Lamia: The Mother of All Vampires

by JoHarrington

The first vampires were all female. They were monstrous demigoddesses, who could not be killed, and they were firmly linked to infant mortality.

She was either a transformed Queen of Libya or the mistress of Zeus; a single Lamia or a whole legion of lamiae.

The semantics made no odds, when a scream was sounded from the vicinity of the cradle. All those parents knew was that their precious child was lying lifeless and nothing on Earth could bring it back.

In the desolate heart-break of high infant mortality, the legend of Lamia was fostered and grew. Along with her counterparts Lilith, Lilitu and Abyzou, she stalks the earliest European vampire stories of them all.

Lamia Wall Decal

Since the 19th century (and Keats's poem about her), it's been traditional to picture Lamia as half serpent, half woman.

In the 21st century, the stereotypical vampire is male. After two centuries of Lord Ruthven, Count Dracula, Lestat and Edward blood-sucking their way through popular culture, it couldn't be otherwise.

The ancient Greeks would have considered that quite perverse and utterly missing the point.

For them, the vampire was a dark mother. Where human women gave life, the vampire brought death to the crib. While women nurtured their infants with their own milk, the likes of Lamia suckled the life-blood from the babe.

It was an horrific inversion, which terrified nurseries throughout the ancient world.

She came at night, while the household was sleeping, or slinked through the shadows of the day, if the child was left alone. The lurid details of what happened next changed depending upon the story-teller, but each were devastating for the parents.

In some tales, Lamia lifted the infant from its cradle and literally devoured it whole. In others she drank the blood and discarded the tiny corpse. In the most common of all, the vampiric demigoddess left no visible trace of her visit. The lifeless little one would display not a single mark upon its body. But she had consumed its very being. Lamia had fed upon its life-force.

Today we might call it cot death, or any of the other heart-breaking conditions, which leave a baby listless or dead.  In the classical world, there was no knowledge of these medical facts. There was only Lamia, and her own legend was as terrible as the revenge that she wrought on humankind.

The Lamia by Genesis

"Rael welcome, we are the Lamia of the pool. We have been waiting for our waters to bring you cool." Over the centuries, Lamia's legend has shifted onto seduction of men.

It is a staple of modern vampire myths, that the monster came from somewhere else. Dracula was from Eastern Europe. Lestat came from the Old World. So too was it in ancient Greece. As far as they were concerned, Lamia was Libyan.

In life, she had been born a royal princess, the daughter of the reigning monarch King Belus. When he died, Lamia succeeded him as Queen of all Libya.  Her dazzling beauty, power and wealth attracted suitors from all sides.  Disastrously, it also drew the attention of the great God Zeus.

There is another telling too, wherein Lamia was never human, even at the start.

She was the 'lone-shark', a daughter of the sea god Poseidon; a kind of mermaid figure, which was half woman, half predatory shark.  Then Zeus spotted her and fell in love, or lust.

Either way, the sequence of events begins with the head of the pantheon pursuing her as His lover. Lamia had children of her own, part human, part divine, or all demigods, depending upon which origin story you prefer.

This could have continued without the horrors to follow, but Zeus already had a consort. The Mother Goddess Hera was not a deity to be humiliated in this way. She tracked down Lamia and enacted Her revenge.

Waterhouse (Lamia, 1905) Canvas Art Print Reproduction (16.1x10 in) (41x25 cm)

Medium: Canvas Art Print - Giclee / Artist: John William Waterhouse / Painting Title: (Lamia, 1905) / Actual Image Size: (16.1x10 in) (41x25 cm)

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Draper (Lamia, c.1909) Canvas Art Print Reproduction (21.7x11.6 in) (55x30 cm)

Medium: Canvas Art Print - Giclee / Artist: Herbert James Draper / Painting Title: (Lamia, c.1909) / Actual Image Size: (21.7x11.6 in) (55x30 cm)

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The Damning of Lamia

When a Mother Goddess attacks a mother, then the children are always going to suffer. Though Hera perhaps didn't foresee quite how much.

First Hera made Lamia immortal.  It may seem a strange act for a scorned woman, even a divine one, to keep Her rival around forever. But this was retribution. She wanted to condemn Lamia to endless punishment. She would drive her insane.

Compelled by the furious Hera, and unable to stop herself, Lamia was forced to pick up her own children one by one. The divine will animated her whole body, leaving Lamia desperately aware, but without the power to stop herself.

Each child was eaten, torn apart by their mother's teeth, swallowed from their mother's mouth, digested in their mother's stomach.

Hera didn't release Lamia's mind until every one was consumed. Then She left one more curse on the traumatized mother. She condemned Lamia to never be able to close her eyes. She ensured that the scene of her children's slaughter would always be before her.  Then Hera left her to eternity.

Driven mad with grief and the eternal living memory, Lamia was unleashed upon the world. Zeus was made aware of the situation - they had been His children too - but there was little He could do after the fact.  He couldn't (or wouldn't) reverse His wife's retribution. 

His only act of alleviating it was to confer one final divine power onto Lamia. She could remove and reinsert her own eyes at will.  While they were removed, she wasn't actually seeing that bloody scene in constant replay, nor could she see anything else at all.

Lamia II by John William Waterhouse

Note the snakeskin draped over her lap. That's still a nod towards Keats's depiction of Lamia as half-serpent.
Oil painting - 12 x 20 inches - John William Waterhouse - Lamia 2

Oil painting - -- John William Waterhouse : Lamia 2 -- Size:12 x 20 inches -- 100% MUSEUM quality hand painted oil painting on canvas -- Your painting will be shipped after you ...

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Lamia's Revenge: Subverting Faith in the Mother Goddess

How do you avenge yourself and your children against the all powerful Mother of the Greek Pantheon?

Of all the deities in the Greek Pantheon, Hera and Zeus stood supreme. They were parents of all. There was none more powerful, more absolute, more untouchable. The only divine being able to thwart either of them was each other.

With Zeus unwilling to take on Hera, there was little that Lamia could do.  She was supposed to simply crawl into a hole somewhere, then spend her eternal life regretting ever having taken the Mother Goddess's man. She didn't. She attacked in the only way open to her. She went after the faith in Hera Herself.

New mothers prayed to Hera. She was the Great Mother. Those wishing to become pregnant left offerings for Her too. Older mothers watching their children grow into adulthood still turned to Hera. She could protect their babies. She was not just a mother, but The Mother.

So Lamia killed the babies. All those grieving mothers had placed their trust in Hera, now the cradle was empty. Where was Hera then?  Moreover, who had sent this horror into their midst?  It was Hera.

Relentlessly, immortally, the insane Lamia preyed upon the nurseries. She took her sustenance from the bodies, blood or life-force of the infants; she took her revenge by eroding human belief in Hera's greatness.

And who won in the end?  While classical scholars and Pagans may know all about Hera, it's vampires who survived the centuries to take over popular culture.  The legends have changed and the focus had shifted, but the fact of the blood-suckers remains.  Lamia's children haunt our literature and movie screens, while Hera is nowhere to be seen.

Vampire Books and Poems Inspired by the Lamia Legend

LAMIA

Nemesis and Lamia return to continue the story begun in NEMESIS. The mysterious cult of women resurfaces across a landscape of deepening horror, and with darker intent. When the...

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Lamia

The story concerns a shy young girl called Maria who lives in Colombia with her missionary parents. She is kidnapped by the enforcers of the drug barons, gang raped, beaten and ...

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Lamia

This book was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some pub...

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Lamia

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Updated: 06/14/2013, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 04/03/2014

Ah! Thank you very much. I'll hunt that out and give it a look.

Robert St. Estephe on 04/02/2014

I'm only beginning to study the mythology of ogresses. The archetypes and legends will help our understanding of real life ogresses, whose evil has long been whitewashed by dishonest social constructionist historians. A two part article "Death on the Baby Farm" (easy to find online with the title) exposes this whitewash and reveals many long-forgotten real life female serial killers of children.

JoHarrington on 06/07/2013

You are very welcome. I love it when we get these random finds in subjects we enjoy learning about.

KatelynFaith on 06/07/2013

I had never heard of Lamia before. After all these years of reading and studying myth and legends, how could I not have heard of this incredible Vampire? Thanks for this great Wizzle. :)

JoHarrington on 05/01/2013

Ah! I'm with you. And I'm not going to argue you with you there. But for the sake of Wizzley and those who rely on Google, I'll toe the line.

Ragtimelil on 05/01/2013

Oops. That wasn't a religious statement. Just a response to google's nonsense. I was just a little tardy in getting here.

JoHarrington on 05/01/2013

Amen?

Ragtimelil on 04/30/2013

Good Lord.....

JoHarrington on 04/30/2013

I feel proud to have been here at the birth of a new word. <3

Tabt on 04/30/2013

Boobercuser. My new favourite words, I'll shout it at people who look at my chest.


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