An incubus, much like a succubus, is a demon that visits in a dream or while a person is sleeping. An incubus is the male counterpart to the succubus and shares many of its characteristics, such as visiting a person to have sex with them (since it is male, it only attacks women). According to legends, a woman pregnant after having sex with an incubus gives birth to a stillborn or a deformed child. The legend of the incubus most likely arose to explain the hallucinations seen with sleep paralysis and a pregnancy out of wedlock or from a shameful relationship. During the Renaissance when the culture was less restrained around sex than the Middle ages, there was a rise in cases of young girls giving birth to stillborns without knowing who the father was, resulting in debates to whether an incubus could really impregnate a woman.
The most famous “child” of an incubus is Merlin from the King Arthur legends. Merlin’s mother was a woman of high class but gave birth to Merlin after being attacked by an incubus. She was afraid that Merlin would turn out to be an evil person so she took him to the church to cleanse his body. This left Merlin with only mysterious powers, allowing him to be one of the most famous wizards in fiction.
A succubus is a demon that takes the form of an attractive human woman to seduce men, tempting them to have sex with her. Through sex, the succubus leeches away the man’s life force until he wilts away. They tend to visit men in their dreams and use their beauty and charm to lure and enchant their victim. A famous example of a succubus is Lilith, the first wife of Adam. There are other similar demons throughout the world, such as the nine-tailed fox in Asia (kumiho in Korea, kitsune in Japan and Hulijing in China). A similar demon is an incubus – the male equivalent of a succubus.
The origin of the succubus may be explained medically. It is well known that sleep paralysis is related to vivid hallucinations in the hypnagogic state, with countless cases of alien abductions and supernatural sightings ascribed to the phenomenon.
However, another explanation may be that the succubus is an allegory of the femme fatale. Femme fatale – French for “deadly woman” – describes a mysterious and seductive woman who uses her womanly charms to ensnare and manipulate men. A femme fatale is highly able in utilising the various tools at her disposal: beauty, charm, sexual allure, music, seductive dancing, persuasive language, deception, coercion, hypnotising and generally toying with a man’s reproductive instincts.
There are many examples of how different femme fatales – ranging from the biblical Eve to the spy Mata Hari – made an impact in history through the elaborate manipulation of men to their advantage. This is reflected in folklore through the concept of witches and enchantresses who use “magic” and sexual charms to have men do their bidding, essentially having them on a leash.
Essentially, the moral of the story of the succubus (that is, to men) that women can be deadly and are completely capable of sapping a man’s life away if she wished so. That is why men should know when they are actively being deceived or being controlled by a woman with (false) promises of love and sex. Perhaps the flipside moral of the story for women is that with the power of sex, a woman can have a man do anything for her – a valid strategy that has proven to be effective for all of recorded history.