Psychic attacks, inexplicable in terms of twentieth-century scientific knowledge, occur far more frequently than most of us would imagine. A study conducted by Dr. David J. Hufford, a behavioral scientist at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, has brought to light the unsettling fact that one American in every six has had the following experience at one time or another:
Typically the victim suddenly awakens in the middle of the night, and is shocked to discover that he or she is unable to move. The victim is certain that he or she is awake and not simply suffering an unpleasant dream. As he or she lies there, immobilized and vulnerable, the victim hears footsteps and suddenly sees a hideous, ghostlike form that seems to exude evil. An invisible force presses down on the chest, and the horrified victim thinks he or she is going to die. Then, as abruptly as it arrived, the paralysis leaves. The apparition vanishes and the individual feels normal.
Sometimes poltergeist-like manifestations accompany the attack. Other apparitions may appear, and other strange events may occur. But in most instances these weird night entities attack on their own, leaving the victim shaken, scared??"and silent.
As a social scientist, Hufford, who reported his research in a fascinating book entitled The Terror That Comes in the Night (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), was especially interested in this last aspect of the phenomenon. Like most Americans, Hufford had never heard of such night attacks, until, as a college student, one happened to him. He thought he was suffering some dire illness, or sensing the first signs of mental derangement, until he did some research on the subject.
He learned that while these experiences are so little spoken of in this country we don’t even have a name for them, other cultures recognize the phenomenon and identify it in various ways. In Newfoundland it is known as the "Old Hag," "The Hags," or "Hagging." The terms hark back to an old belief that these are witch attacks, "witches" traditionally depicted as ugly old women or hags. A victim of hagging was thought to be hag- or witch-ridden. In fact, the most common word in English for the experience is "riding."
But the original name, interestingly enough, is one with which we are all familiar: nightmare. The word Nightmare itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon nicht (night) and mara (incubus or succubus). The Anglo-Saxon suffix a denotes an agent, so that mara from the verb merran, literally means a ‘crusher,’ and the connotation of a crushing weight on the breast is common to the corresponding word in allied language (Icelandic mara, Danish mare, Low German moore, Bohemian mara, Swedish mara, Old High German mara) … From the earliest times the oppressing agency experienced during sleep was personified.
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