The history of a demonic tradition that was stolen from women – and then won back again.
The ‘demonic woman’ – the siren, the seductress, the vamp – is a well-known character. Epitomized by figures such as the lustful Lilith, or the mermaid luring sailors to their death, she has adorned Byzantine amulets and medieval bestiaries, and inspired great art, from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to the poetry of John Keats.
Yet if we go back 4,000 years, the roots of this archetype lie in horrific creatures, such as Lamashtu, who strangled infants and murdered pregnant women, or the Gello, a virgin ghost who killed expectant mothers and babies out of jealousy. These demons were worshipped by women to protect against the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth. So how did their mythology evolve into one focused around the dangerous seduction of men?
Sarah Clegg takes us on an absorbing and witty journey from ancient Mesopotamia to the present day, encountering a multitude of serpentine succubi, a child-eating wolf-monster of ancient Greece, the Queen of Sheba and a host of vampires. Clegg shows how these demons were appropriated by male-centred societies, before they were eventually recast as symbols of women’s liberation, offering new insights into attitudes towards womanhood, sexuality and women’s rights.