Are people visited by demons during the night?
Posted Sep 08, 2008
The idea of the incubus attack is based in the medieval lore of the nocturnal demonic visitation. In one version of this lore, the demon is able to take on both male and female human shape and potentially impregnate a woman, causing her to give birth to a demonic child. The demon would initially take on the form of a female, known as a succubus, which would mate with an unsuspecting male victim. Capturing his "seed" the demon could then take on the male form, known as the incubus. The incubus would then mate with a female victim who could be impregnated with "demon seed." This frightening explanation for these nocturnal experiences is still embraced by some today, and many people who have had this experience find the demonic explanation convincing, at least initially, because the experience is so intense and apparently real.
The scientific explanation for the incubus attack is that the person experiences a state dissociation in which part of the mental apparatus comes to conscious awareness even as the rest of the brain is in the REM stage of sleep. The body remains paralyzed so as to prevent acting out the dream. The realization that it is not possible to move contributes significantly to the unpleasant and frightening quality of this event. In addition, a potential sexual aspect to the experience is provided by the physiology of REM sleep which causes erection in men and lubrication in women. Awakening from a frightening experience and subconsciously recognizing an erotic bodily feeling lends itself to seeing a connection between the experience, and the working of dark and evil forces. The conscious experience is a combination of dream mentation superimposed on the sensory background of the room in which the person is sleeping. Long before Hollywood perfected the green screen technique or computer graphics allowed for the easy integration of the fantastic with the realistic, the brain was able to seamlessly blend together the inner world of the dream with the outer world of sense perception during these state dissociations.
It must be emphasized that for the person who has experienced an incubus or succubus attack, the rational, scientific explanation may lack the powerful emotional force of the demonic explanation. Even for trained scientists who have had these experiences, shaking the belief of having been visited by a malignant force is very difficult. An interesting account of this may found in Ronald Siegel's book, "Fire In the Brain." Many patients seeking reassurance will agree that the state dissociation explanation makes good sense but .....
The incubus attack is just one example of what can occur during state dissociations in sleep. There is also a great deal of sleep related sexual mentation and potentially many sleep related sexual behaviors. In future posts these interesting and potentially disturbing experiences will be discussed.