I am going to tell you a story that happened to my dad.
Just to give everyone a little bit of backstory: my parents pretty much live in the middle of nowhere. They live on a lake in what I would call the boonies. The surrounding area is all wooded state land, and you have to access their lake by dirt roads, passing cemeteries from both routes. There’s one cemetery that’s very large, it’s well-kept, and it’s still in use; there’s another cemetery that’s really teeny, very overgrown. It’s completely neglected, and if you did not have any prior knowledge of its existence, you would just drive by it and never know that it was there.
When it gets dark out by my parents’, in those woods, it gets really really dark. There is no artificial lighting of any kind. It is all dirt roads and woods, and if you’re smart you drive really slowly on these roads, especially at night, not only because of the darkness but because the roads are really curvy and winding and if you’re not careful, you could end up in a ravine.
This is going to sound horribly cliche, but it was a dark and stormy night when my dad’s story takes place. It was late March of 2017. My dad was driving home at about 10.30 in the evening, and he loves to sing along with his radio stations, so that’s what he was doing. He was singing along with his music and just driving, minding his own business, and he was quite close to home. He happened to be on the dirt road where you have to pass the teeny, overgrown cemetery. And he was not yet at the cemetery, it was still quite some distance away, but as he was driving his headlights picked up on a red light in the distance on his passenger side, coming from the area of the cemetery and the surrounding woods. At the time, my dad didn’t really think much of it because he just assumed that he was seeing a little road reflector, or a sign. So he’s not thinking much of it, but as he’s getting closer to the cemetery he is realizing that, wait a minute, there’s not any signs here. I’m in the boonies. He can see, too, that this light seems to be moving. He’s very curious, and he has to keep driving home.
By the time he had pretty much reached the cemetery, he could now see that something was walking parallel to his vehicle on the passenger side. He can see that it’s very dark black in form. It has to be darker than night; it’s late and he’s in the woods. So this thing is really dark black in form, kind of shadowy in appearance, and he said it was wearing a long hooded robe, or a cloak of sorts, with the hood up and tied around the waist.
It was moving alongside his vehicle but he couldn’t see its legs. He then realized that this light, this red light that he had been seeing in the distance when he was driving, that light was emanating from this thing, and it looked as though it was one of its eyes.
My dad wasted no time in getting the heck home. He probably drove much faster than he should have on those winding dirt roads. My mom said that he was so flustered when he got in that he could barely speak. She got him calmed down eventually, and then he wanted to call me right away. He was like, “I’ve got to call Melissa, I’ve got to call Melissa.”
The thing that I remember most about the story, even now, was that he just kept screaming, “it was a monk! It was a monk!”
–Melissa, Michigan (From Jim Harold’s Campfire podcast)
Shadow People are known to many from personal experience – mysterious creatures who stealthily sneak around the periphery of your vision. Sometimes they linger at the foot of the bed as you sleep restlessly, aware that something is very wrong but unable to fully wake and shake off the ominous feeling that has settled on the room; sometimes they watch, nearly inconspicuous, from a shadowy corner of the room as you go about their day. Sometimes, you catch them out of the corner of your eye. Sometimes, you remember.
Shadow People are enigmatic in more ways than simply the obvious. There is little agreement on who are what they are, much less what they want and why they are here. In fact, there is little agreement on what constitutes a Shadow Person in the first place.
Despite the differences in interpretation, there are a (very small) handful of characteristics that are agreed upon. Shadow People are nearly always humanoid in form (though there are reports of them in the form of cats, spiders, and other small creatures) and even darker than the surrounding inky black night, such that they appear to be distinct three dimensional figures even in an unlighted room. They almost always appear initially out of the corner of the eye before moving into full view. In some though not all cases, as with listener Melissa’s father’s experience, they may have red eyes, glowing like embers in the dark.
Many researchers have attempted to sort through the varying accounts and traits of shadow people by breaking them down into categories: Rosemary Ellen Guiley classified them into seven distinct groups, as cited by Charis Branson in The Paranormal Researcher’s Guide to Shadow People, based on their role or intention (sentinels, lurkers, minding-their-own-business, predators, visitors, omens, and haunters); Dr. Terry King divides them into five categories based on appearance (humanoid, hatman, animals, black smoke, red-eyed), and Heidi Hollis, who was the originator of the term “Shadow People,” famously demonstrates the difference between regular Shadow People and The Hatman in her book of the latter name.
These classifications are useful for study, to begin to wrap our collective head around what Shadow People are or are not, but in itself does not and cannot go very far in solving the mystery. Certainly it highlights the potential for there to be an entire society of shadow people, as diverse as human society or perhaps even as diverse as the various types of mammals in our world, we need to delve deeper, perhaps even back through time.
As difficult as it is to categorize and define what makes an entity a Shadow Person, it’s equally difficult to say when the phenomenon began. The history of shadow people can be told briefly, if only because it came about in modern day in such an explosion of reports. Certainly Shadow People entered the zeitgeist in 2001 after they were discussed on the popular radio talk show Coast to Coast, though individual reports of Shadow People predate that. Supernatural investigator Heidi Hollis herself saw her first shadow person in 1990, while in the company of a friend who had been followed by that very creature since her own childhood. Since then, a number of accounts of pre-2001 sightings have been reported.
To trace things as far back as we’re able, Brandon Michaels writes that the earliest Shadow People can be traced through folklore to 600 BCE in Egypt, where they believed in a form of Shadow Person called a “khailbut,” forward through ancient Greece and Rome, where they were believed to be of the Underworld, through to a 600 CE reference in the Qu’ran to beings created from flame and fully, solidly black. None of these are the type of Shadow Person we see today, precisely, but surely there’s enough commonality to make us wonder what larger truth or phenomenon these ancient tales refer to.
Perhaps, then, the best way to further seek answers is to speculate on what and why they are, beyond simply beings made of shadow that may or may not be ancient.
The explanations to what people are seeing when they see Shadow People are wildly varied. There is, of course, the Skeptical explanation that they are a figment of imagination, pareidolia or outright lies. There are a large number of articles exploring these possibilities, but for any readers who are interested, here, here, and here are some articles that make a good starting place to further explore that line of thinking.
Back to the Spooky, one commonly offered explanation is that they are ghosts or demons. Charis Branson observes that they walk through solid objects as ghosts are said to and can vanish in a blink, and both of those characteristics are certainly common to ghosts. Unlike ghosts, of course,are they in colour (or lack thereof), solidity, and lack of resemblance to any specific individual. Heidi Hollis, again in The Hatman is very clear that they are not ghosts, and has to back up her belief the accounts of several accomplished ghost hunters who later encountered Shadow People and were quite convinced that they’re very different beings
The theory that they are demons seems a little more solidly based. Dominic Kelly resolved his issue with a shadow person, as he writes in his harrowing real-life tale The Hatman and the Shadow People, by blessing his house with holy salt, believing it was a demon attracted by negativity. After the blessing his life became much more positive and he hasn’t had an encounter since. Hollis agrees that Hat Man feeds off negativity and that the Hatman itself is in fact a direct analogue of, if not literally, Satan.
Another very popular theory suggests that the Shadow People are in fact extraterrestrials. Heidi Hollis is a very strong proponent of this theory. She believes that the Shadows who haunted her were sent by the Greys, with whom she’d had considerable contact in the past and had eventually found herself able to stand up to, to exact a sort of psychic/psychological revenge. Other contactees and abductees have also reported feeling strongly that there was a connection between the two, though in general there seems to be very little solid evidence of a relationship.
Charis Branson and others raise the possibility that they are time travelers, sent to watch the past as unobtrusively as possible, and these shadows are all that we see in our world to mark their presence.
Related to but distinct from the time traveler theory is Dr. Terry King’s theory that Shadow People are in fact us, each of us traveling through time and space to observe our own pasts and other lives we’ve lived.
There are, of course, variations on all these explanations; some paint the Shadow People as good, some as bad, some as entirely indifferent. Sometimes they have a plan, a motive, a goal; sometimes they’re carrying on with their own business, simply living their own shadowy …lives? It’s impossible to say with certainty. Perhaps all of these are, in a sense, correct, and we’re not looking at a single type of being at all but two or ten or two hundred types of beings that appear to be similar-but-not-identical to human eyes but are very much their own creatures.
It’s clear that there aren’t any easy, immediate answers to what a Shadow Person (or, as some of the internet calls them, to account for the different forms that have been reported, Shadow Being) is. Aside from the commonality of appearing to be a solid shadow, seemingly fully three dimensional, there are no clear conclusions to be drawn, aside from one: I for one will certainly not look too closely into the corners of my darkened rooms late at night in the hopes of seeking them out, and I wouldn’t suggest that you do either.
Want to spend some time curled up with a book or your kindle and getting terrified? Here are some great books to start with:
The Paranormal Researcher’s Guide to Shadow People by Charis Branson
The Hat Man: The True Story of Evil Encounters by Heidi Hollis
The Hatman and the Shadow People by Dominic Kelly
Shadow People: Who are they and where did they come from? By Dr. Terry King
Is browsing websites more your deal? I recommend the following sites to start with:
Of course, you can find true tales of shadow people and other creatures on Jim Harold’s Campfire podcast
Still avoiding looking too carefully into the dark? Me too. You never know what might be lurking there, looking back in the darkness.