Folktale Friday: Empousai, Lamiae, and Mormo


Because I’m still struggling to come up with what to say in a review for The Night Ocean, it’s time for another Folktale Friday! Today, it’s the stories of the Empousai, Lamiae, and the lesser-known Mormo, all from Greek/Roman mythology.


Supposedly, the empousai were fearsome creatures, possibly the spawn of the goddess Hecate, who took the form of beautiful women in order to seduce and devour young men. Behind their facades, however, they were probably very ugly, with flaming hair (which actually sounds kind of cool, if they weren’t being burned with it) and two mismatched legs, one made of brass and the other of a donkey. The ancients believed that the only way to defend against them was basically to verbally abuse them and shout as many insults as one could think of; as a result, the empusa would scream and flee.


The myth of Lamia is a sad (yet gruesome) one. Once a Libyan queen, she and Zeus fell in love and had children. Hera, Zeus’s wife, felt intense rage and jealousy, as she usually did whenever Zeus had one of his affairs, and decided to take revenge on Lamia, instead of her husband. So, Hera first killed all of Lamia’s children, then basically glued her eyes open. Zeus, taking pity on her, made it so that she could take her eyes out and put them back in, but in the end, Lamia lost her mind and decided that if she couldn’t have children, no one else could either, so she went around eating other women’s children.

In later myths, the lamiae were portrayed as beautiful, ghostly women, who, much like the empousai, used their charms to attract young men in order to devour them/suck their blood. Lamia might also have been a daughter of Poseidon, and mother of Scylla (a sea monster with 6 heads who would attack ships and eat sailors; I’ll talk about her more another time). As this daughter of Poseidon, she had another child, who was transformed into a small shark by Aphrodite. In any case, it’s quite the strange tale.


Mormo was a spirit, generally female, that the Greeks used to frighten children into behaving, much like modern fairy tales. It is said that she would come to bite them, and considering that her appearance was like that of a vampire, I can see why this would scare kids. Mormo was most likely a consort of the goddess Hecate, and at one point in time, she was worshipped by a cult; however, with time, her importance faded away and her story became more and more obscure.

These three- empousai, lamiae, and Mormo- were basically the vampires, or vampire-like creatures. Their legends have lasted into the modern day, especially that of the empousai. Similar creatures are known in legends from ancient cultures all throughout the Mediterranean region, which honestly makes me wonder where the myth came from, for it to be in so many distinct cultures. Did everybody borrow it from whoever came up with it first, or was it something else entirely?

I have many questions.

(Have a myth/legend/folktale/fairy tale you want me to talk about? Leave it in the comments!) 

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