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June 2001
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Bad Dream or Incubus Attack?
by Sarah F.

I'm writing this email somewhat after 4:00 am, and I am glad to have found your website. I was awakened by a very frightening experience which I'll share with you, since you seem to be collecting data on incubus phenomena and are considering alternative explanations, including medical/psycholgical. You must keep my name confidential, though! (Incidentally, as a neurobiologist, I must tell you that your explanation about paralysis during REM isn't quite accurate. It's the activity of the reticular formation, not neurohormones, that shuts down spinal motor activity.)

First, about me: I am a 39 yr old neurobiologist (Ph.D.), recently divorced, and I live alone. Those things about me are things you can share. More unusually (and in strict confidence), I am also a transsexual woman and a lesbian. While that might in some people's eyes make me a crackpot, I don't consider myself as such. I only mention these last two things because of possible relevance to my story. (I'll explain later.)

Tonight, I was sound asleep and dreaming. During my dream, I smelled burning sulfur and saw a tiny column of smoke, as would come off a match tip. However, there was no flame, no sound of a match strike, no cigarette. I reached up and touched the smoke.

Almost immediately, I "awoke" to an intermediate dream state (?), in which I was lying in my dark bedroom, flat on my back, with the covers over me, and with my eyes open. A gentle, somewhat sensuous pressure then came down from atop the covers, first over my forearms, and then over my thigh and groin area. The pressure increased steadily, as I became terrified that some sort of spirit was on top of me. I started screaming (silently in my dream) and then awoke fully. The only difference between the "awake" state and the "intermediate dream" state was that the spirit phenomenon was gone. Otherwise I was in the same position in my bed, and everything about me was the same. I looked beside me, and my cat was sleeping quietly about 2 or 3 feet to my side.

Confused and terrified, my mind was buzzing. My first inclination was to dismiss the dream as simply that and to go back to sleep. I tried calling a close friend first for comfort, but she didn't answer. As I thought about the dream more, I started to wonder whether it might be a premonition. (Although I've lived my life as a highly rational person, agnostic, not believing in things supernatural, much has happened recently in my life to give me cause to consider these things, if only in passing. As a scientist, I must keep an open mind to everything. Right?)

As I was lying on my back, I saw a spot of light on my ceiling from my front gate lights, which are on a motion detector and sometimes trigger from passing cars. I looked out my window to see whether anything was going on outside. I saw nothing in my driveway but noticed that a second motion detector on my front porch had gone off. Because of the way that motion detector is aimed, I've never known it to trigger falsely -- ever. The fact that it had been triggered told me that someone or something (larger than a dog, cat, raccoon, etc.) had just been at my front door.

As "female intuition" took hold of me, I called 911. Two police officers arrived in short order. They were very understanding of my fears and searched my property for any signs of intruders. They spotted 3 raccoons but otherwise saw nothing. I thanked them, and they left.

Still shaken and terrified to go to bed, I tried calling my friend again, and she answered. Unlike me, my friend is very much into spiritual matters. As I told her what had happened, she discussed with me the possibility that I had been visited by an incubus. Her take on the events are as follows:

She was very interested in the sulfur and smoke and told me that was a very common experience with incubus/succubus phenomena. She also explained that an incubus is a spirit, not a ghost, meaning that it never existed in human form. I asked why, then, would such a thing strike a match to smoke a cigarette (a human thing). But then I realized there was no match strike, no flame, and no cigarette -- only odor and smoke. I had noted these details during the dream because I thought them odd. She pointed out that I interpreted the odor and smoke to indicate a match and cigarette because that had always been my experience. However, she also pointed out that smelling burning sulfur and seeing smoke were experiences often associated with demonic phenomena, for whatever reason, which is why the "fire and brimstone" association was ultimately formed.

She continued that when I resisted the incubus and screamed (in my dream), the incubus ceased its advance. She said that incubi are usually not interested in forcible rape.

As we continued our discussion, I explained my thoughts that perhaps I had the dream for a reason - to wake me up and alert me to a possible rapist, who could have been the reason my porch light was triggered. She proposed an alternative explanation, that the incubus could have triggered the motion detectors when it left. She pointed out that incubi do often make very physical things happen. I countered that it was about 5 minutes before my gate lights (and porch light?) were triggered. She said that wouldn't surprise her, because often an incubus would wait to see if the victim would go back to sleep. The lights were triggered perhaps 30 seconds after I started stirring to get up and do some distracting task (reading, paying bills, playing the piano, whatever - to take my mind off of what had just happened).

Finally, I mentioned to you that I am a lesbian transsexual woman. Why is that relevant, other than probably dinging my credibility with you <smile>? Well, according to my friend, also a transsexual woman, there has always been a tight connectedness between transsexuals and the spirit world. As she put it, we tend to have one foot in the spirit world, and spirits often interact with us as though we were one of them. Transsexuals have traditionally been associated with magical powers and have been the important priestesses in many ancient religions from disparate corners of the Earth. Thus, for whatever reason, we are believed to draw such phenomena. However, I am also a lesbian woman, and so I was terrified by what seemed by a very male presence on top of me, which according to my friend might have been the reason the attack stopped.

My friend will be coming over to my house tomorrow to bless and smudge it, something she insisted on doing, and something frankly that I welcome. Does this mean I believe in incubi? I don't honestly know. As I've said, I've lived my life as a hard-core rationalist, probably like yourself, but there have been too many recent events in my life that are well beyond rational explanation. I have come to question my disbelief in the supernatural. Regarding the present situation, I find it quite remarkable that the dream/attack coincided so tightly with the triggering of my porch light (statistically almost a zero probability, based on chance alone). I must at least consider the possibilities that the incident was an attack by an incubus or a premonition that averted a rape.

Anyway, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on my experience. I realize you might want to explain my experience on the basis of REM-related spinal paralysis. However, I did not attempt to move (and hence experienced no paralysis). I did "scream" silently, which I found very difficult. Apparently my "scream" was not audible, or else it would have awakened my cat. Also note that spinal paralysis is a REM-related phenomenon (to prevent us from leaping about and crashing into walls as we dream!), but I was apparently in a shallower stage of sleep when I felt something on top of me. The reticular formation doesn't "disconnect" the spinal motor output during these lighter stages of sleep, which is why we toss and turn.

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