Hag, Night-Hag, Boo-Hag, Old Hag, Haint, Nightmare,
Origin: American Folklore, from a virtually universal experience from around the world
The hag, night hag or old hag is the name given to a supernatural creature, commonly associated with the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. It is a phenomenon during which a person feels a presence of a supernatural malevolent being which immobilizes the person as if sitting on their chest or the foot of their bed. The word "night-mare" or "nightmare" was used to describe this phenomenon before the word received its modern, more general meaning. Various cultures have various names for this phenomenon and/or supernatural character.
Folk belief describes the negative figure of the hag who leaves her physical body at night, and sits on the chest of her victim. The victim usually wakes with a feeling of terror, has difficulty breathing because of a perceived heavy invisible weight on his or her chest, and is unable to move i.e., experiences sleep paralysis. The name for this phenomenon in British folklore was "Old Hag", and this nightmare experience is described as being "hag-ridden".
In the beliefs and customs of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of African slaves who live predominantly in the Low Country and on the barrier islands off the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia, and north Florida, "Haint" - an alternative spelling of haunt - or "Boo Hag" are historically used in African-American vernacular and in Hoodoo belief to refer to an evil spirit, ghost or a witch-like creature seeking to chase victims to their death by exhaustion, or come to the bedroom at night to steal the energy of people while they sleep, sitting on the chest of the sleeper or hovering over them, draining their energy like a vampire and leaving the hag-ridden victim exhausted and unwell in the morning, a condition that might be described by a Hoodoo wise-men as "the haint (or hag, or witch) is riding you".
It may be no coincidence that such a gaunt, exhausted, haunted look can also be described as haggard - both "haggard" and "hag" seem to be derived from an older word (related to "hedge") meaning "wild", in the same sense that a Faerie spirit might be said to be wild, untamed,a creature of the borderland wilderness hedges, and it is similarly unlikely to be coincidental that a term for witches - or hags - dwelling in the wilderness is "hedge-witch".
In many parts of the Southern United States, the phenomenon is is said to portend an approaching tragedy or accident. Alternatively, the Hag might be summoned to attack a third party, like a curse, or they may be drawn by mischief to steal naughty children or otherwise torment those whose sins and wrongdoing have opened a spiritual door to the evil influence of the Hag. Hags thus drawn to their victims can enter the home through open windows and doors, or through small holes like keyholes or cracks, or they might enter portals torn into the fabric of the universe by evil rituals and black magick.
During the Salem Witch Trials several people reported night-time attacks by various alleged witches, including Bridget Bishop, that may have been caused by sleep paralysis.
To guard against the Hag, a special sky-blue shade of paint - "Haint Blue" - is used on the ceilings of porches or at other entrances for the Hag, perhaps on the understanding that the Hag, which may be banished or harmed by sunlight, is confused by the blue paint into thinking it is seeing the clear blue sky of daylight. "Bottle Trees" - small trees with branches hung with bottles - may be planted near the entrances of homes to confuse and entrap Hags who might try to hide inside the bottles in daylight (see the legends of Djinni in bottles); blue bottles are preferred for this purpose. In legends from around the world, including American Gullah and Hoodoo traditions, the Hag is bound by strange compulsions, and may be hindered in its attack by such tactics as spilling a bowl of grain onto the floor (the Hag will be forced to count the number of spilled grains), papering the walls of the house in newspaper (the Hag will be forced to read every word on the paper). Hags might also be repelled by other Folk Magic tropes, including burning sage, sprinkling salt at doors and windows, hanging iron horse-shoes or nails over doorways, the use of hex-signs on doors, walls, and barns, etc.
In contemporary western culture the phenomenon of supernatural assault on sleeping victims may be associated with shadow people; victims report primarily three different entities, a man with a hat, the old hag noted above, and a hooded figure. Contemporary western culture has also integrated the concept into the mythos of Alien Abduction, and Demonic possession and oppression.
- Sleep paralysis, a scientific explanation for the sleep disturbances blamed on the Hag, Sleep paralysis in combination with hallucinations has long been suggested as a possible explanation for reported alien abduction, Demonic oppression and possession, and legends of Vampire, Witch, and Faerie attacks by night. and Sleep Paralysis is known to involve a component of hallucination in 20% of the cases, which may explain these sightings. Several studies show that African-Americans may be predisposed to isolated sleep paralysis, and that African-Americans who experience frequent episodes of isolated sleep paralysis (one or more per month, coined as "sleep paralysis disorder") were also predisposed to panic attacks, also associated with the mythology (such as the version of the legend in which the Boo-Hag pursues its terrified victim to their death in panicked exhaustion.) The experience is unsurprisingly also linked with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues linked to stress, health problems, poverty, etc.
- In "Lovecraftian" terms, lengthy passages of text from Mythos Tomes might be written obsessively on walls by victims of the Hag in an attempt to distract the Hag, or "hyper-geometric" symbols and the like that may disrupt the portals by which the Hag enters a Witch House to torment her victim might be the origin of the legend of using literal "walls of text" in the form of newspaper plastered to the walls of a victim's shack to distract the Hag.
Associated Mythos Elements
- setting: Folk Mythos
- story: H.P. Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch House (fiction)"
- story: H.P. Lovecraft's "Shunned House (fiction)"
- see also: