An empousai is in Greek lore, a type of female Demon, related to Lamiae and similar to the Succubus. Empousae means “forcers in.” Empusa is sometimes translated into English as “vampire.”

The empousai are children of Hecate, the goddess of the underworld (see CHTHONIC DEITIES), ghosts, and magic. They appear at her bidding at midday when people make sacrifices to their dead relatives. They are filthy and ugly. They have the hind ends of asses and wear brazen slippers. Sometimes they are described as having one brass leg and one ass leg. They disguise themselves as cows, bitches, or beautiful girls. In the latter form, they seduce men. They enter the human body to consume its flesh and drink its Blood.

In The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus relates a story—probably highly fictitious—about an empousa bride. Apollonius, a philosopher and wonder worker of the first century, was credited with great feats of magic and the ability to summon spirits and see the future. Philostratus’ biography draws upon the probably fictional memoirs of one of Apollonius’ disciples, Damis.

The story concerns a young man of Lycia, Menippus, age 25, smart and handsome. One day as he was walking along the road to Cenchreae, he was met by an apparition— an empousa—in the guise of a Phoenician woman. He fell under her spell and fell in love with her, not realizing what she really was. They made plans to marry. Apollonius was skeptical of her. He attended the wedding and was introduced to her by Menippus. The woman acknowledged she was the owner of all the gold and silver trappings in the house and was the mistress of all the servants.

Apollonius told Menippus that his bride was an empousa who would devour his flesh and drink his blood. Menippus’ bride was offended at this and ordered Apollonius to leave, but he had broken her spell, and all the gold, silver, and servants disappeared. The woman wept and begged Apollonius not to force her to confess her true identity, but he did. She admitted that she was fattening up Menippus for a kill, and that she loved to dine on young and beautiful bodies because their blood was pure and strong. Thus, was Menippus saved from a gruesome fate.

A similar tale, not quite as Demonic in nature, is told by Phlegon of Tralles in Mirabilia 1, ca. 140. Philinnion is a young bride who dies and returns as a sexually hungry ghost to visit a man, Machates. Philinnion leaves behind jewelry and underwear. Machates gives her a ring and a golden cup. When the family discovers what is going on, they visit the girl’s tomb, to find her bier empty, save for Machates’ gifts. The girl herself is lying in the house where Machates is a guest. A learned prophet says her corpse should be burned outside the city limits, and many sacrifices should be made to the chthonic deities. These acts are carried out, and Machates, in despair, commits suicide.

Further Reading:

  • McNally, Raymond T. A Clutch of Vampires. New York: Bell, 1984.
  • Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Philostratus. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Translated by F. C. Conybeare. London: Heinemann, 1912.

The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.