Friday, November 13, 2009

Sleepless in Seattle (and almost anywhere else)

Here's something interesting I found out on the 'net.

I've always thought bangungot-- or a male dying unexpectedly in his sleep due to natural causes (i.e. "nabangungot sya")-- was-- if not a local-- at least an Asian phenomenon. According to folklore, bangungot (or batibat in Iluko/Ilocos) was a fat old woman who would sit on the male's chest while he slept so that he couldn't breathe. The male-- though half-awake-- wouldn't be able to move and the only way he could wake himself from the horror of suffocation and death was by wriggling his toes.

Fortunately, in today's 21st century, medical science seems to have managed to give this deadly phenomenon a reason and a name: sudden unexpected death syndrome or SUDS. (How's that for elaboration?) Moreover, they cite a change of diet in Asian males as a possible way to avoid experiencing this.

A done deal, yes? But I never would have thought that this phenomenon was also present among some non-Asian males-- i.e. caucasian or Northern American and British males-- as well.

While I was surfing the web at work, I chanced upon the term 'Old Hag Syndrome' and I looked it up. Wikipedia (whether trustworthy or unreliable, YMMV) states:
"Folk belief in Newfoundland, South Carolina and Georgia describe the negative figure of the Hag who leaves her physical body at night, and sits on the chest of her victim. The victim usually wakes with a feeling of terror, has difficulty breathing because of a perceived heavy invisible weight on his or her chest, and is unable to move i.e., experiences sleep paralysis. This nightmare experience is described as being "hag-ridden" in the Gullah lore. The "Old Hag" was a nightmare spirit in British and also Anglophone North American folklore."
Sound familiar? As the lyrical poet told me, they may be all the one and the same: nightmares that haunt our sleep. But if that's the case, how come the mythology is the same, that of an old woman who sits on top of the male's chest and stealing their breath?

Why the similarity of a myth from two places halfway across the world? Anyone care to speculate?

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