Should You be Afraid of the Witching Hour?

by Shelly Weaver-Cather | Jul 18, 2018

It’s 3AM.

You lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, or at least where the ceiling would be if it wasn’t so dark. You have to pee, but you’re putting it off, you’re not totally sure why but something tells you to stay under the covers. The pit in your stomach is the only thing competing with the pressure of your bladder but you know that something has to give.

One toe hits the floor, the other nine follow in hot pursuit, this isn’t the time for a leisurely stroll down the hall. You don’t even bother looking ahead and you’re definitely not trying to catch any reflections in the framed photos on the walls. You just have to get to the light switch, do your thing, wash your hands (Even if the devil himself is on your tail, you don’t want to be that guy at the office that starts this year’s flu!), and scramble back to your bed, pulling all of your extremities back into your blanket—where everything is safe and nothing hurts.

Why are we so afraid of the space between midnight and sunrise? Have we let modern-day horror films scare us or is it purely an instinct we should listen to?

What is the Witching Hour? There’s a lot up for debate when it comes to the lore of the Witching Hour—like what it even is. Some believe it to be the time of night when the veil between life and death is thinnest, allowing spirits and ghosts to travel between two worlds. Others believe that witches and psychics are more powerful at this time of night. Some aren’t really sure, but they know nothing good happens at 3AM.

The purpose of the Witching Hour isn’t the only thing up for debate, the timing of it is as well. 3AM is commonly the accepted time, but some people consider the start of a new day, or midnight, to be the true Witching Hour. Aside from obvious issues with time zones (Does the devil just hit ‘em each one by one?) the argument over timing is a divisive one. There are a few thoughts behind the Devil’s Hour landing between 3-4AM. The predominant reasoning lies within religious texts—Jesus was crucified at 3PM, and the inverse of that would be 3AM, making it an hour of demonic activity, according to folklore.

The phrase “Witching Hour” was first recorded sometime around 1835, though the origins seem to be from a period of time in 1535 where the Catholic Church forbade activities during the 3-4AM window due to rising concerns about witchcraft in Europe. Witch hunts, demonic activity, exorcisms, and rituals have all become intertwined with the Witching Hour, as just about any clock in a horror movie will tell you.

The number 3 is often a mockery of the Holy Trinity, making it the perfect time to carry out acts of evil, but is there something else afoot at 3AM?

A new theory It’s super common for folklore to explain strange happenings with outlandish tales that actually boil down to pretty sound logic, given the information they had available to them at the time. Plenty of urban legends and long-held beliefs about the world have been debunked by modern medicine and better understanding of our reality, and the Witching Hour phenomenon may be no different.

For most people, 3AM hits right about the time their body is going through REM, the deepest sleep possible. This does a few things to you—it slows your heart rate down, drops your body temperature, and generally dulls as many functions as possible so you can get truly deep rest. If you wake up suddenly in the middle of an REM phase, you’re going to feel super, crazy weird. The natural reaction to feeling so disoriented and even colder than normal is fear—we can’t help but instinctually panic when we feel completely different than when we went to sleep.

This fear becomes common amongst large groups of people, so we attached meaning to it. If we’re always waking up at 3AM in a panic—something dark and ominous must be at fault. The stories grow, a few witches and demons get peppered in, and hundreds of years later we’re gripping our phone-turned-flashlights in terror on the way to the bathroom.

Can we be totally certain that the Witching Hour stems from our own natural circadian rhythms? Maybe not, but it certainly feels like something worth holding on to.