In Syndromes & Disorders, Wellbeing

The Incubus—Myth or Medical Fact?

The word incubus, from the Latin incubare, means to lie upon. The definition of incubus steadily evolves into a demon that supposedly has sexual intercourse with human beings, usually women, but sometimes with men and children as well. It is the male counterpart to a succubus, and they are both known to drain the energy of their victims.

The succubus is seen as a seductress while the incubus is most often associated with rape. Though the entities are male and female, they are both products of misogynistic societies that demonize female sexuality. The term incubus is much older than the term succubus as ancient cultures deemed supernatural beings to be sexless. Copulation and procreation are ideas that become associated with these entities once sex becomes such a moral issue.

Incubus demon stories abounded around the ancient world and throughout the ages. Incubus mythology has been used to explain unwanted and unacceptable pregnancies due to incest, rape, promiscuity, or some other socially unacceptable behavior. Such stories are most certainly life savers in cultures that believe in capital punishment for perpetrator and victim alike. This does not gain momentum until the thousand year period of the Middle Ages. This time is also known for its darkness and ignorance before the Renaissance.

According to incubus stories, the demon impregnates its victim who delivers a stillborn baby that eventually revives. This offspring will grow into an unusually intelligent and attractive child who will become an incubus himself.

Divine Copulation vs. Demonic Copulation

The supernatural has been made responsible for the unexplained since humanity began to wonder and ask questions in order to make sense of its existence. Good and evil, God and the Devil are the two extremes that encompass morality. Good is associated with light, the sun, white, clean, and innocence; and dark, the moon, black, dirty, and experience are evil. When something good happens and there is no readily available explanation, then it is positive divine intervention (God and angels). If something bad happens and cannot be explained, then it is negative supernatural intervention (Devil and demons).

Gods and demons have supposedly been procreating with humanity from the beginning. Gilgamesh, Hercules, and Jesus were all demi-gods born of a male god and a female human, and are three of the most famous representing different eras and belief systems.

Supernatural beings are notorious for copulating with human beings, especially male gods or demons with human women. It is the age old concept that there is good rape and bad rape, for what else is sex when one partner has no choice. The mores and norms of a society dictate its behavior. Social institutions, like religion, conform to them.

Good things are attributed to good spirits and bad things are connected to evil ones. It is the belief that good and bad that is beyond human control is controlled by good or bad greater beings. The differences in the copulation with a god and a demon are the method of interaction and the end product of it.

Divine copulation

  • There may be physical contact, but not actual penetration.
  • Gilgamesh, though his personality and willfulness had to be tempered by the gods, was a powerful king who became a hero.
  • The Greek god of gods, Zeus, was a spectacular wooer of human women. Since it is believed that the ultimate purpose of copulation is procreation, all of Zeus’ conquests ended in pregnancies and subsequent births of demigods and demigoddesses. Zeus appeared as a swan, a bull, a shower of gold, and many other symbols of the Divine, or appealed to a particular woman’s sensitivity. He appeared to Leda as a swan and begat Helen of Troy, and as a shower of gold to Danae, the mother of Perseus the Gorgon Slayer.
  • Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus the Christ is the demigod (hero) of Christian myth, and is portrayed as the savior of mankind who was born to God and a virgin.
  • The greatest Greek warrior, Heracles (Hercules), was also fathered by Zeus. He appeared to Alcmena, the wife of Amphitryon, a distinguished general of Thebes, as her husband. This is not typical of divine procreation, as it involves a third party.
  • All divine procreation results in the production of a hero or savior.

Demonic copulation

The belief that a malevolent supernatural force is responsible for this phenomenon is older than organized religion, has been addressed throughout the ages in polytheistic and monotheistic belief systems, and still persists today. It happens at night and women who claim to have been assaulted by such an entity report the same inability to move.

  • The Jewish tradition speaks to Genesis as a source of incubus activity. The Sons of God in the biblical passage were believed to be the angels that were cast out of heaven. Being Lucifer’s followers, they became demons, took human shape, and fornicated with human women. From these unions came the race of giants, abominations and one of the reasons for God’s wrath in bringing about the Great Flood.
  • Classical philosophers studied the Pentateuch and preserved this idea by claiming that these angels were of a lower sort of divinity. Philo of Alexandria refers to them as “zealous emulators of material depravity” (Seigneuret, 666).
  • The Medieval magician, Merlin, is looked upon as an incubus due to the nature of his birth, though he is not known to procreate. He is a subject of various kings, regardless of his powers. He uses deception, much like Zeus, that allows King Uther to lay with Lady Igraine and beget Arthur, future king of the Britains. Merlin is also the necessary evil that seems to bridge the worlds of Paganism through his magic, and Christendom through King Arthur.
  • The Catholic saint and church leader, Augustine, redefined this interpretation. According to him, the Sons of God were the offspring of Seth who were forbidden by Adam to procreate with the descendants of Cain. This is the union that produced the human phenomenon of giants. This revelation did not dissuade Christians from fearing incubus stories. (Cohen, 53).
  • Since Augustine denied that fallen angels were the Sons of Man, but did not deny the existence of such entities; the belief in fallen angels and the subsequent births of monstrous beings was soon incorporated into the definition of incubus.
  • Another interpretation reveals that angels who were sent to watch over humanity fell in love with the daughters of man and fathered a race of giants with them. When this race of abominations perished from the earth, they left behind their demonic souls that continued to ravage human women.

Sleep Paralysis

There is nothing more frightening, especially when it happens for the first time, than to wake up in the middle of the night, fully aware, but unable to speak or move. Some people call this a witch on one’s back, but others refer to it as having incubus dreams.

This experience is associated with nightmares that focus on helplessness, suffocation, and a sense of dread at being weighed down by an invisible attacker. Stories of oral tradition and eventually in written language supported the reality of such malevolent creatures, and they became monsters and demons sent from a dark force. This is particularly true in Europe during the Middle Ages, when such spirits were sought out.

The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is called sleep paralysis. It occurs during non-rapid eye movement (NREM), which is possible during two different times in the sleep cycle. One is while falling asleep, and the other is during a deeper sleep state. Both instances can last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

When one begins to fall asleep and the conscious mind becomes aware, one may experience paralysis of motor functions. This can also occur during the dream state of sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is indicative of the dream state. Your consciousness transitions between REM and NREM throughout the sleep cycle.

While eyes are rapidly moving in the dream state, the rest of the body is relaxed. If one becomes aware during this time, the muscles are not responsive to the brain’s commands, and one experience s a form of paralysis. People usually drift back into the REM and NREM transition. One will become unaware again until becoming fully awake, but the paralysis experience is still remembered.

Though people cannot move or speak during sleep paralysis, they can see and hear normally, and have total recall of the experience and what happened around them after they wake up. Even when sleep paralysis occurs, the feeling of being restricted by an unseen force is present, but there is no sexual assault attached to it.

Two-fifths of the world’s population experiences this sleep phenomenon. It is common to teenagers and may occur in families. It may also be connected to sleep deprivation, changes in sleep schedules, stress, bipolar disorder, adjustment to medication, substance abuse, or even just sleeping on one’s back. Paralysis does not occur when one lies on one’s stomach. This is not considered a medical condition or problem, and is not detrimental to one’s health.

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