The link between visions of demons and other malevolent entities during a sleep disorder known as “sleep paralysis” is explored in a new short film and multi-platform art project, entitled simply “The Sleep Paralysis Project”, by Carla MacKinnon. Based on her own personal experiences struggling with the disorder, the project aims to explore the eerie psychological phenomena in which one’s mind becomes conscious while their body remains in a state of deep relaxation. However, this form of consciousness is not akin to being “awake” for the mind is still in the grips of whatever dream it is processing, thus creating the sensation of a “waking dream” or illusion. This disorder affects between five and sixty percent of the population, according to surveyors.
The strangest part about the documented cases of sleep paralysis is perhaps the consistency of the form of the waking dreams. If they are a part of one’s dream, the hallucinations should be as varied as the individual, taking on a multitude of different scenarios and creatures. However, it appears that the most common hallucinations involve entities with “demonic” appearances, crones, or unseen “malevolent presences” somewhere within the room where the person is sleeping. These creatures are often the perpetrators of an attack in which the victim believes they are being suffocated and in some cases this suffocation takes the form of a supernatural rape by an incubus, succubus, or other supernatural creature. The concept of demonic entities stretches back as far as humanity itself with myths and legends as varied as the peoples who gave birth to them.
This could largely be due to the battle between their engaged/conscious mind and the terrifying sensation of being trapped in their own body, paired with a variety of repressed psychological and emotional issues buried within the subconscious. The link between sleep paralysis and these haunting, iconic symbols begs the question of whether or not this may be a sign of our vaster interconnected “human consciousness” as a sentient species existing in one plane of reality, or perhaps merely a shared understanding of mythology and our own capacity for evil as it represents? Or is it something more sinister that pierces the veil between this world and another during sleep?
MacKinnon’s research to discover the origins of her own waking nightmares has allowed her to explore the gamut of these disturbing tales, as well as interview fellow sufferers for their own intimate accounts. Her artistic short film and corresponding art project are set to debut in May at the Royal College of Arts in London. According to the official website: “The film uses stop motion animation, live action film and projection mapping techniques to evoke and explore the worlds experienced between sleeping and waking. The film is Carla MacKinnon’s graduation piece for the Royal College of Art’s Animation Masters course, created in collaboration with arts and technology studio seeper with music by Dominic de Grande.”