I briefly touched on the connection between sleep paralysis and vampires in a previous post (Hogg 2013b), but I’ve noticed another blog entry seemingly cement the connection further.
But before I continue, what is sleep paralysis? According to Stephanie Pappas (2013), it
occurs when the brain and body aren’t quite on the same page when it comes to sleep. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, dreaming is frequent, but the body’s muscles are relaxed to the point of paralysis, perhaps to keep people from acting out their dreams. Researchers have found that two brain chemicals, glycine and GABA, are responsible for this muscle paralysis.
She adds, “Becoming mentally aware before the body “wakes up” from its paralyzed state can be a terrifying experience, as people realize they can’t move or speak. Frequently, these episodes are accompanied by hallucinations and the sensation of breathlessness.” And, most tellingly: “Such hallucinations likely gave rise to the myths of the incubus and the succubus, demons that pin people down in their sleep (and sometimes have sex with them).”
The night-time visitation aspect is particularly pertinent when we compare it to reports of vampire attacks, often taking place while the victim is in bed—and may help explain the origin of the vampire myth (Hogg 2010). The “pin people down” aspect is also found in cases where “throttling” was involved: a famous 18th century case involved strangulation, not biting (Hogg 2013a).
The manifestation of these experiences varies from person to person, but Pappas notes recurring traits in sufferers who place a supernatural slant on the event:
People may also sense a malevolent presence nearby or believe they are about to die. Some sleep paralysis episodes come with feelings of falling, floating or dissociating from the body.
These sensory experiences are more likely to distress people than mere paralysis alone, according to the study published online in February in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
Researchers James Cheyne and Gordon Pennycook of the University of Waterloo in Canada surveyed 293 people, mostly women, on their experiences with sleep paralysis. They found that people were most distressed after an episode when hallucinations felt threatening and when they held supernatural beliefs regarding the cause of the paralysis.
These particular cases often have a cultural slant, like the Newfoundland “Old Hag” attacks covered in David J. Hufford’s The Terror that Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions (1982).
With that in mind, let’s jump ahead to the probable connection between sleep paralysis and vampires that I’ve noticed in a recent blog entry.
While discussing a 2013 edition of Georg Tallar’s posthumously-published tome, Visum repertum anatomico-chirurgicum (1784), Niels K. Petersen covers Tallar’s documentation of Wallachian experiences with the moroi, a local manifestation of the undead:
The Wallachians who were ill and claimed to have been attacked by a bloodsucker, told Tallar that they had been in bed for a couple of days, and that their heart hurt. When asked where the heart sits, they pointed, not to the heart, but to the stomach and the intestines. They said that, whenever they tried to fall asleep, the bloodsucker appeared in the shape of this or that deceased man or woman, standing in front of them or in a corner. Some said that they saw the bloodsucker when they were asleep, but many of the afflicted actually saw nothing (my italics, Petersen 2013).
These attacks occurred in a climate of fear, as Petersen adds, “people were so afraid of falling prey to the vampire, that they dared not walk about after dark.” We even have the cultural angle covered, after Petersen elaborates that
In each case, only Wallachians were affected by the bloodsucker, whereas neither soldiers, German settlers, nor local Serbs became ill, so Tallar concluded that the Wallachians did not suffer from an epidemic, but rather an endemic disease. Considering the traits of the Wallachians, he concluded that the food eaten by them, especially during the fasts that they fanatically observed during Winter – consisting of e.g. cabbage, garlic, and sauerkraut – was the cause of the disease. In fact, administering a simple vomitive often cured the diseased!
Hogg, Anthony. 2010. “Vampires: Demons in the Sack.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, July 20. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2010/07/vampires-demons-in-sack.html.
———. 2013a. “The Fisher Mystery.” The Vampirologist, August 26. https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/the-fischer-mystery/.
———. 2013b. “From Corpse Medicine to Vampires.” The Vampirologist, August 29. https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/from-corpse-medicine-to-vampires/.
Pappas, Stephanie. 2013. “What Makes Sleep Paralysis Scary.” LiveScience, March 4. http://www.livescience.com/27621-sleep-paralysis-scary.html.
Petersen, Niels K. 2013. “A Surgeon’s Eyewitness Accounts from Transylvania and Wallachia.” Magia Posthuma, September 15. http://magiaposthuma.blogspot.dk/2013/09/a-surgeons-eyewitness-accounts-from.html.
nguy1474. 2011. “Sleep Paralysis.” Fall 2011 Psy1001 Sec21, October 9. http://blog.lib.umn.edu/stoe0062/fall_2011%20psy%201001%20sec%2021/2011/10/sleep-paralysis.html.