I can’t tell you for sure the first time I saw a succubus, but I’d lay money that it was in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. The image there, done by David C. Sutherland III, has been the subject of much debate over the years [Supposedly it's based on this picture of Sheila Mullen, a Playboy Playmate from May 1977], but one thing no one can argue is whether or not it’s sexually inspiring to teenage boys. For that, the answer is an obvious YES!
This sexuality is certainly the key to making the succubus an Iconic Female, and there is little doubt that countless images of feral succubus abound in any fantasy setting worth its salt. For my own fantasy gaming succubus legends, I have a couple, but I suppose my most famous comes not from the succubus herself, but from a succubus’s torrid affair with a Drow wizard that produced an Alu-demon known only as Mithelvarn’s Daughter. This character inspired a deep affection for Alu-demons which first appeared in Monster Manual II and were drawn by Harry Quinn. That tome described them as the offspring of a mating between a succubi and a human, and that these progeny are always female. Cambions, for all you playing a copy of the home trivia game, are the product of a human female mating with a demon, and they are always male.
Still, other than D&D trivia, what do we really know about the succubus other than she’s inherently hot? Well, I did a bit of digging, and what do you know, I found that there is a reason, other than sexual attraction, for me to like a good old-fashioned succubus.
You see, as far as I can tell, Succubi are really old, like the dawn of history old. When you start reading society keywords like Mesopotamian or Babylonian, you know you are getting serious about a demon’s age. In those cultures, they had references to a dream-haunting demon named Lilitu, but it isn’t until the early Jewish faith breaks onto the scene that we find Lilith, the presumed first ‘modern’ succubus, mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud. Here, Adam, product of God that we know in the Christian Bible, takes Lilith as his first wife since she was created from the same earth as he. It isn’t until he breaks with Lilith because she refuses to become subservient to him that Eve is created from Adam’s rib, and therefore a part of man instead of his equal.
Interesting indeed… So in essence, the Iconic Female Succubus is actually on par with mankind instead of simply being cast from his form, and therefore she’s thrown under a bus. The story continues that Lilith hooks up with the archangel Samael and then refused to return to the Garden of Eden. My thought here, ‘Well why should she? She just bagged an archangel for Pete’s sake!’
However, her road to ruin only continues in Jewish folklore from there. In the Zoharistic Kabbalah the tale holds that four different queens, Lilith, Agrat Bat Mahlat, Naamah, and Eisheth Zenunim mated with archangel Samael and became succubi in the process. Now I’m just spit-balling here, but what’s with Archangel Samael? This angel is supposed to be good, right? I mean, isn’t that the definition of ‘angel’, and yet he gets around like a Sunset Blvd pimp, and everyone he sleeps with becomes a demonic man sucker… I mean, I’m just sayin…
Anyway, once Lilith was entrenched in this lore, it took little for the already ‘scrambling to declaw women at all costs’ Christian Church to further her decline into evil. However, there is a great reference in the life of Pope Sylvester II [A.D. 999-1003] in which he proclaims on his death bed that he attained his position as pope with the help of a succubus, so I guess they can’t be all bad, right?
Throughout Europe during the Middle-Ages the succubus was blamed for all manner of dark deeds and birth defects. It was said that the succubus would come to a man in a dream, dressed in the guise of a beautiful woman, and take his seed. Anyone continually partaking of nights with succubi would wither and die, their life drained from them by the vicious and insatiable demon. Yet the story doesn’t end there, as the thieving succubus would pass along the stolen semen of her victims to an Incubi, the male versions of her kind, and they would then deposit the corrupted seed into the wombs of women they enchanted to create Cambions, or worse yet children of dark conscious or physical birth defects.
Horrible, aren’t they? Perhaps, but remember the source of said rumor mill, the Catholic Church… These are the same people who burned all the witches, ala medicine women, and thus helped plunge Europe into the Black Plague for which no medically adept women with herbal medicine could help treat or thwart the disease’s spread.
Another interesting theory involving succubi and their dream encounters with men might be linked to old-world alien abduction claims. Before we had little green men to blame waking nightmares of immobilized bodies and being ‘probed’, the ancient world had succubi who did the probing [for which I think I would much rather be involved].
So the years passed, and the succubus legend grew until it could be replayed, rehashed, and recycled into great fodder for the pulp fantasy writers in the early stages of the 20th century. Certainly these nefarious demons were used as dark villains in early works, but as the century turned a new leaf and fantasy exploded into the marketplace with Dungeons & Dragons, video games, and best-selling novels, the succubus was sure to come along for the ride.
I’ve seen countless images of bat-winged vixens through the years, like Grandia II’s Millenia which has my absolute favorite video game succubus version ever, but each time I see a new one I can’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for her [which I’m sure is exactly what they want!].
Today the succubus is a dichotomy; both beloved heroine of fanboys and animators, and yet still a dark leather trench wearing purveyor of shiny evil in urban fantasy. Personally, I see her legend continuing to grow as more and more fantasy fills the marketplace. Whatever the case, I don’t think there’s any question she’s highly iconic, and thus deserves a place on this list.
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