The 3:00 a.m. question—and an electric answer?
Last week's podcast over at Mysterious Universe features a great interview with Clark Strand, author of Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age. In it, Clark, who has taken nighttime walks since childhood, talks about the "magical" hours around 3:00 a.m. It seems that, throughout his life, Clark has risen between 2:00 and 2:30 for his morning trips.
This peculiar time frame represents an intersection of the folkloric, the scientific, and the Fortean. Many have long held that the Witching Hour is between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., when Murphy's Law is in full effect—babies cry, the phones ring with bad news, accidents happen. Clark flips this notion on its head, referring to the time as "The Hour of God," a notion influenced by the teachings of 18th century Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachman encouraged his followers to awake in the middle of the night, visit a remote location in the country, and talk to God.
Why have human beings put such an emphasis on this timeframe? Though modern circadian research suggests that an individual's sleep drive is strongest between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., Clark claims that a bifurcated sleep session actually reflects a natural human cycle, repressed by our dependency on electrical light.
There is evidence to reinforce Clark's claims. In the 1990s, Thomas Wehr of the National Institute of Mental Health conducted a sleep study that famously demonstrated a naturally subdivided sleep pattern in a group of ordinary individuals removed of electrical light for one month. Several weeks into the experiment, all participants began to awaken for two hours at the same time in the middle of the night and—against all odds—were clinically proven to be more alert than during their normal waking hours.
Wehr concluded that this was the expression of our Paleolithic Pattern of sleep, something each one of us is suppressing by forcing our rest into a culturally-mandated eight hours. These conclusions were later reinforced by Roger Ekirch, Virginia Tech historian, who published a 2001 paper detailing a vast wealth of pre-industrialized written references to people engaging in a "first" and "second" sleep. During this period, sleepers would often meditate, read, or even pay a visit to their neighbors.
Why are we talking about this on a paranormal blog, you ask? Many paranormal witnesses—Abductees, witnesses of bedroom invaders, shadow people, dogmen, bigfoot—report the hours on either side of 3:00 a.m. as the approximate time in which they encounter strange beings. Every ghost hunter will tell you that they (anecdotally) note a spike in activity around 3:00 a.m. In popular culture, this trend has been represented in such films as The Exorcism of Emily Rose (where 3:00 a.m. is supposedly an inversion of the blessed Trinitarian hour of Christ's death, 3:00 p.m.), and The Fourth Kind.
These notions speak deeply to me, for I—as long as I can remember—have risen from sleep between 2:30 - 3:30 a.m. on a nearly nightly basis, either visit the bathroom or get a glass of water. If I have a particularly intimidating or exciting day ahead of me, I'll often play the insomniac during this timeframe.
I've long wondered if our hard-wired propensity to rise during the night isn't a natural defense against the paranormal. Perhaps rising in the wee hours in a hyper-alert state not allow allows us to commune with the divine, as Nachman suggested, but also allows us to be aware of negative entities, such as the incubi and succubi of old.
Researchers such as Rosemary Ellen Guiley have put forth the notion that electronic devices repel negative entities; could this, coupled with our light-altered sleep patterns, be the reason the average Westerner has little experience with paranormal phenomena in the modern era? Have we unknowingly constructed a two-fold defense system in today's society? Such an idea would explain a great deal. I think we can all agree that, if accounts are to be believed, unexplained events were much more likely to occur in pre-industrialized society. In the modern era, the lives of tribal peoples who eschew electronics would naturally have more paranormal phenomena, while Westerners—blanketed in a fog of wi-fi internet, radio waves, and electromagnetic interference—would bear witness to these events on a greatly reduced basis. It would also account for why paranormal witnesses rarely have (or use) a camera, since the paranormal is more likely to manifest in the absence of such equipment.
We think of the unexplained as being on the margins, away from the throbbing electric hum of our big cities, instead relegated to abandoned houses (ghosts), the great outdoors (bigfoot, faeries), and lonely country roads (alien abduction).
We have driven these things to the literal outskirts of society, and, in some ways, driven the witnesses of these things to the figurative societal fringe. All these things will be running through my head when I rise during the Witching Hour tomorrow morning.
Photo credit: Beshef / photo on flickr