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The Nightmare Experience, Sleep Paralysis, and Witchcraft Accusations

Owen Davies
Folklore
Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 181-203
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30035099
Page Count: 23
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The Nightmare Experience, Sleep Paralysis, and Witchcraft Accusations
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Abstract

Witch-trial records, and other early-modern writings on witchcraft, reveal that in various European societies people complained of being physically oppressed at night by witches and other supernatural beings, the victims of these nocturnal assaults describing a similar set of symptoms. Contemporary English authors termed the experience the "mare" or "nightmare." In the twentieth century, it has been identified as a manifestation of "sleep paralysis." Medical studies and surveys of the condition help us make better sense of the historical accounts, while an awareness of the historical evidence illuminates modern reports of sleep paralysis experiences.

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