Terrifying monster or cursed woman? You be the judge. Learn about the real-world mythology behind the Pathfinder creature known as the lamia in this free sample episode of Share Lore by Find the Path Ventures.
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Host and Author – Jessica Peters
Opening and Closing Music – “Spare the Dying” by Arcane Anthems
Additional Music – Ryan Mumford
“Lamia” by John Keats
Bestiary by Paizo Inc
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.
But who was she? This beautiful, confusing woman? She was Lamia.
I’m Jessica Peters, this is Share Lore, and today we’re talking about Lamia.
In the Pathfinder setting, lamia are a type of bloodthirsty creature, not a single woman.
Just as they were cursed long ago, lamias can curse those they touch, clouding the mind and regressing conscious thought to purely animalistic instincts. Creatures affected by this curse grow reckless, becoming unaware of the consequences of their own actions and unable to think clearly. This makes the hapless victim all the more susceptible to the lamia’s cunning illusions and insidious charms. The lamia’s animalistic nature and the effect of their cursed touch has led some scholars to theorize that the original lamias must have, millennia ago, turned away from their own reason and intellect and embraced the life of simple beasts. Whether this change was rewarded as a monstrous gift from Lamashtu or inflicted as a curse for abandoning their responsibilities by Pharasma remains the subject of debate to this day.
Whatever the source of this ancient transformation, lamias themselves have grown to enjoy the strengths it has granted them. Regardless, they continue to cling to a hatred of the gods, seeing them as the cause of their monstrous forms and, thus, their eternal exile from the societies they watch with jealous eyes from their lairs amid the ruins of lost civilizations. Because lamias blame divine powers for their curse, they take special delight in the downfall of temples, the suffering and death of champions and clerics, and the spread of dissension within organized religions.
While they can briefly assume humanoid form with magic, lamias are usually forced to hide from civilization, making their homes in the barren wilderness. There, they attract cults of their own, gathering up chaotic and evil humanoids. With the help of these cultists, lamias strive to bring down popular faiths, introduce schisms into flourishing churches, and humiliate or defame high-profile religious leaders. Most lamias themselves have no true religious faith in anything, hearing instead a mystical calling that manifests as sighs on the desert wind or murmurs from the dark places between the stars.
Lamia in our world share some similarities with the lamia of Golarion. Both originate from a curse by a deity. Both are known for bloodthirsty natures. Both are described as monstrous women, either with snake or lionine lower bodies.
Where they diverge is curious. You see in our world, Lamia is a woman in Greek mythology. She is most often described as the beautiful queen of Ancient Libya or as a daughter of Poseidon. Her beauty was so great that she attracted the attention of Zeus, which was generally a bad thing for women.
Zeus seduced Lamia, the pair had children, and soon the news of the affair reached Hera, Zeus’s jealous wife. Hera cursed Lamia by either taking her children or forcing Lamia to kill and devour her own children — it depends on the story.
No matter the version, the outcome is the same. Lamia is driven mad by the loss of her children. Some stories say that Lamia clawed her eyes out in her madness. Some say that Hera used magic to prevent Lamia from ever closing her eyes so that she would never be able to shut away the visions of her lost children. In that case, it’s said Zeus made Lamia’s eyes removable so that she could get an occasional reprieve from the visions.
Lamia is driven to steal and consume the children of others in her wild rage, and as she continues down this path of destruction and terror, her physical features begin to contort. She takes on the appearance of a monster, often described as a shark.
What’s really interesting is that, like many myths, the story of Lamia has evolved over time — changing to suit the tellers and the times. You see, Greece is largely surrounded by the sea. A monstrous shark woman who eats children could easily be used to warn children to take care when they’re in the sea. Don’t go out too far or Lamia will eat you.
But other versions of her story have some children survive. In some versions, Lamia is the mother of Scylla the sea monster in the Odyssey, and of Acheilus, who is eventually also transformed into a shark-like sea monster. It’s even said that Lamia is the mother of Herophile — the first Sibyl, or oracle, at Delphi.
So in ancient Greece, we have the tale of a woman punished for the infidelity of Zeus. Who loses her children and takes vengeance on the world by eating the children of others. Who is often described as cruel, single-minded, and indulgent in the terror of others.
Over time this story travels and morphs, mingling with Christianity where Lamia changes from a single figure to a descriptor of a type of daemon — the lamia. Lamia pick up characteristics of succubi, change their victims from just children to young men who are seduced, and get a makeover. Suddenly instead of looking like a shark monster, lamia appear as a beautiful woman on top and a serpent on the bottom.
This is the appearance Paizo uses in the world of Pathfinder, though sometimes she has the lower body of a lion instead of a snake. The jealousy of Hera makes it into Pathfinder lamia as well, though it has been merged into the personality of the creature itself as a motivator for the horror it causes. And just like the original myth, lamia are cursed by the gods which has changed them into the cruel monsters they are in the setting. Well, unless you prefer the Lamashtu reward angle.
In Pathfinder, lamia change from cruel hunters of children or youths to gods-hating faithless creatures with the goal of taking down established religions in Golarion. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why Paizo chose this direction for Lamia, but what do you think? Why replace a hunger for children with a hunger for the destruction of religious figures?
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