The Night Terror
by William Max Miller





    I found myself surrounded by shadows and darkness, laying flat on my back on an altar-like stone slab. A horrible, heavy lethargy paralyzed my limbs and, as I tried desperately to move, I felt that I must have been given a dose of curare. I could hear the loud, pounding sound of my racing heart echo like rhythmic thunder through my drugged body, and a dull roaring filled my ears as I struggled hopelessly to open lead-encased eyelids. My breathing came in gasps as I fought to force air into my frozen lungs. It seemed like I was sinking in quicksand, or that I was slowly suffocating in a choking cloud of lethal cyanide vapors. An overwhelming sense of menace oppressed me, and I realized in horror that a faceless, black robed figure was approaching. The sinister shape, like a figure from beyond the grave, floated silently toward me and bent over my struggling body, its claw-like hands reaching out with malevolent intent. I realized that I was on an embalming table, and that the black figure was about to drain my blood and fill my veins with formaldehyde! I fought to awaken. By now a dim realization that I was still half-asleep had formed in my frantic mind, and I knew that waking up was my only means of escape. Summoning a last, desperate surge of strength, I forced my eyes completely open and jumped to my feet, my arms flailing outward to push the black figure away.
    Now standing and completely awake, I began to see the shapes of familiar objects take form and substance in the shadowy half-light of my bedroom. Drenched with sweat, my heart still pounding with fear, I walked to the kitchen, turned the light on, and poured a glass of water with shaking hands. I was still convinced at that moment that I'd had a dreadfully real encounter with an evil, supernatural force, one which had attempted to drag me back with it into some nightmare dimension of ultimate darkness.
    The sense of having just had a narrow escape lingered for about half an hour, and it exerted a disarming power over my imagination that required several cigarettes to dispel.  The unsettling conviction finally faded into the realization that I had lived through a not-uncommon nocturnal adventure of a kind recorded in the annals of every culture throughout history. I had experienced a dreaded Night Terror.
    A Night Terror differs from a nightmare because it doesn't happen when a person is completely asleep. It seems to be a type of parasomnia, or sleep disorder, which afflicts the waking-up process. Many people who experience them on a regular basis describe a titanic struggle to awaken, as though the ability to make the shift from sleeping to wakefulness has become temporarily impaired. Night Terrors, with all their sinister shapes and appalling sensations, inhabit that strange, largely unexplored borderland between daylight and dreams; that peculiar region we all cross through twice each night, once as we fall asleep, and then once again as we awake. They are transitional phenomena, and this probably explains the terrifying sense of reality with which they are accompanied. Since a person having a Night Terror is somewhat awake, he mingles actual sensations and perceptions with subjective stimuli. These form an unholy alliance in the imagination and, like an intoxicating witch's brew, cast a disturbing aura of realism over the experience.
    Medical professionals who specialize in the treatment of sleep disorders note the recurring similarities in people's accounts of Night Terrors. Almost all of them report feelings of paralysis, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and an overwhelming sense of great danger accompanied by a horrible inability to escape. Frequently mentioned is the feeling of being under attack, and written records of Night Terrors bristle with frightened descriptions of wraith-like malevolent figures circling in for the kill, similar to the Black Shape which hovered over my immobilized body and reached toward my throat with its claws...Individuals who suffer from Night Terrors, sometimes frequently enough to require professional help for the problem, also concur that the unpleasant after-effects of these uncanny experiences often linger for hours. Some people describe an oppressive malaise and sense of foreboding which saps their vitality for days after the Night Terror invaded their bedrooms and troubled their sleep.
    The world-wide distribution of the Night Terror experience, and its occurrence at every period of human history, probably lies at the dark center of the ancient belief in vampires. The Night Terror frequently behaves like the vampire of folkloric tradition. It comes uninvited in the night to prey upon the sleeper, and leaves him shaken, weakened, mysteriously drained. The worn-out feeling which oppresses the morning after such a nocturnal fright can be easily explained as the body's normal reaction to a little sleep deprivation, but it also coincides with the legend of the vampire, who leaves its victims in an exhausted condition after draining them of their blood. And the fact that Night Terrors often involve visions of menacing figures, black shadowy shapes, and other entities which look like the traditional vampire certainly hints that these experiences  could be the primal inspiration for strange tales about bloodsuckers and the Legions of the Undead. Dracula, Nosferatu, Lestat, and all the rest of the great Vampire Horde, which swarms through films, plays, novels and nightmares like a cloud of bats, are probably literary echoes of the Night Terror phenomenon.
    My Night Terror occurred sometime in the spring of 1975, during one of the most optimistic and anxiety-free periods of my life. Theories that categorize Night Terrors as anxiety responses to stressful life events fail to explain what happened to me. However, my friend Bill,  a serious student of the occult, was convinced that I had actually been attacked by an "astral vampire." All this happened in the mid-seventies, a time still very much in the grip of a social trend originally referred to in Time Magazine as "the Occult Explosion." Books about witchcraft, black magic, Satanic cults, and the supernatural became popular best-sellers throughout this cultural phase, and films focusing on various aspects of the occult appeared almost daily on TV and at cinemas. Most of the young adults I knew were interested in the supernatural, and dabbled in Tarot card reading, amateur spell-casting, astrology, and Wiccan practices. Bill did more than dabble. He was a practicing Ritual Magician, who could quote whole passages of Aleister Crowley and Eliphas Levi forwards and backwards. (He had to pronounce them backwards sometimes, he explained, because the particular ritual he was performing might necessitate a reversal of certain words of power.) Although I remained skeptical of his astral vampire theory, some of my acquaintances took the matter quite seriously, and began giving me  silver crucifixes and cloves of garlic as gifts to help me ward off any possible future attacks. All these social reinforcers combined with the vivid sense of reality which had accompanied the experience, and I found myself thinking more and more about astral vampires from Beyond...
    The concept of the astral vampire with which my friends familiarized themselves derived mostly from the works of the 19'th century occultist Madame Blavatsky. Dion Fortune, who further popularized the notion in her well-known work, Psychic Self Defense, wrote advice concerning how to protect oneself from such evil creatures. An astral vampire is a being who takes over the dead immaterial shell left behind by a spiritual entity when it moves on to a still higher plane of existence. As a kind of ghost's ghost, so the theory goes, the possessor of the dead astral shell descends to earth, where it feeds upon the vital spiritual energies of flesh-and-blood mortals. Unlike the vampire of folklore, such a monster does not need to drink the actual blood of its prey. All it needs is a psychic energy fix, and it obtains this when it attacks a sleeping human. According to Dion Fortune, symptoms of such astral attacks are allegedly serious, and prolonged victimization by such a monster can lead to depression, madness, and suicide. Astral vampires are like the bandits and highwaymen of the Astral Plane, and one does not eliminate them by pounding a steak through their hearts. Instead, a person must use magic to guard against the astral vampire.
    Due to several other strange occurrences which had taken place in my old home over the past half century (more about these will soon appear on this page) Bill became convinced that an astral vampire was afoot and that it had singled me out as an energy source on the night of my Night Terror. He offered to perform a ritual which would permanently banish the foul night gaunt from my residence, and I eventually gave him permission to throw his magical gauntlet in the face of the vampire. Bill picked a time in conjunction with the phases of the moon and planets, and brought his magical implements to the house. By candle light, amidst clouds of fuming incense, he intoned the words of power inscribed in his ancient Grimoires. He scattered special herbs throughout the rooms, and performed strange gestures and movements. The ritual itself took about an hour, and left the whole house filled with the churchly scent of Frankincense for days.
    I never experienced another Night Terror. Of course, that's probably because I simply wasn't destined to suffer from  this particular kind of sleep disorder, and has nothing to do with successfully exorcised vampires, astral or Transylvanian. Sleep researchers who study Night Terrors point to chemical imbalances, anxiety reactions, and seizure-like disturbances of deep, non-REM sleep as their actual, physical causes. Their scientific explanations sound very reassuring. But the vivid sense of reality induced by my Night Terror occasionally makes me question such bland theories. Even professional sleep researchers admit that the borderland separating our daylight world from the land of dreams is a dimly understood territory at best, where very old traditions say many strange encounters take place, not all of a pleasant nature. All non-technological cultures, whose shamans and Holy Men have explored the world of dreams  for millennia,  possess ancient oral traditions in which sleep is seen as a process of leaving the body and entering other dimensions, and dreams are viewed as actual encounters with the denizens of different realities. We all must come to the mysterious threshold of sleep each night. For all humans, a regular passage through this gateway is unavoidable because sleeping, like eating and drinking, is a daily necessity upon which our lives depend. And, by a hard law of nature, such necessities become points of great vulnerability. As observant naturalists well know, hungry predators always lurk near bodies of water, to feed upon the unsuspecting creatures who must come there to drink....

    You can learn more about Night Terrors by clicking the following links:

The Night Terror Resource Center

Night Terrors and Nightmares

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