July 16, 2015

Empousa, who follows behind

clop-clank, clop-clank, clop-clank

Behind you, on the road. What is that sound? When you look, there’s nothing there, but still, the sound follows you.

clop-clank, clop-clank, clop-clank

Slowly, slowly it gets closer and closer.

It’s an old, old campfire story. The footsteps that sound wrong, that follow you, usually in the dark, but when you look, there's no one there. You can’t escape them, though you might be able to avoid them for a while. They’re coming for you. Eventually they’ll catch up.

Empousa is an ancient Hellenic iteration of the tradition. A monster (from the Latin monstrum, that which is shown forth) of Hekate’s retinue, with hair of flame, with one donkey’s leg and one leg all of brass. A shapeshifter, though, who could come to your bed in the night and seduce you, then devour you. When she followed you on the road, you could drive her off for a while by taunting her, making fun of her. But she’ll find you in the end, if her mistress commands it. There’s no escaping her in the long run. Empousa is a creature of the roads, hunting travelers at Hekate’s will — or whim.

She’s both terrifying and comical. A shapeshifter, yet unwilling or unable to shed her strange form. Inescapable — unless you drive her off by making fun of her. Why do taunts upset her so? Why, if she can change her appearance, does she keep what many would consider a deformity? Why does Hekate send her to frighten travelers at all?

I’m attempting to work with some of the monsters of Hekate’s train. Empousa is the first. When I have built a relationship with her, I’ll try Lamia, and then Mormo. Eventually, the Underworld nymphs known as the Lampades.

I make offerings of lavender to her, as suggested by the strophalos oracle, which also told me to accept her as a guide. I call her, invite her into my dreams, and drink dreaming teas to try to open myself. So far, I have had only one brief glimpse. I expect her to take other forms, to be a dream-lover, waiting for me to see her, and once I caught her that way, and she laughed, pleased with me. But since then, no matter how I call, my dreams remain dry.

I’m patient. Eventually, I’ll find her, or she’ll find me.


I call to you, Empousa
With your hair of flame
With one leg of an ass
And one leg of brass
Relentless pursuer
Shapeshifter, seducer
I call to you, Empousa
Come to me, and let me know you