The new issue of Paranthropology officially launches tomorrow, but is available now in Vol. 4, No. 3. I am pleased to have a contribution in the form of “From Sleep Paralysis to Spiritual Experience: An Interview With David Hufford.” The essay can be found on pages 21-28, and the whole issue can be downloaded here.
John Morehead: What are the various interpretations that are brought to the phenomenon [of SP] in the cultures in which it is found?
David Hufford: That’s a really interesting question. There is variety, but a constrained variety. The interpretations center, as you might imagine, on the intruder. In almost all cases this entity is described as evil or at least threatening. It may be interpreted as a sorcerer or a ghost or demon or some other kind of supernatural, such as a vampire. In many locations it is assumed that more than one kind of creature can do this, such as both sorcerers and ghosts. The deﬁnitive characteristics of these categories, of course, are not unambiguously presented in the SP experience. If the intruder is recognized as a particular living person (which seems rare) then it is understandable that it will be interpreted as a sorcerer. If the attack is sexual, which seems infrequent but it does happen, and if there is a term such as incubus or succubus, that will be applied. If the attack occurs in a house believed to be haunted, which is common, then the intruder is generally assumed to be a ghost. When features of an attack do not obviously suggest one kind of entity or another, then local categories ﬁll in, such as the aswang (Tagalog) in the Philippines. This remarkable consistency and similarity across cultures is a product, obviously, of the robust and consistent cross-cultural pattern of the phenomenology of SP.