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  • Ben Hellman

The Sex Demon Catch 22

Updated: Jul 30, 2020


An Incubus; Colour print [19th century?] after a painting by Georg Kininger, 'The Dream of Queen Eleanor', 1795.


What is a folklorist to do when a US president makes it hard to write about incubi and succubi without elevating dangerous medical advice or seeming to poke fun of immigrants from African nations?


The moment “Demon Sperm,” struck my social media feed, the sirens went off at Practical Mythology. And the Practical Mythology sirens going off at any time is a bit akin to that moment when the Ghostbusters get their first paying job in the 1984 film. Annie Potts’s voice went off in my head: “We got one!” Thanks to domestic tensions in the US, this has happened twice in a few weeks. I was able to write a timely sheela na gig article a week ago--possibly the first and last timely sheela na gig article ever--thanks to a protester in Portland. As my wife pointed out, this would be my second timely post that dealt with religion and genitalia.

So I dutifully began trying to research the dangerous quack doctor the president just elevated, but I've struggled with the angle and what I would bring to it. It turns out that there is a lot of relevant information about folk beliefs in spirit spouses and you don’t have to travel far afield to read about it. Religious and secular leaders you've heard about from history have spoken and written on them (King James I of England, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas). Connecting the president to a king who wrote a book about witchcraft and officially made it illegal isn’t the point of my blog, even it a folk belief in witches and sex demons conveniently traveled to the early US colonies and flourished in the theocracy the puritans sought to create only about 20 years after James I's Daemonologie hit the shelves. Old world fear of witches is entirely an American thing.


This also seems an opportunity to delve into the folk belief systems of the country this doctor hails from, and despite my interest in that, somehow I don’t think Cameroonians here or abroad will really want to be associated with her at the moment.

The strange thing is that the president has both made incubi and succubi relevant and tainted them simultaneously. Was ever a folklorist in such a sensitive situation? Probably not since the time of James I.


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