Friday, March 1, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

The cousin or, perhaps more correctly evil step-brother, of the dream lover that we talked about last Friday is the incubus. Known of old as a demon to be feared and especially battled against, the incubus was envisioned as a sometimes handsome but in true form grotesque creature who either raped women or enticed them into sexual liaisons in the very dead of night. This demon is generally thought of in our modern, scientific world as a result of psychiatric disease brought on by the overly repressed cultures of Medieval Europe and Puritanical New England, to name two. In fact, the incubus may be a much older presence than a passing glance would have us believe.

Certain scholars, including those who study such diverse histories as Hebrew beliefs and Arthurian legends, access that the original incubus may have been one of that famous trio of Sumerian demons that included the previously discusses Ardat-Lili. The lili, a male demon, was said to trouble women's sleep, bring them erotic dreams and, in some cases, sire children of a changeling nature upon them. This would make the lili/human hybrid at least somewhat akin to a fairy child.

Fast forward to those days of Medieval tension and the stories of incubi accosting women - particularly innocent maidens and sequestered Brides of Christ - abound. In this period, incubi were said to be clever shapeshifters who could take on the appearance of anyone their chosen female prey might be attracted to. Demons, having no particular corporeal restraints, could pass as smoke or mist under a door or through the cracks in a wooden or stone wall and materialize on the other side. No woman, it seemed, was safe; but the incubi had their favorites.

Nuns were a decidedly popular conquest and, in the reverse, incubi were usually blamed for any convent indiscretions. Until well into the Gothic period, the accusation that an incubus, and not a human man, had gotten a nun pregnant was taken almost for granted.

When one Archbishop Sylvanus, who was the particular confessor of a large convent of Dominican nuns in what is now Bavaria, was accused of sexual assault by one of the good sisters - a particularly young and pretty good sister it is said - he simply turned up his silk-gloved hands. It could not be me, he protested; I would never break my vow of chastity. Surely Sister so-and-so (needless to say her name does not appear in the record) was visited by an incubus who had taken my form. What other explanation could their be? The 15th century inquisitors before whom Sylvanus appeared nodded thoughtful and then agreed with him. Case closed.

Telling an honest (or dishonest, in the case of the aforementioned Bishop) man from an incubus was surprisingly simple. When the list is ticked off, in fact, it is a little surprising that these demons troubled themselves with a disguise. The incubus had an unholy odor, either of sulfur, the barnyard or the rotting corpse that he had picked up as a skin. He had the power to paralyze anyone near his chosen victim, putting them into a trance-like sleep so that, even if the person in question lay right next to the woman, they would not be disturbed from their slumber. Worst of all, the incubus - regardless of what form he took - was said to be endowed with a huge, ice-cold member that was sometimes reported to be two or even three-pronged.

Anomolies of birth were often whispered to have been the result of rutting with an incubus. Woe to the woman who gave birth to an unfortunately harelipped, club-footed or otherwise "different" child; twins or children with red hair were also said to be the sons or daughters of incubi. The wizard Merlin is told to have been such a one and even in the Romantic era certain unkind types talked of George Gordon Byron, who had a club-foot, being the son of an incubus.

With all this, there were some ladies who willingly welcomed the incubus as a steady lover. Franciscan Ludovico Sinistrari, operating in the late 17th century and author of Demoniality, became somewhat of an expert on incubi and ways to exorcise them from the lives of such deluded women. He noted that these demons were particularly difficult to clear out as they "have no dread of exorcisms, show no reverence for holy things [and]... sometimes even laugh at exorcists." He goes on to give the example of a wife and mother so infatuated with her demon lover that she hardly blinked when, in retaliation to Sinistrari's exorcism attempts, the incubus built a wall of roofing tiles around her bed so tall that she needed a ladder to climb in and out.

A troublesome situation indeed... Next Friday, the yang to the the incubus' ying: the succubus.

Header: Incubus by Charles Walker c 1870 via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

"It wasn't me. It must have been an incubus" seems sort of like "the dog ate my homework excuse" of the middle ages, Pauline... And I guess Mairin must be our little red-haired incubus child. ;-)

Mike Hebert said...

Mais yeah, what other possible explanation could it be? lol. Great stuff as usual, Pauline. I missed a couple of your posts and will try to catch up. Clinton should have used that when he had his trouble with Monica. I think he could have maybe pulled it off, shrugging his shoulders, and in that Arkansas southern drawl, "it wasn't me. It was that terrible, terrible demon."

Pauline said...

Timmy! The demons probably visit the infertility clinics on a regular basis so yeah; Mairin's a demon child.

Mike: Thank you; and hilarious. I would have watched the press conferences to see that!