Writers, directors, and creators of horror use the dark to their advantage to set the scenes for grim tales of the unknown and macabre, choosing to minimally decipher it so as to unnerve audiences. This is the dark we are used to, the chilling unknown that composes nightmares, that makes us run up the stairs after we turn off all the lights to make sure the mystery-monster doesn’t catch us. Until recently I’ve never really thought of the dark in an exactly positive way (and yes, that means I sometimes view the mysterious as negative). Being in the dark takes away what possible knowledge we have by rendering it literally and figuratively invisible.
In my life of twenty-four years, I’ve had only two serious encounters with the legitimately unexplainable, both which have dealt with darkness. These experiences have incidentally left my psyche in the dark, for I simply have had no luck in explaining them. My first experience was in my Grandma’s house in Colton, about 5-6 years ago. My mom and I were sleeping in the bed in my Grandma’s room. I suddenly awoke; in the darkness, I could make out the alarm clock with red digits reading 3 something in the morning. Suddenly I was compelled to look to the opposite side of the room, where the closet was. The door was closed, but to the corner immediately to the right of the closet was a black, almost cloud-like formation. It wasn’t completely solid, but more like a soot-colored fog. Instantly I was flooded with terror; I was afraid of this darkness, this unknown. Worst yet, it was creeping closer to the bed. I turned to my mom who lay sleeping, undisturbed. I desperately tried shaking her awake, and when that didn’t work, I started calling her name. She still wasn’t budging, so I started to yell, but when I opened my mouth, there was no sound. Unnerved and in a panic, I screamed at the top of my lungs. This was life and death for me, yet my best efforts weren’t waking her up, and my screams were that of faint whispers.
At the time I was basically Catholic still, so I immediately prayed, asking God or anybody who could hear me to make this darkness go away, and to help me wake my mother up. Then almost instantly I was truly awake, my eyes wide open; Initially I assumed I was already awake when I encountered this dark energy. I’m still not sure if what happened to me was my actual spirit truly awake while my physical body slept, or if this had only been some nightmare that just happened to trick my senses. And what of my prayer that immediately worked upon mouthing its words? Did that mean I had surely slayed the dark energy that I saw, thus proving its existence?
Back then I used my Catholicism/spirituality to help explain what had happened to me that night. I believe many religious people do in fact use their beliefs to explain the unexplainable. For example: The devout praying for a loved one to be healed from a serious ailment, the loved one suddenly healed, and the devout owing that to the power of their respective god. On the contrary, non-religious people obviously use other means to explain the mysterious, whether it be through science, logic, etc. Recently I happened upon a book, Starry Speculative Corpse, by philosopher Eugene Thacker, where he speculates on why humans are afraid of the dark. “Sometimes we may be scared of some unnameable thing in the dark, while at other times we may simply be scared of the darkitself,” Thacker claims. I suppose my fright comes from both; I’m afraid of what is contained in the dark that I cannot see, and what it’s composed of. For me, the dark is what I cannot imagine, and what I cannot imagine, I cannot possibly know. Not knowing is intimidating in a way; how will I know how to react to the dark when I’m not sure if there’s an evil inside of it, wanting to suck my soul out? How will I know how to react to something if I don’t know if it wants to attack me, hug me, talk to me? As an anxiety-prone introvert, I need sufficient time to know, process, and plan accordingly.
After doing research I found that a possibility for what happened to me is what researchers call Sleep Paralysis. Sleep Paralysis happens when a person is in between sleep and wakefulness, so that their minds are up yet their bodies are still asleep and thus literally unmovable, including an inability to talk or react. It’s usually accompanied by hallucinations of supernatural visions such as shadowy figures. All of this has been studied, and you can do your own research if you want the juicy scientific details. The shadowy mist I saw at my Grandma’s may have just been a (really creepy) figment of my imagination…
Yet I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by that answer. While sleep paralysis has been studied by scientists, it’s merely scientific theory, not fact. What visited me that night could have been a very real presence from some other dimension. There’s a factor researchers haven’t been able to address: The fact that when I started praying, I was able to instantly wake up from this paralysis. Apparently prayer has helped other sufferers too. My question is, is there something rational in prayer that physically counter acts the paralysis, thus waking us up? Almost like tricking our paralyzed psyche into finally waking up completely, like a placebo effect? Or is it that our protectors are actually answering our prayers, truly delivering us from the evil we just encountered?
Something else that science hasn’t been able to explain is the time in which I had this nightmare/experience. Paranormal junkies like myself will recall that 3 AM is known as “Dead Time”, a time in which demonic spirits are more active. Since it’s believed that Jesus died at 3PM, these negative spirits come out at the exact opposite time, 3 AM, in order to be super evil and defy Christ. I know for a fact that the time I saw on the alarm clock when I was truly awake was sometime at 3 in the morning, and I’m inclined to say it was 3:18, if memory serves right. So was that also just a really amazing coincidence? Or does this time serve to strengthen the dark energy theory of what happened to me that night?
There’s actually a really interesting idea that I credit to paranormal researcher Matt Cardin. Cardin is theorizing if the dark shapes we see are our rational imagination, in the way scientists explain that our mind tricks us into imagining our worst expectations during sleep paralysis, or if these shapes are legitimately our imagination’s reality. He starts by answering a commenter’s (Andrés) question on his post about a woman he saw during his sleep paralysis experience (Please note the “Old Hag” experience is another variation of the sleep paralysis vision):
“ Andrés, you ask, “Was the woman a figment of my imagination?” Since your story sounds like a classic variation on the so-called Old Hag experience, which has been known cross-culturally by many people, I think the best answer is: Yes, but that doesn’t mean the woman wasn’t real. The real meaning of your question devolves down to the question of the imagination’s reality. If something is imaginary, does that make it utterly unreal? Or are creatures and events in the imagination real in their own right, but in a way that’s different from objective reality? When you felt assaulted by this spectral woman, where exactly was the boundary, the division, the borderline, the limen, between your subjective sense of identity as the assaultee and her reality as the assaulter? These are some of the questions that occur to me as most pressing, and not just theoretically but quite practically. I strongly recommend seeking out some writings by Jung on the objective reality of the psyche, and by Patrick Harpur on what he calls “daimonic reality,” and by David Hufford about sleep paralysis, as you’re trying to sort through what happened to you.”
I can definitely see Cardin’s point about objective and subjective realities being so fundamentally different, that it’s almost impossible to compare them. Who’s to say that entities can’t infiltrate our minds, our imaginary consciousness? The fact that it’s not disprovable (yet) still leaves the option open: What we experience in our minds, our dreams, can possibly be touched by the spirit world, or by presences of other dimensions not always physical. I know people who claim that God or Allah talked to them directly. I know people (very well) who had premonition-like dreams that came to fruition in real life not long after. These same experiences can surely be applied to our dreams, and better yet our nightmares, no?
***To Be Continued in Part Two…***