Sometimes, you feel like something is watching you. Maybe it happens at night when you go down to the kitchen for a snack or a glass of water.
Or maybe you’re walking during the day with your headphones in – did something just duck behind that building? Or maybe, you woke up in the middle of the night, and you couldn’t move. It’s hard to breathe, and there’s something standing at the end of your bed…
The usual term for figures like these is “shadow people” – indistinct dark shapes that appear and disappear at random. Though most are seen by those who are sleep deprived or just waking up, there are many reports that occur in broad daylight.
There are many theories about what they are and why they are here, but there is only one consensus – no one really knows.
Types of Shadow People
This term is a catch-all for the thousands of different shadows and entities that have been seen by people since the dawn of humanity.
Considering that most of these manifestations are a frustrating combination of incredibly fast and indescribably blurry, categorizing these experiences is a big task.
But there are a few basic types, as detailed in Jason Offutt’s article on Mysterious Universe:
1. Benign Shadows
These are the most easily dismissed. Most of the time, they’re a basic human outline that moves in your peripheral vision; so indistinct that it’s impossible to tell if that was actually an entity, or just a trick of the light, or your tired eyes.
When they are seen head-on, they usually just walk from one end of the room to the other, never acknowledging the viewer. They don’t bring any particular feelings or sensations with them.
2. Negative Shadows
These ones tend to lurk in corners, doorways, or anywhere else that a shadow might happily live – the difference is that these bring with them a distinct feeling of terror that cannot be explained by other stimuli.
3. Red-Eyed Shadows
These ones are very similar to their negative shadow cousins. However, these ones have eyes – red lights in the middle of the face – or where the face should be, anyway. These are also accompanied by feelings of fear, but some victims report the additional feeling that the entity is actually feeding on this fear somehow – as if it wasn’t bad enough.
4. Hooded Shadows
Some shadows have eyes, others have cloaks. Hooded shadows are most often described as looking like the silhouette of a Medieval monk, in a hooded cloak.
These also come with negative feelings, but most reports apply these feelings to the entity rather than a victim. Many stories describe these shadowy monks as carrying a burning rage behind those hoods.
There is one more type of shadow entity here, but there are many debates about whether or not this is a group of beings, or merely a single, terrifying individual – The Hat Man.
5. The Hat Man
There are literally hundreds of reports of this entity that exist, and many are the same – a solid black humanoid figure whose only discernible characteristics are a wide-brimmed fedora and, occasionally, a long trench coat.
He appears to be separate from other shadow people in that this entity very rarely moves – he just stands there and watches.
Sightings of the Hat Man appear to be very common amongst those who suffer from sleep paralysis – a condition that occurs when the brain partially awakens, so the sleeper feels conscious but remains paralyzed as though they were still fully asleep.
He usually stands at the end of the bed and stares as the person struggles to breathe. Scary, right?
These aren’t the only incidents, though. Some believe that the Hat Man is also attracted to basements and will begin to manifest in situations where the energy is intensely negative, as with things like family dysfunction.
Many report seeing the Hat Man since childhood, and these memories are usually incredibly vivid, despite the encounters lasting mere minutes or even less. It’s also said that if one member of a family begins to see him, it’s a near guarantee that at least one other family member will start seeing him soon after.
What Are They?
There are tons of theories about what shadow people could be, and they run the gamut of paranormal theory and scientific speculation. The most basic thought is that they are a misinterpretation of shadows when the viewer is experiencing heightened anxiety. For example, if you’re walking home in the dark, you could easily perceive a simple shadow as a potential attacker.
Other scientific explanations include the movement of dead cells in the vitriol fluid of the eye and small hallucinatory episodes caused by sleep deprivation.
However attractive these explanations may be to paranormal skeptics, they fail to explain every aspect of the phenomenon, so there are plenty of other candidates for an explanation.
Definitely Not Ghosts
There’s one thing we should make clear before we get into this paranormal stuff, though: shadow people and their accompanying phenomena are different from ghosts.
There are many who think they could come from a similar source, but shadow entities differ from manifestations that are usually classified as “ghosts” in a few key ways.
Firstly, the coloration is all wrong – ghosts are typically misty white or mostly vaporous, while shadow people are always dark. Additionally, ghosts and their related phenomena tend to hold a lot of detail, including facial features and identifiable clothing. Shadow entities lack these things – the most detail included is usually the outline of clothing or red eyes.
So, now that we’ve established what shadow people aren’t, we can try and figure out what they could be.
Are They Demons?
The association with malevolent feelings and fear that comes from most types of shadow people makes some people think that the entities are demonic in some way, especially in a religious context.
Bishop James Long of Louisville, Kentucky has been quoted as saying, “Certainly Shadows that attack are demonic in nature, and should be avoided at all times. I would strongly encourage anyone who witnesses a dark Shadow to be careful.”
However, the demon explanation is somewhat lacking for those who wonder on the purpose of these beings – certainly demons would have better things to do than walk through people’s bedrooms or lurk in their doorways.
Travelers of Time and Space
There are a few different theories that involve shadow people being travelers in some way, coming from another place or time.
According to a theory championed by astral travel lecturer Jerry Gross, all humans travel out of their bodies while they sleep, and thus the shadow beings are just manifestations of other people moving through your space while on their slumbering journeys.
This doesn’t explain the feelings of dread associated with them though, or what on Earth the Hat Man is.
Another popular theory is that people in the future have finally figured out how to travel through time, but they can only be perceived by us as shadows while they are in this state. This theory seems to have a better explanation for why shadow people have appeared across the entirety of human existence.
As a tourist you’d want to see everything. But again, this does not explain the bad feelings elicited from these shadows.
And while the thought that I am somehow important enough to the timeline for a time traveler to manifest and watch me sleep is flattering; it somehow seems like an even sillier explanation for the Hat Man.
The last traveler theory is backed partially by mainstream science – it states that the shadow beings aren’t really shadows at all. They’re just people living in another dimension that is overlapping with our own, and thus appear indistinct at best.
Science is fairly well-convinced that there are other dimensions than the three we’re currently hanging out on, so what’s so far fetched about there being inhabitants of these other dimensions? Many psychics and other paranormal sensitives believe that this is a matter of vibration – that beings from other planes are thus because they vibrate at a different frequency, and thus interact badly with our own plane.
Scientists in the field of quantum physics are beginning to adopt a similar viewpoint, but we are still very far from being able to prove or disprove this. Additionally, this theory also fails to explain the terrible fear that accompanies these beings when they manifest.
The final school of thought about these beings is that they are, put simply, aliens. The bizarre flavor of alien lore is such that you can really blame anything strange on visitors from another world.
Those who claim to have been abducted by aliens claim that the entities we know as “Grays” – the little round-headed aliens that everyone thinks of when you say the word “alien” – have been able to pass through solid walls and disappear or reappear abruptly, amongst their many other talents. This theory usually overlaps with the interdimensional traveler theory but should still be regarded as a separate school of thought.
Shadow People in Modern Culture
There have been reports of shadowy figures in almost every culture and every religion that has ever existed. However, they didn’t really enter the lexicon of popular culture until April 2001, when Art Bell, host of the late night radio show Coast to Coast AM, began talking about them frequently on his show.
He interviewed a Native American elder named Thunderstrikes – also known as Harley “SwiftDeer” Reagan – and during the show, he asked people to share drawings of the beings that they’d seen – a large number appeared abruptly on the website.
Since then, there have been numerous pop culture references to the phenomenon including an episode of the hit TV series Supernatural – S1E16: Shadow – and the popular comedy horror novel John Dies at the End by David Wong that was published in 2007. It was also a prominent subject in the 2015 documentary The Nightmare, which covers sleep paralysis in eerie detail.
What Should We Do?
Considering that no one really fully understands what shadow people are or what they want, there are few sure-fire ways to fight them off. Some experts claim that invoking the Name of Jesus will do the trick, while others say that simply playing music will be enough to protect you.
In any case, they tend to go away on their own eventually, so if you can stand the feelings of dread and weight on your chest when they’re around, you should be ok.
Just don’t follow whatever is in the corner of your eye…