Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.
– Shakespeare, Hamlet.
Not exactly Christmas-themed, but since today is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, I thought it might be nice to post this. For all of you reading this that wake up in the night with a sense of dread and glance at the clock to see it flashing 03:00, have a care… for The Witching Hour is upon you.
Or is it?
This is something I heard a little about a long time ago (almost 25 years now) and became reacquainted with after re-watching “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”. While not a classic, it was entertaining because I was watching alongside a friend that had never seen it before and had been terrified after we had watched “The Exorcist” and the original “[REC]”.
I must admit that the 3am concept is interesting and, while I do not personally subscribe to the associated religion that comes with this ‘unholy trinity’, I found myself looking into the subject a little more. My reason for this was to see if there were any such occurrences within other mainstream faiths today or whether or not such activities could be traced back into the past.
For those unaware about the 3am ‘phenomena’ it is presented by many Christians as being the true ‘Witching Hour’ or ‘Devil’s Hour’ when Demons and Spirits are strongest. This is apparently in mockery of the supposed hour of Christ’s death at 3pm. I say supposed hour as there is no evidence to suggest the exact time of death. 3pm is a rough estimate of time, but it is not exact.
According to the Jewish method of counting time for that period the day would have begun at around 6am. Therefore, the third hour was about 9am with the sixth hour being about 12pm. So, the ninth hour would have been about 3pm. If you believe what the bible suggests (Mathew’s Gospel 27:45), Jesus was supposed to have cried out in a loud voice as he died. This was around the ninth hour of the day. Therefore, it would have been around 3pm based on that method of time keeping. It is not exact and, again, it really comes down to the belief of the individual rather than a fixed event.
Since the majority of Western civilisation has at some point become saturated with the bloody symbolism of Christianity, it is understandable that many, Christian or not, will think twice when glancing at their bedside alarm clocks late at night. Time Zones and seasonal variances are not applicable in determining this hour. To think that they are is overlooking the possible origins of such phenomena. Time is perceived in many different ways (whether fast or slow) and therefore whenever 3am rolls around for the person(s) in question then it doesn’t matter if it is two hours later in another city or lunch time around the other side of the world.
Of course, there are many problems with the 3am theory.
Perhaps the most glaring of these is the idea that nothing ever happened at night before the death of Christ. If 3am mocks the supposed death of Christ at 3pm then what did the demons do before that? Did they knit cloven socks, have a coffee, then play a round of golf? What about all the history leading up to the supposed time of Christ?
Other faiths have their demons too, however, they seem less inclined to leave their beds at such a prescribed time. 3am seems to be an exclusive part of Christianity — once more providing artists, authors, musicians and a host of others with some wonderful material of the gothic and macabre (despite my own lack of faith, I’ve got to hand it to religion for providing some wonderful writing material through the centuries).
Yet, there remains something about the idea of 3am, whether you are or aren’t of any particular faith. I know a number of people who subscribe to different faiths and who live in different parts of the world. On occasion, some have told me of odd experiences or sensations that happened to them during the early hours of the morning; usually between the hours of 3am and 4am. Nothing so fantastic as the manifestation of demons or their like, but certainly a feeling of a presence being in the room with them or of doors that they felt they had shut having been found ajar. Others have declared a general occurrence of the singular, extending to those awake during those hours. Radio or TV shows playing music that triggers certain memories, electrical faults taking place, or even insightful understanding of previously confounding problems in their lives.
3am is a time sometimes associated with the deepest levels of sleep – the REM stage – whereupon we dream. Even staying up through the night we all tend to reach that threshold where we are about to succumb to sleep and turn to opening windows, having a shower, or drinking coffee in order to stay awake. The brain begins to process surroundings and events somewhat differently at this time which can lead to a sensation of something odd taking place or experiencing greater meaning from everyday items or sensory stimulants such as Radio and TV.
It could be that at this awakened stage our tired minds relax their hold upon perceived reality and allow us to ‘open up’ to other perceptions. The opening of normally closed doorways within the mind that can lead to a greater self understanding or to answers to questions we do not normally know how to ask. It is also possible that we open doors to questions we are not yet ready to ask and those we consider threatening or terrifying.
Sometimes during this deep stage of sleep people encounter what is known as the ‘Hag Phenomenon’ or Sleep Paralysis (hypnogogic/hypnopompic paralysis). This condition is commonly referred to as the ‘Hag Phenomenon’ because of the old beliefs that it was caused by evil spirits, demons, ghosts or hags sitting upon the chest and attempting to hurt the sleeping person. Without going into too much detail, the phenomenon results in becoming alert mentally but finding an inability to move or vocalise after being asleep. The body shuts down certain motor signals during REM sleep to prevent us from acting out our dreams, yet occasionally as the mind moves through the stages of sleep and comes back to the lightest phase of sleep there is a brief moment when the mind gets to an aware stage before the body does. It is for these few seconds (that can feel much longer or even be prolonged) that the now lucid mind realises that the body cannot move. There are a number of effects associated with this phenomena some of which I have listed below:
- Inability to move legs, arms or even torso;
- Inability to vocalise;
- The feeling of pressure on chest, as if someone was sitting or pressing on it, even a strangling or attacked feeling;
- Feeling of choking or inability to breath;
- Reactions such as terror, dread, panic;
- Auditory hallucination – such as ringing, whistling, breathing, rustling, scratching, buzzing, knocking, animal noises, music, moaning, laughing and even footsteps. Sometimes distinct voices or phrases are reported. Some sounds are very ‘natural’; some are extremely loud or piercing. It is notable that they are most often reported as very clearly “external” – not “in the head”;
- Floating or out of body feeling, feeling of levitation or sinking;
- Seeing or sensing a presence in the room. Often it is reported to be looking down or watching the person experiencing it, is usually dark, most often human shaped but can be vague or amorphous, or even animal shaped;
Clearly, it can be seen how such brain activity upon our bodies, when influenced by certain religious/social beliefs, can be thought of as a demonic attack or other such supernatural occurrence. This all goes some way into explaining those that report extraterrestrial encounters or abduction (in this case the demons are replaced by cultural imagery). Events such as these occurring before the supposed death of Christ would clearly be explained in ways that reflected the earlier religions, customs, and folklore of the time or region.
There is of course the argument that the spiritual in this has been overlooked. Could it not be that those people that are more emotionally fragile or empathic are more open to the world? Such states can often be induced when one is brought up in an excessively religious household, whereupon the world around them becomes easily distorted. Energy that exists within the word can take wide and varied forms and, under different conditions, can be shaped by ourselves. If we think of this energy in, as the human mind often does when dealing with such formless concepts, anthropomorphic terms then we will simply ‘shape’ and ‘dress’ it to fit that which we can comprehend.
Demons? The unfortunate aspect of mainstream faiths are the divisions they create in our psyche as regards good and evil. Many are afraid to look within themselves and embrace the whole of their being, the reconciliation of the ego and the shadow. The result of this is the creation of our own ‘demons’ which our minds readily clothe with whatever imagery we associate with fear. By giving them a concept we give them belief and therefore power to act while attributing them to external forces thus dividing ourselves from the whole. We give names to our demons and there is great power in names.
3am – the ‘middle’ of the ‘night’ hours.
A place where we often face ourselves in the arena of our minds.
Happy Winter Solstice… and pleasant dreams!