The Old Hag Phenomenon as Sleep Paralysis: A Biocultural Interpretation

  • Robert C. Ness
Part of the Culture, Illness, and Healing book series (CIHE, volume 7)


There is a set of psychological and physical experiences involving paralysis of arms and legs, as well as hallucinations, which have traditionally been interpreted in Newfoundland as a syndrome called the old hag or ag rog. The broad purpose of this paper is to present a description and analysis of this phenomenon. Within this context, the objectives of this report are four-fold. First, an ethnographic description of the old hag phenomenon based on extensive interviewing within a Newfoundland coastal community is presented. Second, the ethnographic description is followed by an analysis of the old hag in terms of the clinical syndrome called sleep paralysis. Third, the relationship between attacks of the old hag and other sets of physical and emotional complaints is explored by analyzing illness complaint scores derived from the Cornell Medical Index (Brodman et al. 1949). Finally, the implications of viewing the old hag as sleep paralysis are discussed within the context of current theoretical issues in transcultural psychiatry. The paper concludes with a review of issues raised by the old hag phenomenon which require further research.


Emotional Disturbance Sleep Position Sleep Paralysis Folk Theory Folk Belief 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1983

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  • Robert C. Ness

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