Almost everyone knows about succubi - female demons who seduce men and bend them to their will. But not as many people know about incubi, male demons who attack women in their sleep. The two certainly share some similarities. Like the succubi who preys on men, incubi are demons who prey on women, and both of them desire to breed cambion - an unholy union between demons and humans.
However, incubi are more than just the male version of a succubus, but what exactly is the difference between an incubus and a succubus? Other than their gender, incubi have a few interesting differences. Most crucially, they were used as a scapegoat for actual assaults committed on women in Medieval times that really had absolutely nothing to do with demons. Many of the devout - priests in particular - decided that blaming a supernatural demon was far more preferable than punishing the man who actually committed the crime.
But it isn’t all bleak. There are a ton of crazy facts about the incubus demon as their legend stretches all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia. The Akkadians called them lilu, demonic spirits whose female counterparts were called lilin. One such lilu was the father of Gilgamesh, the legendary God-king of Uruk, and the subject of the epic poem the Epic of Gilgamesh - so at least one good thing came out of them.
Although the idea of a male sex demon comes from pre-biblical times, the actual word incubus first came into existence right around the 13th century AD. It evolved from the Latin word for nightmare - "incubo" - which evolved from "incubare", which means “to lie on top of”. Its usage spread as the church gained more power in the latter half of the Middle Ages.
Incubi, the church explained, were supernatural demons who attacked women while they were asleep, or at least close to falling asleep. They were ugly, malformed beasts who used their powers to keep the women they assaulted unconscious, restrained, or even paralyzed.
The incubi of the modern age has received a makeover, however. Nowadays, incubi are often said to be attractive, charismatic, and much more seductive than their earlier incarnations. Not that their goals have changed - making demon babies is still their first priority.
If male sex demons exist, then female sex demons must as well. In fact, they are far more popular than the incubi, and often appear as characters in popular fiction... which probably says a little something about our culture’s ideas on sexual taboo.
The word succubus is derived from the Latin word succuba, which means “strumpet”. Succuba is derived from succubare, which means “to lie under”. Similar to incubi, succubi were also ugly and malformed, and only in modern times have they received a glamorous makeover. Just as the incubi assault women to impregnate them, succubi do almost the same to men in order to conceive demon babies called cambion.
One of the more interesting beliefs about the incubi and succubi is that they are actually one and the same shapeshifting demon. Although most believed the demons were out to assault men and women in their sleep, plenty also believed they were simultaneously infertile. The idea is that the demon first turns into a succubus in order to extract the seed from a man. It then turns into an incubus to plant their tainted seed into a woman. The result is their true goal: the creation of the cambion.
Famous theologian and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote down his thoughts on incubi, succubi, and cambion in his seminal work Summa Theologiæ:
"Still if some are occasionally begotten from demons, it is not from the seed of such demons, nor from their assumed bodies, but from the seed of men taken for the purpose; as when the demon assumes first the form of a woman, and afterwards of a man; just as they take the seed of other things for other generating purposes, as Augustine says, so that the person born is not the child of a demon, but of a man."
The middle ages were cruel to most people who weren’t noble, rich, or pious. The period was also especially cruel to women in general. Anything that was sexually deviant was very often attributed to the Devil himself. People found that it was far easier to place the blame on an incubus rather than allow the real reason for the misbegotten pregnancy to surface.
In Robert Masello’s book Fallen Angels … and the Spirits of the Dark, he notes that a certain Bishop Sylvanus assaulted a nun, and in his defense claimed he was possessed by an incubus. He was believed by the nun’s own convent and received no punishment for his actions.