In my research on sleep paralysis or the Old Hag phenomenon discussed in a previous post, I came across a documentary on the topic called Your Worst Nightmare: Supernatural Assault. The film is the brainchild of Paul Taitt and Andrew Barnes of Soul Smack Live. Paul discusses this film and sleep paralysis in the following interview.
TheoFantastique: Paul, thank you again for making your documentary on sleep paralysis available to me. How did you come to be aware of this phenomenon, and why did you make it the subject matter of your film?
Paul Taitt: Thank you for your interest in Your Worst Nightmare and the work we are doing to shed some light on this rarely discussed phenomenon of sleep paralysis (SP). It was an amazing experience to meet so many people from all walks of life who have both experienced SP and suffered in silence for so many years. I first became aware of SP back in 1992 when it happened to me for the first time. One Saturday morning I was sleeping in late, I kept waking up and drifting back into a wonderful cozy sleep, I have always slept face down and that morning I had assumed my usual sleeping position, I then suddenly awoke from another bout of sleep at around 10:00 am and as my eyes snapped open I had a strange feeling suddenly come over me, I was fully awake, fully conscious and able to hear everything around me, but I was totally paralyzed, I could not move a muscle, or open my mouth to speak, I then started to panic, I had never experienced this before and thought I was having some type of strange medical seizure. Then all of a sudden to my surprise I felt a tremendous weight gradually bearing down on my back, it felt as if a 400 pound person had just laid right on top of me, I could feel myself being pushed further and further into the mattress. I then thought (as silly as this sounds) that someone must have broken into my apartment and paralyzed me with some kind of drug, I really thought I was going to die, as you can imagine I absolutely freaked out and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I began to hear ghostly soft whispers from behind me all around my head, they were in audible but I could hear multiple voices whispering erratically amongst each other. Then as the pressure on my back became unbearable it suddenly stopped and full sensation and mobility came back in an instance to my whole body. I jumped up out of bed expecting to see an intruder or two in my room, but the room was empty and I was the only one in the apartment. I was so terrified I was afraid to go to sleep for a few nights after in case it happened again. I was also reluctant to tell people, as the whole experience sounded so bizarre. Back in those days there was no Internet and unless you knew what this phenomenon was called there was no way to look it up in any library.
It was five years later that I finally found a name and explanation for what had happened to me, while watching a documentary on TV I saw a featured segment on this subject, they spoke of the Old Hag, Shadow People and the sensation of pressure, I was relived to discover it had a name and the symptoms were so similar, I then began looking further into SP. I guess this experience sparked my interest on the subject and the lack of information available at the time prompted me to explore SP further and using the medium of film I wanted to help others who may have also experienced SP, we have since gone on the help thousands of grateful visitors worldwide and have received countless emails and correspondence from sufferers who have found useful information and support in our forums and via personal emails to us. It is a great feeling to know you are doing something you love and helping people at the same time.
TheoFantastique: At one point in the film the statement is made that the sleep paralysis phenomenon has been erased from Western culture. No further exploration of this was given in the film. Can you elaborate on this?
Paul Taitt: Well over 300 years ago SP was quite well know and talked about in many Western cultures. Any priest would have provided useful information to any sufferer who came forward seeking help. But the words used to describe SP without one sounding crazy were removed from our culture. If you search the term SP you will see that artist’s such as Henry Fuseli depicted this very phenomenon in the art of his day, there is one very famous painting that he created in 1781 called The Nightmare, this painting perfectly illustrates what people describe during a SP attack, the presence in the room, the paralysis and the creature climbing up on you causing pressure on your chest. Most other cultures worldwide can talk about this openly without the stigma or ridicule usually attached to reporting this, they have many names for SP and can go to a counselor or spiritual advisor and express these particular words and the person offering help will know exactly what they are referring to and will then be able to offer the appropriate advice. But go to a doctor here in the West and say I saw a shadow in my room, it jumped on my chest and then choked me and you run the risk of being diagnosed as psychotic, and that as we know can have a very negative impact on your life.
The problem is we do not have the vocabulary to explain this without sounding crazy. We hope to change this by giving those words back to people so they can seek help from qualified professionals. The good news is a lot has changed and there is currently much more awareness of this subject. We have given our DVD to a few well known universities that now use it as a training tool to educate and inform new psychology students on this normal human experience that affects as many as one in five people worldwide, that is 1.2 billion people at today’s current world population numbers.
TheoFantastique: You have a diverse group of people who provide experiences, commentary, and analysis in the film. How did you assemble this group?
Paul Taitt: We found many of our documentary subjects online though advertisements in various classified websites. We also found once word had spread about what we were doing many people started to contact us independently and expressed great interest in what we where doing, they wanted to share their stories so others could benefit and learn more. Many of the people we interviewed had never spoke publicly about what they had experienced, but in doing so many reported back to us that the weekly SP attacks had lessened and in some cases stopped all together.
TheoFantastique: As I've mentioned previously in my first post on sleep paralysis and the Old Hag, there are a variety of interpretations given to this phenomenon. Your film, as indicated in the subtitle as well as the final section of the film's discussion, interprets the phenomenon as supernatural assault of some kind. Why did you gravitate toward this interpretation, and what types of interpretive options do you see here within this framework?
Paul Taitt: We added the words "Supernatural Assault" to the title because for most and especially when it happened to me, it felt like I was being attacked or assaulted. Many horrific accounts of what can happen during an SP attack have been relayed to us since the making of this documentary; we have had many reports of the sexual assault/encounter, some report choking and suffocation, others report nightly visits by Shadow people who drive ones fear levels through the roof. So I guess David Hufford quite rightly said during the film, “It does not matter if it is an intruder using a weapon, or a person or non-material entity attacking or choking you, they are all considered assaults.” There have also been more pleasant experiences reported, that are much less frightening and some people seem to actually enjoy, this is the common out of body experience (OBE) which is connected to SP, if you have a bout of SP that goes on for a short period it usually can turn into a full blown OBE and the person experiencing this will feel a distinct separation from their physical body. I personally feel as one who has had SP three times that the OBE is a major part and symptom of SP. Maybe the user wakes up while there is still a disconnect and the spiritual body is still independent from the physical, causing these strange feelings of paralysis and the weird sensory experiences. Another theory that was given to us after the film was made, was from a psychic, she said when you are in a state of OBE and your physical body wakes to see an ominous black shadow crawling up onto you while paralyzed, this is just your spiritual body returning, the shadow is your energetic state and you wake to see this trying to re enter your physical body, which for some can be terrifying. So I guess there are many theories and we will continue to explore the subject and are planning updates to our documentary in the near future.
TheoFantastique: In addition to your documentary, are you involved with other resources to help people experiencing sleep paralysis?
Paul Taitt: We have set up user forums on our website so people who have had SP can converse, exchange ideas and offer each other advise and help. This is an excellent resource that I urge everyone interested to use. It is free and could help you or someone close to you. We also have a help service, which is an email-based service for the more severe cases and can point people in the right direction if they need urgent help. We were thinking of adding a state-by-state list of counselors who have had experience with SP so people can contact someone close to them and seek help without worrying what will be thought of them, so visit our site forums, you do not have to join to read post but you do need to join (free membership) to post in the forums.
TheoFantastique: Paul, thank you again for a documentary analysis of an important phenomenon.
Paul Tait: You are most welcome, thank you for the opportunity to express what we are doing and we hope your readers visit our site, which I am sure they will find useful. We also have free podcasts they can listen to, featuring myself and project partner Andrew Barnes on various radio shows. They are packed with information and you can load them onto your MP3 players and listen to in your own time. Thanks again and we will keep you informed of any updates to the film. All the best.