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Old Hag Syndrome

Updated on September 17, 2017

What it is?

'Old Hag Syndrome' appears to be a form of hallucinatory sleep paralysis which occurs shortly before falling asleep or just as one wakens. A surprisingly large number of people (2%) experience it once in their lives. It is a terrifying experience when it does occur. The unlucky few are visited much more often.

People in all cultures are aware of it and give it names which when translated mean 'the Crushing Demon', 'the Dark Presser', 'Being Held By Ghost', 'Being Held By Shadow' or similar.

Records go back even further than the 2nd Century and it is surmised that the 'Old Hag' name refers to Lilith, the first wife of Adam (the Bible misses this bit out) who was cast out of Eden to become a demon of the night for refusing to make love in the missionary position. Seems harsh punishment for a girl who wanted a bit of imagination in her sex life.

Lilith - First Wife of Adam

The Experience

A visit from the Old Hag feels so real that it is difficult to believe that it is not a genuine experience.

There are many suggestions made to the cause of this unsettling visitation which stretch from the realistic breathing disorder to voodoo curses. As can be expected there is equally as many folklore remedies to cure or prevent.

The Nightmare by Henri Fuseli

Different Forms

The majority of people who have the experience see nothing at all because they are either incapable of opening their eyes or are too frightened to do so.

Those who do take a peek talk of a hideous old woman or a shadow or a black cat.

There is even a school of thought which believes it is alien abduction. A job then for Mulder and Scully.

The Old Hag


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  • profile image

    georgiypotulov 5 years ago

    I had this crazy nightmare that I randomly went from not remembering what I was dreaming to appearing out of nowhere in the Social studies room at ABS ( My old school) the lights were turned off, it was pretty dim, I was also by myself and out of the corner of my eye I sensed this dark evil presence and looked up and saw this black blob right above me that came down and I was paralyzed on the ground all a while this entity was sitting on top of my chest taking what felt like energy out of me. And the crazy part was I couldn't move and breath. You can actually feel the weight and this went on for about 7 seconds but felt like an eternity. Well anyway the reason I write this is because I did some research and found out that there is this entity that sits on the victim's chest in between the dream and awake state aka sleep paralysis state and there are THOUSANDS of cases (or 15 % have sleep paralysis at least once in their lives) that share the exact same type of experiences as what I am writing (such as the old hag riding victims). If anyone else has experienced this, I'd like to hear your story. Thanks for listening to mine!

  • RachaelLefler profile image

    Rachael Lefler 5 years ago from Illinois

    That's interesting because I had it a few days ago! I had a dream where I flew very high into the air, before coming down I woke up and I couldn't movie and my whole body felt numb. Luckily it only lasted a few seconds but it was terrifying!

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    JhnWht - It is a strange thing our minds.

  • profile image

    JhnWht 7 years ago

    I had a similar experience when I was ill and wide awake. I couldn't see anything there but a pressure on my chest which almost suffocated me. I heard voices one of a man stating, 'You are going to die, I am going to kill you!' Another voice appeared before I thought I was done for, that of a young boy which said, 'Leave him alone it is not his time, he is meant to live on!' With this the man said, 'I will be back for you in the future!' and a warm secure feeling engulfed me as the voices faded with a final whisper, 'You will be fine now.' I awoke 2hrs later feeling much stronger but I was still a bit ill. What does everyone think about this; any thoughts? :)

  • profile image

    David R 7 years ago

    You've never had the experience, Anonymous. Being completely paralyzed and seeing shadowy insect shapes should inspire pure terror, there is no way around it. There are other things that can happen between waking and sleeping, when you are, I believe, in your astral body, and you have enjoyed something far more pleasant than a visit from the Old Hag.

    The terror makes the experience worse. The way out is to relax, ignore the hallucinations - or whatever they are - and try to ease out of the attack.

    At its worst the Old Hag experience is a full bore demonic assault - I've seen all sorts of things, felt gnawing and biting, had my testicles and throat grabbed, heard all manner of abuse and threats, screaming and laughter, even tasted and smelled things - at its best, without any of the scary stuff, it's unsettling to wake up unable to move, and disturbs your sleep.

  • profile image

    Anonymous 7 years ago

    I've experienced this a few times in my life, and I've never found it upsetting. In fact, I found it comfortable, and comforting. I see shadowy shapes and sometimes shadowy insect shapes; and unlike when I am awake (I hate bugs), I like them and try to make them stay. Then I wake up fully and realize it was probably just a dream state. I've never, however, found the experience disturbing or scary.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    Gosh David R...sounds terrible. I truly sympathise.

  • profile image

    David R 8 years ago

    I sometimes experience this several times a night. It's called isolated sleep paralysis. I used to have terrible hallucinations along with it, more frightening than anything you've seen in a horror movie, but now, thank God, it's just paralysis typically, sometimes with voices or the feeling of an attack. Still, I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    Welcome back Sarah - Both comforting and worrying.

  • sarahtrudeau profile image

    sarahtrudeau 8 years ago from India

    Ah, so THIS is Old Hag Syndrome. How wierd. Maybe it's a teeny bit comforting to know that others have also had this experience?

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks upal19. I try and keep busy. It keeps me out of trouble ;-)

  • upal19 profile image

    Ashraf Mir 8 years ago from Dhaka

    Peter, you old boy, how could you write all these hubs? I'm trying to read all. I salute you. I invite you to come to my country.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    You are both right and wrong Carson. It IS horrible but I share Steve's feelings at being (well pleased is probably not the word) glad to have experienced it. Although I hope I never do again!

  • profile image

    Carson 8 years ago

    I had this too and, dont take this the wrong way Steve but what kind of an idiot are you! You shouldn't be pleased it's horrible!

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    Steve 8 years ago

    yep I've had this when I was about 15 and it was our family cat that karted it when I was about 4. I was aware it was in the room then it was on my chest and i couldnt move, it felt so real and was really horrible, but now when I think about it I am pleased that I have experienced this odd phenomenon