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Incubus and Succubus

The etymology of the word Incubus is rooted in Late Latin and is derived from the Latin incubo, meaning nightmare. It is also believed that the word Incubus is derived from the term incubare, which means “to lie on” (“Incubus”). Incubo also means “to hang over, dwell in, [or] lie heavily upon” (“Incubo”). In The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, Rossell Hope Robbins asserts that the Incubus is known by many other names in many other cultures (254). The French call the incubus the follet, the Spanish call the Incubus the duende, and the Italians refer to the Incubus as the folletto (Robbins 254). Meanwhile, in The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions (The Terror That Comes in the Night), David J. Hufford explains that the term Succubus, which defines the incubus’s counterpart, literally means “to lie under” (130). Further, the orthographical nature of the term incubus has changed little over time. By the year 1205, the now plural form of incubus, which is incubi, was written as incubii (“Incubus”). Around 1330 BCE, the term incuby appeared in Robert Manning’s Langtoft's Chronicle (“Incubus”). Later, Geoffrey Chaucer used the singular term Incubus in the Wife’s Tale (“Incubus”). The singular form of Incubus has remained the same to date (“Incubus”). Meanwhile, the now understood plural form of incubus as incubi, did not become standard until sometime after the year 1801. (“Incubus”). In fact, the plural form of incubus in 1801 appears in Monthly Mag. XII where William Taylor used the plural form Incubusses.

In The Terror That Comes in the Night, David J. Hufford asserts that the term nightmare’s original meaning defined the incubus attack. Hufford explains that nightmare is a word rooted in “Anglo Saxon neaht or nicht,” meaning night, and “mara” which denotes the incubus or succubus (Hufford 53). Mara literally translated as “crusher,” but denoted the incubus’s or succubus’s actions (Hufford 53). It was not until after the seventeenth century that the term nightmare changed in meaning and began defining bad dreaming experiences (Hufford 54). The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Incubus as “feigned evil spirit or demon,” one that originates in “personified representations of the nightmare” (“Incubus”). The Incubus is further defined as a creature that attacks an individual while the individual sleeps, seeking sexual intercourse with the victim (“Incubus”). The Oxford English Dictionary further reveals that during the Middle Ages the Incubus was a creature that was recognized and acknowledged by civil and ecclesiastical law (“Incubus”). In addition, witches were at one time believed to be conjurers of the incubus spirit or to associate with them, and when the incubus was associated with the witch the creature was known as a magistellus or the witch’s familiar (“Incubus” ). The latter belief is untrue and based on superstitious fears pertaining to witchcraft that linked witches with evil and the devil.

In Compendium Maleficarum written in the early 1600s, Francesco Maria Guazzo asserts the incubus is a creature that is described as having the ability to shapeshift and to assume any shape it desires, “either male or female;” and that the incubus can appear to a man or a woman in the shape of a human being or in the shape of a satyr (“Incubus” ). Guazzo further asserts that the incubus appears to witches in the shape of a goat (“Incubus” ). Later, in the seventeenth century, the Catholic priest, exorcist and demonologist Ludovico Maria Sinistrari suggests that the Incubus assumes a body by using a combination of materials which shapes the body that allows the creature to copulate with a human (“Incubus”). Thus, it is believed that the Incubus has no specific gender, that the creature can appear to men or women, and that the incubus can turn into its counterpart that is known as the succubus. Alternatively, there are some sources that allege the Incubus took its form by using a human corpse or by using human flesh to create a new form which it then animated (“Incubus (3)”). The Incubus has also been referred to as “the demon lover,” that appears in a male form to women and seeks to have intercourse with its victim (“Incubus (3)”)”. The Incubus attack mainly occurs in the evening hours after the victim has fallen asleep, but there are some reports of Incubus attacks during the daylight hours. It is possible that the frequency of Incubus attacks in the evening are the result of an individual’s vulnerability – when the victim is sleeping they are more open and vulnerable and more easily attacked. There may be an element of heightened fear in the evening hours for some individuals as well, and it is possible that the fear induced in an Incubus attack actually feeds the entity with the type of energy it craves.

The Incubus is considered a “fallen angel” by the Church Fathers, angels that fell because they lusted after human women (“Incubus (3)”). Some legends suggest that the Incubus has the power to make the victim crave another encounter with the creature anytime after the initial attack via mental and/or physical means (“Incubus (3)”). The victim may become obsessed with the Incubus, become “addicted” to the sexual experience had with the creature, and in turn, desire repeated encounters with the Incubus. Further, since the Incubus can assume any shape it desires, it is believed by some that the Incubus can appear to the victim as someone that the victim knows – a spouse, friend, or even as a stranger (“Incubus (3)”). Thus, the Incubus is a creature that not only possesses shapeshifting abilities, but it is one that is incredibly deceptive in nature.

There are stories where Incubi have reportedly impregnanted women and the women have, in turn, given birth to what is known as Cambions (“Incubus (3)”). Further, the Incubus and Succubus are creatures discussed in depth in the Malleus Maleficarum:

Secondly, it is true that to procreate a man is the act of a living body. But, when it is said that devils cannot give life, because that flows formally from the soul, it is true; but materially life springs from the semen, and an Incubus devil can, with God's permission, accomplish this by coition. And the semen does not so much spring from him, as it is another man's semen received by him for this purpose (see S. Thomas, I. 51, art. 3). For the devil is Succubus to a man, and becomes Incubus to a woman. In just the same way they absorb the seeds of other things for the generating of various thing, as S. Augustine says, de Trinitate 3 (Kramer and Sprenger).

Thus, it was formerly believed that, while an Incubus and a Succubus cannot actually give life, if the creature has the permission of God, then a Cambion could be created with the victim of choice.

When an Incubus or Succubus attacks there are some common elements found in the reported experiences of the victims:

1) Everyone else in the household, if asleep, are sound asleep and cannot be stirred. This phenomenon is known as psychic sleep, a state where the individuals are induced into a deep enough sleep where they will not awaken, even if there is a lot of commotion going on in the room at the time.

2) The victim of an Incubus attack often reports that they are lying on their backs at the time of the attack. It is believed that there may be a connection between Incubus and Succubus attacks and the supine position (Hufford 89). However, there are incidents where the victim has reported being on their side or stomach when the attack occurs.

3) Many victims of Incubus attack report hearing the sound of shuffling footsteps or some other noise in the room that alerts them that they are not alone.

4) Many victims of Incubus and Succubus attack report extreme fatigue before the attack occurs (Hufford 63).

5) When the victim reports the attack, they frequently relate a sexual experience that is violent in nature. Some legends suggest that the Incubus is an aggressive rapist, one with a sexual organ that causes severe pain or that is extremely cold (“Incubus (3)”).

6) The victim feels as if something is sitting on the chest and holding them down. The victim of an Incubus attack also reports immense difficulty breathing. Many victims express that they immediately feel an overwhelming sense of evil and the latter sense incites extreme fear.

7) Some victims report hearing loud banging sounds before an attack begins (Hufford 58). Once the attack begins, some victims report being both within their body paralyzed and “outside” of themselves watching the event as it occurs (Hufford 91). The latter phenomenon is referred to as “distortion of body image” or “depersonalization” (Hufford 91).

8) Some of the victims of Incubus and Succubus attacks attempt to rationalize the event while it is occurring, and they attempt to write the incident off to an over active imagination.

9) Some individuals report feeling the bed or area where they are sleeping as moving, or as if something unseen has sat down next to them (Hufford 69). Along with the latter sensation, it is not uncommon for victims to report feeling something unseen touching them (Hufford 69-70).

10) Sometimes victims of an Incubus or Succubus attack report hearing the sound of water when an Incubus or a Succubus attack occurs (Hufford 75).

11) Some reports offered pertaining to Incubus and Succubus attacks report the feeling of having a racing mind prior to the attack or experiencing brief, bizarre, and unsettling dreams just before the attack (Hufford 81).

12) Victims commonly report attempting to scream, yell, or shout for help when they are the subject of an attack and find that they lack the ability to make any sound. Further, some victims report hearing the creature addressing them or speaking to them before the attack, although precisely what is said cannot be remembered (Hufford 86).

13) Victims of an Incubus of Succubus attack sometimes report a time continuum; in other words, there is no shift in scenes as one will experience in a dream state, but the experience moves in a logical time sequence and is uninterrupted until the experience comes to an end (Hufford 59).

14) Some individuals report seeing the Incubus of Succubus as a large, black or grayish brown entity, one that is opaque (Hufford 62), and other victims report seeing nothing at all, but feeling a presence in the room . The eyes are the most common feature referred to in Incubus reports, they are often red, sometimes glowing, and are the only distinguishable feature of the demon. Other individuals have reported that the Incubus or Succubus appears as a “murky figure” (Hufford 60), not quite solid, but not see through either. There are reports that the Incubus and Succubus appears with tremendously long arms and that they possess incredible strength (Hufford 76).

15) Victims of the Incubus or Succubus have reported that they are paralyzed during the attack, that they are completely unable to move during the attack. Fierce attempts to move often suddenly force the attack to cease and the individual then regains full movement of her body in the case of Incubi attacks, or his body in the case of Succubae attacks.

16) Victims of the Incubus or Succubus attack frequently report that the surroundings in which the event occurs are familiar to them and not altered by the hypothesized hallucinations one experiences. Everything the victim sees is normal, the victim remains paralyzed and the Incubus or Succubus attacks during the day or evening whether there are other people present at the location or not.

17) Victims of Incubus and Succubus attacks are often afraid of what others will think of them if and when the victim decides to report the attack to someone (Hufford 64).

18) It is commonly reported that when the victim makes a solid attempt to relax and later move his or her body, that the attack begins to cease (Hufford 83).

19) In some reports, the Incubus or Succubus is reported as being extraordinarily tall or large, some estimate suggest heights of more than seven feet ( Hufford 94).

20) In some cases, there seems to be a telepathic connection reported between the victim and the creature; it is not uncommon for the victim to report that the creature knew how the victim was going to react to the situation before the victim decides to take any action or attempt to move (Hufford 96).

21) Victims that experience the Incubus or Succubus phenomenon clearly suggest that the experience is real, that they are fully conscious when the event occurs and that they are not dreaming when they are attacked.

Skeptics will assert that the Incubus or Succubus attack are not real attacks but mere bouts of sleep paralysis which occur during the hypnagogic state of sleep (Carroll). The event, according to some, is nothing more than a sleep disturbance, involving “tactile hallucinations” (Carroll). For the individuals that experience such an attack however, the situation proves very real and extremely frightening.

Works Cited

Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptic’s Dictionary. 23 Feb. 2008 <>.

Hufford, David J. The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

“incubo”. An On-line Latin Word-list, The University of British Columbia Mathematics Department.

"Incubus." DeliriumsRealm Gallery of Demons. 2007. 23 Feb. 2008 .

“Incubus.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2nd ed. 1989.

"Incubus (3)." Occultpedia. 2007. 23 Feb. 2008 .

Kramer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. "Question 3 Part I." Malleus Maleficarum. 2007. 23 Feb. 2008 .

Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1981.

Article written by: Dayna Winters and Patricia Gardner

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