Dark Intrusions by Louis Proud is a much needed investigation into the paranormal aspects of sleep paralysis visions. Proud digs deep and views SP within the philosophical and literary traditions of spiritualism, mediumship, ghost hauntings and channeling. Hands down, it’s pretty much the spookiest book I’ve read this year.
Proud is a sleep paralysis experiencer himself, so his narrative is grounded in his first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be held down while you sleep by various unsavory entities. This is the classic sleep paralysis encounter, recounted by millions around the world in many cultures as the old hag, the incubus effect, and being ridden by the witch. Proud uses his experience as a touchstone as he reviews the connecting threads of SP with the fortean literature.
The Secret History of Sleep Paralysis
Our Western culture, it has always seemed to me, is unique because there is no extant cultural expression of SP. Most people who have the experience have no clue what’s happening to them, leading to a religious interpretation. Fewer know that sleep paralysis has biological correlates related to sleep hygiene and REM dreaming. On this point, sleep parlysis expert and medical anthropologist David Hufford commented in the documentary Your Worst Nightmare, “We have erased knowledge of these experiences from the cultural repertoire while these experiences are continuing to happen. That’s dramatic. That’s a level of social control that’s very impressive.”
Louis suggests that the SP narratives actually are highly represented in the literature of the West, but they have been marginalized from scientific inquiry. SP encounters can be seen spanning the centuries, from Swedenborg’s works, to 19th century spiritualist texts, to the voluminous writings of Chico Xavier, and most recently Whitley Streiber’s harrowing account of night visitors in Communion. Louis methodically reviews this literature, pointing out trends and similarities, as well as theorizing how sleep paralysis visions may be one of the authentic ways to contact spirits—or be terrorized by them.
Discarnate Entities, Psi and Quantum Psychics
Here is where I initially parted company from Proud, in his assistance that fearful SP encounters with demons, hags and aliens are proof positive of the existence of autonomous discarnate entities: spirits, in other words, who feed on the living and lead the way to madness. After all, I know from my own personal experience that entities can change form and become helpful when the sleep paralysis sufferer controls for his fear and sets strong boundaries or rules for contact. Expectation plays a major role in this phenomenon, just as it does with other altered states such as lucid dreaming and entheogenic reverie.
However, I began to see that Proud’s thesis is more complex, as he does not argue that all sleep paralysis encounters are the products of spirits. But a crucial and terrifying minority may be, he argues, especially those that yield information that could not have been known, information that is later verified from 3rd party sources.
Our current scientific paradigm ignores this sort of data, even though many studies using accepted controls have yielded statistical results. (For a great review of the status of the scientific enterprise of psi research, see Charles Tart’s The End of Materialism.)
Yet I also think that there are other ways of receiving “uncanny” information through dreams and visions besides through the theorized action of malevolent spirits, including telepathy, remote viewing and other anomalies as theorized by the work of Carl Jung, Rupert Sheldrake and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. In these matters, it’s difficult to know where clairvoyance ends and telepathy begins, much less to distinguish between archetypal energies, the structure of the space/time continuum and the souls of the departed. Not that these perspectives are unknown to Proud — he cites specially the work of Stan Gooch — but he leans towards the spirit hypothesis at the end of the day.
In any case, I definitely agree with Proud in general that these sorts of encounters are more than the projected fears of a dreamer during REM intrusion, which is the “flatland” perspective espoused by mainstream materialism. My own work with sleep paralysis, informed by transpersonal psychology and anthropology, has focused on how dreamers can lessen their fears and transform negatively construed encounters with spirits, but this emphasis does not preclude the influence of other sources of influence during SP nightmares that may lay outside the personal psyche. Rather, accounting for our fears and biases allows us to view the “autonomous entity”—whatever its origin may be—more clearly.
The Shadow of Western Science
Dark Intrusions wades into some pretty weird and fascinating waters, including ghost rape, phantom voices, poltergeists and energy vampirism, but he always brings the material back to the experiences of sleep paralysis sufferers. There’s some particularly fascinating accounts of consensual spirit sex. Proud’s central thesis is that some sleep paralysis experiences are “attempts at possession by discarnate entities” that occur when one’s psychic guard is down. This is certainly a powerful meme that deserves review as its historical root are deep and influential, running parallel with western science as a kind of shadow culture for the last 200 years.
Science as an enterprise, we must remember, bracketed out first-person experiences long ago, so no amount of evidence from personal narratives will ever convince materialist skeptics of the veracity of these powerful internal visions and their hand in shaping the culture and folklore of spirits, ghosts and goblins.
Proud writes in his conclusion that the research of this haunting topic actually transformed his largely negative perception of sleep paralysis to a larger spectrum. “SP is a doorway to many possibilities,” he suggests, “some terrifying, some interesting and delightful, others simply weird and baffling. Over all I think the condition is a gift—a tool, which, when used properly, can be immensely rewarding.”
I couldn’t agree more.