Thursday, 19 February 2009

Incubi/Succubi and Vampires

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These incorporeal sexual energy feeders, mistakenly described by some as a type of incorporeal vampire, known as incubi (singular: incubus), and in a feminine form, succubi (singular: succubus), are two forms of demon not subtle about the purposes of their nocturnal visits which might explain false vampire syndrome.
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The incubus descends on sleeping persons at night, oppressing that person, causing nightmares. The succubus is thought to sometimes have sexual intercourse with sleeping persons. A single demon can manifest in both forms. Nightmares, under classic and probably outdated Freudian analysis, may relate to anxiety or sexual repression, or, at least, so we are told. But in the Middle Ages, visions of demons in the night who visited one's bed chamber were unquestionably the work of the incubus and succubus.
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The incubus/succubus was invariably a demon who attacked a human during sleep. (Could this be an early manifestation of the modern-day belief in "alien abduction"?) The night creature paralysed the victim (read this as sleep paralysis) and sometimes engaged in sexual relations with the victim, against the human's will. Attempts to explain away this belief in night demons is a rationalisation of sexual repression from the oppression and guilt, according to modern psychology.
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The vampire is similar to the incubus/succubus, except the vampire will drink the blood of a victim instead of engaging in relations with the victim. Some say the female succubus was essentially a gorgeous but demonic shape-shifter who assumed the female form and whose goal it was to mate with a male human. Others say the succubus would turn into an incubus after having relations with a male human, then as a new incubus it would pursue a female human, and so on.
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The incubus/succubus was usually associated with witchcraft. A book from 1584 called Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot discussed incubus/succubus, and stated that in one case witnesses saw an incubus on the bed of a woman. However, in other cases he attributes the demon to the imagination. Basically someone would be very reluctant to claim to have had relations with an incubus/succubus in past centuries for fear of being labelled a witch. It is also interesting to note that people believed there were different classes of demons, some more exalted than others. The incubus/succubus was at the bottom; it was the low-life in the pecking-order of demons.
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Vampires, eg the Russian upir and the Greek vrykolakas, were those who practiced witchcraft and were thus particularly susceptible because they had already given their soul to the Devil in life. Once the undead corpses rose from the grave they would terrorise the community, feeding on the living. By many accounts these undead corpses were required to return to their grave to enter into a torpor. When people believed that someone had become a vampire, they would exhume the corpse and try to exorcise the evil spirit. They would try a formal ritual, but more often they would destroy the corporeal form. This might entail cremation, decapitation preceded by the driving a wooden stake through the heart. Bodies might also be buried face-down. Some families secured stakes above the corpse so it would impale itself if it tried to escape. This was a rather naive attempt to prevent a demonic agency with supernatural powers.
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The vampires in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania (now part of Romania) were commonly called strigoi (the singular form is strigo). Strigoi were usually considered to be spirits who had returned from the dead. Unlike the upir or vrykolakas, the strigoi would pass through different stages after rising from the grave. Initially, a strigo might be invisible, tormenting its living family members by moving items of furniture and stealing food. After some time, it would become visible, looking almost like the person did in life. Again, the strigo would return to its family, stealing cattle, begging for sustenance and bringing disease. Strigoi would feed on humans, first their family members and then anyone else they happened to encounter. In some accounts the strigoi would sometimes suck their victims' blood directly from the heart.
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Strigoi are reanimated corpses that prey on the living. Initially, a strigo needed to return to the grave regularly, just like an upir. If people suspected someone had become a strigo, they would exhume the body and burn it, having driven a stake through it. But after seven years, if a strigo was still around, it could live wherever it pleased. It was said that strigoi would travel to distant towns to begin new lives as ordinary people, and that these clandestine vampires would gather. In addition to undead strigoi, referred to as strigoi mort, people also feared living vampires, or strigoi viu. These were cursed living people who were doomed to become strigoi mort when they died. If a strigoi mort living among humans had any children, the offspring were thought to carry the curse of the undead strigoi after life. When a known strigoi viu died, the family would destroy its body to ensure that it would not rise from the grave.
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In other parts of eastern Europe, strigoi-type creatures were known as vampir, or wampyr, most likely a variation on the Russian upir. Western European countries eventually picked up on this name, and "vampyr" (later "vampire") entered the English language. In the 17th and 18th centuries, vampire hysteria spread through eastern Europe. People reported seeing their dead relatives walking around, attacking the living. Authorities dug up scores of graves, burning and staking the corpses. Word of the vampire panics spread to western Europe, leading to a slew of academic speculations on the creatures, leading to the case of the infamous Highgate Vampire.
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