looking for mom or sis but no one was home so i stayed awake an waited until she came home to tel her what happened

  4. When I was about 10-11 or so, I had a very similar situation except it was a male specter. I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to find my pajamas. I went to bed with them on, but woke up with none. I searched my entire room for them, couldn’t find them so I put new ones on and went back to bed. About an hour or so later I woke up abruptly to this feeling of someone gripping my upper arms painfully tightly, a dark presence looming over me as I tried to struggle but couldn’t move. I eventually calmed, stared at the entity and said I wasn’t afraid of it. The feeling paused then slowly vanished as if someone had just let go. I went back to bed, surprisingly easily may I add, and when I woke up not only were my pajamas neatly folded at the end of my bed, but my upper arms had matching hand print sized bruises. I asked my mother about folding my pajamas to which she had no idea what I was talking about.

    Fast forward about 10 years later, and I was discussing with my mother my experiences. The man in the bed was no where close to the first experience, either. At first she was skeptical then told me how in our family, my great grandmother was considered a ‘witch’ and had been known to predict genders of unborn babies, speak with the dead and more. Even curiouser still, my great grandmother apparently said that this was something that ‘skipped’ two generations, and only went to girls. My grandmother doesn’t have it, my mother doesn’t have it, but apparently I do. Which makes a loooot of sense now.

    I’ve never experienced this sensation since then, nor do I wish to.

  5. I think this also happened to me.

    I was simply sitting in bed, just after reading, and I turned off my “nightlight,” and closed my eyes. Then I hear a rustling near my dresser, to the left of my room. I open my eyes to see a creepy figure just standing there. No eyes, no more noise, just a 7 foot tall figure staring back at me. After about 15 seconds the horrific thing went away, but I was still paralyzed with fear, assuming–no, knowing– something was still in the room. I finally had the urge to move as it was getting to be 11:00. I turned the light on, nothing.

  6. I had this happen to me several years ago. I woke up in the night, I couldn’t move and was afraid to try to move. I felt someone on top of me and they were going to split open my head. I told them to go away in the name of Jesus and thankfully, they did. I was never so scared in my life.

  7. I have hypnagogic hallucinations without the paralysis about 3 to 4 times a year. So i can imagine its bad with paralysis. Different images have appeared, and only once i saw a the old woman with a black veil, although she wasnt actually scary. I even tried to talk to her. Sometimes its a dark male thin figure. I often confront the hallucinations to the point of running after them and they “disappear” through walls or the roof. Thats why i can imagine the paralyisis with this being bad. When i touch the the wall they disappear at, i realize im hallucinating. Most of them last no more than 10 seconds, and i usually end up with tachychardia. After many experiences i can control the situation and quickly calm down again and try to sleep. Im sort of reliefed its a common experience and very curious to see explanations for this.

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