Religion and SpiritualitySkepticism

The Witching Hour

Have you ever been awake past midnight? Of course you have, we’re all human. What is it then, about the early hours of the morning, that earns them a reputation among occultists and storytellers, as the home of spirits, monsters and things that generally go bump in the night? How much do drowsiness and fear of the dark contribute to the myth of the witching hour?

Well, it is Halloween after all (or at least it will be tomorrow), which isn’t anywhere near as big a deal in the UK as it is in the USA (sorry ‘mericans), and so it’s time to bring out the ghosts and ghoulies. So what better time to see a ghost could there be than the witching hour, an hour which I’ve heard referred to as multiple hours as well, and usually fitting somewhere between midnight and five in the morning. You may notice something straight away about these hours (if you don’t I’m a little worried for your sleep pattern), in that they’re generally the hours where most of the world is asleep, dreaming, getting up groggily to use the bathroom, returning home drunk, playing World of Warcraft… y’know, the stuff you do when the earth takes its nightly nap.

Darkness is an obvious player here. At three in the afternoon, I feel in a much safer place, and I don’t, for instance, notice that if you squint, the cushion on my couch looks like a gargoyle. In fact, as our eyes try to adjust to the dark, we’re bound to not see things the way they actually are, due to the fact that, y’know, it’s dark; there’s not much light coming into your eyes to help you make our what’s going on, but I don’t really think this is as big a factor as sleep deprivation.

When you’re up late at night, having trouble sleeping, maybe you’re in and out of dreams, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake, and the classic example of this is sleep paralysis (which I’m sure’s been covered on this blog at some point, but I’ll go over quickly here for clarification’s sake).

During sleep paralysis, you’re in a state between waking and sleeping, where you’re body is paralyzed (as it is when you dream), but your brain is active. When people experience this they’re often sleep deprived and feel a pressure on their chest, a deep sense of dread and often hallucinate a creature (classically an alien or a ghost, but demons were more common when belief in them was rife) in the room with them. Now that’s enough to freak anyone out, and the fact that you feel awake is enough to convince some that they’ve had a paranormal encounter.

Another candidate for the popularization of the concept of a witching hour (besides Roald Dahl novels) is the phenomenon of waking dreams, another state induced by lack of sleep, generally occurring at times that could be candidates for ‘the witching hour’, because, well, that’s when people are usually asleep. hallucinations that feel very real are commonplace within these experiences, at a point where it’s hard to tell when reality ends and dreaming begins. At these points, they meld scarily well.

At this point, if it still needs to be said, the concept is starting to look less like a mystery and more like a false category for a series of experiences, that, probably aren’t supernatural.

[image credit: layout sparks]

Previous post

Teen Skepchick's Reality Checks 10.30

Next post

Teen Skepchick's Reality Checks 10.31

Cat Strickson

Cat Strickson

Cat, or Elly, or Eddy, or whatever name they're going by these days, is a British palaeontologist and fantasy author. It's a pretty awesome skill set, but it doesn't pay much right now. They enjoy science, history, vidyagames and all things SFF.


  1. June 1, 2016 at 9:51 am —

    Hi Cat.  Could you please direct me to where you got the image from?  I want to contact the person that created it.  Thanks.

    • June 1, 2016 at 9:59 am —

      It looks like the website I got it from ( has since been taken down. Reverse google-image searching it now only gets me pinterest pages and a single wallpaper site. Sorry about that.

Leave a reply