What was Mormo?
Mormo was a spirit or phantom, similar to what we would today call a “demon.” She was known for scaring children.
What did Mormo look like?
There are no ancient descriptions of Mormo’s appearance, but we can probably assume that she was hideous and terrifying to look upon. She was sometimes associated with horses and wolves and may have been able to shape-shift.
The name “Mormo” (Greek Μορμώ, translit. Mormṓ) is usually thought to have meant “terrible.” In fact, the name could be used not only for the monstrous female spirit called Mormo but for any frightening person or thing.
Mormo Μορμώ (Mormṓ)
[MAWR-moh] /ˈmɔr moʊ/
There were a few variations of the name “Mormo,” including “Mormolyce” (Greek Μορμολύκη, translit. Mormolýkē) and “Mormolycia” (Greek Μορμολυκία, translit. Mormolykía). These alternative names suggest that Mormo was occasionally imagined as a wolf, as λύκος (lýkos) is the ancient Greek word for “wolf.”
Mormo was a female spirit or phantom, a ghostly being known for inspiring fear. Like Lamia or Gello, Mormo was used above all to frighten children; in fact, she was sometimes considered interchangeable with Lamia, Gello, or the strix, a vampire-like bird of the night that fed on the blood of children.
Ancient writings do not provide much detail on Mormo. According to one source, she was associated with horses and perhaps had equine characteristics. She may have also been associated with other animals: her alternative names “Mormolyce” and “Mormolycia” suggest a connection with wolves (the Greek λύκος/lýkos means “wolf”). Another source represents Mormo with large ears and a long tongue, dashing about on all fours, implying that she had the ability to change her shape at will. This was a quality shared by many spirits of Greek lore.
The name “Mormo” was generally synonymous with “fear.” Perhaps as an extension of this, the term “Mormolycia” could also refer to the grotesque masks used in ancient performances of comic plays.
Mormo sports a very minimal mythology. According to one account, it seems that she was originally a woman from Corinth. For whatever reason, this Corinthian woman began devouring children—first her own, then those of others. Eventually she became the bogeywoman Mormo. In an alternative tradition, Mormo was originally the queen of the cannibalistic Laestrygonians. After losing her own children, she turned to murdering the children of others.
Yet another tradition, perhaps seeking to add to Mormo’s aura of dread, made the horrible creature into the wetnurse of Acheron, one of the rivers of the Underworld.
Mormo continues to rear her terrifying head in contemporary pop culture. Her name appears in H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925), for example, on an inscription to Hecate, Gorgo, and Mormo. Other references seem to associate Mormo with witchcraft, as seen in an episode of Scooby-Doo (season 3, episode 4, “To Switch a Witch”) and the 2007 film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, where Mormo is the name of an evil witch (the witches are not named in the book).
Some references are more surprising (and less related to ancient mythology): in the video game Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology, for example, Mormo is a flying sentient cat.