Lilith: Queen of the Night, Mother of Demons, First Wife of Adam, and one of my own patron Goddesses. Unfortunately, I have found that modern authors often leave much to be desired on the subject of Lilith. Modern interpretations of Her nature are presented as historical, and the historical facts themselves are regularly misrepresented. Does She originate in ancient Sumeria, a maiden connected to the Temple of Inanna? Was She once a benevolent Mother Goddess Herself, later demonized by patriarchal religious leaders? Is it female strength She embodies, or has She persecuted women for centuries via birth complications and crib death? Was she actually deleted from the story of Eden? These are some of the questions, myths, facts, and errors that will be covered in this essay- hopefully laying to rest the many misconceptions that surround this ancient and powerful figure.
I do not feel that any God or Goddess can be divorced from Their sacred mythologies. As I have stated elsewhere, a mythology is the soul of the God(s) it depicts. For instance, you and I both know today that the Gods did not build the city of Babylon with Their own hands. Yet, if one were to call upon the great Marduk, He would gladly share with us his full memory of constructing the city. Likewise, we know that Adam and Eve did not exist as the “first humans.” Yet, Lilith has full memory of Eden, the Fall, and every other event depicted in Genesis and the various Judeo-Christian legends. It is thus that Lilith, though She is not now the vile and disgusting archdemon envisioned by the early Judaic peoples, is nevertheless affected by these conceptions of Her. Her darker aspects, even the nastiest ones, are a part of Her regardless of modern attempts to “liberate” Her from unpleasantness. Lilith was, in fact, not originally a benevolent Goddess who was raped by the patriarchy. However, I move slightly ahead of myself here. Therefore, I will begin at the beginning:
The Historical Origin of Lilith
The first myth I wish to dispel is that Lilith was originally found in the ancient land of Sumeria. Her roots do certainly extend that far, but Lilith Herself is not to be found among that massive pantheon of Gods and demons. In order to explain how both of these particulars can be true at once, we must begin with some basic lessons in ancient Sumerian language- specifically the development of one word in particular:
In Sumerian, the word “Lil” means “Air.” Enlil, for instance, was the Sumerian Lord (En) of Air (Lil). The oldest known term which we might suggest relates to Lilith would be the plural word “Lili” (feminine “Lilitu”), which was simply the same in Sumeria as our modern generic word “spirits.” In fact, it was quite common in ancient languages for the same word for “air” or “breath” to be used for “spirit,” as the breath was thought to be the evidence of life; the spirit of the person. Disembodied spirits, therefore, were themselves composed of the same substance. The very word “spiritus” is one such example- Latin for “to breath.” The Hebrew “ruach” is another identical example. This suggests, therefore, that the Sumerian Lilitu were either a specific type of demon, or were simply “spirits” in general.
Lilith is often described as having been a Sumerian succubus. And, in fact, there were such creatures in Sumer-Babylonia who surely had their part in the Hebrew conception of Lilith. These beings were known as the “Ardat Lili.” “Ardatu” was a term that described a young woman of marrying age. Thus, the Ardat Lili were sexually active female spirits- the succubi. It was believed that these night demonesses were the cause erotic dreams, by which they robbed the male of semen and spiritual vitality. Of course, there is also a male version of this entity- the incubus- but we need not address this creature here.
It is also interesting to note that the Sumerian word for “wantonness” was “Lulu.” The word for “luxuriousness” was “Lalu.” Also, the very word for “evil” was “Limnu.” This has an obvious relation to the word Lili (and Ardat Lili specifically); not just in the similarity of pronunciation and spelling, but also in the very definition of the words. Keep in mind that these ancient languages did not possess the specific definition of our modern words. A single word would indicate any one of a number of related concepts.
This does not exhaust the etymology of Lilith. However, the word-play does not continue until the Hebrew Captivity in Babylon (600 BCE), and I do not wish to jump ahead just yet. Still concerning Sumer, there are two instances that are generally seen as proof of Lilith’s existence there.
One is a legend, contained in the Gilgamesh Epic, in which a female demon takes residence within the Goddess Inanna’s sacred Tree of Life- thus effectively stunting the Tree’s growth and production. This demoness is supposed to be Lilith Herself, whom the hero Gilgamesh finally forces out of the Tree and into the desert.
However, it turns out that there is no basis for assuming this creature is Lilith, or even an Ardat Lili, after all. Apparently, the misunderstanding arises from a mistake in translation made by the historian and scholar Samuel Kramer. In the Epic, the demoness in the Tree is described as “ki-sikil-lil-la-ke,” which Kramer suggested meant “Lila’s maiden, beloved, companion, or maid.” (I assume this is also the origin of Merlin Stone’s mistaken suggestion that Lilith was the “maiden” of Inanna.) While the word for air/spirit is obviously present, there is no indication of a Lilith- anymore than the presence of the word “ki” (Earth) indicates the Earth Goddess Ki. Perhaps Kramer was concentrating on the two syllables “lil-la.”
The second instance is the famous Sumerian plaque which depicts a woman with owl talons and wings, standing upon two lions, with two owls flanking her on either side. It has been assumed that this figure is Lilith specifically because of the above (mis)translation by Kramer (see bibliography) More specifically, the assumption was made first, and Kramer’s work was provided as proof of Lilith’s existence in ancient Sumeria. Of course, as the demoness of the Tree is not Lilith, than surely neither is the woman depicted in the sculpture.
(The famous Burney Relief, currently located at the British Museum is usually thought to depict Lilith, an idea which is still in debate. However, Lilith didn’t exist in Sumeria and this figure is wearing Ishtar’s crown, carrying her rings and disks, and standing on her lions. Sandra Tabatha Cicero suggested that “The Horned Cap of divinity, the Rod and Ring of justice, and the lion are all symbols of Ishtar/Inanna who was often shown winged and naked. It is supposed to be a sexual or underworld aspect of the goddess.” It is also suggested to be a depiction of Ereshkigal. – Source)
Jumping ahead just a bit to a related point: In the Torah, there is said to be one reference to Lilith- Isaiah 34:14. The verse supposedly speaks of a screech owl, and this is said to indicate Lilith by way of the above-mentioned plaque (and the owls depicted thereon). This instance is even used to argue that Lilith’s name is derived from the Hebrew term for “to screech.” However, this is probably not the case. Instead, the Biblical reference seems to come directly from the term “Lilitu.” It may very well be a direct reference to Lilith, however the spelling must be noted: In the Biblical passage the word is L I L I Th, while the name of Lilith is properly spelled “L I L O Th” (which is actually a plural, and will be covered later).
However, these are not the only indications of Her mistaken identity. For instance, the female on the Sumerian plaque holds not one, but two sets of Ring and Rod- the Sumer-Babylonian signs of authority. Inanna Herself is shown with these instruments when She moves to conquer the Underworld. Also, note the presence of Lions, which are signs of power and authority, as well as fertility. These also happen to be symbols associated with Inanna. It is most unlikely that the lowly demon driven away by Gilgamesh would be depicted among these holy symbols. Of course, others may argue that owls are a principal motif in the image as well- and owls were animals of bad omen and evil in Sumer-Babylonia. Thus, the plaque is surely a mystery, but in any case there is no hard evidence to support its identity as Lilith. One begins to wonder if this is not Inanna Herself as associated with the Underworld…
Before I go on, I wish to insert some modern insight on this subject. This plaque has been accepted as Lilith for quite a while now. And, surely this will not cease for quite some time (sadly, occultists are not always the first to research history from a scholarly perspective). Even I can not glance at this image without Lilith entering my mind, and I even interpret part of Her mythos by way of this owl-taloned figure. The modern association of Lilith with this image has given it its own validity (the same must also be said of the relation of Lilith with “to screech”), and therefore does not need to be cast aside for practical purposes. However, the historical facts should at least be understood and noted.
And so Lilith is not derived from the above two instances (the plaque or the Epic of Gilgamesh) after all. Instead, She most likely traces her roots strictly to the Lilitu and Ardat Lili- borrowed by the Hebrews from the Babylonians during the captivity in about 600 BCE. However, it must be kept in mind that Ardat Lili simply meant succubus, without indicating any specific being. This, then, brings me to another often overlooked point: the name Lilith itself is, in fact, an improper transliteration of the Hebrew. The Hebrew lettering is Lamed (L), Yod (I), Lamed (L), Vav (O), Tau (Th). The “-ith” should be spelled “-oth,” which is the Hebrew feminine plural suffix. It may be that the earliest Hebrew references were not to “Lilith,” but to “the liloth” (the spirits)- a curious cross of a Sumer-Babylonian word with a Hebrew suffix. More specifically, it referred to female spirits, and thus was probably little more than the Hebrew version of the Sumerian term Lilitu.
Yet, Lilith may have finally become a proper noun during or right after the Captivity. This is possibly indicated in the numerous Hebrew inscriptions, painted upon bowls, dated to around that time. These inscriptions picture a particularly nasty looking demoness by the name of Lilith, and the words are for protection against Her. However, I have personally found no direct evidence to support whether these bowls referred directly to one demoness or to a group of demonesses. The etymology may suggest the latter, while the existence of the singular Lilith in Hebrew mythos may suggest the former.
(Incantation bowl with an Aramaic inscription around a demon. Nippur, Mesopotamia, sixth–seventh century. Ceramic. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen – Wikimedia Commons, released under CC BY 2.5. – Source)
(Jewish incantation bowl from Nippur with depiction of Lilith – Source)
(6th century CE incantation bowl. Lilith in the middle surrounded by an Aramaic prophylactic text designed to ward her off. University Museum, University of Pennsylvania – Source)
Luckily, we do appear to have a clue as to how “The Liloth” finally became “Lilith.” This tentative answer lies in the Babylonian demoness Lamashtu. This horrible creature was, among other things, held responsible for “stealing babies from their mothers.” More than likely, this indicates crib-death and perhaps still-birth- as the general concept of a demon in Babylon was more often than not an explanation for medical problems and sickness. As we know, crib death was shockingly common in the ancient world, and thus Lamashtu was one of the major, and most feared, demonic forces. She was, perhaps, a large enough cultural influence to be adopted by other peoples who had intimate contact with Babylon. People such as the Hebrews, who adopted quite a few major concepts from the Babylonian religion. Thus was Lilith’s birth- a demoness who attacked men in the night, and women and babies during and after child-birth.
And, with this, the beginning is finished- while the story is just begun. Lilith appears to have lived on in oral tradition until the Talmudic times, where the popular mythos of Lilith is first presented in response to a contradiction in the Torah. The work in question is a tenth-century folktale called “The Alphabet of Ben Sira,” where Lilith is presented as the first wife of Adam.
Male And Female, He Created Them…
Genesis 1: 27 reads- “And Elohim created Adam in His Image, in the Image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Genesis 2:18 and 22 read- “And Yahweh said, ‘It is not good for Adam to be alone. I will make a fitting helper for him.’ … And Yahweh fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman; and He brought her to the man.”
Today, we know that Genesis I and II are two separate Creation stories. Genesis II derives from a Sumerian story, while Genesis I is a later creation of the Hebrew Priesthood (created by the Deuteronomic School around 700 BCE). However, to a people who were quite determined to take the Scriptures as ultimate Truth, such a contradiction was not welcome at all. It demanded an explanation that reconciled both stories.
Explanation number one is perhaps the best- Qabalistically speaking. As we know, Adam was created to perfection. He was created in the perfect image of “Elohim.” Of course, God is not seen as being either male or female, but as both at once. Even the Name Elohim is a feminine word (Eloah- Goddess) with a masculine plural suffix (-im). Thus, if God is male and female, the mother and the father, then Adam (which translates as “Mankind”) must also have originally been male and female in one. To be otherwise would have been unbalanced, and thus imperfect.
Of course, Adam was created in perfection, said to be greater than even the Angels. In fact, according to this view, Adam was not a human at all- but a Cosmic Being known as Adam Qadmon. He was the Archetype upon which humans would later be based.
(Kabbalistic illustration of the androgynous Adam Kadmon/Qadmon – source)
Now, enters the passages from Genesis II. Just as the Unity of God was divided in two (the separation of the Waters by the Firmament) to create the Universe, so too was mankind created by the separation of the Archetypal Man into “its” two halves- male and female. Thus, woman was separated from man, and Adam Qadmon became an unbalanced creature- a human. This imperfection finally led to the Fall- which was the manifestation of the human race from the archetypal to the actual. The woman was called Eve, which literally translates as “Life.” Mankind was given Life, and the rest is history.
Explanation number two, though just as Qabalistically useful in its own right, is nevertheless vastly more fun- especially mythologically speaking. This is where Lilith enters the picture as the first wife of Adam. The verse from Genesis I was thus explained as a veiled hint to the entire Lilith affair. Genesis II:20 even helps back this up- “And the man gave names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to all the wild beasts; but for Adam no fitting helper was found.” The animals of the Earth had been created for the strict purpose of being helpers to Adam, and Lilith was among them. But, Lilith had failed, and no other beast even came close to fulfilling the need (apparently Lilith was the only animal enough like Adam to be a candidate at all). The next scene in the Scripture is where Yahweh breaks down and decides to chance separating Adam into his two halves of male and female.
Without worrying over specific developments of the tale, I will simply relate the entire story as it came to be after all. Here, then, is the story of Lilith:
The Mythos: Lilith’s Defiance
Now Lilith was the first wife of Adam, well before the creation of Eve. She had been created along with him to be his helper, as the Torah states “Male and Female He created them.”
However, Lilith was not so suited as a companion for Adam. There was little on which they could agree. In his attempt to mate with Lilith, Adam demanded the missionary (or male-superior) position. However, Lilith refused. Some say she claimed, “We were created equal, and thus we shall make love in equal positions.” In fact, Lilith even attempted to be superior to Adam herself.
Adam replied that he, being the Image of the Elohim, would not stoop to such a level as to be subordinate to Lilith, who was simply one of the many beasts of the field. She was created as his helper, he insisted, and that is how she must remain.
Lilith, however, was far more than Adam had imagined. She went straight away to Yahweh, and used her prowess of seduction upon Him. Yahweh, known for his soft heart toward women, was finally lulled into revealing His sacred Name unto her. Thereupon Lilith pronounced the Divine Name, and flew away from the Garden and Adam forever.
She took residence within a cave upon the shores of the Red Sea, where to this day she finds Her shelter. Within, she accepted the demons of the world as her lovers, and spawned many thousands of demon children in only a short time. It is thus that the world became populated with demons, and how Lilith came to be called the Mother of Demons- wife of Asmodeus, the King of Demons. In this aspect, she was called the Younger Lilith.
Adam, meanwhile, found that he regretted wishing Lilith away. He went to Yahweh and pleaded his case for Her return. Yahweh agreed that a creature of Eden should not so easily depart that realm, and dispatched three Enforcer Angels to retrieve Her.
These three, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangeloph, soon found Lilith within her cave, and demanded her return unto Adam by order of Yahweh. If she refused, they informed her, they would slay one hundred of her demon children each day until she decided to return.
Lilith exclaimed that even this fate was better than returning to Eden and submission to Adam. As the Enforcers carried out their threat, Lilith also made a terrible proclamation. In return for the pain delivered upon her and her children, she would slay the children of Adam. She swore to attack children, and even their mothers, during child-birth. She also swore that all new-born children were in danger of her wrath- baby girls for twenty days after birth, and boys for eight. Not only this, but she vowed also to attack men in their sleep. She would steal their semen to give birth to more demon children, in order to replace those slain each day.
However, even Lilith was not without feeling. She also made one further promise: wherever she saw displayed the names of the three Angels who opposed her, no one in that place would be in danger from her actions.
And thus is the legend of Lilith. However, the story does not end here by any means, and I will be adding to it as this essay continues. I will go over the basic Hebraic interpretations (Folk and Religious), the later Qabalistic interpretation, the modern interpretation, and I will conclude with my own interpretation.
The Folk Interpretation
On this we need spend little time. The folk interpretation of this myth is the most literal, and sees the myth as an actual event. In this, Lilith is an actual demoness who is blamed for such things as mothers dying in child-birth, still-birth, crib-death, “night-hag syndrome,” and erotic dreams among men.
The succubus aspect of Lilith is perhaps the most complicated. As we know, the Judaic life was very strict, full of Divine Laws and hundreds of ways in which a man might break them. Even an impure thought was greatly unwanted, let alone impure actions. With sexual release being such a taboo, it is no surprise that erotic dreams were very common- and even more so were they feared. This was no case of seeing a woman and being aroused. This was (within a dream) committing the full sexual act and enjoying it the entire time! Being that it is not uncommon to dream of women one knows in waking life- other men’s wives among them- the problem became an issue of breaking the Ten Commandments. Finally, add to this the fact that the real life result of these dreams was to be cursed as one who has “spilled his seed.” Yet, this was something that could never be avoided by even the most pious men- and was thus going to be a continuing source of guilt. The relief for this guilt was to blame it on a succubus, Lilith.
(The three brides of Dracula appearing in the 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” are a famous and excellent example of succubus attack over a pious man – source)
And what of the demon children that Lilith spawned with one’s seed? Why, upon death, these spirit children would hover around the deceased’s household, demanding their rightful inheritance from the estate (and, presumably, causing mischief when they are ignored). This dynamic may have developed in answer to the hardships often associated with death. There were even steps a family would take to ensure the illegitimate demon-children were banished from the house upon the husband’s death. Of course, Lilith was not the only possible mother for these children. Jewish folk tales are teeming with gullible men being tricked into marriages with beautiful demonesses.
Another important aspect of Lilith as succubus is called “night-hag syndrome.” When we sleep, our bodies produce a chemical which effectively causes paralysis; thus ensuring we remain motionless as we dream. It is also extremely common for this drug to work ineffectively. When too little is produced, we often have dreams of being restricted or barely able to move (the infamous “running through molasses” nightmare). This is due to the fact that your limbs are trying to move according to the dream, but are being entangled under the body and in the bedclothes. When even less of the chemical is produced, sleepwalking occurs.
On the other hand, too much of the drug might flood the body, or it might simply not stop production soon enough before one awakes. Those who have experienced this (and there are a great many of them, myself included) report feeling “something” sitting upon them and attempting to crush them. They can not move or speak, and sometimes they can’t even breath. Of course, there is no visible attacker, which makes the experience extremely frightening. Today we know that this chemical imbalance is simply caused by stress or old age; though it could still be considered Lilith (or simply a succubus) if one considers a demon an imbalanced aspect of the Self or sickness. In the old world, such things were known as rape by the succubus (or Lilith).
It was thus- from crib death to night-hag syndrome- that we have many examples of talismans against Lilith. The Hebraic bowls are the earliest examples of this. Even more recent are the talismans which bear the images of the three Angels and the Hebrew phrase: “Senoy, and Sansenoy, and Semangeloph! Adam and Eve! Out Lilith!”
(Medieval apotropaic amulet to protect from Lilith during childbirth and infancy. Technically, Lilith does does not appear in this amulet. Rather we have ‘portraits’ of the three angels who are her bane: Snoy, Snsnoy & Smnglof. Above the angel portraits, in each of the two panels, we have the names ‘Adam and Eve’ and the phrase (in smaller print) “Out Lilith!” From The Book of Raziel, Amsterdam, 1701 – Source)
These would be hung over wedding beds as well as delivery tables and cribs. In many cases the inscription was painted upon or over the door to the place. All of this done as per the agreement Lilith made with the three enforcer Angels.
The Religious Interpretation
At this point I will include a Christian addition to the Lilith mythos. Though it may not figure into the Hebraic views of her, it still relates. This addition concerns Lilith’s involvement with the Fall from Eden.
Perhaps the most famous version of this Christian Lilith is the Sistine Chapel paintings by Michaelangelo. In this She is shown as a half-woman half-snake, and is credited with being the very Serpent who instigated the Fall from Eden itself. Apparently, Lilith was not satisfied with her vows of revenge as they were, and decided to attack Adam where he least expected it- through his new wife Eve. Perhaps even an amount of jealousy is involved here.
(One of the most famous paintings is Michelangelo’s Temptation and Fall, found in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Source)
Of course, it was Satan who was said to have been the serpent in the Christian viewpoint. And, indeed, Lilith is said to be the wife of Satan (or, from the Hebrew angle, the wife of Samael). The Serpent was a joint effort between these two to take revenge upon Adam and cause the fall from grace. Lilith provided the body of the serpent, while Samael was the voice. As the wife of Samael (rather than Asmodeus), she is known as the Elder Lilith.
I have all ideas that this Serpent-Lilith was a result of the Rabbinical view of Lilith- she who seduces men from the True Path of God- thus causing them to fall from grace as did Adam.
Within the Arabic mythologies of King Solomon, we meet Lilith on a number of occasions, usually known as the Queen of Sheba. Solomon had suspicions that this queen was in fact Lilith, and thus devised a plan to know for sure. After inviting her for a visit to his palace, he had the floor altered so as to appear as a pool of ankle-deep water. When the queen arrived, she lifted her skirts to walk through the pool, and Solomon was able to just barely glimpse her overly-hairy legs.
This was the Rabbinical image of Lilith- a dark and beautiful seductress from the waist up, yet hairy and ugly from the waste down. In many cases, she is actually a male from the waste down. This, of course, is the part of the body that would most be concealed from view. Only one intimate with her would find out the horrible truth- after it was too late.
Of course, this is a metaphor. Lilith represents that which appears beautiful on the outside. She is sex, indulgence, and everything that one desires to do which breaks the Judeo-Christian “Laws of God.” She is all of the things in life which tempts and seduces the man into the ways of evil. Only after he is firmly within her grasp does she reveal her true nature of ugliness. In this, Lilith far pre-dates (and perhaps has something to do with) the Christian concept of the Pan-like Satan.
The Qabalistic Interpretation
Here we find that the plot decidedly thickens. The Qabalists created yet another chapter in the life of Lilith, which stems directly from the above Religious ideas. As Lilith had come to represent those things that God frowned upon, so too did she come to symbolize the corrupt ways of the entire world at large. She was the lifestyle of the Pagans around the Judaic Peoples, who did not frown upon sex, indulgence, and fun. She symbolized all those who would break the Torah, and she was anyone who would attack the Israelites. Most of all, she was Babylon- the enemy holding the Israelite people captive..
Before I continue, it is important to explain the principals involved. Though these concepts developed well after the Second Temple had been destroyed (in 70 AD), the Temple itself plays a large role in the mythos. Also involved are Adonai (The Lord), and His Bride the Shekinah (Hebrew for “Presence”).
This mythos is a development of earlier Pagan ideas, where the union of the male and female aspects of the universe are seen as paramount to the continued existence of all creation. This was known as the Sacred Marriage. In the Middle Eastern cultures, a newly anointed king was ritually married to the Goddess (or mother of the land), and thus to the kingdom itself. Likewise, the Qabalists depicted Adonai as a king, and the Shekinah was [the people of] Israel herself.
(Hieros Gamos, or the Holy Marriage is an ancient myth found in many cultures, but also in alchemy. This picture represents the conjunction of the King and Queen, of the Sun and the Moon, Gold and Silver. – Source)
There was one singular place where Adonai would consent to join with the Shekinah, one place holy enough to sustain the Divine Sex. That place was the Temple of Solomon. Once in the year, the Couple would join together within its walls, and the Divine Light of goodness and increase shone throughout the world.
However, the Temple had been destroyed and its treasures carried into foreign lands. With it went the perfect union of Adonai and His kingdom. He withdrew from the world, refusing to meet the Shekinah in an impure fashion. The Shekinah, who embodied the physical word and thus could not withdraw from it, followed her people into captivity by foreign nations, and was there raped by the enemy. This “rape” was symbolic of mankind’s rape of the world and of the Israelite people.
And here, once again, enters Lilith. As before stated, Lilith symbolized the very foreign people who held the Shekinah captive. Lilith embodied their evil ways- and now those evil ways were allowed to remain in power. The reason for this lay in the fact that Adonai, alas, could not be without a female partner. There could be no God without- in some sense- Goddess. Thus, in an effort to sustain a balance, Adonai took Lilith as His consort. Being what She was, Adonai felt no pity in uniting with Her in impurity. She was, quite simply, His harlot. Thus it was that one half of the Divine Force which sustained the Universe was tainted- allowing the evil of mankind to reign supreme and unstoppable. Lilith was the Dark Shekinah- the polar opposite of that Holy Goddess. She had made Her final leap from demoness to Goddess- the Wife of God.
The Qabalist felt his duty was to strive to reunite the Shekinah with Adonai, and thus cast Lilith away forever. The Sabbath was an example of this. Because of the holiness of this day, Lilith had no power to remain with Adonai, and was forced to retreat to the desert where She screamed in pain until the day came to an end. (Remember Lilith as related to the term “to screech” in Isaiah 34:14; this is exactly where this concept has its birth.) It was during this time that Adonai had the best chance of reuniting with the Shekinah- and the Qabalist did all he could to help through purity and devotional invocation. This symbolism is even hinted at in the Christian Book of Revelation, where the Whore of Babylon is supplanted in power by the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.
(Albrecht Dürer’s “Whore of Babylon”, 1498. – Source)
This was the final outcome of the legends of Lilith, and here you have Her mythos in full: First wife of Adam, wife of Asmodeus, wife of Samael, the Serpent of the Tree of Knowledge, and finally the wife of God. From here, I will briefly explain Her modern interpretation, and you will see why I disagree with most of it so strongly:
The Modern Interpretation: Feminism
Today Lilith has been adopted by the Neopagan community. Most specifically by those with a feminist angle. Their main focus is upon Lilith’s choice to fly from paradise, and even suffer the death of hundreds of Her children, rather than live under submission to Adam. In this, She represents feminine defiance and strength. Her resulting attack on men in the night is the revenge of the woman upon the men who have harmed Her.
This, in and of itself, is worthwhile (and plays a large part in my own interpretation). However, this is not all there is to the figure of Lilith. This interpretation totally ignores a large part of Her mythos- not the least of which being Her attacks on mothers and babies. The groups which put forth this view would also have us believe that Lilith was, in fact, a great Goddess within Sumeria. The “proof” of this is the above mentioned plaque, and we have already seen how this is simply not so. It is even said that Lilith was a maiden, in service to Inanna, who stood without the Temples and invited men to enter and partake of the sacred sex with the Priestesses. For this, not one shred of archeological evidence has been offered of which I am aware.
Along with this, the myth in which Gilgamesh drives the demoness out of the Tree of Life is said to be symbolic of the Patriarchal God driving the Goddess away. This is, in my opinion, pure silliness. Anyone who puts the slightest study into Sumerian culture will find that there was hardly any degradation of women occurring there. The exact same thing can be said for the Babylonians who followed, and even the earliest Hebrews themselves. It is true that the warrior traditions and kingship of early civilization began to focus upon masculine Deities, but the idea that hatred of women came immediately with this is not founded.
Unfortunately, there is a modern trend in which the “liberation” of any evil feminine mythological character is attempted. According to this view, there were originally no male Gods among mankind in the ancient world. Likewise, this view insists, there were absolutely no evil female characters in any mythology. Once God-worship had been invented by “power-hungry war-mongers,” that is when all the mythologies were re-written to show how evil the Goddesses were.
An example often given to prove this is the Babylonian Mother Goddess Tiamat- depicted in the creation epic as the enemy of Lord Marduk. Indeed, Tiamat (demonized in the text) does seem to be a later version of the Sumerian Nammu (a benevolent Mother Goddess). The overthrow of Tiamat by Marduk is often described as warfare between Goddess religion and God religion. In reality, however, the tale is a depiction of warfare between younger Gods and older Gods. Gender does not play a specific role in the epic- and both male and female characters play roles on both sides of the battle.
Another example is the Egyptian War God Set; who was also possibly a primordial benevolent Goddess (Set literally translates as “Lady”). Therefore, the battle between Horus and Set might be depicted as male versus female, or primordial Mother versus young male usurpers. Though, once again, a review of the actual stories do not reveal such a distinction. (More than likely, the story of the battle between Horus and Set is a depiction of solar eclipse.)
When they stand alone, these can be convincing examples for the “liberation” standpoint. However, I must also remind the reader that there are also convincing examples of the existence of Atlantis, and of alien intervention in the creation of humans. Such facts are taken from history, isolated, and held as proof of the silliest concepts imaginable. In my opinion, this is comparable to isolating Bible verses in order to prove one’s religious convictions- without reading the stories in context.
However, I do wish to make something clear at this point. I am not speaking against the concept of feminism here. I do not ignore the damage done to women over the years- mostly thanks to the Deuteronomic School of the Hebrews, and the Church of the Christians. I am not speaking against interpreting mythologies in new and different ways (as my own interpretation of the Lilith mythos will show). That is, after all, what mythology is all about. What I am speaking against here is shoddy scholarship. And, more than this, the attempt to push off personal opinions, half-truths, political agendas, and even outright lies as actual history. I will gladly interpret mythologies for use in the modern world, but I also A) acknowledge the original interpretations, and B) make sure that my interpretation takes the older ones into account. Again, I point out that a God and its mythology are inseparable. If I evoke Lilith, She will not conform utterly to what I expect or wish. Yes, She will be affected by my expectations and my interpretation of Her nature, but this merely accounts for one half of the interaction between myself and the Goddess.
And with this I move on to my final goal: an interpretation of Lilith for the modern world. This is based not only on the scholarship above, but also on my own experience of this seductive beauty. And now, let us meet Lilith:
The Lilith of Today
Adam literally translates as “mankind.” He is all of us- male and female, young and old. He is, basically, civilization. Adam is the Image of the Divine; he, and all physical things, are the final result of Divine manifestation. On the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Adam is Malkuth (Kingdom), the physical world. In Qabalistic psychology, Malkuth refers to the conscious mind. Thus, Adam represents our waking consciousness, or ego. Adam is everything about us that imposes “proper behavior” within society.
Lilith, created along with him, is the Shadow Self. She is our subconscious, that part of us that is most animal like, defiant, uncivilized, passionate, and basically natural. She is sex. She is everything that our (currently corrupted) society frowns upon; a society that has been taught for thousands of years to suppress everything within that is most natural and enjoyable. She is just as described in the religious interpretation- she is Babylon (or, as Crowley spells Her Name: Babalon).
(Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot card “Lust” depicting Babalon. In Crowley’s religion, Thelema, she is the Sacred Whore, the Scarlet Woman, the Great Mother. – source)
Eve is also our subconscious. However, she is that small part of our inner-selves over which our conscious selves have gotten full control. She has no free will of her own- being wholly a part of Adam. She is that part of ourselves that, as a civilized people, we will show to others. Eve is what has been programmed into us as “acceptable.” She is the polar opposite of Lilith. She and Lilith together form the whole of the inner Self.
(Let me point out that this interpretation of Adam and Eve/Lilith as the conscious and subconscious is a rather old one. The Lovers Card of the Tarot uses this symbolism, with the addition of an Angel who represents the Higher Self.)
Samael, meanwhile, is the Archangel of Gevurah (Severity) upon the Tree of Life. He is the embodiment of Divine Severity. He is the Prince of the Seraphim- those Fiery Serpents who, at one point, Yahweh sent to punish the Israelites (see the book of Exodus), and to purify by fire those who wished to enter the Temple (see the book of Isaiah). Samael is hardship.
Lilith’s demon spawn represent our own personal demons. They are neurosis and harmful (self-destructive or criminal) behavior. They are the imbalances in the mind that can lead to our destruction.
Such are the characters of the Lilith mythos. The above interpretations of them must be held in mind at all times through the following. If so, certain aspects of the myth begin to make a certain kind of modern sense.
For instance, Adam’s insistence that he mate with Lilith in the missionary position becomes the civilized mind’s attempt to reign in and suppress the animal within- to be superior to it. Likewise, Lilith’s own insistence on mating in a superior position is the lower will’s attempt to dominate the rational self. Lilith’s flight from Eden, and into the cave, is the banishment of our natural animal instincts to the dark recesses of our minds. Even when Adam wishes She would come back, it is too late and the damage has been done.
What damage is this? Lilith spawned thousands of demon children. These demons are born within the locked away and forgotten parts of our minds. Even though we attempt, as the Angelic Enforcers, to hunt down and slay as many of them as we can, the tide is too great to be turned. We have attempted to suppress that which can not be suppressed. Lilith, in Her darkness, has grown the Her (owl’s) talons. By nature a beautiful creature- as our natural selves are in fact beautiful- Lilith now has the means and motive to rip us to tiny shreds. She attacks us while we sleep; and with our semen- the facts and deeds of our daily lives- she spawns more and more demons. Before she is finished, she will slither her way back into our minds- as the Serpent in the Garden. Our conscious selves rarely see it coming; while we are occupied with our day to day foolishness- Lilith will be sweet-talking Eve into taking the fatal bite. She will attack us below the surface, in that part of ourselves we have long-since thought conquered. One moment we suddenly find ourselves with break-downs, outbursts, causing harm to others, and social and personal ruin. We have experienced the Fall from Grace.
This also applies on a greater social level, not simply within the mind of the individual. When viewing the myth from the wider angle, we see where Samael comes into play. What happens when the things that are natural and beautiful are suddenly labeled as wrong? They then begin to attract the dregs of society. Once there were Goddess Temples with priestesses adept in the arts of sexual magick. Now, we have prostitution, strip-clubs, and brothels which are viewed as seed-beds of physical abuse, drug abuse, and disease. The people who frequent these places are labeled as dirty and immature people with little to no social value. Individuality and self expression is now corrupted into gang activity and the anarchy of social outcasts. Children who display this individuality spend their time in the principal’s office or suffer worse punishments. They are labeled as “problem children,” and so problem children they believe they are.
Here the Rabbinical view of Lilith must be considered, where corruption is so often deceptively tempting or beautiful on the outside. The sleazy clubs, the gangs, the criminal behavior are all very seductive. The glamorous people are the rebels who break laws and harm others. Bonnie and Clyde, Billy the Kid, Al Capone- these are our heroes. Yet, if we allow Lilith to seduce us with Her beauty, she will finally show us the ugliness that lies under her dressing. This is when she rips into us with her talons. The gangster is executed, and thus ends his glory. The prostitute has her throat cut, or dies of an overdose. And the man who frequents the brothel dies a lonely old man because a real relationship was ever beyond him.
Of course, all of these are extremely corrupted and impaired views of reality. This is the marriage of Lilith to Samael. This dark Angel of strife is Lilith’s talons. He is the hairy male lower half of her body. These things which are so beautiful and natural actually BECOME dirty and harmful, merely at the insistence of those who wish them to be such. This, in turn, fuels the view that these things are harmful in and of themselves. Society literally eats itself from the inside out- and this is the marriage of Lilith to God. As in the Qabalistic interpretation, the flow of Divinity has been tainted; Samael/Lilith is in control, and what is natural has been twisted into evil. Lilith should be our ally, and yet we are pitted in combat against her. If Adam can not be forced to accept his Lilith, then Lilith will destroy him. But, those in control of our society maintain that control through the suppression of Lilith- our defiance and freewill- and they would sooner see us destroyed than to lose that control.
And here enters yet another character in the mythos: Cain. It is little known that Cain was born not of Adam and Eve but of Eve and the Serpent during the Temptation. Thus, Cain is actually the child of the interaction between Eve and Lilith/Samael. The clashing of the acceptable and non-acceptable, or the overrunning of the mind by its own neuroses. In short, Cain- full of hate, jealousy, and anger which finally explodes into murder- represents the very inhibited society thus far described. This is not a new concept, of course, as Cain has long been said to be the ancestor of the corrupt majority of the world’s population. For instance, Hebraic legend insists that it was the Cainite women who seduced the Angelic Watchers and gave birth to the Nephalim (Giant creatures, one of whom was Asmodeus Himself) (Genesis 6:1-4f).
Cain’s brother Abel, who was born of Adam and Eve proper, is the world that could have existed if not for the intervention of Cain. On the other hand there is also Seth, the third son of Eve (also fathered by Adam), who is said to be the ancestor to the pious minority of the world. The Gnostics for instance, who felt they had the Knowledge to purify themselves (of the Samael/Lilith influence), and thus return to a state of grace, described themselves as descendants (or even embodiments) of Seth. Abel, then, is the Paradise that could have been; Cain is the corruption that slew that dream, and Seth is the hope of a return to utopia.
Thank the Gods that things are not necessarily quite as bad as all of that. There are respectable brothels and men’s (and women’s!) clubs. There are those who display self-expression in childhood who, somehow through all of the abuse, still grow up to become respected artists of all kinds. There are those who understand the sacredness of sex. In short, there are those few who have refused Samael’s marriage to Lilith. Instead, they have invited Lilith to return to the Garden- promising Her that She can play mistress just as much as Adam plays master. They have attempted to join Lilith and Eve, and to return them both to their rightful place within Adam. They strive to become Adam Qadmon- that Supernal Man(kind) who is greater even than the Angels. They strive for the state of Seth.
Of course, few of us have attained that success. Though, perhaps a reconciliation will one day occur. Perhaps in that time a person could be natural, individual and even a little rebellious without being labeled a criminal for doing so. Of course, no utopia will ever exist in full. However, just as the Medieval Qabalist strove to unite God and His Shekinah, so too should we strive to unite Eve and Lilith, and both of them with Adam within ourselves. Only then will we have the power to rebuild the inner Temple, and aid the Shekinah’s return to Adonai. Only then will the “children of Seth” have a chance to reign.
This is my view of Lilith. She is the Mother of the Night, and all the dark beauty that lies within it. Lilith is the hidden mysteries which society would rather I not know. I am Adam, and I have rejected my foolish concepts of superiority over Lilith. Of course, Lilith has Her dark side. If I allow Her to rule over me, She would drain my vitality as a succubus. She would rule me to the point of being little more than a thoughtless animal, useless and perhaps harmful within a human society. Instead, I accept Lilith in equality; in both darkness and light.
Append I: The Names of Lilith
During the section on the religious interpretation of Lilith- or the Rabbinical interpretation- I indirectly hit on the Solomonic legends of Lilith (The Queen of Sheba). Here I wish to elaborate somewhat on this aspect, as it is a rather important one in getting to know Her. In the Solomonic Legends, the Queen of Sheba was a very prominent figure. Much like Asmodeus, Lilith was an adversary to Solomon. However, unlike Asmodeus- who’s wish was to dethrone Solomon- Lilith simply enjoyed testing Solomon’s wisdom. She constantly arrived in his royal court with puzzles, riddles, and specific dilemmas in unceasing attempts to find fault in his abilities to serve the throne.
This, in fact, makes Lilith one of the Satans- those dark Angels who test us and accuse us of our failures. If (the Rabbinical) Lilith could not seduce one off of the true path, then She would literally attempt to ruin one upon that path. This rings very close to the instance in the New Testament where a group of exorcists attempt to cast out demons in the names of various prophets of the past. The demons replied that they knew these Prophets, and added, “But who are you?” Unlike Solomon to the Queen of Sheba, these exorcists had no good answer- and the demons tore them apart. Solomon always had a good answer- that is to say, he always knew the solutions to Her puzzles. In fact, it would seem that Solomon accepted the true nature of Lilith, because he actually enjoyed Her visits; and the opportunity to try himself at Her puzzles. He understood the necessity of these tests to keep him polished and on his toes. But, then again, Solomon was known for his Wisdom.
Of course, it would not be fair to neglect including an example of one of the Queen of Sheba’s puzzles. Already mentioned was the meeting between the two in which Solomon tricked Her into revealing Her true nature. However, Lilith was often much more subtle. In one instance, She took the form of a prostitute and claimed motherhood to another prostitute’s baby. Eventually, the matter was brought to the court of the king. Solomon heard both sides of the story, but this solved nothing. Both women were adamant, and told wholly different stories to back their claims.
However, king Solomon was not to be outdone. Instead, he ordered a swordsman to approach the throne. Because the matter could not be otherwise resolved, he declared that the baby should be cut in half so that each woman could have an equal share. As the sword was raised, one woman shouted for him to halt. She admitted that she was not truly the mother, and that she did not wish for the baby to die on her account. Solomon immediately gave the baby to her- knowing that only the real mother would give the baby away rather than watch it die. Lilith, on the other hand, was foiled again.
Yet another Solomonic tradition is outlined in “The Testament of Solomon.” This is a work that describes Solomon’s efforts to summon a number of demons, and find out their various names, forms, actions, and (most importantly) the Angels who oppose them. Lilith was among these summoned demons. (As a note, there is a similar legend in which Elijah encounters Her and demands Her Names.) She told Solomon that Her opposing Angel is Raphael- which makes sense when we recognize that Lilith’s name refers to “spirit” or “air,” and Raphael is the Kherub of Air. Lilith is the enveloping fog, while Raphael is the clear-sky breeze. As for Her various Names- taken from various sources- they are as follows:
Abeko, Abito, Abro, Abyzu, Ailo, Alu, Amiz, Amizo, Amizu, Ardad Lili, Avitu, Batna, Bituah, Eilo, Gallu, Gelou, Gilou, ‘Ik, ‘Ils, Ita, Izorpo, Kakash, Kalee, Kali, Kea, Kema, Kokos, Lamassu, Lilith, Odam, Partasah, Partashah, Patrota, Pods, Podo, Raphi, Satrina, Talto, Thiltho, Zahriel, Zefonith.
Append II: The Experience of Lilith
I stood often upon the shore of this small lake in the heart of Florida. It was always late- far into the darkest hours of the night- and I stood wrapped in the icy embrace of Mother Lailah (Night). Her children sang and chirped and buzzed to me as they always have from the shadowy places among the grass and reeds, and often a cool breeze skittered across the lake to blow away the insects and the muggy heat. Many times had I stood here, communing with the lake, reciting love poems to Levanah (Luna), taking in the jewel-studded view of the southern nighttime skyline, and gazing at Venus in the early hours of dawn.
But tonight was different. Lailah’s embrace was deep and frigid. There were no stars or moon, no skyline, and no sky. There was no song from the grass and reeds about me, and no gentle breeze rushing over me from the water. The lake stretched out (for what little distance I could see) still and black as the dark Abyss itself. The night was dark, black, still as death, and over the surface slithered a deep fog that swallowed the world. A verse from Genesis arose within me: “And a mist moved upon the face of the deep…,” and within it fluttered the Shadows of the Qliphoth. The world held its breath. Lilith had arrived.
I stood upon the edge of the abyss, the helpless subject of the mighty Queen of the Night. She reached toward me slowly and seductively, yet always just beyond my own reach. She called to me softly from deep within the swirling mists. She is a siren, a succubus, and my bestial male spirit answered the call. It was pure pleasure- a burst of dark power. Yet, it was also pain as I willed against Will to stay my feet. More than once I nearly yielded to the temptation to simply walk into the blackness. My heart seemed to tell me, “You can go forth. You will not sink. You would be safe.” Of course, I knew better. I knew that if I stepped forward I would sink into that cold water- the lake that was no longer my friend. I knew that hypothermia would quickly set in, and that I would have little hope of even knowing in which direction the shore waited. I could very well die, with the land no more than a few feet away. Even more frightening was that I didn’t believe I would care! I wanted to feel the icy water envelope me, to sink into its silent depths and into oblivion beyond.
Yet, at the same time, I nearly believed I could walk safely across the surface of the pool. More so, I desired to fly into the fog; I wanted to take wing and join the demonic children of Lilith who swarmed within. I needed to hunt, stalk, pounce, and to bite. I wanted to feel the fear of prey flood over me, adding strength to the pain of my own desire, and to experience the shudder of their final ecstasy- that sudden peace and contentment that comes to all once death is inevitable. Suddenly I wanted to exert power and force over others. I wanted the taste of fear and pain.
And yet I knew that a single step in that direction would mean my own loss within the abyss before me. I would not live to hunt down my prey. I was no free predator, but a domesticated animal. With a sigh I wondered if this is how our own pets feel- who in distant ages were mighty hunters- as they beg at our tables, and are patted on their heads. With that I regained my senses somewhat, and backed away from the dark Lady before me. Out of breath I whispered how much I loved and desired Her, and then bowed and slunk away. Soon I was myself again- this had happened before, and would happen in the future. Anywhere the fog could creep upon me, especially over bodies of still and deep water, Lilith would find me and once again try Her seduction upon me. She would ever attempt to lead this son of Eve into the Blackness of the Kingdom of Shells. Perhaps the male child is not so safe after the eighth day from birth…
The above is what might be expected from the male experience of the Queen of Night. What more could one expect from She who seduced the Divine Name from Yahweh Himself, and traditionally bears somewhat of a grudge against Adam (Mankind)?
Another thing that I have noted was the intuitive feeling I had that Lilith was the fog itself. It was, in fact, later that I learned the name “Lilith” traces back to a Sumerian word for “Air.” The Lilitu of Sumer are supposed to be night-time air spirits, and according to my direct experience, this is exactly what they were, and what Lady Lilith is today. But, more than just “air,” She is the thickening mists that can cause a person to stray blindly from the path and into Her dark embrace. It seems the Rabbis were right…
A woman who may have stood in my place, lost within that gray-white haze, would surely have experienced something different from what I described. While I can’t provide you with a description of such an experience, I can at least speak on some women’s issues with which Lilith might be deeply and darkly involved.
I recently spoke to a (female) devotee of Lilith, and suggested the possibility of the Dark Queen’s involvement in the issue of abortion; especially viewing Her in Her aspects as both succubus and baby-killer. Perhaps Lilith is even the patron Goddess of abortion.
This may seem a bit extreme, and is certainly an extremely touchy issue. However, I feel there may be some merit to the idea. Not more than a few days after I mentioned this to my friend, I came across these words concerning Lilith and abortion on the Internet:
On the other hand, there is a modern metaphor for “baby killing” that adequately places us in the quandary and conflict of power vs. violence…abortion. To those opposed, it is clearly murder. But to those who claim the right to choose…well, look at the phrase “right to choose.” Those who fight for the right to choose abortion fight for the right to have control over their bodies, over control over when and how they bestow the gift of life, and when and how they will take what kind of responsibility for the outcome of their sexuality. Those who fight to make abortion illegal once again see this as an irrelevant argument. The woman’s body and life are incidental when compared to the potential life she carries inside her…at least, this is how a Daughter of Lilith would see it…someone who is, themselves, opposed to abortion simply see it as a question of life and death. Choices of life and death. These are the kinds of choices Lilith asks us to make. Knowing, full well, that there are no right answers…or wrong answers…only *our* answers.
Blessings, light & dark,
The Lilith Shrine, http://www.lilitu.com/lilith/
The Story of Lilith, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu:80/~humm/Topics/Lilith/alphabet.html
From The Alphabet of Ben Sira Question #5 (23a-b), Tr. Norman Bronznick (with David Stern & Mark Jay Mirsky) (Stern90)
The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, by Reginald Campbell Thompson
July 1973, AMS Press; ISBN: 0404113532
Semitic Magic : Its Origins and Development, by R. Campbell Thompson
Samuel Weiser; ISBN: 0877289328
Babylonian Magic and Sorcery: Being the Prayers of the Lifting of the Hand, by Leonard W. King
Samuel Weiser; ISBN: 0877289344
The Hebrew Goddess, by Raphael Patai, Merlin Stone (Designer)
Wayne State Univ Pr; ISBN: 0814322719
Lilith’s Cave : Jewish Tales of the Supernatural, by Howard Schwartz, Uri Shulevitz
Oxford Univ Pr (Trade); ISBN: 0195067266
Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-Tree: A reconstructed Sumerian Text, by S. N. Kramer
University of Chicago 1938
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