European folklore state that supernatural and paranormal events, such as ghost sightings, tend to occur around the hour between 3am and 4am in the morning. It was believed that if you wake in the middle of the night around 3am, it was because you were visited by the devil. Women were even persecuted as witches if they were found outside during this ungodly hour.
There are many theories behind why the so-called Witching Hour became so infamous. Many involve religious notes, such as the fact that the Bible states that Jesus died at 3pm, therefore the inverse of the time is considered evil. Some say that the devil plays mockery to the Holy Trinity by using the number “3” as part of its acts of desecration. It is also a time when there are no prayers in the canonical hours, therefore evil spirits supposedly run rampant unchecked.
Scientifically speaking, when we wake in the middle of night then fall back asleep, we are more likely to enter a hypnagogic state – the state immediately before you fall asleep where your subconscious mind starts to take over. This can lead to sleep paralysis, which is commonly associated with horrific hallucinations, such as visions of monsters and ghouls. You may even experience a lucid dream, where you are aware within a dream, so you can have vivid memories of imaginary scenes. This may explain why people have such vivid memories of supernatural experiences.
3am is roughly the time of night when melatonin levels are highest, as it is normally when the body is in deep sleep. If you happen to be awake at this time, you may feel exhausted to the point of feeling delirious, as anyone who has done an all-nighter or a night shift could tell you.
From a historical point of view, before the advent of electric lights, it was common to go to bed early in the evening, wake in the night for an hour or two, then go back to sleep until the morning. This hour was used for prayers, writing down creative ideas, interpreting dreams, and of course, sex. Maybe this was also the hour when some people would be out and about for unlawful deeds, such as burglary. These sneaky burglars may have been misinterpreted as ghosts by anyone awake at the same time.
Whether you are superstitious or not, the Witching Hour is an interesting time as you know that everyone around you are asleep. There is no one to talk to. At this edge of tomorrow, you are left alone in tranquil darkness with your thoughts, feelings and worries.
Perhaps the things that go bump in the night during the Witching Hour are not eldritch horrors, but your own fears and anxieties rearing their ugly heads.
In 1907, a physician called Duncan MacDougall tried to scientifically prove the existence of the human soul. He weighed patients dying from tuberculosis at the time of death and studied the change in body mass. After observing the death of six patients, he noted that the body mass lightens at the time of death, which he attributed to the soul leaving the dead body. He published the official average mass of the soul as 21 grams.
Unfortunately, this experiment was complete nonsense. MacDougall failed to use the scientific method. The tiny sample size of six patients, the broad range of weight loss (21 was an arbitrary number he chose and was not even the proper mean mass) and the lack of control in the study environment are some of the major flaws of the experiment procedure. In fact, it is more likely the change in body mass was due to the many changes that occur post-mortem. For example, the lungs recoil and breathe out air, moisture escapes the body and as the sphincters relax, excrements are expelled.
Many people still believe the urban myth that the soul has an objective weight of 21 grams (possibly augmented by the movie 21 grams). Another interesting fact is that MacDougall also experimented on dogs (except instead of using dying dogs, he killed them himself). He found that dogs lose no weight when dying and thus claimed that dogs have no soul.
Dreams are wonderful things. Within a dream, nothing is impossible and the mind unleashes its full potential creativity. Is there a way to harness such power? The short answer is: yes.
Lucid dreams are defined as the state of being aware that you are in a dream. This means that unlike normal dreams, you know that you are dreaming. Although this may sound easy, it is quite hard to enter and stay in a lucid dream. Many people experience a lucid dream a few times in their life, but tend to pass it off as a normal dream or some paranormal event (many “out-of-body” experiences can be explained as lucid dreams).
The major difference between a normal dream and a lucid dream is the ability to control your dream. This concept is explored in detail in the movie Inception, where characters utilise the creative power of dreamspace, tricking the victim that they are in reality to manipulate information out of them. Inception is actually a great example of what a lucid dream is like: the architect can manipulate the dreamspace to her wishes, even going as far as ignoring the laws of physics and conjuring objects out of nothing. This ability is not exclusive to movies – you too can exert this power within your own dreams, every night.
The most important point to remember is that lucid dreams are based on memory. Reason being, if you cannot remember the dream, then it might as well not have happened. Also, you need the ability to distinguish a dream from reality, as otherwise it will pass you by without you realising. There are a few tips and tricks that can help the induction of a lucid dream.
Firstly, keep a dream diary – a record of every dream you have in excruciating detail. This not only trains your ability to remember dreams in detail, but also lets you prepare for when a lucid dream comes. So every morning when you wake up, record whatever you can remember from the night’s dream. Many people complain that they never dream, but this is false – they are merely forgetting it. After keeping a dream diary for at least a couple weeks, you will find that the frequency of dreams increase dramatically, with increasing creativity.
Secondly, look for dream signs. You will notice from your dream diary that certain things appear often in your dreams. This may be a certain person, an impossible object (such as the staircase from Inception), meeting a deceased person or something happening (e.g. falling). A classic example is a clock. In a dream, when you look at a clock (preferably digital) and blink, time suddenly leaps around, such as 3pm suddenly becoming 6pm. Looking for these signs in your surrounding can easily alert you to the fact that you are dreaming.
Lastly, do reality checks as often as possible. These are actions that confirm that you are in reality, or conversely if the check fails, that you are dreaming. Reality checks are represented as totems in Inception, and although the risk of “getting lost in a dream” is close to nothing in a lucid dream, it is an extremely useful tool. Reality checks (RC) are based on the fact that the laws of reality do not function in dreams. For example, a common RC is bending your fingers backwards. In real life, your fingers will only go back so far. In a dream, the fingers can touch the back of your hand: a definitive proof that you are not in reality. Other examples include breathing through a pinched nose, pinching yourself (no sensation in a dream) and… anything creative actually. The general rule is: “habituate what is not your habit” – i.e. make a habit of something that is not usually your habit, so you can do it in a dream as a RC.
After a few weeks practising using the above skills, prepare your mind for a lucid dream. Every night before going to sleep, keep thinking “I will dream” or “I will stay awake in my dream”. Continuous reinforcement directly increases your chance of “waking up” in your dream, and allows you to begin your journey into lucid dreams.
As mentioned above, within a dream, you have almost godly powers as you can manipulate the entire dreamspace to your will. However, there is a catch: you have to control the dreamspace. This may sound absurd, but it will be relevant when you have your first lucid dream. Dreams are like wild mustangs – they will spiral out of control as soon as you try to take control. For instance, a novice lucid dreamer (or, in Greek, oneironaut) will find that as soon as they acknowledge that they are in a dream, they will instantly wake up. This is a form of defence mechanism as the boundary of reality and dream is faded, causing your brain to become confused.
There are methods to help your stay in dreamstate. It has been suggested that when you notice signs of waking up (e.g. the surroundings become blurred and slowly disappear), spinning on the spot can prolong the dreamstate. Rubbing your hands together also helps. The duration you stay in the dream becomes longer as you become more proficient in lucid dreaming.
This is only the first step. The more you manipulate your dream, the more your brain will “reject” your dream-self. Again, this is seen in Inception (it is actually quite an accurate depiction of lucid dreaming). You will find that through practice, you not only lengthen your lucid dream, but also increase the power to manipulate things. In the advanced stage, you will not only be able to completely recreate the world around you, but also achieve flying and the ability to summon people.
A final point to learn about lucid dreaming is that there are two ways into a lucid dream: DILD and WILD.
The first, and the most common, type is Dream-Induced Lucid Dream. This is by far the easiest method. In DILD, you “wake up”, or become self-aware, in a dream and then continue to dream the same dream (except now it is lucid). It is easier to achieve this during a nap or when you go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.
The second, and more advanced method, is the Wake-Induced Lucid Dream. WILD is when a lucid dreamer can go straight into a lucid dream from a state of alertness. This lets you enter a lucid dream anytime at will, and can be more powerful than a DILD. However, there is a catch. WILD easily induces sleep paralysis (see Sleep Paralysis) due to the forced induction of REM paralysis. This can be a horrifying experience for the unprepared, especially due to the nightmarish hallucinations it brings. But after practice and the correct mindset, you can easily vanquish this state with willpower, and freely enter a lucid dream. Sleep paralysis should not deter you from attempting lucid dreaming, for it is only a temporary side effect.
Lucid dreaming is one of the most useful skills one can learn. Not only does it let you explore your mind freely, you can go deeper to discover your subconscious (often through imagery), solve complex problems you couldn’t in real life and relieve the stress built up from reality. An interesting feature about dreams is that time is completely relative; this means you will enjoy a lengthy dream much longer than your actual sleep, giving you a better rested sleep. If you are lucky, you may even enjoy the delightful experience of a “dream within a dream” (or go even deeper).