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What is a Succubus?
Smart, sexy, and potentially deadly, the Succubus is not a demon to be underestimated. She is a powerful seductress who loves nothing more than to toy with men, and although she might seem fun at first, you wouldn’t want to make her angry!
Today, the word “succubus” conjures up voluptuous images—women with long wavy hair, silky skin, and flawless curves. They wear skimpy leather costumes, to flaunt their bodies, and they don’t try to hide the telltale signs of their demonic nature. Bat wings, barbed tails, curled horns, and glowing eyes are all common among modern Succubi.
But these she-demons weren’t always so glamorous. From the dawn of their legend well through the medieval ages, Succubi were considered hideous, deformed creatures. They were somewhat smaller than average people, and they stooped and crawled instead of walking upright. Their feet were like raptors, their faces like gargoyles, and their fingers tipped in ragged claws.
Again, there is a distinct difference between today’s Succubi and the Succubi of ancient legend.
The she-demons of today have intense charisma and seductive power to match their good looks. They are clever creatures who can tantalize men with their words as much as their bodies. They can be domineering and vengeful if they are slighted, but they ultimately take pride in their ability to please (and manipulate) men.
The ancestors of today’s Succubi, on the other hand, had personalities as nasty as their looks. They were sneaky, controlling, and malicious. Despite being sex-crazed, they had no interest in pleasing men. Instead, they used sex for their own purposes—to please themselves, to corrupt the pious, to gain life force, or even to have children!
It’s impossible to discuss the Succubus without mentioning her partner-in-crime, the Incubus. The Incubus is a male sex demon, said to attack women during the night. Since demons cannot reproduce on their own, the Succubi and Incubi work together to produce offspring. Succubi collect semen from their trysts with men, then pass the semen off to Incubi, who use it to impregnate women. When the child (called a “cambion”) is born, it will have demonic characteristics, thanks to the touch of the Succubus and Incubus.
Clearly, these two sex-demons have many similarities and a close working relationship, but some scholars have suggested an even deeper connection: Succubi and Incubi are, in fact, the same creature. They are able to shift between female and male forms, according to their sexual partners.
Perhaps the most famous seductress of all time, Lilith is known as the mother of all Succubi. She appears in Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Judaic, and Christian mythology.
Lilith (called “lilitu”) first appeared in Sumerian culture as a goddess of fertility and witchcraft. Later, the Assyrians and Babylonians associated her with dark demons. The Greeks gave Lilith (called “lamia”) an extensive backstory. She was a beautiful woman who Hera transformed into a monster, after her beauty attracted Zeus’s roving eye. In her new monstrous form, Lamia roamed the world, seducing men and eating babies.
Judeo-Christian mythology also put their own spin on Lilith’s legend. They described her as Adam’s first wife, created at the same time as him. Unlike Eve, Lilith was no meek partner. She refused to honor Adam as her leader. Instead, she went off exploring on her own and discovered the Red Sea, where hordes of demons lived. The rebellious woman found that she liked the demons more than Adam, so she mated with them and began “bearing lilim at the rate of more than one hundred per day.” These “lilim” went out into the world as demons, some of them as sexy and independent as their mother. These became the Succubi.
Female sex-demons have been around since the dawn of folklore. They can be found in cultures all over the world; India has the “yakshini,” Arabia has the “qarinha,” Native Americans have the “deer woman,” China has the “mogwai,” and Greece has “Lamia.” It’s impossible to know which of these legends came first. Most likely, they all evolved separately around the same time.
The word “succubus” (a combination of Latin words meaning “to lie down”) first appears in Medieval English. By the late fifteenth century, these she-demons were well known and often discussed by theologians, who tried to explain their origin, their ability to reproduce, etc.
Later, Succubi popped up in witch hunts; women who “tried to seduce” men were accused of being Succubi in disguise, while women who became pregnant outside of wedlock were accused of consorting with Incubi.
During the Renaissance and Romantic period, interest in grotesque, subversive female demons declined. Instead, artists shifted their attention to the Greece’s Lamia, who was both beautiful and unfairly cursed. It wasn’t until the rise of Gothic literature that Succubi began to reclaim the spotlight—but they were still changed from their original form, being more beautiful and intelligent.
Succubi still have a place in fantasy and science fiction. They have appeared in the works of Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Jonathon Stroud, and Stephanie Meyer.
Not surprisingly, the Succubus shoes up even more in visual genres, like comic books and video games, where her hot body and strappy leather costumes can attract lots of attention.
From a psychological/political perspective, the legend of the Succubus is fairly straight-forward. In a patriarchal world, men were intimidated by women who took control of their own lives and their own sexuality, so they demonized any type of “rebellious” behavior.
There might also be a biological explanation. Sixty percent of the total human population suffers from sleep paralysis, a sporadic condition that causes the brain to regain consciousness before the body does. During an episode of sleep paralysis, people suffer from hallucinations involving all five senses and an extreme sense of terror. These symptoms could easily be mistaken for a demonic visitation!