Across the world, people are afraid to go to bed. Creatures like the Batibat, the Night Hag and the Lidérc could visit them in the dark. These beasts are the stuff that nightmares are made of, literally: the word nightmare has its roots in an Anglo-Saxon term for nighttime visits from shadowy monsters.
The creatures change from culture to culture, but they share characteristics and behavior. They are often female and like to perch on their victims’ chests as they sleep. They are known to kill, with their preferred fatality crushing the wind out of a dreaming body.
Medical and social researchers associate the creatures with sleep paralysis, where people feel awake but are unable to move. This frightening glitch between stages of consciousness often entails constriction and choked, labored breathing. It’s no a coincidence sleep monsters are spotted on peoples’ chests.
While terrifying, they’re not unstoppable. They can be warded off or tricked. Point your shoes the right way and wiggle your toes and they’ll shuffle off into the darkness. Some monsters can be enslaved by the clever and bold. Good luck, and safe dreams.
The native Filipino language Tagalog has a word for supernatural sleep death: Bangungut, which literally translates as “to rise and moan during sleep.” Filipino folklore says tree-dwelling malevolent Batibat spirits are its cause. The creatures, which look like ugly, obese women, infest houses when their trees are used as construction materials. The enormous hags wait until the homeowners are asleep, and then sit on victims chest and face to push their life force out.
This cuddly bag of terror is the great granddaddy of Freddy Krueger. The Dab Tsog is part of the folklore of the Hmong, an Asian tribal people whose sleep deaths upon arriving in America inspired Freddy. Like the Batibat, the Dab Tsog kill through smothering sleeping victims. Survivors of encounters with the Dab Tsog compared it to a furry American stuffed animal, only with prominent claws and teeth.
Made up of the leftover pieces from the creation of the world, Japanese dream creature Baku is a piecemeal beast with a bear’s body, an elephant’s trunk and an ox’s tail. It feeds on dreams, and Japanese children will call to it upon waking from a nightmare. The nightmare removal can come at a price: a hungry Baku sometimes eats the hopes and motivation of the dreamer along with the dream.
This Hungarian gender-shifting bloodsucker starts from a tiny egg and grows to be a bizarre lover-tormentor. Similar to its Asian dream cousins, it exerts pressure on victims, but its embrace is associated with sex and lust as much terror. It latches onto its victims, sucking blood and strength; the Hungarian word for nightmare, lidércnyomás, is taken from its exertion. While the Lidérc sometimes seeks to destroy its hosts, it sometimes becomes fond of its victims and tries to enrich them with hoarded gold. It can be warded off through trickery; convince it to attempt an impossible task and they will be at it forever.
No, not the horse. Mara, the word from which nightmare is derived, was an Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse word for a demon that planted itself on sleepers' chests, causing unpleasant dreams and sometimes death. Usually female, the mare is associated with the incubus and succubus, demons who have sex with women and men while they sleep.
This German nightmare creature is related to the mare, but is usually male. The name is variation on elf, from the so-called “old high” German that predated the current language. While its preferred tipple is breast milk, the Alp will suck blood from nipples on men and children. They can be defeated through such rituals as pointing shoes towards the bed and hiding old pieces of metal in the straw where you sleep.
If someone from Louisiana tells you they spent the night witch riding, they had a bad night. The night hag, a hideous old woman who spreads nightmares across the world, visited them. She’s traveled to Britain, Newfoundland and the south Pacific, riding sleepers’ chests and crushing out their breath. Associated with sleep paralysis, the hag is followed by bad smells and strange shadows.
In Turkey, unwanted paranormal nighttime visits are called Karabasan. A demonic jinn enters a victim’s room and holds them still before strangling them. They will retreat upon hearing prayers to Allah or readings from the Koran. If a jinn visits, make a note if the jinn wears a hat. If you are clever and brave enough to steal the headwear, the jinn, also known as a genie, will be your slave.
If you see a knife in a cradle, a mother is trying to keep the Nocnitsa from visiting her child in the night. She is made from shadows, speaks in a screech and smells like the forest in which she lives. A Russian and Slavic variation of the Sleep Hag, the nightmare monster will sit on victims’ chests but has also been known to spread out on a sleeper’s back and tightly grip the chest.
The Night Hag cuts across cultural lines. While the form is elastic, it usually retains certain characteristics, like its female gender and humanlike form. For the natives of Spain’s Catalonia, the night hag isn’t human, but an enormous dog or cat. Despite its four legs and animal hair, it smothers sleepers like its human counterparts. Along with its bestial nature, it has like steel paws with holes, so it can touch but cannot take objects from the waking world.
Latvian folk stories tell of Lietuvēns, a ghost of hanged or drowned person that kills with a Night Hag-like pressure death and can be defeated if a sleeper is able to move a toe on their left foot. Latvian stories also offer a more playful, less lethal otherworldly sleeping companion. The Domovoi is a house spirit that watches over occupants as they sleep, occasionally giving families the odd pinch. Usually harmless, it will leave painful bruises if it wants you out of the house.
According to the legends of the Chilean island Chiloé, women young and old find this sporty little gentleman irresistible. Whether asleep or awake, no woman can fend off his advances. Despite his charms, Trauco’s wife is the notoriously ugly and cruel Fiura. When a woman becomes pregnant on Chiloé under unexplained circumstances, Trauco is the default father, no doubt the annoyance of Fiura. Many face her wrath.