The Witching Hour

Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Picture, if you will, the scariest time of night. The hour when the sky is at its darkest, and nightmares are never far away. When every shadow seems to hide a monster, and every little sound that breaks the silence of the night may be the devil tapping on your window. I am talking, of course, about the witching hour.

“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world to themselves.”

Roald Dahl, The BFG

What Time is the Witching Hour?

Scary hourglass with a skull at the bottom

The exact time of the witching hour may vary slightly depending who you ask, but a good estimate is sometime between 3 and 4 in the morning. At this hour, after midnight but well before sunrise, the world is at its darkest and most foreboding. The walls between the living and the dead, some say, are at their weakest. For centuries – even millennia, perhaps – cultures around the world have spun myths and legends about this time of night. 

Why this time specifically? One popular explanation for 3 AM as the witching hour comes from Christianity. Church tradition holds that Christ was killed on the cross at 3 in the afternoon. The Devil, therefore, chooses the opposite time of day to be at his most active, and witches are said to be most active at this hour. The Pope, for a time in the 16th century, even forbade people to pray between 3 and 4 in the morning! Elsewhere in the world, New Mexican folklore tells of a demon called “La Mala Hora” (literally, “the evil hour”) that wanders crossroads after midnight, sometimes taking the shape of a woman with long, unkempt hair and a black dress. Anyone unfortunate enough to encounter La Mala Hora during the witching hour may fall victim to her wrath, and be found dead the next morning.

The Witching Hour and Sleep Cycles

Contemporary scientists have proposed more rational explanations for the witching hour. 3 AM falls in the middle of the average person’s REM cycle, the deepest stage of sleep. When people wake up abruptly before an REM cycle is complete – at 3 in the morning, for example – they can feel disoriented, confused, and frightened. Sometimes this results in a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, where the mind is awake but the body cannot move. Some who suffer from sleep paralysis report terrifying visions, such as a demon sitting on their chest. It is no wonder that human beings in the past, less knowledgeable about the science of sleep, might have considered this hour to be evil.

The Witching Hour in Pop Culture

Mysterious books, a bottle and an hour glass that witches use

Whatever the explanation, demons or sleep cycles, the idea of the witching hour has persisted across popular culture. In the late 60s and 70s, a horror comic by that name was published by DC comics. IMDB returns no fewer than 48 movies, videos, and television episodes bearing the title. Other horror movies have explored the concept as well to chilling effects: in The Conjuring, 3 AM is referred to as “the devil’s hour.” Ronald DeFeo, Jr., the real killer who inspired The Amityville Horror, supposedly killed his entire family at this time. The witching hour even spills over into the real world; in many cities, people up and about between midnight and 3 AM are more likely to fall victim to a violent crime.

Not everyone believes in the witching hour. Those who oppose the Catholic Church’s historic persecution of witchcraft will point out that witches performed rituals in the middle of the night because it was the safest time to do so without being discovered. Another wrinkle to the 3 AM hypothesis is the fact that, before the industrial revolution, many people had a “segmented sleep schedule,” meaning they woke up in the middle of the night and returned to bed after a few hours. For these night owls, 3 AM might not have been such a spooky hour after all.

Well-reasoned as this skepticism may be, cultural fascination with the witching hour is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. For modern, non-segmented sleepers, the middle of the night is an unavoidably spooky hour. It is a time most people prefer to spend asleep, safe and warm in their beds. Otherwise, they may risk an encounter with whatever malevolent forces roam the night.




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Thunderbird: Nightmare of the Skies

Horror Mystery and Lore

What is the Thunderbird?

The legend of the Thunderbird has roots in the history of North America—going back all the way to before external influences touched the continent—this enormous bird of prey was noted in folktales to be seen most often during the spring and summer seasons and in many instances its appearance would forecast a destructive storm coming to the area. Despite bringing life-giving water to the area, the omen of the Thunderbird always meant death and destruction to the people of the land.

Photography from Getty Images

Descriptions of this unbelievable black bird report that it has a wing-span between 10-20 feet, with some people comparing it to the size of a small airplane. The only comparable bird, scientifically speaking, would be the Pelagornis sandersi a species which hasn’t existed in over 24 million years. Many also lump the Thunderbird in with a similar cryptid who has been sighted in the Midwest, but it bears more of a resemblance to the extinct Pteranodon as opposed to a feathered bird. Regardless, simply the size of this aerial threat is enough to cause panic in parents of small children, as these creatures have been found attempting to snatch children off of the ground while playing outside.

Thunderbird soaring on the wind
Photography by Quentin Dr

While this creature is not a new avian phenomenon, the Thunderbird has had reported sightings in Juneau, Alaska as recently as the early parts of 2018—and the late Mark A. Hall even wrote an entire book dedicated to the topic. There are many writers out there with an opinion on the topic, some suggesting that it shouldn’t be categorized as a cryptid at all, considering the basis in historical science of birds like these existing once upon a time. It can difficult to get behind, without physical evidence that can be studied in a lab, but this is one cryptid that doesn’t necessarily require a flight of fancy to get people wondering whether or not it truly exists in our modern world.

In the end, reports of this child-snatching terror in the skies are not only an isolated incident in Alaska. Destination Truth even had an episode where they featured the search for the mysterious Thunderbird and while most of their episodes are a little lackluster when it comes to evidential support, I think it’s interesting that the legend of it warranted their time and efforts to try to capture it on film. So what do you think, have you ever seen a Thunderbird?



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