This Explanation Of Those Dark Figures You See Out Of The Corner Of Your Eye Is, Um, Creepy

Originally Published: 

The fear of the dark: It's a common one. One of the reasons darkness can be so scary is that our eyes tend to play tricks on us when the lights are low. A jacket hanging on the door can easily morph into what looks like a person, or a pillow stuffed under your blankets can appear as someone lurking in your bed. Sometimes it's easy to debunk these visions as your imagination (um, thank goodness), but what if you saw something shadowy that wasn't a trick of the light? Dark, shadowy, humanoid figures like these are actually known as shadow people, and to the many people who have studied them or experienced them firsthand, they are very real — and extremely terrifying.

Ever had the experience of reading or watching TV when suddenly, from the periphery of your vision, you see what appears to be a shadowy figure moving in the room, even for a moment? Again, it's easy to chalk up these experiences to your eyes playing tricks on you or the reflection of a passing car, but countless people around the world have reported eerily similar sightings, some of them highly specific. Thus, the mystery of shadow people has captivated the minds of paranormal-fiends everywhere. So exactly what are shadow people and how real can they possibly be?

Khritthithat Weerasirirut/Shutterstock

The term used to describe these alleged beings was apparently coined by author Heidi Hollis, who has penned several books on paranormal phenomena. "Shadow people have been around since the beginning of time and are a dark influence upon society," Hollis said in an interview with radio show Coast to Coast AM. And it appears that these beings have, in fact, been around throughout history, as descriptions of shadowy, human-like figures have appeared in folklore dating back to ancient times. For example, the Quran mentions "pitch-black sapient beings" that aren't entirely spiritual or physical, and people in ancient Europe reportedly believed that shadow beings "desired blood and without it, couldn’t be reborn." And in modern times, reports from people claiming to have seen these beings themselves come from all over the world.

"Most of these shadow creatures appear through our periphery vision, and people who see them are often unable to describe in detail the features of these mystical entities apart from their human-like forms and the occasional reports of fiery red eyes," explained Beyond Science TV. Similarly, in Hollis' book about shadow people, titled The Secret War, she describes them as "dark silhouettes with human shapes and profiles that flicker in and out of peripheral vision." But it appears that people have begun to see shadow people in more detail in recent times — perhaps because the beings are, for whatever horrifying reasons, making themselves seen. "[M]ore and more, people are beginning to see them straight on and for longer periods of time," explained ThoughtCo on its website, which also notes the appearance of red eyes on the shadow beings being prevalent.

zef art/Shutterstock

There are, of course, many theories about where shadow people come from and whether or not they're even real. Skeptics note that seeing shadow people could simply be chalked up to sleep paralysis (which is straight-up terrifying in its own right, I don't care how much people explain it away), heightened emotional states, or sleep deprivation, as people who have experienced these physiological/psychological conditions have noted a correlation (although, if I might add, that still doesn't fully explain why they're all seeing the same creepy kind of thing, right?). And of course, there's always the explanation that your peripheral vision is basically guaranteed to play tricks on you — because it's designed to detect motion and movement, not detail, it's likely that you could make mountains out of molehills (or in this case, shadow people out of shadows) if you were in the right mindset.

But then there are the paranormal theories — the ones that seem to resonate more with the people who have actually lived through the terrifying encounters and feel strongly that shadow people are more than just imaginary. Hollis, through her research and experience, apparently believes that shadow people are extra-terrestrial in origin — in other words, they're aliens. Author and leading paranormal expert Rosemary Ellen Guiley appears to also have seen an alien connection. "I discovered that many Shadow People experiencers are also ET experiencers, especially abductees," Guiley told Psychology Today in an interview. So perhaps these beings are alien in origin, but others believe they may be ghosts, demons, or other kinds of interdimensional beings. According to Natalia Kuna, a psychic medium, "Shadow people are said to be conscious, intelligent, interdimensional beings that can shapeshift into various forms and figurations, and move back and forth between dimensions." That sounds OK, right? But not so fast...


Most reports on shadow people are overwhelming negative (encounters with shadow people tend to be accompanied by a feeling of dread, according to many reports — and sorry, but the glowing red eyes are decidedly unchill, IMO), but there are allegedly different types of shadow beings, and some of them are non-threatening. Most of the time though, it's just dark and scary. Apparently there's one type of shadow person that is said to be more demonic in nature, and that's known as "The Hat Man" and is reportedly seen wearing a top hat and suit. Other times, shadow people have been reported to attempt more physical encounters (similar to some sleep paralysis experiences). "[Shadow people] are sometimes discovered by a person who wakes up to find them trying to choke or suffocate them," said Hollis in an interview with Coast to Coast AM.

Overall, I'm not feeling super great about this whole shadow person business, but I guess we have to live with the knowledge now. You can bet I'll be surrounding my bed with protective crystals — and I think we can all agree that we'll be feeling an extra twinge of fear the next time we see something slightly shadowy in our periphery.

This article was originally published on October 14, 2018 and was updated on June 26, 2019.

This article was originally published on