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date: 28 September 2023


A Dictionary of English Folklore
Jacqueline SimpsonJacqueline Simpson, Steve RoudSteve Roud

This term refers to a frightening sensation of being held immobile in bed, often by a heavy weight pressing on one's stomach or chest. It is now recognized medically under the name ‘sleep paralysis’; it can be accompanied by the sense of an alien presence, and by visual hallucinations. In folklore, it was thought of as a magical attack, though whether by demonic incubus, ghost, harmful fairy, or witch varied according to place and period. Where the term ‘hag-riding’ was used it usually implied that a witch was to blame, and in 19th-century Dorset and Somerset several people were prosecuted for physically attacking elderly women who, they alleged, had ‘hagged’ or ‘hag-ridden’ them, in order to break their power by drawing blood (... ...

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