Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Liminal complaints: demons, night hags and sleep paralysis

kali blue.jpg

I’m fourteen years old and I’ve never been kissed. In the middle of the night, I feel a presence in my room. It’s a woman, and she’s coming towards me. She’s little more than a dark cloud to begin with, but when she reaches my bed she is fully defined. She is a hideous, black-skinned hag, with multiple arms. Jouncing against her withereddugs is a necklace composed of rotting human heads.


     I want to flee from this apparition, but I can’t move. My body is completely paralyzed, except for my eyes, which are taking in everything.  

The memory of this episode came flooding back while I was reading a lucid and helpful new book on Sleep Paralysis by Ryan Hurd, Ryan writes from first-hand experience, and he makes a careful study of the varying explanations for this phenomenon, in which the sufferer lies dormant, unable to move, while ghosts and demons may appear to menace him, pressing down on his chest. The condition is by no means unusual. Half the population is estimated to have suffered from sleep paralysis at some point in their lives.

Ryan identifies high-risk communities (workers on night shift, insomniacs, the jet-lagged, college kids) . He offers clear, commonsensical guidance on how to minimize your risk of finding yourself in this state, basically: keep regular hours, get enough sleep, stay grounded, don’t forget to breathe, and do not lie on your back. I confess that some of this was lost on me since I have never kept regular hours, fly constantly, sleep in two or three short bursts in a 24-hour cycle, and have been accused of having “no body clock whatsoever”. I also enjoy lying on my back.


We are coming to the most exciting part of Ryan’s book, in which he distinguishes himself from much of the literature by asking: What if sleep paralysis is not a curse, but an opportunity? What if this state is “a gateway for lucid dreaming”, even a spiritual initiation? What if the demon or the night hag is actually a guide who can take us on an amazing astral journey if we can go beyond our fear – and stop worrying about the body? Ryan knows that all these things are possible, and more, because he’s been there. So have I, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

A word about words. “Sleep paralysis” is actually a major misnomer. Why? Because everyone who has experienced this condition knows that they were awake at the time.It resembles sleep in two respects. First, in the muscular atopia – paralysis – which is a benign and indeed necessary state during sleep because it prevents us from acting out our dreams at the expense of the furniture and the family. Second, shapes from dream or nightmare may fill the space. We might add that “sleep paralysis” is most commonly experienced near sleep, coming or going. Still, it is not a state of sleep.


I would like to see us develop the verbal imagination to call it something more exact. If we are going to focus on the physiology, we could speak of muscular dyschrony, which would be to say that the muscles are out of kilter with time. A better term for the larger phenomenon would be liminal paralysis, which would feature its identity at a threshold state, on the border (for example) of being in and out of the body.

Let’s return to Ryan Hurd’s proposition – which will be shocking to many – that we can learn to lovewhat I will now call liminal paralysis. My terrified fourteen-year-old self can attest to this. His experience with the night hag did not end with the scene above. When she approached his bed and mounted him, he discovered that not every part of his body below the eyes was paralyzed. His story continues:


The black hag is on my bed, stamping on my chest. She lowers herself on her haunches. Despite my disgust, I am aroused and now she is riding me. Her teeth are like daggers. My chest is spattered by blood and foulness from the rotting heads.
There is nothing for me to do but stay with this. I tell myself I will survive.
At last, the act is done.
Satisfied, the nightmare hag transforms into a beautiful young woman. She smells like jasmine, like sandalwood. She takes me by the hand to a forest shrine. I forget about the body I have left frozen in the bed.
She tells me, I am Time, and I give you power to step
in and out of time. You can call me Kali Ma.
When I return, I am different. 

 In the days that follow, I write a cycle of poems that I title “Creatures of Kali”.
Many decades later, I remember the first stanza of my adolescent verse: 


In the darkness, a dark woman comes to me
softly, as the ticking of a clock.
I, in panic, cry out, “Go! I have no head for horror!”
But she smiles and wraps her four black arms around me
beating her bleeding necklace of heads against my breast
and holds me captive through the night. 

If we are willing to face our night terrors, we may find that the alien in the room is what is truly most alien to us, our own greater power. If we can endure the night hag, we may earn an encounter with the Goddess.

The book discussed is Ryan Hurd, Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors
of the Night
 (Hyena Press)



  • cobweb

    After such an episode of sleep paralysis I was told by an immensely gifted Chiropractor, this condition was caused during sleep from lying on one’s back with the neck tipped forward by the pillow, thus causing the vertebra to constrict the blood supply below the neck, while this may not be the cause of others experience, it explained to me why I could not move at the time. He also said one has the most lucid dreams when in this position. Perhaps some of you might relate to this explanation, others might think it dull and excludes the more romantic associations, whatever the reason, knowing you can produce more vivid dreams sleeping on your back might be a useful tool for those who wish to explore the possibilities.

  • Robert Moss

    Cobweb – I think this assessment is perfectly compatible with the rest of the discussion. I was told decades ago by an inner guide that if I wanted the best communication and visionary experience, I should lie on my back. For even longer, in shamanic journeying, I have always arranged my body in this position. By contrast, counsel offered to those who want to avoid “sleep paralysis” is that they should NOT lie on their backs. In that counterpoint, we see the dance between positive and negative experiences in a liminal state, and how the functioning of the body-brain is relevant to how the larger field of mind is received or not received.

  • nan

    i’ve got ryan’s book but haven’t read it yet. i will this weekend after reading this. i am a stomach sleeper. on several occassions, but memorable and always as hypnopompic, and always lucid, lucid, lucid and always strong and intense, i have experienced a similar thing. but, it is almost a physical pushing down or pulling into the dream and the only way i can explain it is that it is a dream that will not let me go. or doesn’t want me to go. i mean it seriously does NOT want me to go so much that i have to absolutely physically pull myself up and out of it if i want to wake-up. and none of the dreams are ever disturbing, just remarkably intense prior to this. same sort of thing?

  • Sleep Paralysis Victim

    It is not hard to see why demons, devils, and other beasties of the night have been blamed for these nocturnal ‘attacks’. Virtually all cultures with a written or oral history has some kind of form of SP they have reported, and with that a usually very colorful explanation as to why these things happen. But if you’re of an occult mind, or just an open one, it’s also not hard to see why scary folk of the night would take advantage of us while in such a vulnerable position. Either way, legend and lore abounds. SP is more commonly known as Old Hag, and the origin for this title may have roots as far back as the Sumerians. Ardat lili or Lilitu, an evil hag-demon, was said to have the power of flight, which she preferred to do at night when she would attack men in their sleep. This seems a very obvious reference to the original Lilith, who refused to lay on her back when laying with Adam, and was therefore thrown out of Eden for a more suitable mate for Adam. After she was thrown out of Eden a myriad of things happened, depending on who you hear tell it, but a few things remain constant, Lilith flew away and is now the eater of children, hers and others alike. She is a disgusting old hag, who now flies over the land at night seeking revenge for being thrown out of Eden.

  • Terri Allen

    Fascinating subject. My son has experienced sleep paralisys ever since a pectus escavatum surgery. Recently, he has experienced deamons attempting to attack him and awakes to find the cat at the site of the attempt. It is in his mind that the cat is a protector. Is there anything that you know of on this?

  • Savannah

    I have only experienced this kind of “sleep paralysis” once, at the tail end of an early morning dream in which I had opened an old cloth covered box containing letters and some bank notes. Next I found myself alone after my company had retreated into an adjacent room, now on my back and mirroring my physical position in bed at the time. I felt an invisible entity I identified in the dream as a goblin press down on my chest and struggled to wake myself, which I several seconds later I did, straining to find my voice. At the time I read that event as a psychic attack of which I believed I understood the source, and called in protection accordingly. Nothing like it has ever occurred again… I am not sure if that time there might have been a greater power to be uncovered though it’s a provocative suggestion and I am awed by your encounter with Kali Ma. I will keep an eye out for Ryan’s book, thank you for opening this discussion!

  • Robert Moss

    Dear SP Victim – Thanks for reminding us of some of the myths. I can’t help thinking that the Lilith story may be an example of Shadow forms created by a narrow and fearful mindset, in this case that of a patriarchal culture bent on keeping women in their “place”. Read in terms of practical psychology, it’s not hard to see what the figure of a woman who has been beaten down and refused a place “on top” might return to haunt th oppressors or repressers. Then look what happens – as in my 14-year-old night with Kali – when we go beyond the fear, and the masks.

  • Robert Moss

    Terri – Sounds like the cat has appointed itself your son’s night guardian. It’s well-known that cats can see what is going on in psychic reality much better than most humans, and all of them belong to the Tribe of Tiger. We can all do with allies in the face of night terrors, and it is wonderful that he has one with a familiar, whiskered face.

  • Robert Moss

    Nan – I often experience a similar PULL and feel my dream self being drawn from my body into the dreamlands. I have never classified this is “sleep paralysis” (or “liminal” paralysis, as I want to call it) because I am always quite happy about it, and often thrilled by the sense of the call to adventure in another reality. However, Ryan Hurd would probably want to assign this a compound in his menagerie of types of “SP” experiences.

  • Robert Moss

    Savannah – It’s interesting what happens when we take a closer look at the menacing or ambiguous figures who show up in the liminal state. First and last (after warding our psychic space and calling in our allies) we want to IDENTIFY what we are dealing with. The lesson of fairytales is that once you can name your demon (or goblin, or night hag) it loses its power. I find this is simple truth.

  • Bobi Souder

    This is such a fascinating subject. I’m eager to read Ryan’s book. Over the holidays I listened to a nice archived radio interview of him talking about sleep paralysis and related subjects. For anyone who is interested, the interviewer is Anne Hill and you can find the audio clip at
    I have to say, Robert, in reading the description of your encounter with Kali Ma, I’m struck by the level of courage that was asked of you at such a young age. And also struck by the gift that was entrusted to you. The power to step in and out of time is a big responsibility for such a young person. Thank God you are working on the side of light and not for some government black ops project!
    And on the subject of sleep paralysis being a built-in safeguard so we don’t act out our dreams, is there something you can recommend for people whose safeguard is faulty? (– i.e. they sleep walk and DO act out their dreams) I know of two such people, and it’s been frightening for those who live with them and sometimes dangerous for the dreamer.

  • Robert Moss

    Bobi – Sleepwalking is indeed the inverse of “sleep” paralysis. This time you really ARE asleep, and your muscle dyschrony (my invented term) is working the opposite way; your muscular OFF switch isn’t working so you are acting out the dream – and/or something else that has access to your body during the night. I’ll consider writing a separate article about this. In some cases of sleepwalking i have found (as a shamanic practitioner) that I have had to help the sufferer ward off intrusions by a psychic entity that wanted to go around in their body.

  • Annana

    Reading this was quit the stir of emotions for me. Getting past the “horrific” is something I have experienced in dreams and this motivates me to re write more of the beauty of it. To hold my calm is my challenge I think.
    That said, I love how you flip flop common held concepts that lean toward fear and shift them into possibility. And there you have me and my imagination wondering all sorts of things, a man who has not lost the play of child I’d say!
    I was going to say I have never experienced this, but “muscular dyschrony” is a nice word to describe the sense of shifting into liminal. It would be interesting to have a field in medicine that graduates “liminal practitioners”. Perhaps a special certificate. Maybe one day a society that recognizes when someone shifts into this state and people are asking them what they’ve experienced in that moment, instead of slapping them and calling names like spacey. Perhaps we may even know why some children prefer using there peripheral vision more. Perhaps instead of cutting off talent in fear of disorder we would start working at deeply grounding the core of a child like this as we enrich there stories and play! Interesting how one word could take me from night hags to talented children.
    Sometimes your writing gets me babbling.

  • John Anthony

    I used to experience liminal paralysis frequently as a small child (6-10 years old) and feard and hated it. I would force my leg to move and kick it to wake myself out of it.
    I never had a night visitor like Robert’s, but do remember an associated dream one night (age 8 or so) of a witch who sang, “I think I hear the mouse call.” It has stuck with me for over 45 years.
    This phenomenon has happened to me infrequently in adulthood. After reading this I will be ready if it happens again, and look forward to the adventure.

  • Meredith

    Thanks for writing about this, Robert! It’s been good to read other’s comments about it as well. Before experiencing this myself, I’m not sure I truly believed in anything paranormal.
    This happened to me several years ago while living in an upstairs apartment of an old Victorian house. I experienced everything you wrote about… Several episodes where I’d wake suddenly from a deep sleep to feel as if someone or some thing was very close, peering into my face- as if to determine who I was and what I was doing there. ‘It’ felt furious to discover me, and I laid completely terrified! I also couldn’t move, felt as if I was looking into a deep, black, void.. but somehow, just as suddenly as I’d been awoken, I’d fall back to sleep somehow. I have no idea how I’d manage that, but sure hadn’t forgotten anything come morning!
    It wasn’t until after moving out that I talked to my roommate about these episodes. She told me she’d been experiencing the exact same thing, as well as a guy she’d been dating who’d stayed over. It was good to have outside confirmation, though this has left a lot of questions in my mind unresolved to this day… We never found history of the house in our research, and never confronted the entity together, but she did tell me shortly before moving out that she’d tried burning sage. When I asked her if it’d helped, she said things only got weirder, and wouldn’t expound further on that.
    Our landlord lived on the first floor, was an antique dealer, and although he was a completely amicable guy, he was a hoarder, with tons of stuff spilling out into the yard.
    Although this was a terrifying experience, I’m grateful it happened. It helped me to be much more open-minded, as well as more intuitive, especially as someone who rents- I’ve noticed I’ve been more observant and choosy about the vibes of prospective places. I’ve also learned the importance of protecting my space… whether I’m home or traveling.
    Interesting stuff. I read Dreamgates, and also, just finished reading a helpful book by a Tess Whitehurst called “Magical Housekeeping”, if anyone’s interested. She emphasizes the importance of clearing clutter specifically- that physical clutter also acts as psychic clutter.. And has much helpful information about how to go about protecting your home while inviting helpful energy in. I especially liked her chapter on plants. :)

  • Robert Moss

    Meredith – sounds like all of you were picking up the psychic clutter of that house and the possible intrusive presence of someone who didn’t want you there. This may all have been entangled with the personality and personal clutter of the landlord.

  • Robert Moss

    John – Thanks for sharing. That’s a very interesting witch song, great for a spooky children’s story.

  • Angela

    I have experienced this phenomena for years now, and it has progressed from terrifying images such as spiders, cobras, a shadowy intruder to commonplace things most times. I’m not quite sure what to make of images such as vines, plants, people I know, architecture or fixtures that isn’t actually there, etc. Once I was convinced there was a stuffed animal nailed to the ceiling & got out of bed for my camera to take a picture of it.
    Thanks for sharing your stories. I used to wonder if I was going crazy or was being haunted before I read up on other people experiencing the same thing. Now when these occur, I can maintain composure and fall back asleep.

  • Pingback: On Kali’s day, remembering a night with the Dark Goddess - Dream Gates

  • Pingback: 30 Facts About Sleep Paralysis To Consider While You’re Terrified, Frozen, And Unable To Scream | Thought Catalog

Previous Posts

Aboriginal Dreaming into the Dreamtime
Aboriginal Australians believe that we dream our way into this world, and dream our way out of it. "We talk to the spirit-child before a baby is born," naturopath and traditional healer Burnham Burnham explained it to me. If the father-to-be ...

posted 9:00:10am Jul. 08, 2015 | read full post »

In Search of the Antlered Goddess of the Ways
The British visionary artist Chesca Potter says that when she moved to London, she had a vision of an immense goddess figure, dressed in green and gold, over the church of  St Pancras. This is the oldest church,  in the city, founded ...

posted 8:15:05am Jun. 26, 2015 | read full post »

The only dream expert is YOU
You are the final authority on your dreams, and you should never give the power of your dreams away by handing them over to other people to interpret. Yes, our dreams can be confusing and opaque, and we gain greatly from other people's insights, ...

posted 11:00:05am Jun. 17, 2015 | read full post »

Dreaming is practice for immortality
There is a people of the South Pacific who say that there are as many afterlife situations as there are human imaginations. They may be right. What we encounter on the Other Side is conditioned by our desires, our courage and our imagination (or ...

posted 5:05:33pm Jun. 11, 2015 | read full post »

Dreams are not on our case, they are on our side
Our dreams show us things we may prefer not to think about — which is a major reason why many of us slam that door shut on our dreams and try to keep it closed. Those things may include future life problems, or parts of ourselves we tend to ...

posted 1:22:38pm May. 13, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.