A demon spirit that has sexual intercourse with mortals. The
concept may have arisen from the idea of the commerce of gods
with people, which was rife in pagan times. The male demon
said to have intercourse with women is called the incubus and
the female demon who seduces men the succubus. The demons
were generally believed to appear most frequently during sleep
‘‘Imperator’’ Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
or in nightmares. During the witchcraft scare of the late medieval
period these demons, when associated with an individual
witch or sorcerer, were known as familiars.
Belief in incubi and succubi goes back to ancient times but
was incorporated into Christian belief in the medieval period.
Such churchmen as Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) discussed the
The Incubus
The Description of Scotlande of Hector Boethius as translated
in the first volume of Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577), has three
or four notable examples of these demons, which are corroborated
by Jerome Cardan. One of these, concerning an incubus,
is quoted in the quaint language Holinshed used
‘‘In the year 1480 it chanced as a Scottish ship departed out
of the Forth towards Flanders, there arose a wonderful great
tempest of wind and weather, so outrageous, that the master of
the ship, with other the mariners, wondered not a little what
the matter meant, to see such weather at that time of the year,
for it was about the middle of summer. At length, when the furious
pirrie and rage of winds still increased, in such wise that all
those within the ship looked for present death, there was a
woman underneath the hatches called unto them above, and
willed them to throw her into the sea, that all the residue, by
God’s grace, might yet be saved; and thereupon told them how
she had been haunted a long time with a spirit dailie coming
into hir in man’s likenesse. In the ship there chanced also to be
priest, who by the master’s appointment going down to this
woman, and finding her like a most wretched and desperate
person, lamenting hir great misfortune and miserable estate,
used such wholesome admonition and comfortable advertisements,
willing her to repent and hope for mercy at the hands
of God, that, at length, she seeming right penitent for her
grievous offences committed, and fetching sundrie sighs even
from the bottome of her heart, being witnesse, as should appeare,
of the same, there issued forth of the pumpe of the ship,
a foule and evil-favoured blacke cloud with a mighty terrible
noise, flame, smoke, and stinke, which presently fell into the
sea. And suddenlie thereupon the tempest ceased, and the ship
passing in great quiet the residue of her journey, arrived in saftie
at the place whither she was bound.’’ (Chronicles, vol. 5, p.
146, 1808 ed).’’
In another case related by the same author, the incubus did
not depart so quietly. In the chamber of a young gentlewoman
who was the daughter of a nobleman in the country of Mar
there was found ‘‘a foule monstrous thing, verie horrible to behold.’’
For the love of this ‘‘Deformed,’’ nevertheless, the lady
had refused sundry wealthy marriages. A priest who was in the
company began to repeat St. John’s Gospel, and ‘‘suddenlie the
wicked spirit, making a verie sore and terrible roaring noise,
flue his waies, taking the roofe of the chamber awaie with him,
the hangings and coverings of the bed being also burnt therewith.’’
Jean Bodin, author of Démonomaie (1580) cites the case of
Joan Hervilleria, who at age 12 was solemnly betrothed to Beelzebub
by her mother, who was afterward burned alive for contriving
this clandestine marriage. According to the story, the
bridegroom was respectably attired and the marriage oath simple.
The mother pronounced the following words to the bridegroom
‘‘Ecce filiam meam quam spospondi tibi.’’ Then, turning
to the bride, she stated ‘‘Ecce amicum tuum qui beabit te.’’
Joan was not satisfied with her spiritual husband alone, however.
She became a bigamist by intermarrying with real flesh and
In another story Margaret Bremont, in company with her
mother and others, was in the habit of attending diabolic trysts.
She and the others were burned alive by Adrian Ferreus, general
vicar of the Inquisition.
Magdalena Crucia of Cordova, an abbess, was more fortunate.
Suspected by her nuns of magic—an accusation convenient
when a superior was at all troublesome—she anticipated
their charge. Going before Pope Paul III, she confessed a 30-
year intimacy with the devil and obtained pardon.
The Succubus
Old rabbinical writings relate the legend of how Adam was
visited during a 130-year period by female demons and had intercourse
with demons, spirits, specters, lemurs, and phantoms.
Another legend relates how, under the reign of Roger,
king of Sicily, a young man was bathing by moonlight. He
thought he saw someone drowning and hastened to the rescue.
Having drawn from the water a beautiful woman, he became
enamored of her, married her, and had by her a child. Afterward
she disappeared with her child, which made everyone believe
that she was a succubus.
The historian Hector Boece (1465–1536), in his history of
Scotland, relates that a handsome young man was pursued by
a female demon who would pass through his closed door and
offer to marry him. He complained to his bishop, who enjoined
him to fast, pray, and confess his sins, and as a result the infernal
visitor ceased to trouble him.
The witchcraft judge Pierre de Lancre (1553–1631) stated
that in Egypt an honest blacksmith was occupied in forging
during the night when a demon appeared to him in the shape
of a beautiful woman. He threw a hot iron in the face of the
demon, which at once took flight.
More Accounts of Incubi and Succubi
Among the many writers who reflected upon the incubus
succubus were Erastus, in his tract de Lamiis; Jakob Sprenger
and Heinrich Kramer in Malleus Maleficarum (1486), which
contains a report of a nun who slept with an incubus in the form
of a bishop; H. Zanchius in de Operibus Del, (1597, 16, 4); G.
Dandini in Aristotelis Tres de Anima (1610); J. G. Godellman in
Tractatus de Magis (1591); M. A. Del Rio in Disquisitionum Magicarum
(1599); and F. M. Guazzo in Compendium Maleficarum
An interesting treatise on the subject is the nineteenthcentury
hoax Demoniality or Incubi and Succubi, supposedly by
one Fr. L. M. Sinistari of Ameno, first translated and published
by the bibliophile Isidore Liseux in Paris in 1879. It was later
translated into English by Montague Summers (Fortune Press,
London, 1927; reprinted B. Blom, New York, 1972).
In the early nineteenth century the issue of the incubus
succubus, which had been dismissed by many as outdated superstition
was raised again by the emerging science of psychoanalysis.
Possibly the most important discussion is that of Ernest
Jones, a Freudian psychoanalyst in his famous treatise On
the Nightmare (1951).
Barrett, Francis. The Magus. 1801. Reprint, New Hyde Park,
N.Y. University Books, 1967.
Jones, Ernest, On the Nightmare. New York Liveright Publishing,
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.
New York Crown Publishers, 1959.