Sleep paralysis was thought to be caused by a demonic event for centuries. However, modern science has successfully proven this wrong. The studies into sleep paralysis have gone into detail on the causes and symptoms of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is explained as a person waking during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, during which their body is limited from action in order to prevent them from acting out their dreams and becoming a danger to themselves or others. Thus the person is conscious but unable to move, and it feels like they are pressed to the bed. But for centuries, no one knew this was the cause of the mystifying phenomena.
Each culture on the planet has their own stories explaining what sleep paralysis is, based on their cultural fears and folk lore. In Fiji it was believed that people caught in sleep paralysis are being eaten by a demon. A contrast to that is the Cambodian belief that the victim was merely dreaming they are awake and being held down by ghosts. In Japan it was believed that a spirit is tying the victim down with ropes. China believed that a ghost was pressing you down to the bed. In America during the Salem Witch trials, many witches were condemned using witnesses remarking on experiences that are on par with that of sleep paralysis. These ideas as to the cause of sleep paralysis all stem from the fear of the supernatural.
I believed the stories of the demons. The terrifying stories of the causes of sleep paralysis seemed convincing. And then I had my own experience. When I was caught in the throes of sleep paralysis I did indeed see a little demon sitting on my chest. Later however, I learned about the scientific causes of sleep paralysis. After learning about the condition more and no longer believing the folktales, the next time I experienced sleep paralysis the demon was gone. My mind had taken what it had believed and made me see it, even though the reality was much different.
Stories have power. They can alter your perception of reality. Children believe in Santa Claus, and feel like they have the evidence for it in the eaten cookies and presents on Christmas day. However when they learn he isn’t real, and that the eaten cookies and presents came from their parents, their perception of the evidence that was formerly so convincing changes. Humanity sees what we believe we will see. When I believed the stories of the little demon in sleep paralysis, which is what I experienced. However when I was opened up to the scientific explanation and the cold logic of the facts, the demon wasn’t there.
The tricky thing about our thoughts is how easily they are manipulated. People will believe lies if they are told to them, and when the truth comes out, some may refuse to believe it. Rumors hold power. Stories hold power. These things that are just ideas and words can make or break someone’s perception of a situation. Objects that do not exist suddenly do. Objects that did exist suddenly do not. The filter through which humanity sees reality is constantly changed by the stories we bump up against, and our experiences with them. Reality can be twisted by just a few stories. The more believable the harder it is to see through the veil into what reality truly is. Who knows, our own reality could just be a story. A figment of our collective imaginations. Such are the power of ideas.
- Sleep Paralysis Project. “About Sleep Paralysis |.” Sleep Paralysis Project. The Sleep Paralysis Project. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.