Shadow person

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A shadow person (also known as a shadow figure or black mass) is the perception of a patch of shadow as a living species, humanoid figure, sometimes interpreted as the presence of a spirit or other entity by believers in the paranormal or supernatural.[1]

History and folklore[edit]

A number of religions, legends, and belief systems describe supernatural entities such as shades of the underworld, and various shadowy creatures have long been a staple of folklore and ghost stories, such as the Islamic Jinn and the Choctaw Nalusa Chito.[2]

The Coast to Coast AM late night radio talk show helped popularize modern beliefs in shadow people.[3] The first time the topic of shadow people was discussed at length on the show was April 12, 2001, when host Art Bell interviewed a man purporting to be a Native American elder, Thunder Strikes, who is also known as Harley "SwiftDeer" Reagan. During the show, listeners were encouraged to submit drawings of shadow people that they had seen and a large number of these drawings were immediately shared publicly on the website.[4]

In October that year, Heidi Hollis published her first book on the topic of shadow people,[5] and later became a regular guest on Coast to Coast.[6] Hollis describes shadow people as dark silhouettes with human shapes and profiles that flicker in and out of peripheral vision, and claims that people have reported the figures attempting to "jump on their chest and choke them".[7] She believes the figures to be negative aliens that can be repelled by various means, including invoking "the Name of Jesus".[8]

Although participants in online discussion forums devoted to paranormal and supernatural topics describe them as menacing, other believers and paranormal authors do not agree whether shadow people are either evil, helpful, or neutral, and some even speculate that shadow people may be the extra-dimensional inhabitants of another universe.[3][9] Some paranormal investigators and authors such as Chad Stambaugh claim to have recorded images of shadow people on video.[10]

Shadow people feature in two episodes of ITV paranormal documentary series Extreme Ghost Stories, where the phenomenon is described as a "black mass".[11]

A figure who is often associated with shadow people is the hat man - a famous urban legend who shares many characteristics with the aforementioned entities but wears dark clothing (often a jacket), an old-style fedora hat and is unusually tall (the latter depending on "sightings"). Sometimes, the figure is stated to be the devil himself.

Scientific explanations[edit]

Several physiological and psychological conditions can account for reported experiences of shadowy shapes seeming alive. A sleep paralysis sufferer may perceive a "shadowy or indistinct shape" approaching them when they lie awake paralyzed and become increasingly alarmed.[12]

A person experiencing heightened emotion, such as while walking alone on a dark night, may incorrectly perceive a patch of shadow as an attacker.[13]

Many methamphetamine addicts report the appearance of "shadow people" after prolonged periods of sleep deprivation.[14][15] Psychiatrist Jack Potts suggests that methamphetamine usage adds a "conspiratorial component" to the sleep deprivation hallucinations.[16] One interviewed subject said that "You don't see shadow dogs or shadow birds or shadow cars. You see shadow people. Standing in doorways, walking behind you, coming at you on the sidewalk."[16] These hallucinations have been directly compared to the paranormal entities described in folklore.[17]

Shadow people are commonly reported by people under the effects of deliriant substances such as datura, diphenhydramine, and benzydamine.

Finally, visual hallucinations, such as those caused by schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may appear to be shadowy figures at the edge of peripheral vision.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Nightmare is a 2015 documentary that discusses the causes of sleep paralysis as seen through extensive interviews with participants, and the experiences are re-enacted by professional actors. It proposes that such cultural phenomena as alien abduction, the near death experience and shadow people can, in many cases, be attributed to sleep paralysis.[19] The "real-life" horror film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26 and premiered in theatres on June 5.
  • Shadow people, described as "Shadow Men", feature prominently in the 2007 novel John Dies at the End. When they kill a person, that person is retroactively erased from existence, and history is rewritten as though they were never born.[20]
  • The 2013 horror film Shadow People depicts a fictional sleep study conducted during the 1970s in which patients report seeing shadowy intruders before dying in their sleep. The film follows a radio host and CDC investigator who research the story, and the story is claimed to be based on true events.[21]
  • In a 2012 episode of A&E's Intervention series, the subject Skyler is plagued by "shadow people", sometimes called "phase people", and sprays a mist to unveil them in the refractions.[22] He also builds weapons to fight them and alleges that they are using stolen technology to telepathically communicate with certain individuals.[23]
  • In the online game Deep Sleep and its sequels, shadow people have existed since the dawn of the human race and lurk in lucid dreams. Players who realize that they are asleep can be paralyzed and possessed, and the character's dream self will be turned into a shadow person.[24]
  • An episode of the 1985 Twilight Zone series titled "The Shadow Man" dealt with a teenage boy who had a shadow person living under his bed.[25] The episode portrayed the shadow man as fitting the "hat man" appearance commonly ascribed to shadow people and added to the mythology that shadow people can kill humans but will not harm those under whose beds they live.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ahlquist, Diane (2007). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Life After Death. USA: Penguin Group. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-59257-651-7.
  2. ^ Jones, Marie D.; Flaxman, Larry (2017-09-01). Demons, the Devil, and Fallen Angels. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-1-57859-667-6.
  3. ^ a b Michael Kinsella (17 May 2011). Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong's Hat. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 117–. ISBN 978-1-60473-983-1. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  4. ^ Bell. "Art Bell - Shadow People". Archived from the original on September 25, 2001. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  5. ^ Heidi Hollis (October 1, 2001). The Secret War: The Heavens Speak of the Battle. iUniverse. ISBN 9780595203314.
  6. ^ "Heidi Hollis - Guests". Coast to Coast AM. Retrieved 2016-01-12.
  7. ^ "Shadow People & the "Hat Man"". Coast to Coast AM. 2008-03-07. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  8. ^ "Shadow Beings". Coast to Coast AM. 2006-03-27. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  9. ^ Greg Jenkins (1 February 2005). Florida's Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore: South and central Florida. Pineapple Press Inc. ISBN 978-1-56164-327-1. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  10. ^ Luiz, Joseph (February 18, 2013). "Paranormal investigator holds book signing". Hanford Sentinel. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  11. ^ Extreme Ghost Stories. ITV. 2006. Episodes 1 and 2.
  12. ^ Shelley Adler (15 January 2011). Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection. Rutgers University Press. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-0-8135-5237-8. Retrieved 10 February 2013. In the field of sleep research, this experience is termed sleep paralysis: an individual, in the process of falling asleep or awakening, finds himself or herself completely awake, but unable to move or speak…Frequently, he or she sees a shadowy or indistinct shape approaching and becomes increasingly terrified.
  13. ^ Clare Oakley; Amit Malik (15 November 2011). Rapid Psychiatry. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-1-118-29418-5. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  14. ^ Anderson, Scott Thomas (2012). Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime Is Eating At the Heart of Rural America. Coalition for Investigative Journalism. ISBN 978-0615551913.
  15. ^ Herbert C. Covey (2007). The Methamphetamine Crisis: Strategies to Save Addicts, Families, And Communities. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-0-275-99322-1. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  16. ^ a b Rubin, Paul (18 December 1997). "Methology - Part I". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  17. ^ Vila-Rodriguez, Fidel (September 2011). "Methamphetamine, Perceptual Disturbances, and the Peripheral Drift Illusion". American Journal on Addictions. 20 (5): 490. doi:10.1111/j.1521-0391.2011.00161.x. PMID 21838855.
  18. ^ "I see ghosts or shadows | MHA Screening - Mental Health America".
  19. ^ Kenigsberg, Ben (June 4, 2015). "Review: 'The Nightmare,' Rodney Ascher's Look at Sleep Paralysis". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  20. ^ Bergin, Nicholas (7 March 2013). "'John Dies at the End' has limited showing in Omaha". March 07, 2013. Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  21. ^ Liebman, Martin (March 19, 2013). "Believe in the boogeyman? Prepare to die". Shadow People Blu-ray Review. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  22. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "卍BATH SALTS INTERVENTION卍". YouTube.
  23. ^ "Skyler / Jessa". Intervention. Season 11. Episode 8. 2012-02-20. A&E. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
  24. ^ "Following Freeware: July 2014 releases". Adventure Gamers. 29 August 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  25. ^ Alexander, Chris (5 November 2015). "Interview: Joe Dante Reflects on '80's TWILIGHT ZONE Episode, 'The Shadow Man'". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved 13 January 2016.