Folklore Thursday ~ Night Hags and Demon Lovers

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Night Hags: Also known as: Night-Mares, Mara, Mera, Mares, Crushers, Drudes, Mare-Demons, Hagges, Haints, Entities, Mallt y Nos, Night-Fiends, Cauchemar, Night-Elves.
Sometimes people who suffered from wasting diseases such as Tuberculosis Consumption were said to look ‘Haggard’ or ‘Hag-Ridden’. This refers to the belief that, as they slept, a Night-Hag had entered their bedchambers and either sat upon their chests crushing them (but not to the point of fatality) and perhaps sucked away at their breath, or their vitality, or alternatively had actually ridden their victims entirely into the air and sometimes over distance. Either way, their human victims were left exhausted and often diseased. The alternative name of Mara and its similar derivatives is said to have meant Crusher in Old-English, and it is from this word that the term Night-Mare originated – initially meaning not a bad dream but an actual external terror. The term Hag-Riding has also been applied when horses who had been left resting have been found to be exhausted and covered in sweat in the morning. Again it was considered that the Night-Hags had been riding the horses around in circles to the point of collapse during the hours of darkness. In some locations it was thought that these fiends on horseback delivered bad dreams to households, thus giving an additional meaning to Night-Mare. An alternatively used term to Hag-Riding is to be Owl-Blasted, which refers to the belief that Night-hags would sometimes take the form of these nocturnal birds.

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Demon Lovers: An Incubus is a male spirit that seeks to indulge a mortal woman in carnal activity, whilst a Succubus is a female spirit that likewise preys on the passions of mortal men. However it has been suggested that both spirits are one and the same, and that the Incubi / Succubi adopts only a specific gender in relationship to its particular victim. The nature of these nocturnal paramours preyed heavily upon the minds of the Medieval Church, possibly because many of the alleged victims were members of their own ministry who had prescribed to a life of chastity. (Merlin, the great sage of Arthurian legend was thought to be the offspring of an Incubus and a Nun). The Church scholars deliberated on whether the phenomenon was mere hallucination borne out of celibate frustration, or sinful fantasies made flesh, but this held their own people to blame almost as much as the other considered option that such claims were in fact a cover-up for actual corporeal liaisons with human partners. Frequently, though, those who claimed an encounter with an Incubus / Succubus seemed not to have been pleasured by such a visit but to have been genuinely shocked and frightened. Therefore further attention was concentrated on seeking out an external, supernatural culprit. They questioned whether these night-visitors were perhaps a salacious breed of Faerie, or maybe vengeful Ghosts, but as all were considered agents of the Devil anyway then it was simple enough to label them Demon-Lovers.

Images and Text © Andy Paciorek
Adapted from the book Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld

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