Do you ever have your best ideas just before you fall asleep? If you are like me, and find yourself regularly crawling out of bed to jot down that great thought or idea, than we are in good company. Some of the best innovations, creative endeavors and ground-breaking discoveries came from the drifting mind. A few of these notions from napping are worth mentioning: Albert Einstein conceived the Theory of Relativity, Friedrich A. Kekule envisioned the structure of a molecule, and Nobel Prize winner, Otto Loewi, imagined the chemical transitions in nerve impulses, all from dreaming. From Paul McCartney’s song “Yesterday” to a little thing called the Periodic Table, we find evidence that something mysterious and amazing happens at the threshold of consciousness. The space between realities seems to be a dimension that allows people to resolve the problems of their wakeful mind, but, whatever inspiration awaits the dreamer in this place, something darker also resides.
Sleep Paralysis is a term used to describe a bizarre sleeping disorder experienced when awaking or falling into deep slumber. The victims of Sleep Paralysis wake up fully cognate and mentally aware, yet, cannot move their physical body. This condition, also called ISP (Isolated Sleep Paralysis), is associated with REM atonia and believed to occur when the body travels into a deep dream state. Most Individuals who experience ISP find it a very terrifying experience that produces feelings of dread, panic and suffocation. The people who fall prey to Sleep Paralysis report seeing similar hallucinations, including: a haggish creature that sits on their chest, alien abduction, shadowy figures and ghostly entities. Studies suggest that paralysis occurs as a neurological disorder related to the normal process of hypotonia in deep sleep. Scientists believe that plegia is a normal biological process and functions to protect one from acting out their dreams. They maintain that mental awareness during Sleep Paralysis is simply a result of the mind waking before the body, however, many that Sleep Paralysis terrorizes are adamant that their visions are real and remain convinced that the attacks are spiritual. Others, who have embraced this disorder, claim that Sleep Paralysis is a gateway to lucid dreaming and astral projection. Neither psychology nor spiritualism can fully explain Sleep Paralysis and it remains debatable whether it is a spiritual oppression, or the result of a biological malfunction.
I’ll leave that discussion to those who have experienced it, but, one truth about things that go bump in the night… is that people talk about it. While the fear of stigma forces many to suffer in silence, there is clear evidence of Sleep Paralysis in almost every cultures folklore around the world. The etiology of the very word Nightmare, stems from the old English word mare, often confused to mean female horse, it actually means: “a demon who torments human beings in their sleep” similar to the German word mara, which means: “a goblin that rides on people’s chests and brings bad dreams.” In Central America it’s called Subirse el Muerto, “the dead person on you.” Norwegian lore describes a succubus, or damned woman who sits on the ribcage of her victims. In Nigeria it’s the “Devil on your back.” If you wake up paralyzed in Japan it is kanashibari, “to be bound or fastened in metal.” Whether it is a djinn from the Islamic tradition or the pinyin from the Orient, “to be pressed down by a ghost” is to experience Sleep Paralysis. The mythology of ISP is a story woven in the fabric of every culture. If only surviving by legends and narrative tradition the “nightmare” is alive and well, and real or imagined, the old hag exists somewhere at the gateway of rest.
It is my hope to explore Sleep Paralysis as visual subject matter. To investigate the folklore of Sleep Paralysis within each culture and compile these stories into a series of narrative paintings. This project is an ongoing, independent study, that will hopefully document these eerie, and unusual fables in one illustrated body of work.
(Dreams, Nightmares and Unseen Things)