Spirit Lovers: Incubus and Succubus Attacks

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt Pink Sherbet Photography / Moment / Getty Images

For centuries, women and men have reported sexual attacks by unseen entities as they lie in their beds. Are they victims of demonic, psychological or medical disturbances?

A reader sent me the following e-mail:

I need an honest answer. Anyone out there has experience in spirit lovers? I am recently widowed, and as of Aug. 1st, I am inundated with spirit lovers – not without choice.

I sent a reply asking for further details and received this story:

My age is 47 and I am female. For about six years, my daughter and I felt walking on the bed and other surfaces that we sleep on. My husband and son thought we were nuts. It would happen while we were completely awake or even just getting into bed. The walking would be light and sometimes the bed would wave.

A couple of times, during that approximate six years, I would wake up to find something sexual happening. At that time I would shake it away. My husband had been sick for the last five years (stroke and other complications), and this past December passed away. A few months before he died, I found him sitting on the side of his bed looking ashen. He had told me that something jumped on his bed. It had happened before and he always blamed it on the cat, even though the cat was not in his room. This time he believed and was shaken.

On August 1, the entities were back in my bed, and this time I relented at a weak moment. I can’t understand how I could have because the thought of it frightens me. The first few times, my heart was beating like a drum. Once it started, it never ended. I developed an insatiable appetite for sex and didn’t stop thinking about it 24 hours in the day. Neither did "they." I rationalized that it was friendly spirits of the universe, but I knew in the back of my mind differently.

For three days, going on four, I had constant sex. They did not enter for long and then the next one would come. I could not get enough. Literally, I could not function normally.

The turning point came today. I was at work and something that was cold enveloped me starting at my feet and ending behind me. My hands, which were trying to type at the time, were frozen in place, not paralyzed. The thing seemed to scare the others away like it had some power beyond theirs. It had sex with me while I was sitting in the chair, but it was different. More mellow and soft. It scared me tremendously because it was outward and not inward, like the others. This is all going to wear me down if I don’t find some serious help. This is all true.

This is a disturbing story, to say the least, and describes a classic case of an incubus attack. In paranormal lore, an incubus is a spirit or demon that attacks a woman, usually while she lies in bed, seeking sexual intercourse. A man also can come under such an attack, and in this case, the spirit is known as a succubus.

Molestation from incubi and succubi have been reported at least since the middle ages. In a related phenomenon, known as "old hag syndrome," the victim feels the presence of some entity lying heavily on top of him or her, making breathing difficult, and it is sometimes even accompanied by feelings of strangulation but without the sexual component of the incubus.

William Shakespeare mentions this phenomenon in Act 1, Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet:

This is the hag when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them, and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.

In his novel Le Horla, Guy de Maupassant also describes such an experience, which he might have suffered himself:

I sleep – for a while – two or three hours – then a dream – no – a nightmare seizes me in its grip, I know full well that I am lying down and that I am asleep... I sense it and I know it... and I am also aware that somebody is coming up to me, looking at me, running his fingers over me, climbing on to my bed, kneeling on my chest, taking me by the throat and squeezing... squeezing... with all its might, trying to strangle me. I struggle, but I am tied down by that dreadful feeling of helplessness which paralyzes us in our dreams. I want to cry out – but I can’t. I want to move – I can’t do it. I try, making terrible, strenuous efforts, gasping for breath, to turn on my side, to throw off this creature who is crushing me and choking me – but I can’t! Then, suddenly, I wake up, panic-stricken, covered in sweat. I light a candle. I am alone.

Seeking an Explanation

Medical science attributes this bizarre experience to an affliction known as sleep paralysis, according to Al Cheyne at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Psychology. "Sleep paralysis, or more properly, sleep paralysis with hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations," Cheyne writes, "have been singled out as a particularly likely source of beliefs concerning not only alien abductions but all manner of beliefs in alternative realities and otherworldly creatures. Sleep paralysis is a condition in which someone, most often lying in a supine position, about to drop off to sleep, or just upon waking from sleep realizes that s/he is unable to move, or speak, or cry out. This may last a few seconds or several moments, occasionally longer. People frequently report feeling a 'presence' that is often described as malevolent, threatening, or evil.

An intense sense of dread and terror is very common."

Cheyne's research shows that as much as 40 percent of the population has had such an experience at least once. The paralysis is caused by the release of hormones during REM (rapid eye movement) dream state that paralyzes the body and keeps it from acting out the contents of the dream. Usually, the hormones dissipate before the dream ends and dreamer awakens. In rare cases, however, the hormones are still suppressing the body’s motor functions when the sleeper has awakened and finds herself paralyzed. The waking brain tries to find a rational explanation for this paralysis and so invents the evil presence or entity.

In still rarer cases, the phenomenon is accompanied by sometimes horrifying hallucinations, such as black forms, demons, snakes, the old hag herself – and even little gray aliens. Cheyne cites another study that theorizes that the profound feeling of paralysis could be a latent human form of "tonic immobility," the action of feigning death that prey animals often rely on when stalked, chased, seized, and attacked – a strategy of last resort induced by fear or restraint.

Demonic or Psychological Disturbance?

Sleep paralysis might explain the old hag phenomenon, but what of the sexual attacks? The woman who wrote to me said the attacks began in her bedroom but soon began to take place outside the home when she was wide awake in the office. Her daughter and husband were also witnessed to the beginnings of the phenomenon.

And this woman is not alone in her experience.

The 1981 movie The Entity starring Barbara Hershey was based on a true, documented case of a woman in Culver City, California, who was repeatedly raped in her home by an unseen force. Actress Lucy Liu told Us magazine of her sexual encounter with a mysterious spirit. "I was sleeping on my futon," Liu said, "and some sort of spirit came down from God knows where and made love to me. It was sheer bliss. I felt everything. I climaxed. And then he floated away. Something came down and touched me, and now it watches over me."

Paranormal online forums also document such attacks. One post confesses: "I too have been dealing with this problem for years. What I have come to realize is: 1) The more I feared it, the more power it has. The attacks increased. 2) As I began to ask God for help, the attacks have decreased, but haven’t stopped as yet. I feel there is a connection with 'it' and the fact that, when I was a child, I was molested by my father."

This admission points to a very likely psychological connection between sexual abuse and the incubus phenomenon, and it would be interesting to discover if there is a statistical correlation.

Not surprisingly, many religious organizations – especially the fundamentalists – consider the phenomenon to be literally attacked by demonic forces. One one website with a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, the author writes, "These demons are for real! The demons have sex with both men and women as the person sleeps, and you know it.

It's not a dream, and it is not your imagination. If you encountered this situation, deliverance and spiritual warfare can stop it."

On this same website, a female evangelist is quoted as saying, "I know there are countless women that this [demons sexually abusing them] is happening to because every Christian woman I have spoken to about it [sex demons], 9 out of 10 it has happened to." Nine out of 10 seems pretty high, but it's difficult to know what a fundamentalist might consider sexual abuse.

Is There a Remedy?

So what’s the remedy for an incubus or succubus attack? Should victims go to a medical doctor for relief from sleep paralysis? Should they seek to counsel from a psychotherapist or psychiatrist if the experiences are the result of some childhood trauma? Or, as one reader posted in the paranormal forum, should they seek an exorcism?

The best advice might be to first see a medical doctor and go on from there. Psychiatric help would almost certainly be recommended for cases like the woman who wrote the e-mail at the top of this article. But should an exorcism – as we enter the 21st century – ever be performed? In some extreme cases, a psychiatrist might not even object. Since the firm belief in demons could be somewhere at the root of what is probably a very complex problem for the victim, the belief that deliverance could be obtained by casting out the demons or denying their approach in the name of a more powerful God, might be a solution.