• Graveyard Shift

Why Is 3 AM The Witching Hour?

Many people are familiar with the tense eeriness that comes with the 3 am hour, from waking up with a sudden jolt from a deep sleep to sensing that something may be lurking in the darkness around you. It goes by many different names - "the witching hour," "the devil's hour," and to some, "the chime hour" - but what gives this particular hour such a spooky reputation? 

With roots stretching back to Jesus's crucifixion, myths and legends about the witching hour have been around for generations. But what is the witching hour really? And when is the witching hour? Some believe it to be a perfect time to practice magic, when spirits can be reached without interruption. Still others see the 3 am devil's hour as the time when evil spirits are free to roam and wreak havoc on the world. There is even debate about when the witching hour truly begins - is it 3 am after all, or midnight, or is it even limited to a single hour of darkness?

Photo:
  • Photo: Francisco Goya / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Different Sources Propose Different Time Periods For The Witching Hour

    There are many myths associated with the witching hour and its origins, and several are contradictory. Its proper title, when it takes place, and what supposedly occurs during the hour are all up for debate. The mystery and fear associated with it seem to be the only consistent elements.

    The most readily agreed upon time for the witching hour is 3 am, as it holds numerous links to Christian theology, as well as modern folklore regarding occult activity. However, some also argue that the hour isn’t actually 3 am at all, but midnight. Those who believe the witching hour to begin at 12 am argue that, because this is the beginning of a new day, the spirits can more easily move about the Earthly realm.

    For instance, in many popular fairytales - such as Cinderella - magic spells are broken at midnight, suggesting that the magic from the day past has been reset. Others believe there is no hour limit to the activity of spirits at all, and that the witching hour refers to the entire night - from when darkness begins at dusk until it retreats at dawn.

  • Since No Liturgical Prayers Are Recited At 3 AM, Supernatural Activity Is Thought To Be Heightened

    According to the practices of the early Christian church, certain types of prayers were recited at different times during the day. As a result, the liturgical prayers, which are prayers that must be recited publicly to the people, were recited at seven specific daytime hours beginning with the Matins prayer at sunrise.

    During the nighttime hours, when people were asleep, the church would hold prayer vigils instead of liturgical prayers. It is because of this pause in liturgical prayer that many suspected the presence of both demons and supernatural activity was heightened at night, unobstructed by the word of God.

  • Some Believe The Veil Between Life And The Afterlife Is Thinnest At 3 AM

    A common supernatural belief is that life and the afterlife are two sides of the same world, separated only by a veil. This veil is said to become the most transparent in the early morning hours around 3 am.

    Because of this thinning of the veil between life and the afterlife, the spirits of the deceased are able to travel back into the realm of the living temporarily. Some believe this is why people are more likely to be awoken by the sensation of someone being near them in the middle of the night, and less so during the day.

    Still others believe there are spirits around us at all times, but we are only likely to notice them in the quiet of the 3 am hour.

  • The Witching Hour, Or ‘Devil’s Hour,’ Is Thought To Be An Inversion Of Christ’s 3 PM Passing

    Despite the debate surrounding when the witching hour is alleged to take place, one of the more convincing pieces of evidence comes directly from biblical scripture. According to Mark 15:34-38, Jesus expired at three in the afternoon:

    At three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

    Those who support the idea that the witching hour, or the devil’s hour, takes place at 3 am argue that, because it is the inverse of 3 pm, the hour that Jesus passed, it is the ideal time for the devil to undo the good that Jesus Christ sought to accomplish with his sacrifice.