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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

    Descriptions of nocturnal assaults are amazingly consistent across time and place. Victims first sense a presence, which may be accompanied by a feeling of pressure and difficulty in breathing. They are overcome by a temporary paralysis, aware but unable to move or cry out. They awake fatigued and drained of energy. Often there is a lingering fear and foreboding. If these assaults continue, the victims eventually waste away, declining into death. Explanations for “the terror that comes in the night” are tied closely to prevailing conventions. While a psychoanalyst might interpret such experiences as a “symptom of pathologically repressed sexuality,” traditional societies view them as nightmares or other supernatural assaults. Folklore acknowledges the dual nature of the succubus. She may appear as the ugly witch or night hag (whose philosophy might be summarized as, “forget the sex, just kill the guy”) or she might assume the form a vampiress, erotic but deadly.

So, descriptions of vampire attacks show strong affinities to accounts of being “witch ridden” or “hagged.” David Hufford, in his thorough study of this subject in Newfoundland, found four identifying features of being hagged: (1) awakening (or an experience immediately preceding sleep); (2) hearing and/or seeing something come into the room and approach the bed; (3) being pressed on the chest or strangled; (4) inability to move or cry out until brought out of the state by someone else or breaking through the feeling of paralysis on one’s own (Hufford 1982, 10-11).

Viewed from the “subjective experience of the victim,” Hufford finds connections between the two apparently separate traditions of vampire and hag: “As with most complex supernatural traditions, vampire attacks are surrounded by such a welter of associated events and interpetive statements that the Old Hag attack is not immediately obvious. Close examination, however, reveals clear examples even in Bram Stoker’s literary creation, Dracula.”  Hufford (1982:231) also identifies examples in sources that may be closer to actual reported experiences and finds that:

When comparing the accounts of vampire attacks to other Old Hag attacks, the characteristic detail in the former of the draining of either blood or spiritual essence stands out sharply. When we view this traditional belief from the subjective perspective of the victim, it is hard to avoid a comparison with the fatigue generally reported by those who suffer a series of Old Hag attacks in close proximity to one another. In fact, in Case 31 above it is suggested that even those who avoided actual attack became fatigued by their efforts at constant vigilance. Although more evidence is needed, it is possible to hypothesize that the traditional belief about the sustenance the vampire gains from his victims is at least in part based on the observation of this increasing fatigue (Hufford 1982, 231).

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