Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) is probably the most famous image of someone dreaming that a demon (an incubus in this case) is sitting on their chest.
The first segment opens with the 1970s wave of deaths among the Hmong diaspora in the United States, which inspired A Nightmare on Elm Street because the Hmong believed that night spirits took the dead due to a failure to maintain cultural traditions, and not what The Atlantic called “the dark side of the placebo effect,” or, as the New York Times put it, they were dying from fear because they believed they would die. The show ignores all of this and suggests that evil pressure demons came from another dimension to sit on Hmong men’s chests. Other people (and peoples) are then discussed, and Heidi Hollis recounts her own experience with an “entity.” The show says she coined the term “shadow people” in 2001, when she published a book alleging they are space aliens. [Update: As many noted in the conflict, the term shadow people was in use before Hollis, though she seems to have been the first to write a book claiming a distinct species of entity.]
The second segment is more of the same, relating various myths and legends of ghosts, demons, and other supernatural beings from a variety of cultures that are vaguely similar to Hollis’s idea of shadow people. However, the show quickly runs out of monstrous shadows and therefore starts bringing in any old demon, as well as the Islamic djinn, who are decidedly not shadows. They could be invisible, or they could be shapeshifters or even fiery, but they were not generally shadows. In some medieval legends, they could appear as dogs or people with faces in the middle of their chests. (Cf. Akhbār al-zamān 1.2.) The narrator and the talking heads then ask if totally different supernatural creatures that share nothing particular in common are in fact a single race of supernatural shadow entity. This is more of a question of whether you want to give modern American supernaturalists the authority to impose an American occult idea on a vast variety of past practices to homogenize them into something marketable in America, but this is Ancient Aliens, so of course “ancient astronaut theorists say ‘yes’!”
The third segment discusses ghost hunters looking for shadow entities, and these are nothing more than ghost stories. Like every ghost show, there is a lot of talk about “energy” and other pseudoscience, but nothing passing for evidence is presented, just stories and CGI recreations. William Henry, Giorgio Tsoukals, and some other assert that the shadow people are ETs using cloaking technology to obscure themselves from our vision, a remarkable claim since even the narrator admitted that there is no evidence that the beings are anything more than nightmares. The show correctly notes the similarity between nighttime attacks by shadow people and nocturnal alien abductions. Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that both are hallucinations during sleep, the show argues shadow people are aliens in disguise.
The fourth segment claims that one of the shadow people wears a hat. They can’t say whether it’s a fedora or a top hat, or if he wears a trench coat or a cape, but they are pretty sure it’s some sort of vampire demon being. Hollis alleges that “hat man” is not a shadow person but controls them. The show chooses to conflate hat-wearing “energy vampires” with the so-called Men in Black from ufology because ufologist Albert Bender alleged that three hat-wearing shadow beings materialized in his bedroom and demanded he stop researching UFOs. Ancient Aliens misrepresents Bender’s account to make the Men in Black seem more ghostly than Bender described them—for him they were “strange men,” not semi-transparent ghosts as claimed here. Indeed, he doesn’t describe them as materializing through a wall with wafting shadow bodies. They were people. “All of them were dressed in black clothes. They looked like clergymen but wore hats similar to [the] Homburg style.”
Fame whore physicist Michio Kaku arrives in segment five to try to explain that interdimensional shadow beings could be living in higher dimensions that are above us in space time, and George Noory and Mike Ricksecker, the author of a book on shadow beings, allege that they appear to be shadow creatures because we are only seeing three dimensions of their higher-dimensional bodies. (Ricksecker argued for shadow people as cloaked aliens earlier in the episode—but who’s keeping score?) This returns us to the discussion of interdimensional portals that have been this season’s leitmotif of laziness as the show recycles ideas from one episode to the next. A somewhat bizarre argument about consciousness follows alleging that shadow beings and DMT both open the brain to other dimensions, while the show correctly notes that electrical stimulation of the brain also produces visual hallucinations of shadow beings. Instead of correctly identifying this as likely an internal brain event, they instead conclude that electric jolts from space aliens are a necessary prerequisite for the soul passing to a spirit dimension—you know, logic.
The final segment claims that the shadow people may not be one entity but could be a range of extraterrestrial, interdimensional, and demonic beings, thus explaining why the stories are inconsistent and seem unique to each witness. The lack of coherent detail they attribute to shadow people operating beyond what they call “our spectrum,” which they can’t quite define. They seem to mean matter, energy, and space-time, but they do so in a way that implies that our reality is on a spectrum of parallel realities (in the manner of Theosophy’s “chains” of reality), though they never quite pin down their claims. The narrator puts it all down to “consciousness” being interdimensional, or something like that. I’m not sure they quite worked out the logistics beyond trying to sound science-like and philosophical.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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