Our studies show that the invisible world surrounding us constantly acts on the visible world as one of the forces of Nature. Would the knowledge of these hidden forces that dominate and subjugate us constitute the key to many problems, the explanation of a lot of unnoticed things? If these effects can be afflictive, would the knowledge of the causes for such evil represent a mean to preserve us against it, just as the knowledge of electricity provided us the means of mitigating the perils of lightning? If we fail, we should complain only of ourselves because ignorance will not serve as an excuse. (
A. Kardec, La Revue Spirite
, July 1859, "Closing speech of the social year 1858-1859")
I looked for rest in the setting of a pleasant weekend afternoon. Sleep comes, but not in the usual way. Just before waking up, I begin to perceive everything around me. Through eyes half closed, I see the familiar decoration of my bedroom. Suddenly, panic and despair take hold of me: I cannot get up! I hear voices of relatives nearby who know I am asleep. I try to turn my head, but it turned into lead. I try to raise my arm over my abdomen, but it is now made of steel. How long do I stay in this state? I do not know, but, when I finally wake up, I have the strange feeling of having being separated from my body for an unknown period of time. What happened to me? I just went through an experience of sleep paralysis.
How many times did I have this experience? Probably, three times in my life. The so-called "sleep paralysis" is a rare occurrence in the life of an individual, however, statistically, it is much disseminated in the population. Also, my private experience is far from being the most common. In addition to the feeling of lack of "body control", people often describe hidden presences, anomalous perceptions of intrusive figures in the scene, adding terror to the unpleasant feeling of an immovable body. However, reports have a point in common: during sleep paralysis, the personality remains intact, aware of the reality around it, but, for some reason, cannot "adjust itself" to the body and ends up perceiving what appears to be a mixture of "reality" and "hallucination".
Hallucinations or reports of anomalous perceptions?
The term "hallucination
" is relatively recent. Popularized by J. Étienne Esquirol
around 1817, its modern meaning involves "a percept, experienced by a waking individual, in the absence of an appropriate stimulus from the extracorporeal world" (Blom 2009). Its widespread use substituted the previous term "Phantasia
". In the works of A. Kardec, both "hallucination" and "apparition" refer to distinct phenomena. The distinction is of fundamental importance since skeptics of the spiritual nature of man obviously deny the existence of apparitions which exist as perceptions of a hidden world. In other words, to deny the existence of apparitions is to constrain the entire external world to the limits of ordinary human senses
, which was disproven by modern science (physics in particular) for a wide class of material phenomena
. The realm of psychic reality still awaits exploration.
Thus, many perceptions during sleep paralysis are repeatedly described as "hypnagogic
" and "hypnopompic
" hallucinations. These words were created by the Spiritualist philologist Frederic Myers
(1843-1901), but they do not explain anything. These are seemingly scaring words for perceptions occurring before and after sleep, respectively, but no explanatory power.
Already in the XIXth century, reports of sleep paralysis called the attention of W. James as described by Hufford (2005):
It was about September of 1884... Suddenly I felt something come into the room and stay close to my bed. It remained only a minute or two. I did not recognize it by any ordinary sense, and yet there was a horrible ‘sensation’ connected with it. It stirred something more at the roots of my being than any ordinary perception. The feeling had something of the quality of a very large tearing vital pain spreading chiefly over the chest, but within the organism – and yet the feeling was not pain so much as abhorrence. At all events, something was present with me, and I knew its presence far more surely than I had ever known the presence of any fleshly living creature. I was conscious of its departure as of its coming; an almost instantaneously swift going through the door, and the ‘horrible sensation’ disappeared.
as the typical manifestation of the 'bedroom intruder' in the experience. The reader can find other reports on the internet taking into account Note 1.
In an interesting relationship of sleep paralysis and psychic phenomena, Proud (2009) describes Hufford (1989) report of a case in 1975, the so-called "Ghost of Bowling Green" in which some people experienced sleep paralysis in a haunted house. An important key to understanding sleep paralysis and definitely establishing their 'spirit' origin is the similarity of accounts across many cultures. As pointed out by Proud (2009):
Why, Hufford asks, are the “hallucinations” of SP sufferers, though separated in time and by culture, so remarkably similar? How does one explain such common sensations as being strangled, of having one’s bed shaken back and forth, or of being grasped by the hand? The same can be said of the voices SP sufferers hear, which, in Cheyne’s words, “are typically simple and direct.” Why don’t the messages of these voices vary all that much from SP sufferer to SP sufferer? And why – as shown in previous chapters – do people in haunted houses experience the same types of phenomena as SP sufferers?
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