In my 7th grade creative writing class I wrote a short story about a creepy vampire lady who lived in a cave under a Gothic castle by the sea and, in an act of revenge that reached across generations, sucked the blood from the children of the family that lived there. Her name was Lamia and she was the result of two prominent features in my teenage life at the time: Greek mythology and Dark Shadows in syndication. If I had still been watching Star Trek the whole thing would have been different.
To this day I am fascinated by the tale of demonization and old gods becoming new monsters behind the ancient story of the Greek Lamia. My hackneyed prose of so many years gone by aside, I believe it still resonates today.
According to the Acadian cultures of Greece, Lamia was a serpent goddess. She may have migrated to the mainland from Crete, where the Minoan’s worshiped a goddess of earth, death and rejuvenation in the form of a snake. Patricia Monaghan tells us in her Book of Goddesses & Heroines that “This Lamia seems to have been honored at mystic rituals similar to those of Demeter at Eleusis.” This heyday was not to last, however.
Once Zeus became king of the Greek gods and Hera his tortured queen, Lamia joined the ranks of so many other goddesses demoted from divinity to doxy. Lamia was then said to have been a breathtakingly beautiful woman and Queen of Libya. Desired by Zeus, he whisked her off to a northern cave and promptly sired several children on her. Abandon by her lover, Lamia was eventually tracked down by the miserable, perpetually jealous Hera. Finding Lamia and her lovely offspring, she forced the former queen to eat her own children. In some versions of the story, one of Lamia’s brood, Scylla, was spared although changed into a monster by Hera.
Driven mad by this grisly punishment, Lamia wandered the countryside howling like a stray dog. Denied shelter or help of any kind, she changed into a ravening beast of sorts who would slip into people’s homes and quietly suck the blood of sleeping children. She left these mortal babes as dead and mangled as she had her own half-god offspring.
According to the mythology, Lamia could present a beautiful face should the child wake up as she approached, and delight it with a lilting song just before she chose to strike. In fact she was a hideous, Gorgon-like half-snake who could take her eyes from their sockets while she slept so that she would never be caught unawares.
Eventually, as Monaghan points out, Lamia became a kind of bogey man that Hellenistic mothers would use to frighten their kids into behaving. The original meaning of her name was even lost and it is now translated as “greedy one.”
Thus a powerful goddess was reduced to a name used to keep the brats in line. A very far fall, if ever there was one.
Finally, some changes are on the horizon for me and HQ. There will probably be a bit of a hiccup in posting for a week or so but the news is good and, as always, I appreciate your input and support. More to come, hopefully sooner than later.
Header: Photograph by Rahvis c 1947 via Mid-Century