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The Succubus, an 1889 sculpture by Auguste Rodin

A succubus is a demon or supernatural entity in folklore, in female form, that appears in dreams to seduce men, usually through sexual activity. According to religious traditions, repeated sexual activity with a succubus can cause poor physical or mental health, even death. In modern representations, a succubus is often depicted as a beautiful seductress or enchantress, rather than as demonic or frightening. The male counterpart to the succubus is the incubus.


The term derives from Late Latin succuba "paramour"; from succubare "to lie beneath" (sub- "under" and cubare "to lie"),[1] used to describe this female supernatural being's implied sexual position relative to the male sleeper's position. The English word succubus dates from the late 14th century.[2][3]

In folklore[edit]

As depicted in the Jewish mystical treatise Zohar and the medieval Jewish satirical text Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith was Adam's first wife, who later became a succubus.[4][5] She left Adam and refused to return to the Garden of Eden after she mated with the archangel Samael.[6] In Zoharistic Kabbalah, there were four succubi who mated with the archangel Samael. There were four original queens of the demons: Lilith, Eisheth, Agrat bat Mahlat, and Naamah.[7] A succubus may take a form of a beautiful young girl but closer inspection may reveal deformities of her body, such as bird-like claws or serpentine tails.[8] Folklore also describes the act of cunnilingus on their vulvas, which drip with urine and other fluids.[9] In later folklore, a succubus took the form of a siren.

Throughout history, priests and rabbis, including Hanina Ben Dosa and Abaye, tried to curb the power of succubi over humans.[10] However, not all succubi were malevolent. According to Walter Map in the satire De Nugis Curialium (Trifles of Courtiers), Pope Sylvester II (999–1003) was allegedly involved with a succubus named Meridiana, who helped him achieve his high rank in the Catholic Church. Before his death, he confessed of his sins and died repentant.[11]

Ability to reproduce[edit]

According to the Kabbalah and the school of Rashba, the original three queens of the demons, Agrat Bat Mahlat, Naamah, Eisheth Zenunim, and all their cohorts give birth to children, except Lilith.[12] According to other legends, the children of Lilith are called Lilin.

According to the Malleus Maleficarum, or "Witches' Hammer", written by Heinrich Kramer (Institoris) in 1486, succubi collect semen from men they seduce. Incubi, or male demons, then use the semen to impregnate human females,[13] thus explaining how demons could apparently sire children despite the traditional belief that they were incapable of reproduction. Children so begotten—cambions—were supposed to be those that were born deformed, or more susceptible to supernatural influences.[14] While the book does not address why a human female impregnated with the semen of a human male would not produce regular human offspring, an explanation could be that the semen is altered before being transferred to the female host. However in some lore, the child is born deformed because the conception was unnatural.[citation needed]

King James in his dissertation titled Dæmonologie refutes the possibility for angelic entities to reproduce and instead offered a suggestion that a devil would carry out two methods of impregnating women: the first, to steal the sperm out of a dead man and deliver it into a woman. If a demon could extract the semen quickly, the substance could not be instantly transported to a female host, causing it to go cold. This explains his view that succubi and incubi were the same demonic entity only to be described differently based on the tormented sexes being conversed with. The second method was the idea that a dead body could be possessed by a devil, causing it to rise and have sexual relations with others. However, there is no mention of a female corpse being possessed to elicit sex from men.[15]

In non-Western literature[edit]

Buddhist canon[edit]

A Buddhist scripture regarding prayer to Avalokiteśvara, the Dharani Sutra of Amoghapāśa, promises to those who pray that "you will not be attacked by demons who either suck your energy or make love to you in your dreams."[16]

Arabian culture[edit]

In Arabian mythology, the qarînah (قرينة) is a spirit similar to the succubus, with origins possibly in ancient Egyptian religion or in the animistic beliefs of pre-Islamic Arabia.[17] A qarînah "sleeps with the person and has relations during sleep as is known by the dreams".[18] They are said to be invisible, but a person with "second sight" can see them, often in the form of a cat, dog, or other household pet.[17] "In Omdurman it is a spirit which possesses. ... Only certain people are possessed and such people cannot marry or the qarina will harm them."[19] To date, many African myths claim[citation needed] that men who have similar experience with such principality (succubus) in dreams (usually in form of a beautiful woman) find themselves exhausted as soon as they awaken; often claiming spiritual attack upon them. Local rituals/divination are often invoked in order to appeal to god for divine protection and intervention.

Scientific explanations[edit]

In the field of medicine, there is some belief that the stories relating to encounters with succubi bear resemblance to the contemporary phenomenon of people reporting alien abductions,[20] which has been ascribed to sleep paralysis and hallucinations from their contemporary culture. Furthermore, the experience of nocturnal emissions or "wet dreams" may explain the sexual aspect of the phenomenon.[21][22]

In fiction[edit]

Throughout history, succubi have been popular characters in music, literature, film, television, and more.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Succuba".
  2. ^ "succubus". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ Ha, Douglas. "Succubus". Online Etymology Dictionary. late 14c., alteration (after incubus, giving a masc. form to a word generally felt as of female meaning) of Late Latin succuba
  4. ^ Patai, Raphael (1990) [1967]. "Lilith". The Hebrew Goddess. Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology (3rd Enlarged ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 221–251. ISBN 9780814322710. OCLC 20692501.
  5. ^ Mcdonald, Beth E. (2009). "In Possession Of The Night: Lilith As Goddess, Demon, Vampire". In Sabbath, Roberta Sternman (ed.). Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an As Literature and Culture. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 173–182. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004177529.i-536.42. ISBN 978-90-04-17752-9.
  6. ^ Mcdonald, Beth E. (2009). "In Possession Of The Night: Lilith As Goddess, Demon, Vampire". In Sabbath, Roberta Sternman (ed.). Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an As Literature and Culture. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 173–182. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004177529.i-536.42. ISBN 978-90-04-17752-9.
  7. ^ "Zohar: Chapter XXXII".
  8. ^ Davidson, Jane P. (2012). Early modern supernatural : the dark side of European culture, 1400-1700. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger. p. 40. ISBN 9780313393433.
  9. ^ Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2008). The encyclopedia of witches, witchcraft and wicca (3rd ed.). New York: Facts On File. p. 95. ISBN 9781438126845.
  10. ^ Geoffrey W. Dennis, The encyclopedia of Jewish myth, magic and mysticism. p. 126
  11. ^ History of the Succuus
  12. ^ Alan Humm. "Kabbala: Lilith, Queen of the Demons". Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  13. ^ Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James (1486), Summers, Montague (translator – 1928), The Malleus Maleficarum, Part2, hapter VIII, "Certain Remedies prescribed against those Dark and Horrid Harms with which Devils may Afflict Men," at
  14. ^ Lewis, James R., Oliver, Evelyn Dorothy, Sisung Kelle S. (Editor) (1996), Angels A to Z, Entry: Incubi and Succubi, pp. 218, 219, Visible Ink Press, ISBN 0-7876-0652-9
  15. ^ Warren, Brett (2016). The Annotated Dæmonologie of King James. A Critical Edition. In Modern English. pp. 79–83. ISBN 978-1-5329-6891-4.
  16. ^ Yü, Chün-fang (2001). Kuan-yin : the Chinese transformation of Avalokiteśvara. New York. p. 57. ISBN 023112029X.
  17. ^ a b Zwemer, Samuel M. (1939). "5". Studies in Popular Islam: Collection of Papers dealing with the Superstitions and Beliefs of the Common People. London: Sheldon Press.
  18. ^ Tremearne, A. J. N. (1914). Ban of the Bori: Demons and Demon-Dancing in West and North Africa.
  19. ^ Trimingham, J. Spencer (1965). Islam in the Sudan. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. p. 172.
  20. ^ Knight-Jadczyk, Laura; Henri Sy (2005). The high strangeness of dimensions, densities, and the process of alien abduction. Red Pill Press. p. 92. ISBN 9781897244111.
  21. ^ "Sleep Paralysis". The Skeptics Dictionary.
  22. ^ "Phenomena of Awareness during Sleep Paralysis". Trionic Research Institute.