What is Incubus?
Incubus, Nightmare

What is Incubus?

An incubus (plural incubi) is a demon in male form supposed to lie upon sleepers, especially women, in order to have sexual intercourse with them, according to a number of mythological and legendary traditions. Its female counterpart is the succubus. An incubus may pursue sexual relations with a woman in order to father a child, as in the legend of Merlin.[1] Some sources indicate that it may be identified by its unnaturally cold penis.[2] Religious tradition holds that repeated intercourse with an incubus or succubus may result in the deterioration of health, or even death.[3]

IncubusMedieval legend claims that demons, both male and female, sexually prey on human beings. They generally prey upon the victim when they are sleeping, though it has been reported that females have been attacked while fully lucid.

The incubus is sometimes confused with the legendary "Old Hag" syndrome. The Old Hag episode, however, is usually restricted to an unpleasant feeling of great pressure on the chest and not a ghostly sexual encounter.[4]

An incubus is a mythical male demon that is said to seduce women or rape them while they sleep. The purpose of this act is to impregnate the victim who will give birth to a cambion. The incubus is not capable of providing live sperm, so sperm is acquired from a human male via a succubus (the female version of an incubus).

Some sources make addition claims, including: [5]

  1. The incubus drains energy from the woman in order to sustain itself.
  2. An incubus can be identified by its unnaturally cold penis.[6]
  3. Repeated intercourse with an incubus may result in poor health or death.[7]


A number of secular explanations have been offered for the origin of the incubus legends. They involve the medieval preoccupation with sin, especially sexual sins of women. Victims may have been experiencing waking dreams or sleep paralysis. Also, nocturnal arousal, orgasm or nocturnal emission could be explained by the idea of creatures causing an otherwise guilt-producing and self-conscious behavior.[8] Alternately, the influence of incubi could also have been invoked to explain otherwise "unexplainable" pregnancies out of wedlock.

Purported victims of incubi could have been the victims of sexual assault by a real person. Rapists may have attributed the rapes of sleeping women to demons in order to escape punishment. A friend or relative may have assaulted the victim in her sleep. The victims and, in some cases the clergy,[9] may have found it easier to explain the attack as supernatural rather than confront the idea that the attack came from someone in a position of trust.

Ancient and Religious Descriptions

One of the earliest mentions of an incubus comes from Mesopotamia on the Sumerian kings' list, ca. 2400, where the hero Gilgamesh's father is listed as Lilu (Lila).[10] It is said that Lilu disturbs and seduces women in their sleep, while Lilitu, a female demon, appears to men in their erotic dreams.[11] Two other corresponding demons appear as well: Ardat lili, who visits men by night and begets ghostly children from them, and Irdu lili, who is known as a male counterpart to Ardat lili and visits women by night and begets from them. These demons were originally storm demons, but they eventually became regarded as night demons due to mistaken etymology.[12] Also considered to be vampires which is another form of a demon that is said to drink blood from its victims.

Incubi and succubi were said by some not to be different sexes, but the same demons able to change their sex.[13] A succubus would be able to sleep with a man and collect his sperm, and then transform into an incubus and use that seed on women. Their offspring were thought to be supernatural in many cases, even if the actual genetic material originally came from humans.[8]

Though many tales claim that the incubus is bisexual,[14] others indicate that it is strictly heterosexual and finds attacking a male victim either unpleasant or detrimental.[15] There are also numerous stories involving the attempted exorcism of incubi or succubi who have taken refuge in, respectively, the bodies of men or women.

Incubi are sometimes said to be able to conceive children. The half-human offspring of such a union is sometimes referred to as a cambion. The most famous legend of such a case includes that of Merlin, the famous wizard from Arthurian legend.[9]

According to the Malleus Maleficarum, exorcism is one of the five ways to overcome the attacks of Incubi, the others being Sacramental Confession, the Sign of the Cross (or recital of the Angelic Salutation), moving the afflicted to another location, and by excommunication of the attacking entity, "which is perhaps the same as exorcism." [16] On the other hand, the Franciscan friar Ludovico Maria Sinistrari stated that incubi "do not obey exorcists, have no dread of exorcisms, show no reverence for holy things, at the approach of which they are not in the least overawed." [9]

Regional Variations

There are a number of variations on the incubus theme around the world. The alp of Teutonic or German folklore is one of the better known. In Zanzibar, Popo Bawa primarily attacks men and generally behind closed doors.[17] El Trauco, according to the traditional mythology of the Chiloé Province of Chile, is a hideous deformed dwarf who lulls nubile young women and seduces them. El Trauco is said to be responsible for unwanted pregnancies, especially in unmarried women.[18] Perhaps another variation of this conception is el "Tintín" in Ecuador, a dwarf who is fond of abundant haired women and seduces them at night by playing the guitar outside their windows; a myth that researchers believe was created during the Colonial period of time to explain pregnancies in women who never left their houses without a chaperone, very likely covering incest or sexual abuse by one of the family's friends.[19] In Hungary, a lidérc can be a Satanic lover that flies at night and appears as a fiery light (an ignis fatuus or will o' the wisp) or, in its more benign form as a featherless chicken.[20]

In Brazil and the rain forests of the Amazon Basin, the Boto is a combination of siren and incubus, a very charming and beautiful man who seduces young women and takes them into the river. It is said to be responsible for disappearances and unwanted pregnancies, and it can never be seen by daylight, because it metamorphoses into that kind of river dolphin during those hours. According to legend the boto always wears a hat to disguise the breathing hole at the top of its head.

The Southern African incubus demon is the Tikoloshe. Chaste women place their beds upon bricks to deter the rather short fellows from attaining their sleeping forms. They also share the hole in the head detail and water dwelling habits of the Boto.[4]

Media & Popular culture

The term incubus is often associated with the band of the same name.[5]


[1] Lacy, Norris J. "Merlin". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 322. (New York: Garland, 1991).
[2] Russel, Jeffrey Burton, Witchcraft in The Middle Ages, pp. 239, 235 Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London
[3] Stephens, Walter, Demon Lovers, p. 23, The University of Chicago Press
[4] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incubus
[5] Paranormal Encyclopedia, "Incibus" article, www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/i/incubus/
[6] Russel, Jeffrey Burton, Witchcraft in The Middle Ages, pp. 239, 235 Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, ISBN 0-8014-0697-8
[7] Stephens, Walter, Demon Lovers, p. 23, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-266-77261-6
[8] Lewis, James R., Oliver, Evelyn Dorothy, Sisung Kelle S. (Editor), Angels A to Z, Entry: Incubi and Succubi, pp. 218, 219, Visible Ink Press
[9] Masello, Robert, Fallen Angels and Spirits of The Dark, p. 66, The Berkley Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016
[10] Raphael Patai, p. 221, The Hebrew Goddess: Third Enlarged Edition
[11] Siegmund Hurwitz, Lilith: The First Eve
[12] Raphael Patai, p. 221 & 222, The Hebrew Goddess: Third Enlarged Edition
[13] Carus, Paul, The History of The Devil and The Idea of Evil From The Earliest Times to The Present Day, "The Devil's Prime"
[14] Russsel, Jeffrey Burton, Witchcraft in The Middle Ages, p. 145, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London
[15] Stephens, Walter, Demon Lovers, pp. 54, 55, 332, 333, The University of Chicago Press
[16] Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James, Summers, Montague (translator - 1928 ), The Malleus Maleficarum, Part2, Chapter 1, "The Remedies prescribed by the Holy Church against Incubus and Succubus Devils,"
[17] Maclean, William (Reuters, May 16, 2005), "Belief in sex-mad demon tests nerves,"
[18] Lindemans, Micha F., Trauco
[19] "TIN TIN" A brief description of the myth at EDUFUTURO
[20] Mack, Dinah, Mack, Carol K., A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, p. 209, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, ISBN 0-8050-6270-X

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