Monday, 30 November 2015


Books November 30, 2015 Issue                        


What do we learn about science from a controversy in physics?



What makes science science? The pious answers are: its ceaseless curiosity in the face of mystery, its keen edge of experimental objectivity, its endless accumulation of new data, and the cool machines it uses. We stare, the scientists see; we gawk, they gaze. We guess; they know.
But there are revisionist scholars who question the role of scientists as magi. Think how much we take on faith, even with those wonders of science that seem open to the non-specialist’s eye. The proliferation of hominids—all those near-men and proto-men and half-apes found in the fossil record, exactly as Darwin predicted—rests on the interpretation of a few blackened Serengeti mandibles that it would take a lifetime’s training to really evaluate. (And those who have put in the time end up squabbling anyway.)
Worse, small hints of what seems like scamming reach even us believers. Every few weeks or so, in the Science Times, we find out that some basic question of the universe has now been answered—but why, we wonder, weren’t we told about the puzzle until after it was solved? Results announced as certain turn out to be hard to replicate. Triumphs look retrospectively engineered. This has led revisionist historians and philosophers to suggest that science is a kind of scam—a socially agreed-on fiction no more empirically grounded than any other socially agreed-on fiction, a faith like any other (as the defenders of faiths like any other like to say). Back when, people looked at old teeth and broken bones with the eye of faith and called them relics; we look at them with the eye of another faith and call them proof. What’s different?
The defense of science against this claim turns out to be complicated, for the simple reason that, as a social activity, science is vulnerable to all the comedy inherent in any social activity: group thinking, self-pleasing, and running down the competition in order to get the customer’s (or, in this case, the government’s) cash. Books about the history of science should therefore be about both science and scientists, about the things they found and the way they found them. A good science writer has to show us the fallible men and women who made the theory, and then show us why, after the human foibles are boiled off, the theory remains reliable.
No well-tested scientific concept is more astonishing than the one that gives its name to a new book by the Scientific American contributing editor George Musser, “Spooky Action at a Distance” (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The ostensible subject is the mechanics of quantum entanglement; the actual subject is the entanglement of its observers. Musser presents the hard-to-grasp physics of “non-locality,” and his question isn’t so much how this weird thing can be true as why, given that this weird thing had been known about for so long, so many scientists were so reluctant to confront it. What keeps a scientific truth from spreading?
The story dates to the early decades of quantum theory, in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, when Albert Einstein was holding out against the “probabilistic” views about the identity of particles and waves held by a younger generation of theoretical physicists. He created what he thought of as a reductio ad absurdum. Suppose, he said, that particles like photons and electrons really do act like waves, as the new interpretations insisted, and that, as they also insisted, their properties can be determined only as they are being measured. Then, he pointed out, something else would have to be true: particles that were part of a single wave function would be permanently “entangled,” no matter how far from each other they migrated. If you have a box full of photons governed by one wave function, and one escapes, the escapee remains entangled in the fate of the particles it left behind—like the outer edges of the ripples spreading from a pebble thrown into a pond. An entangled particle, measured here in the Milky Way, would have to show the same spin—or the opposite spin, depending—or momentum as its partner, conjoined millions of light-years away, when measured at the same time. Like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, no matter how far they spread apart they would still be helplessly conjoined. Einstein’s point was that such a phenomenon could only mean that the particles were somehow communicating with each other instantaneously, at a speed faster than light, violating the laws of nature. This was what he condemned as “spooky action at a distance.”
John Donne, thou shouldst be living at this hour! One can only imagine what the science-loving Metaphysical poet would have made of a metaphor that had two lovers spinning in unison no matter how far apart they were. But Musser has a nice, if less exalted, analogy for the event: it is as if two magic coins, flipped at different corners of the cosmos, always came up heads or tails together. (The spooky action takes place only in the context of simultaneous measurement. The particles share states, but they don’t send signals.)
What started out as a reductio ad absurdum became proof that the cosmos is in certain ways absurd. What began as a bug became a feature and is now a fact. Musser takes us into the lab of the Colgate professor Enrique Galvez, who has constructed a simple apparatus that allows him to entangle photons and then show that “the photons are behaving like a pair of magic coins. . . .They are not in contact, and no known force links them, yet they act as one.” With near-quantum serendipity, the publication of Musser’s book has coincided with news of another breakthrough experiment, in which scientists at Delft University measured two hundred and forty-five pairs of entangled electrons and confirmed the phenomenon with greater rigor than before. The certainty that spooky action at a distance takes place, Musser says, challenges the very notion of “locality,” our intuitive sense that some stuff happens only here, and some stuff over there. What’s happening isn’t really spooky action at a distance; it’s spooky distance, revealed through an action.
Why, then, did Einstein’s question get excluded for so long from reputable theoretical physics? The reasons, unfolding through generations of physicists, have several notable social aspects, worthy of Trollope’s studies of how private feuds affect public decisions. Musser tells us that fashion, temperament, zeitgeist, and sheer tenacity affected the debate, along with evidence and argument. The “indeterminacy” of the atom was, for younger European physicists, “a lesson of modernity, an antidote to a misplaced Enlightenment trust in reason, which German intellectuals in the 1920’s widely held responsible for their country’s defeat in the First World War.” The tonal and temperamental difference between the scientists was as great as the evidence they called on.
Musser tracks the action at the “Solvay” meetings, scientific conferences held at an institute in Brussels in the twenties. (Ernest Solvay was a rich Belgian chemist with a taste for high science.) Einstein and Niels Bohr met and argued over breakfast and dinner there, talking past each other more than to each other. Musser writes, “Bohr punted on Einstein’s central concern about links between distant locations in space,” preferring to focus on the disputes about probability and randomness in nature. As Musser says, the “indeterminacy” questions of whether what you measured was actually indefinite or just unknowable until you measured it was an important point, but not this important point.
Musser explains that the big issue was settled mainly by being pushed aside. Generational imperatives trumped evidentiary ones. The things that made Einstein the lovable genius of popular imagination were also the things that made him an easy object of condescension. The hot younger theorists patronized him, one of Bohr’s colleagues sneering that if a student had raised Einstein’s objections “I would have considered him quite intelligent and promising.”
There was never a decisive debate, never a hallowed crucial experiment, never even a winning argument to settle the case, with one physicist admitting, “Most physicists (including me) accept that Bohr won the debate, although like most physicists I am hard pressed to put into words just how it was done.” Arguing about non-locality went out of fashion, in this account, almost the way “Rock Around the Clock” displaced Sinatra from the top of the charts.
The same pattern of avoidance and talking-past and taking on the temper of the times turns up in the contemporary science that has returned to the possibility of non-locality. Musser notes that Geoffrey Chew’s attack on the notion of underlying laws in physics “was radical, and radicalism went over well in ’60’s-era Berkeley.” The British mathematician Roger Penrose’s assaults on string theory in the nineties were intriguing but too intemperate and too inconclusive for the room: “Penrose didn’t help his cause with his outspoken skepticism. . . . Valid though his critiques might have been, they weren’t calculated to endear him to his colleagues.”
Indeed, Musser, though committed to empirical explanation, suggests that the revival of “non-locality” as a topic in physics may be due to our finding the metaphor of non-locality ever more palatable: “Modern communications technology may not technically be non-local but it sure feels that it is.” Living among distant connections, where what happens in Bangalore happens in Boston, we are more receptive to the idea of such a strange order in the universe. Musser sums it up in an enviable aphorism: “If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, then science is tranquility recollected in emotion.” The seemingly neutral order of the natural world becomes the sounding board for every passionate feeling the physicist possesses.
Is science, then, a club like any other, with fetishes and fashions, with schemers, dreamers, and blackballed applicants? Is there a real demarcation to be made between science and every other kind of social activity? One of Musser’s themes is that the boundary between inexplicable-seeming magical actions and explicable physical phenomena is a fuzzy one. The lunar theory of tides is an instance. Galileo’s objection to it was like Einstein’s to the quantum theory: that the moon working an occult influence on the oceans was obviously magical nonsense. This objection became Newton’s point: occult influences could be understood soberly and would explain the movement of the stars and planets. What was magic became mathematical and then mundane. “Magical” explanations, like spooky action, are constantly being revived and rebuffed, until, at last, they are reinterpreted and accepted. Instead of a neat line between science and magic, then, we see a jumpy, shifting boundary that keeps getting redrawn. It’s like the “Looney Tunes” cartoon where Bugs draws a line in the dirt and dares Yosemite Sam to “just cross over dis line”—and then, when Sam does, Bugs redraws it, over and over, ever backward, until, in the end, Sam steps over a cliff. Real-world demarcations between science and magic, Musser’s story suggests, are like Bugs’s: made on the move and as much a trap as a teaching aid.
In the past several decades, certainly, the old lines between the history of astrology and astronomy, and between alchemy and chemistry, have been blurred; historians of the scientific revolution no longer insist on a clean break between science and earlier forms of magic. Where once logical criteria between science and non-science (or pseudo-science) were sought and taken seriously—Karl Popper’s criterion of “falsifiability” was perhaps the most famous, insisting that a sound theory could, in principle, be proved wrong by one test or another—many historians and philosophers of science have come to think that this is a naïve view of how the scientific enterprise actually works. They see a muddle of coercion, old magical ideas, occasional experiment, hushed-up failures—all coming together in a social practice that gets results but rarely follows a definable logic.
Yet the old notion of a scientific revolution that was really a revolution is regaining some credibility. David Wootton, in his new, encyclopedic history, “The Invention of Science” (Harper), recognizes the blurred lines between magic and science but insists that the revolution lay in the public nature of the new approach. “What killed alchemy was not experimentation,” he writes. He goes on:
What killed alchemy was the insistence that experiments must be openly reported in publications which presented a clear account of what had happened, and they must then be replicated, preferably before independent witnesses. The alchemists had pursued a secret learning, convinced that only a few were fit to have knowledge of divine secrets and that the social order would collapse if gold ceased to be in short supply. . . . Esoteric knowledge was replaced by a new form of knowledge, which depended both on publication and on public or semi-public performance. A closed society was replaced by an open one.
In a piquant way, Wootton, while making little of Popper’s criterion of falsifiability, makes it up to him by borrowing a criterion from his political philosophy. Scientific societies are open societies. One day the lunar tides are occult, the next day they are science, and what changes is the way in which we choose to talk about them.
Wootton also insists, against the grain of contemporary academia, that single observed facts, what he calls “killer facts,” really did polish off antique authorities. Facts are not themselves obvious: the fact of the fact had to be invented, litigated, and re-litigated. But, once we agree that the facts are facts, they can do amazing work. Traditional Ptolemaic astronomy, in place for more than a millennium, was destroyed by what Galileo discovered about the phases of Venus. That killer fact “serves as a single, solid, and strong argument to establish its revolution around the Sun, such that no room whatsoever remains for doubt,” Galileo wrote, and Wootton adds, “No one was so foolish as to dispute these claims.” Observation was theory-soaked—Wootton shows a delightful drawing of a crater on the moon that does not actually exist, drawn by a dutiful English astronomer who had just been reading Galileo—and facts were, as always, tempered by our desires. But there they were, all the same, smiling fiendishly, like cartoon barracudas, as they ate up old orbits.
Several things flow from Wootton’s view. One is that “group think” in the sciences is often true think. Science has always been made in a cloud of social networks. But this power of assent is valuable only if there’s a willingness to look a killer fact in the eye. The Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall’s new book, “Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs” (Ecco), has as its arresting central thesis the idea that a disk of dark matter might exist in the Milky Way, perturbing the orbits of comets and potentially sending them periodically toward Earth, where they are likely to produce large craters and extinctions. But the theory is plausible only because a single killer fact murdered an earlier theory—which held that an unseen star was out there, doing the perturbing and the extincting. Every newer orbiting telescope has scanned the skies, and the so-called Nemesis star hasn’t shown up. Disks of dark matter can now appear in the space left empty by the star’s absence.
A similar pattern is apparent in the case of the search for “Vulcan,” the hypothesized planet that, in the nineteenth century, sat between Mercury and the sun and explained perturbations in Mercury’s orbit. As Thomas Levenson explains in “The Hunt for Vulcan” (Random House), nineteenth-century astronomers were so in love with the idea of the missing planet that many of them, bewitched by random shadows, insisted they had seen it through their telescopes. Only in 1915, when Einstein emerged with a new interpretation of the perturbations (something to do with gravity as space-time curvature), could astronomers stop “seeing” what wasn’t there.
There has been much talk in the pop-sci world of “memes”—ideas that somehow manage to replicate themselves in our heads. But perhaps the real memes are not ideas or tunes or artifacts but ways of making them—habits of mind rather than products of mind. Science isn’t a slot machine, where you drop in facts and get out truths. But it is a special kind of social activity, one where lots of different human traits—obstinacy, curiosity, resentment of authority, sheer cussedness, and a grudging readiness to submit pet notions to popular scrutiny—end by producing reliable knowledge. The spread of Bill James’s ideas on baseball, from mimeographed sheets to the front offices of the Red Sox, is a nice instance of how a scientific turn of mind spread to a place where science hadn’t usually gone. (James himself knew it, remarking that if he was going to be Galileo someone had to be the Pope.)
One way or another, science really happens. The claim that basic research is valuable because it leads to applied technology may be true but perhaps is not at the heart of the social use of the enterprise. The way scientists do think makes us aware of how we can think. Samuel Johnson said that a performer riding on three horses may not accomplish anything, but he increases our respect for the faculties of man. The scientists who show that nature rides three horses at once—or even two horses, on opposite sides of the universe—also widen our respect for what we are capable of imagining, and it is this action, at its own spooky distance, that really entangles our minds. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia/ Blogger Ref
Incubus, 1870
An incubus is a demon in male form who, according to mythological and legendary traditions, lies upon women in order to engage in sexual activity with them. Its female counterpart is the succubus. Superstitious folk have for many centuries told salacious tales of incubi and succubi, and Genesis 6 is a passage used to support the credibility of such stories. These terms remain current among heavy metal bands and occult groups today. Some traditions hold that repeated sexual activity with an incubus or succubus may result in the deterioration of health, or even death.[1]

Etymological, ancient and religious descriptions[edit]

The word incubus is derived from Late Latin incubo (a nightmare induced by such a demon); from incub(āre) (to lie upon).[2] One of the earliest mentions of an incubus comes from Mesopotamia on the Sumerian King List, ca. 2400 BC, where the hero Gilgamesh's father is listed as Lilu.[3] It is said that Lilu disturbs and seduces women in their sleep, while Lilitu, a female demon, appears to men in their erotic dreams.[4] Two other corresponding demons appear as well: Ardat lili, who visits men by night and begets ghostly children from them, and Irdu lili, who is known as a male counterpart to Ardat lili and visits women by night and begets from them. These demons were originally storm demons, but they eventually became regarded as night demons because of mistaken etymology.[5]
Incubi were thought to be demons who had sexual relations with women, sometimes producing a child by the woman. Succubi, by contrast, were demons thought to have intercourse with men. Debate about the demons began early in the Christian tradition. St. Augustine touched on the topic in De Civitate Dei ("The City of God"). There were too many attacks by incubi to deny them. He stated, "There is also a very general rumor. Many have verified it by their own experience and trustworthy persons have corroborated the experience others told, that sylvans and fauns, commonly called incubi, have often made wicked assaults upon women."[6] Questions about the reproductive capabilities of the demons continued. Eight hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas lent himself to the ongoing discussion, stating, "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 so they take the seed of other things for other generating purposes."[7] It became generally accepted that incubi and succubi were the same demon, able to switch between male and female forms.[8] A succubus would be able to sleep with a man and collect his sperm, and then transform into an incubus and use that seed on women. Even though sperm and egg came from humans originally, the spirits' offspring were often thought of as supernatural.[9]
Some sources indicate that it may be identified by its unnaturally large or cold penis.[10] Though many tales claim that the incubus is bisexual,[11] others indicate that it is strictly heterosexual and finds attacking a male victim either unpleasant or detrimental.[12]
Incubi are sometimes said to be able to conceive children. The half-human offspring of such a union is sometimes referred to as a cambion. An incubus may pursue sexual relations with a woman in order to father a child, as in the legend of Merlin.[13]
According to the Malleus Maleficarum, exorcism is one of the five ways to overcome the attacks of incubi, the others being Sacramental Confession, the Sign of the Cross (or recital of the Angelic Salutation), moving the afflicted to another location, and by excommunication of the attacking entity, "which is perhaps the same as exorcism."[14] On the other hand, the Franciscan friar Ludovico Maria Sinistrari stated that incubi "do not obey exorcists, have no dread of exorcisms, show no reverence for holy things, at the approach of which they are not in the least overawed."[15]

Regional variations[edit]

There are a number of variations on the incubus theme around the world. The alp of Teutonic or German folklore is one of the better known. In Zanzibar, Popo Bawa primarily attacks men and generally behind closed doors.[16] "The Trauco", according to the traditional mythology of the Chiloé Province of Chile, is a hideous deformed dwarf who lulls nubile young women and seduces them. The Trauco is said to be responsible for unwanted pregnancies, especially in unmarried women. Perhaps another variation of this conception is the "Tintín" in Ecuador, a dwarf who is fond of abundant haired women and seduces them at night by playing the guitar outside their windows; a myth that researchers believe was created during the Colonial period of time to explain pregnancies in women who never left their houses without a chaperone, very likely covering incest or sexual abuse by one of the family's friends.[17] In Hungary, a lidérc can be a Satanic lover that flies at night and appears as a fiery light (an ignis fatuus or will o' the wisp) or, in its more benign form as a featherless chicken.[18]
In Brazil and the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, the Amazon River Dolphin (or boto) is believed to be a combination of siren and incubus, that shape-shifts into a very charming and handsome man who seduces young women and takes them into the river.[19] It is said to be responsible for disappearances and unwanted pregnancies,[20] which metamorphoses back into a dolphin during the day. According to legend the boto always wears a hat to disguise the breathing hole at the top of its head.[21]
The Southern African incubus demon is the Tokolosh. Chaste women place their beds upon bricks to deter the rather short fellows from attaining their sleeping forms. They also share the hole in the head detail and water dwelling habits of the Boto.
In Germanic Folklore, there is the mara or mare, a spirit or goblin that rides on the chests of humans while they sleep, giving them bad dreams (or "nightmares").[22] Belief in the mare goes back to the Norse Ynglinga saga from the 13th century,[23] but the belief is probably even older. The mare was likely inspired by sleep paralysis.
In Assam, a north-eastern province of India it is mostly known as "pori" (Assamese: পৰী, meaning "angel"). According to the mythology, Pori comes to a man at night in his dreams and attracts towards her. Gradually the victim's health deteriorates and in some cases a tendency to commit suicide generates in him.
In Turkish culture, incubus is known as Karabasan. It is an evil being that descends upon some sleepers at night. These beings are thought to be spirits or jinns. It can be seen or heard in the nightmare and a heavy weight is felt on the chest. Yet people cannot wake up from that state. Some of the causes are sleeping without adequately covering the body (especially women) and eating in bed.

Scientific explanations[edit]

Victims may have been experiencing waking dreams or sleep paralysis. The phenomenon of sleep paralysis is well-established. During the fourth phase of sleep (the deepest stage, also known as REM sleep), motor centers in the brain are inhibited, producing paralysis. The reason for this is ultimately unknown but the most common explanation is that this prevents one from acting out one's dreams. Malfunctions of this process can either result in sonambulism (sleepwalking) or, conversely, sleep paralysis - where one remains partially or wholly paralysed for a short time after waking.
Additional to sleep paralysis is hypnagogia. In a near-dream state, it is common to experience auditory and visual hallucinations. Mostly these are forgotten upon fully waking or soon afterwards, in the same manner as dreams. However, most people remember the phenomenon of hearing music or seeing things in near-sleep states at some point in their lives. Typical examples include a feeling of being crushed or suffocated, electric "tingles" or "vibrations", imagined speech and other noises, the imagined presence of a visible or invisible entity, and sometimes intense emotion: fear or euphoria and orgasmic feelings. These often appear quite real and vivid; especially auditory hallucinations of music which can be quite loud, indistinguishable from music being played in the same room. Humanoid and animal figures, often shadowy or blurry, are often present in hypnagogic hallucinations, more so than other hallucinogenic states. This may be a relic of an ancient instinct to detect predatory animals.
The combination of sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucination could easily cause someone to believe that a "demon was holding them down". Nocturnal arousal etc. could be explained away by creatures causing otherwise guilt-producing behavior. Add to this the common phenomena of nocturnal arousal and nocturnal emission, and all the elements required to believe in an incubus are present.[9]
On the other hand, some victims of incubi could well have been the victims of real sexual assault. Rapists may have attributed the rapes of sleeping women to demons in order to escape punishment. A friend or relative is at the top of the list in such cases and would be kept secret by the intervention of "spirits".[15]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ Stephens, Walter (2002), Demon Lovers, p. 23, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-77261-6
  2. Jump up ^ "Incubus". Retrieved September 26, 2014. 
  3. Jump up ^ Raphael Patai, p. 221, The Hebrew Goddess: Third Enlarged Edition, ISBN 978-0-8143-2271-0
  4. Jump up ^ Siegmund Hurwitz, Lilith: The First Eve ISBN 978-3-85630-522-2
  5. Jump up ^ Raphael Patai, p. 221 & 222, The Hebrew Goddess: Third Enlarged Edition, ISBN 978-0-8143-2271-0
  6. Jump up ^ Augustine (410), The City of God 15.23,'The City of God'
  7. Jump up ^ Aquinus, Thomas (1265–1274), "Summa Theologica", "Summa Theologica"
  8. Jump up ^ Carus, Paul (1900), The History of The Devil and The Idea of Evil From The Earliest Times to The Present Day, "The Devil's Prime," at
  9. ^ Jump up to: a b Lewis, James R., Oliver, Evelyn Dorothy, Sisung Kelle S. (Editor) (1996), Angels A to Z, Entry: Incubi and Succubi, pp. 218, 219, Visible Ink Press, ISBN 0-7876-0652-9
  10. Jump up ^ Russel, Jeffrey Burton (1972), Witchcraft in The Middle Ages, pp. 239, 235 Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, ISBN 0-8014-0697-8
  11. Jump up ^ Russsel, Jeffrey Burton (1972), Witchcraft in The Middle Ages, p. 145, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, ISBN 0-8014-0697-8
  12. Jump up ^ Stephens, Walter (2002), Demon Lovers, pp. 54, 55, 332, 333, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-77261-6
  13. Jump up ^ Merlin's father was said to be an incubus in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and many later tales. See Lacy, Norris J. (1991). "Merlin". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, p. 322. (New York: Garland, 1991). ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
  14. Jump up ^ Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James (1486), Summers, Montague (translator – 1928), The Malleus Maleficarum, Part 2, Chapter 1, "The Remedies prescribed by the Holy Church against Incubus and Succubus Devils," at
  15. ^ Jump up to: a b Masello, Robert (2004), Fallen Angels and Spirits of The Dark, p. 66, The Berkley Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016, ISBN 0-399-51889-4
  16. Jump up ^ Maclean, William (Reuters) (May 16, 2005). "Belief in sex-mad demon tests nerves". "World Wide Religious News (WWRN)". Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  17. Jump up ^ "TIN TIN" A brief description of the myth at EDUFUTURO(in Spanish)
  18. Jump up ^ Mack, Dinah, Mack, Carol K. (1999), A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, p. 209, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, ISBN 0-8050-6270-X
  19. Jump up ^ "Whales and Dolphins" at
  20. Jump up ^ Boto at
  21. Jump up ^ "The Dolphin Legend" at
  22. Jump up ^ Bjorvand and Lindeman (2007:719–720).
  23. Jump up ^ Ynglinga saga, stanza 13, in Hødnebø and Magerøy (1979:12).



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia/Blogger Ref
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Succubus (disambiguation).
Lilith (John Collier painting).jpg
Lilith (1892) by John Collier in Southport Atkinson Art Gallery
GroupingLegendary creature
Similar creaturesHuldra, Siren, Harpy, Mermaid, Demon, Undine, Vampire
RegionMiddle East, The Americas, Europe, Asia
A 16th-century sculpture representing a succubus.
A succubus is a female demon or supernatural entity in folklore (traced back to medieval legend) that appears in dreams and takes the form of a woman in order to seduce men, usually through sexual activity. The male counterpart is the incubus. Religious traditions hold that repeated sexual activity with a succubus may result in the deterioration of health or even death.
In modern representations, a succubus may or may not appear in dreams and is often depicted as a highly attractive seductress or enchantress; whereas, in the past, succubi were generally depicted as frightening and demonic.


The word is derived from Late Latin succuba "paramour"; from succub(āre) "to lie under" (sub- "under" + cubāre "to lie in bed"),[1] used to describe the supernatural being as well. The word "Succubus" originates from the late 14th century.[2]

In folklore[edit]

According to Zohar and the Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith was Adam's first wife who later became a succubus.[3] She left Adam and refused to return to the Garden of Eden after she mated with archangel Samael.[4] In Zoharistic Kabbalah, there were four succubi who mated with the archangel Samael. There were four original queens of the demons: Lilith, Mahalath, Agrat Bat Mahlat, and Naamah.[5] A succubus may take a form of a beautiful young girl but closer inspection may reveal deformities upon their bodies, such as bird-like claws or serpentine tails.[6] Folklore also describes the act of sexually penetrating a succubus as akin to entering a cavern of ice, and there are reports of succubi forcing men to perform cunnilingus on their vulvas that drip with urine and other fluids.[7] In later folklore, a succubus took the form of a siren.
Throughout history, priests and rabbis, including Hanina Ben Dosa and Abaye, tried to curb the power of succubi over humans.[8] However, not all succubi were malevolent. According to Walter Mapes in De Nugis Curialium (Trifles of Courtiers), Pope Sylvester II (999–1003) - was involved with a succubus named Meridiana, who helped him achieve his high rank in the Catholic Church. Before his death, he confessed of his sins and died repentant.[9]

Ability to reproduce[edit]

According to the Kabbalah and the school of Rashba, the original three queens of the demons, Agrat Bat Mahlat, Naamah, Eisheth Zenunim, and all their cohorts give birth to children, except Lilith.[10] According to other legends, the children of Lilith are called Lilin.
According to the Malleus Maleficarum, or "Witches' Hammer", written by Heinrich Kramer (Institoris) in 1486, a succubus collects semen from the men she seduces. The incubi or male demons then use the semen to impregnate human females,[11] thus explaining how demons could apparently sire children despite the traditional belief that they were incapable of reproduction. Children so begotten – cambions – were supposed to be those that were born deformed, or more susceptible to supernatural influences.[12] The book does not address why a human female impregnated with the semen of a human male would not produce a regular human offspring, although after transferring the male semen to the Incubi it is believed the semen is altered to match the genetic material of the Succubus and the incubi before being transferred to a human female host. But in some lore the child is born deformed because the conception was unnatural.[citation needed]


In Arabian mythology, the qarînah (قرينة) is a spirit similar to the succubus, with origins possibly in ancient Egyptian religion or in the animistic beliefs of pre-Islamic Arabia.[13] A qarînah "sleeps with the person and has relations during sleep as is known by the dreams."[14] They are said to be invisible, but a person with "second sight" can see them, often in the form of a cat, dog, or other household pet.[13] "In Omdurman it is a spirit which possesses. ... Only certain people are possessed and such people cannot marry or the qarina will harm them."[15] To date, many African myths claim[citation needed] that men who have similar experience with such principality (succubus) in dreams (usually in form of a beautiful woman) find themselves exhausted as soon as they awaken; often claiming spiritual attack upon them. Local rituals/divination are often invoked in order to appeal the god for divine protection and intervention.


Main article: Yakshini
In India, the succubus is referred to as Yakshinis and are mythical beings of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology. Yakshini are the female counterpart of the male Yaksha, and they are attendees of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth who rules in the mythical Himalayas kingdom of Alaka. They are the guardians of the treasure hidden in the earth and resemble fairies. Yakshinis are often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous, with wide hips, narrow waists, broad shoulders, and exaggerated, spherical breasts.

Scientific explanations[edit]

In the field of medicine, there is some belief that the stories relating to encounters with succubi bear similar resemblance to the contemporary phenomenon of people reporting alien abductions,[16] which has been ascribed to the condition known as sleep paralysis. It is therefore suggested that historical accounts of people experiencing encounters with succubi may rather have been symptoms of sleep paralysis, with the hallucination of the said creatures coming from their contemporary culture.[17][18]

In fiction[edit]

Main article: Succubi in fiction
Throughout history, succubi have been popular characters in music, literature, film, television, and especially as video game and anime characters.
  • In the manga/anime Rosario + Vampire the character Kurumu Kurono is a succubus.
  • In the game Darkstalkers, Morrigan Aensland and Lilith Aensland are succubi.
  • In the Digimon fiction, there is a character named Lilithmon based on a succubus.
  • A succubus also appears in Catherine (video game) where the protagonist experiences night terrors and is seduced by the woman of his dreams, despite having a real-life girlfriend.
  • In a season 5 episode 23 of Barney Miller, an irate man believes that he has been frequented by a succubus and an incubus, thus causing his crime.
  • In the Canadian television series Lost Girl, the main character Bo (acted out by Anna Silk) is a succubus.
  • In The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, the Raith clan of White Court vampires are succubi and incubi who feed on sexual energy.
  • In the novel Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, the three original sisters of the Denali coven (Tanya, Kate, and Irina) were revealed to be the originators of the myth of the succubus, as they would seduce men and drain them of blood following intercourse.
  • Richelle Mead, author of Vampire Academy, wrote a series about a succubus named Georgina Kincaid. She appears as a human working in a bookstore located in Seattle. Georgina seduces men for their life energy in order to stay alive.
  • One of the characters in the webcomic Pibgorn, Drusilla, is a succubus.
  • In the novel Once... by James Herbert, the main character Thom Kindred is visited by a succubus, which leads to a great battle between the two with the help of a pixie elf to reclaim his lost property.
  • In the video game World of Warcraft, the Warlock player class can summon a succubus as a demonic companion, while in the Overlord videogame, the succubus is a relatively common and strong enemy, especially if in a group.
  • In the horror anthology film V/H/S, the segment "Amateur Night" features three friends who run afoul of a succubus-inspired creature.
  • In the video game series Castlevania, the succubus is a popular enemy, one of the most notable being the succubus in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
  • There is also an array of cards inspired by the succubus in the card game Cardfight!! Vanguard.
  • The computer role-play game NetHack also features succubi and incubi. A succubus also appears in The Secrets Witch Falls by Vitaly Grigorowski.
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, a succubus character named Eriola captures the Eye of Vecna.
  • Lilith is depicted and referred to in several episodes of the TV series Supernatural.
  • In the movie Jennifer's Body, a non-virgin girl is mistakenly sacrificed to Satan, resulting in her seducing boys, then feeding on their bodies.
  • In a season 2 episode 8 of Sleepy Hollow, a succubus has been conjured to collect the life energy needed to raise Moloch.
  • In the anime The Testament of Sister New Devil the character Maria is a succubus.
  • In the game "Darksiders", Lilith is brought up as an important character whom created the Nephilim.

See also[edit]

Similar creatures in folklore


  1. Jump up ^ "Succuba". Modern Language Association. 
  2. Jump up ^ Harper, Douglas. "Succubus". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  3. Jump up ^ The Story of Lilith
  4. Jump up ^ Samael & Lilith
  5. Jump up ^ "Zohar: Chapter XXXII". 
  6. Jump up ^ Davidson, Jane P. (2012). Early modern supernatural : the dark side of European culture, 1400-1700. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger. p. 40. ISBN 9780313393433. 
  7. Jump up ^ Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2008). The encyclopedia of witches, witchcraft and wicca (3rd ed.). New York: Facts On File. p. 95. ISBN 9781438126845. 
  8. Jump up ^ Geoffrey W. Dennis, The encyclopedia of Jewish myth, magic and mysticism. p. 126
  9. Jump up ^ History of the Succubus
  10. Jump up ^ Alan Humm, Kabbala: Lilith, Queen of the Demons
  11. Jump up ^ Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James (1486), Summers, Montague (translator – 1928), The Malleus Maleficarum, Part2, Chapter VIII, "Certain Remedies prescribed against those Dark and Horrid Harms with which Devils may Afflict Men," at
  12. Jump up ^ Lewis, James R., Oliver, Evelyn Dorothy, Sisung Kelle S. (Editor) (1996), Angels A to Z, Entry: Incubi and Succubi, pp. 218, 219, Visible Ink Press, ISBN 0-7876-0652-9,Till date, most Africa belief has it that men that have similar experience with such principality (succubus) in dreams (usually in form of a pretty lady) find themselves exhausted as soon as they wake up, and often ascribing spiritual attack to them. Again, rituals/divination are often resorted to with a view to appeasing the god for divine protection and intervention, while the christian folks direct their intervention to God through either fasting and prayer or going for anointing and deliverance (I.E. Bello)
  13. ^ Jump up to: a b Zwemer, Samuel M. (1939). "5". Studies in Popular Islam: Collection of Papers dealing with the Superstitions and Beliefs of the Common People. London: Sheldon Press. 
  14. Jump up ^ Tremearne, A. J. N. Ban of the Bori: Demons and Demon-Dancing in West and North Africa. 
  15. Jump up ^ Trimingham, J. Spencer (1965). Islam in the Sudan. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. p. 172. 
  16. Jump up ^ Knight-Jadczyk, Laura; Henri Sy (2005). The high strangeness of dimensions, densities, and the process of alien abduction. [S.l.] : Red Pill Press. p. 92. ISBN 9781897244111. 
  17. Jump up ^ "Sleep Paralysis". The Skeptics Dictionary. 
  18. Jump up ^ "Phenomena of Awareness during Sleep Paralysis". Trionic Research Institute.