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Dr David Hufford – The Old Hag, Incubus, Succubus, Alien Abductions and Sleep Paralysis



Type of Spiritual Experience



Valuable insight into these phenomena

A description of the experience

David J. Hufford, Ph.D. - Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Psychiatry Penn State College of Medicine Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies University of Pennsylvania

In 1969 I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of Folklore. My primary interest was in what was called "folk belief." This term was, and still is, generally reserved for beliefs that are at odds in some way with the official modern worldview. I was taught that such beliefs were both non-empirical and non- rational, that they were cultural fictions that reflected local concerns and functioned to support community values and psychological needs. The experiences on which they claimed to be based were, to use the term popularized by Thomas Kuhn's landmark work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), "anomalies."

From seeing a ghost to the alleged cures of folk medicine, the events described in folklore seemed to contradict the paradigm of science. For this reason they were, as Charles Fort had said, "damned" (1919), forbidden entry to the corpus of valid knowledge. However, I was pursuing the heretical idea that folk belief traditions might actually incorporate accurate observations, and that if they did they might point to important new knowledge.

I was already frustrated by the way that widely held folk beliefs, beliefs common to many distinct cultures, were dismissed without investigation or argument. I had, in fact, already seen that investigation of the possible validity of folk belief claims was subject to an intimidating array of sanctions. ……………

In Jacques Vallee's book, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers (1969), Vallee ……….criticized conventional UFO investigators for "confusing appearance and reality" he said that "The phenomenon has stable, invariant features, some of which we have tried to identify and label clearly. But we have also had to note carefully the chameleon-like character of the secondary attributes of the sightings: the shapes of the objects, the appearances of their occupants, their reported statements, vary as a function of the cultural environment..." (1969: 149).

In 1971 I traveled to Newfoundland, Canada, where I spent four years teaching and doing fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation on folk belief. Vallee's ideas went with me and were repeatedly confirmed by the folklore that I studied there. Ghost ships, Jackie-the- Lanterns, and weather lights comprised a very old set of folk traditions and were constantly reported around the island, often in very UFO-like terms. In one small village a series of strange aerial sightings was described and interpreted in old fashioned terms by older residents, while the young people in the community simply called the lights UFOs.

In Newfoundland I also found the tradition that they call "the Old Hag," a terrifying nocturnal paralysis accompanied by a frightening entity that Newfoundlanders associated with witches or ghosts.

Using Vallee's approach I was able to immediately recognize in the Old Hag the "bedroom invader" experience that I had encountered in popular UFO literature (Keel 1970). This phenomenon, known to sleep researchers as "sleep paralysis," has "stable, invariant features" that in reports are surrounded by culturally shaped language and interpretations. Among the stable core features of sleep paralysis is the anomalous presence of a frightening entity.

In the 1992 booklet Unusual Personal Experiences (Hopkins et al.) UFO abduction investigators Hopkins, Mack and Jacobs report a large national survey intended to determine how many humans have been abducted by aliens — their number one index question asks whether the respondent recalls "Waking up paralyzed with a sense of a strange... presence... in the room" (p. 26): sleep paralysis.

Anomalies are a threat to the intellectual status quo. They are powerfully resisted, and that resistance often seems to co-opt the efforts of those bravely investigating the anomalous just as much as it recruits the efforts of intransigent skeptics. ……. The initial response of a paradigm to anomalies is to ignore or, when reports become too numerous, to assimilate. Both of these strategies are facilitated by the distribution of anomalous reports across a large number of apparently disparate conceptual categories. This process is facilitated by investigators who rush to theories, such as the extraterrestrial spaceship explanation of UFOs, that divide large sets of anomalous reports into smaller and more numerous subdivisions.

Just as "sleep paralysis," "the Old Hag" and UFO abductions don't appear similar — until you strip away the cultural layers and find "Waking up paralyzed with a sense of a strange... presence... in the room."



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