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The History of Sleep Paralysis in Folklore and Myth 

The History of Sleep Paralysis in Folklore and Myth
Chapter:
The History of Sleep Paralysis in Folklore and Myth
Author(s):

Brian A. Sharpless

and Karl Doghramji

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199313808.003.0003
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date: 20 October 2018

This chapter assesses the importance of sleep paralysis and sleep paralysis symptoms in myth and folklore. After discussing three contributing factors to a full understanding of sleep paralysis, the various interpretations found across time and culture are catalogued and interpreted. Sleep paralysis is found to be the original Nightmare, a phenomenon that is very different from the scary dreams associated with that term today. It is argued that sleep paralysis played a role in the generation and maintenance of various beliefs in witches, demons, vampires, and other supernatural entities. Echoes of these earlier interpretations of sleep paralysis phenomena can be found in contemporary narratives of alien abductions, ghosts, and shadow people. In spite of the temporal and geographical distance separating many of these supernatural/paranormal interpretations, it is argued that they contain a number of intriguing similarities and reflect all-too-human wishes and fears.

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