Inquiring Minds: Who is the ‘Old Hag Who Rides at Night?’

Q. I heard on late night radio about the “Old Hag Who Rides at Night.” I came in at the end of the broadcast and I didn’t really get many details. Who is the Old Hag?

A. Most cultures have a variation on the legend of the frightening being who sits on a sleeping person’s chest and sends him or her bad dreams. While in the clutches of the menacing spirit, the sleeper wakes but is unable to move, for what feels like an eternity.  In English we call this personage the Old Hag, but she appears under other names in folklore from Russia to Iran.

Modern science, of course, never misses the chance to explode a first-rate ghost story.  To scientists, the “Old Hag” is the personification of a condition called “sleep paralysis” which leaves the sufferer momentarily unable to move his or her limbs when first waking up. Sleep paralysis is very common and is thought to affect up to 40 percent of the population at one time or another. If you have a relative who has the problem, you’re more likely to encounter it yourself. It can be terrifying experience, but it is perhaps minimally less scary when you realize that it’s your own brain chemistry rather than an evil supernatural being that is keeping you frozen in place. 

(Internet Resources)


Do you have a question for the staff at the Roseville Library? You can call them at 651-724-6001 or ask your question in person at the Information Desk, Roseville Library, 2180 Hamline Ave. Library hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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