There are few topics which raise my sceptical hackles as much as somebody attributing a supernatural explanation to something which has a more plausible natural explanation. When I read this article today on news24.com in which a man was interviewed on local radio about his repeated nite-time rape by a tokolosh I knew that there must be a simpler answer.
For my readers who are not familiar with the tokolosh, it is a mythological creature, belief in which is widely accepted by the Zulu and Xhosa segments of the South African population. The tokoloshe is believed to be an evil spirit which is created by a shaman to harm his enemies. Many people puts bricks under their beds to protect them from the tokoloshe which may be hiding under their beds to attack them, and rape the women, at night.
The idea of a demonic creature raping women at night is not limited to the tokolosh. The incubus is a male demon who allegedly rapes women in their sleep and can trace his lineage back to ancient Mesopotamia and the Epic of Gilgamesh in which the hero’s father is said to be an incubus known as Lilu. Incubi appear in various forms from the alp of German folklore to the Boto of the Amazon Basin. In Christian mythology Satan often takes the form of a demon and copulates with women, the offspring of such unions are supposedly witches and sorcerers.
The many faces of the incubus make for interesting reading, but as a sceptic and an athiest I find it hard, impossible actually, to accept that mythical demons are actually raping people. What could be a more rational explanation for the experiences described by Radio OFM’s interviewee? Unfortunately, a transcript of the interview is not readily available on the internet (as far as I can see), so I will have to use the information provided by the news24 article. We are told that the interviewee was raped nightly by a demon, and then a caller identified as R. Thirtle provides us with the following opinions;
“It is a fact that the Spirit Incubus rapes people in the evenings,” Thirtle said.
“And it is particularly common among the black people… who follow the traditional religion of ancestor worship. But more general among black women, who are raped by the tokolosh in the evenings.
“It is not a story, it is a fact, there are thousands of witnesses to verify it. It is a very traumatic experience to be raped in the dark by a heavy thing sitting on your legs, over which you have no control.
“And to know that it is a demon that is doing it, is even worse.”
Let us address Thirtle’s claims; firstly he states that it is a FACT that incubi rape people in the evenings. Where there are facts, there is evidence. The only evidence which Thirtle can offer is the testimony of “thousands of witnesses”. I know that I may start to sound like a stuck record, but anecdotal evidence is very weak evidence indeed. His point that tokoloshe rape is a social phenomenon causes alarms and red flags in my brain. Which other social phenomenon shares the properties of incubi? It happens at night, victims feel powerless, afraid, are subjected to examination of the reproductive organs and sometimes raped and impregnated?
You guessed it! Alien abduction. In 1961 Betty and Barney Hill provide us with the first popular account of an alien abduction and the narrative has become a widespread and varied tale which is ertold by thousands of abductees. There is no reliable evidence and as a result there are two distinct camps in the alien abduction world; those who believe and those who don’t. The prevailing academic explanations for abduction are that it is either a folk myth or the result of vivid dreams experienced during sleep paralysis. For an insight into how frightening and disturbing the dreams of someone who experiences sleep paralysis can be please read Michael Meadon‘s account of his own encounter with hypnopompia (sleep paralysis experienced on waking).
As a famous sceptic once said; “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (Carl Sagan – incase you don’t know). The claim that people are being raped by demons, or abducted by aliens for that matter, is extraordinary to the eleventy billionth power. As responsible, reasonable people we have to demand equally extraordinary evidence which supports the claim. Failing this we have to weild Occams razor and produce a few more reasonable explanations for the experiences, such as sleep paralysis, as an explanation for otherwise “inexplicable” pregnancies out of wedlock, as a defence provided by mortal rapists, or by a victim being assaulted by someone he / she trusts who finds it “easier” to blame a mythical demon then the person responsible.