What is an Incubus?
An Incubus is a lusty male demon who satisfies his sexual urges by attacking women while they sleep. These creatures might seem laughable, but they are actually quite dangerous, since they can cause unwanted pregnancies or even death.
Like many mythological villains, Incubi have been glamorized in recent decades. Today, they appear as young men with perfectly etched muscles, powerful wings, and long, suggestive tails—but in the past, these nocturnal fiends were far from attractive.
The original Incubi were small creatures with faces like a monkey or a gargoyle. The usually had dark skin or fur, claws, horns, and bat-like wings. When they weren’t flying through the dead of night, they crawled, climbed, and sat in hunched positions. Unsurprisingly, they also had exaggerated genitals.
Incubi are famous for their insatiable lust; these demons are so sex-crazed that their human partners can literally die of exhaustion after too many midnight trysts. Incubi can also be violent. Many victims describe the demons sitting on their chest or covering their mouths, so that they couldn’t breathe.
When an Incubus arrives to have his way with a woman, he takes precautions to prevent her from interfering. He might put her in a trance, so that she is unable to wake up, or paralyze her so completely that she can’t even cry out for help.
During the encounter, the Incubus might try to impregnate the woman. Interestingly, the Incubus itself is incapable of reproducing, so it uses sperm collected from a human male. If the woman gives birth to a child, it will be a Cambion—a human with some magical or demonic abilities.
Some legends claim that the Incubus is also able to change its sex. It appears in a female shape (called a succubus) to attack human men and collect their sperm. Then, it changes back into a male shape to attack and impregnate human women.
Cultures all over the world have sexually-driven demons. Native Amazonian people believe in the Boto, a pink river dolphin that turns into a male sex maniac at night, while Chilean people believe in the Trauco, a dwarf who seduces young virgins. Swedish people tell stories of a nocturnal horse, which rides on its victims’ chests at night, while their Germanic neighbors fear the alp, who sits on young women. In South Africa, the Tokolosh stalks virgin women.
The first written record of an Incubus appears in none other than The Epic of Gilgamesh, widely considered to be the first work of fiction ever written. In Gilgamesh, the hero’s father is described as a “lilu,” a magical being who impregnates women while they are asleep.
Still, it’s impossible to say that the idea of a nocturnal, sex-demon started with Gilgamesh. These sorts of legends are so widespread that they probably arose separately, in cultures all over the world, and it’s impossible to know which one came first.
Incubi are popular in fantasy and paranormal romance genres. Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, and Orson Scott Card have all used incubi (or sucubi) in their works of fiction. The demons have also lent their name to a popular rock band, Incubus.
Undoubtedly, Incubi were once used to cover up cases of sexual assault or rape. However, there may be a less sinister explanation for the worldwide popularity of these creatures.
A sleeping disorder, called sleep paralysis, can mimic all the signs of an Incubus encounter. Scientists estimate that 60% of people will experience sleep paralysis at least once in their life, which could explain why “Incubus attacks” were so common throughout history.
Sleep paralysis occurs when a person wakes up from REM-sleep, but their body remains in a sleep-like state. Although the person is fully conscious, his muscles remain immobile, just like they are during REM-sleep. The person might also experience pressure on his chest and a feeling of suffocation, since the body’s pulse and breathing rate is slower, as in REM-sleep. But the most terrifying symptom of all is hypnagogia, a multi-sensory hallucination which can conjure up visions, smells, sounds, and extreme emotions of fear or euphoria. With all of these symptoms put together, sleep paralysis may be the closest thing to a demonic encounter that a sane person can experience.