Stories of demons who steal a person’s soul with their kiss have been around for millennia, passed down by medieval monks and African shamans alike. In modern times, we know them as succubi or incubi for the males. Scientists may chalk these myths up to sleep disorders, but for many these demons are alive between the pages of their favorite books. So where did these creatures come from and where are they going?
Since I’ve been MIA due to penning my own succubus story with a decided twist, I’ll share a little of my research with you. Plus a little taste of “Kiss of Life and Death.”
According to Judaeo-Christian tradition, Lilith became the first succubus after refusing to submit to her husband, Adam. Since he refused to see her as an equal and she still had womanly needs, Lilith turned instead to a fallen angel for fulfillment. It seems odd that her punishment included the power to devour men’s souls, given her crime, but perhaps it fits the divine end game. The demon children Lilith bore went on to steal the breath of their victims, which in medieval times, was thought to be related to the spirit or soul. As Christian society’s views of sex grew more puritanical, the succubi’s powers took a more sexual turn, requiring full-fledged intercourse to obtain her goal.
In Muslim tradition, Jinns share the powers of their western succubi/incubi cousins. Some, however, possess a more violent streak, strangling their victims in their sleep. The celtic version, the leanan sidhe, is as beautiful and mischievous as most of the fae, but less malicious than the Jinn. She doesn’t mean to kill all her lovers by slowly draining their spirits dry. Humans simply can’t withstand so much perfection. Conversely, Zulu mythology’s Tokoloshe is strictly male and far less attractive, appearing as an ugly dwarf or bearlike humanoid creature that rapes women in their sleep. And also bites sleepers’ toes. Talk about a creeper.
Confession and penance were said to provide some relief for Catholics plagued by a succubus or incubus. As with most demons, however, exorcism was the only method to drive out a more determined soul-sucker, as described in the Malleus Maleficarum (a.k.a. Hammer of the Witches, 1496). Similarly, African shamans are the only surefire way of ridding one’s house of a creepy, toe-nibbling Tokoloshe. It’s interesting to note the Malleus Maleficarum claims men aren’t as much to blame as women for falling prey to a succubus because men are “intellectually stronger than women, and more apt to abhor such practices.” Female victims were just asking for it.
While some Christian fundamentalists still believe in these demons and attempt to exorcise them with varying degrees of success, there are several secular theories with more widespread acceptance. The modern medical community wholeheartedly disagrees with Saint Augustine’s diagnoses and instead claims many of the afflicted likely suffered from sleep paralysis combined with hypnagogic hallucinations. After REM sleep is interrupted the person enters an in-between state of wakefulness where they cannot move and sometimes feel a heavy weight on their chest as if someone is on top of them. Often they get a sense or vision of an intruder in the room, before fully waking up.
The other explanations are far less clinical, and require a great poker face. As you might imagine, incest and child sexual abuse were frowned upon in the Middle Ages, yet did occur. When a sheltered young lady became pregnant, an incubus was an easy scapegoat. And this fib worked just as well for consensual affairs, even for oh so scandalous wet dreams.
Modern authors like Richelle Mead (Georgina Kincaid urban fantasy series) have taken the succubus/incubus mythology to a new level, creating sympathetic heroes and heroines from yesterday’s villains. What’s a soul-sucking demon to do when one kiss could kill the man she loves?
And as promised, follow the link to a sneak peak of my twisted take on the succubus myth, A Kiss of Life and Death.
Life-giving energy coursed through Lark Jefferson like a power surge, overwhelming her senses on contact. Her untried defenses hadn’t stood a chance. With a final moan, the human lying on top of her went still, and his head dropped onto her shoulder. She immediately drew in a deep breath, but didn’t scream. She’d stopped struggling long ago, shortly after their lips connected.
Where am I? She could barely remember her own name, or why she should care.
Eyeglasses cut into her cheek. Auburn hair and the familiar scent of Old Spice tickled her nose. Her mind fought to shake off the euphoric haze, and like a drug addict coming down from a high, reality hit her like a fist punching from the inside.
No. Not again. Please no.
There is nothing romantic about being bitten by a vampire. She’d tried it once during her teens, before humans had hunted them to extinction. A kiss from one of her race, however, frequently induced mind-blowing orgasms but had one unfortunate consequence.
Mustering all her strength, Lark pushed her boyfriend off—ex-boyfriend now—and stared in horror as he sprawled across his second-hand couch. Despite her initial reservations about dating a human, she’d really liked Peter. They had really seemed to be connecting. “Why did you have to freaking kiss me, you idiot?”
Peter simply stared up at her, without explanation or absolution.
After her hands stopped shaking, she sighed with a mixture of regret and frustration. She shouldn’t have taken the risk. Clearly, two dates had been two too many, but now what?
His life force had tasted sublime but it sure as hell wasn’t worth the clean up. And she didn’t just mean stashing the deceased, God rest his soul. She was in deep shit of the any last requests kind, but the Virginia legal system wouldn’t be involved. Her family would take matters into their own hands…unless Immigration got to them first.
Lark’s stomach plunged at the idea of some brutish Enforcement Agent tossing her mother into the nearest sinkhole like a load of trash. Into the same suffocating darkness Daisy Jefferson had risked her life to escape. Even if she survived the fall and made it back to her village, Igneans didn’t respond well to traitors.
Thankful for the energy boost and his lack of roommates, she lowered poor Peter onto the faded area rug as gently as possible, then rolled him up with no further hesitation. Lark was a full-fledged U.S. citizen after all. If only her skin were at risk, she’d call 911 and hope for a miracle. But she’d never let her family be deported for her crime.
No choice but to cover her tracks, fast.
….And that’s it for now folks. Sweet dreams.