Strix, also known as striges, are witches who transformed into screech owls at night and, in this form, preyed upon infants by drinking their blood and sometimes eating their internal organs as well.
The word has a Greek origin and means owl, with which bird it is usually identified. The Latin feminine plural form of stryx is striges. In the modern Italian language, striga has become a general word for witch.
The association of Striges with screech owls gave rise to the term owl-blasted, meaning wasting-away spell cast upon a man. The term was popular in Britain through the 16th century.
The appearance and sound of the screech owl influenced Roman ideas of the blood-drinking strix. The strix or striga (pl. striges; occasionally corrupted to stirge) was an Ancient Roman legendary creature, usually described as a nocturnal bird of ill omen that fed on human flesh and blood, like a vampire. Unlike later vampires, it was not a revenant.
A strix is depicted as a blood-drinking bird, with huge talons, misshapen heads, breasts full of poisonous milk.
- Striges were said to be very fond of livers and internal organs.
- They fly by night and no barriers may keep them out.
- A Strix could prey upon sleeping men (by turning into women and had sexual intercourse in order to suck their life-force off) and children (by offering them the poisoned milk).
How to ward off a Strix
Crane in Ovide’s sprinkles the door way with "drugged" water and places a branch of hawthorn in the window. In much later European lore, hawthorn is often considered as effective as garlic for the purpose of warding away or confining the undead vampires and the best material for stakes to pound through their hearts.
History of beliefs
- The earliest recorded tale of the strix is from the lost Ornithologia of the Greek author Boio, which is partially preserved in Antoninus Liberalis's Metamorphoses. This tells the story of Polyphonte and her two sons Agrios and Oreios (their father being a wild bear), who were punished for their cannibalism, like Lycaon, by being transformed into wild animals. Polyphonte became a strix "that cries by night, without food or drink, with head below and tips of feet above, a harbinger of war and civil strife to men".
- The first Latin allusion is in Plautus's Pseudolus dated to 191 BCE, in which a cook, describing the cuisine of his inferiors, compares its action to that of the disembowelling a hapless victim.
- Horace, in his Epodes, makes the strix's magical properties clear: its feathers are an ingredient in a love potion. Seneca the Younger, in his Hercules Furens, shows the striges dwelling on the outskirts of Tartarus.
- Ovid (Fasti, vi.101 ff.) tells the story of striges attacking the legendary king Procas in his cradle, and how they were warded off with arbutus and placated with the meat of pigs, as an explanation for the custom of eating beans and bacon on the Kalends of June.
The concept of the strix was nonetheless vague. The scientific Pliny, in his Natural History confesses little knowledge of them; he knows that their name was once used as a curse, but beyond that he can only aver that the tales of them nursing their young must be false, since no bird except the bat (at the time commonly and wrongly classified as a bird, with the exception of Aristotle who considered the bat as halfway between bird and land animal) suckled its children.
Roman poet Ovid, by the way, suggested three possible theories as to the origin of Striges. They were either:
- born as striges
- hags put under a spell
The Synod of Rome, dated 743, outlawed offerings to Striges. In 744 “A list of Superstitions” drawn at the Council of Leptinnes renounced “all the works of the Demon and all the evil beings that are like them”. Many laws were then passed forbidding belief in pagan spirits, punished sometimes (as in Saxony, back in 789) with execution.
In the Middle Ages striges were said to be servants of Satan and his demons.
- The Stirge has been introduced as a popular monster in Dungeons and Dragons. In the game it took the form of a many-legged bird which sucked the blood from its victims through a sharp, tubular beak.
- A strix makes an appearance in the Vampire: the Requiem historical book Requiem for Rome. In contrast to the more traditional vampires presented in the line, the strix are disembodied spirits who commonly take the shape of owls and can possess both humans and torpored vampires. It's rumored that the strix restored Remus to undeath, and corrupted a sixth clan of vampires who were destroyed en masse. The strix believed themselves to be betrayed by the vampires of Rome, especially those of the Julii clan, and swore to bring about their ruin. They reappear in Night Horrors: Wicked Dead as heralds of disaster, mainly unbound by their former oath (although they still occasionally pursue such activities for personal reasons). Immensely amoral libertines, they view vampires clinging to humanity as weak, and as such will often serve as tempters in order to make them lose themselves to the Beast.
- Strix are also described in the GURPS third edition Sourcebook for Vampires Blood Types. They are described as witches who, having made pacts with dark entities gained the ability to become blood drinking birds at night. What their pacts with these dark forces require of them is not described.
- The Story of the Strix: Ancient, by Samuel Grant Oliphant, in Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 44. (1913), pp. 133-149
- Carna, Proca and the Strix on the Kalends of June", by Christopher Michael McDonough, in Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 127. (1997), pp. 315-344.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves and Other Monsters
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft