Lilith

Lilith makes her first appearance in myth in Inanna and the Huluppu Tree as the Mesopotamian storm demon associated with wind. The character of Lilith goes through many transformations in the history of myth.

Lilith covets the Huluppu Tree and makes it her home.  Lilith has the power to kill all living plants she touches.   She is seductive and irresistible in her beauty and fluidity of movement.  Lilith desires not only Inanna’s tree but Inanna herself.  The Snake is Lilith’s link to the earthly world.  Without the Snake she becomes vulnerable.  Lilith is able to transport herself invisibly from one place to another.  Lilith is deceptive and manipulative.  She is the first femme fatale of human history.

Lilith’s epithet was “the beautiful maiden”.  The most well known image is  by John Collier ((1708–1786).

Also by John Collier:

The Sumerian king list names Lillu as Gilgamesh’s father.  Lillu disturbed women in their sleep, functioning as an incubus: a male demon who lies upon sleepers, especially women, in order to have intercourse with them. Modern depictions show Lilith as a vampire.

Religious tradition holds that repeated intercourse with an incubus or succubus (female incubus) results in the deterioration of health, or death.

Lilith first appeared in a class of wind and storm demons as Lilitu, in Sumer, circa 3000 BC.   The female demon Lilitu appeared to men in erotic dreams. She was thought to be a bearer of disease, illness, and death. The Assyrian Lilitu were said to prey upon children and women.  These demons were associated with lions, storms, desert, and disease. Early portrayals of such demons are shown having Zu (Anzu) bird talons for feet and wings.

Lilitu were highly sexually predatory towards men but unable to copulate normally. Lilith was described as having no milk in her breasts and being unable to bear children.  Lilitu dwelt in desolate, desert places.  Lilith is also associated with the names Lalu (wandering about) and Lulu (lasciviousness).

Babylonian texts depict Lilith as the prostitute of the goddess Ishtar (Inanna). Older Sumerian accounts assert that Lilitu is called the handmaiden of Inanna or “hand of Inanna“. The Sumerian texts state: “Inanna has sent the beautiful, unmarried, and seductive prostitute Lilitu out into the fields and streets in order to lead men astray”.  This image is variously described as Inanna or Lilith:

This image clearly represents Inanna and not Lilith.  The confusion is typical of the romantic view of Lilith created by misguided feminist ideals.  Feminine power is confused with the destructive power of evil.

The Lilitu, the Akkadian Ardat-Lili and the Assyrian La-bar-tu presided over temple prostitution. Ardat is derived from “ardatu”, a title of prostitutes and young unmarried women, meaning “maiden”. Like Lilith, Ardat Lili was a figure of disease and impurity.

In Mesopotamian mythology Lamashtu was a female demon who menaced women during childbirth and kidnapped breastfeeding infants. She would gnaw their bones and suck their blood. She was considered a demi-goddess as daughter of the sky god Anu.  Incantations against Lamashtu mention her as a daughter of heaven who exercised her free will over infants. Unlike her demonic peers, Lamashtu was not instructed by the gods but malevolent of her own accord. She was said to seduce men, harm pregnant women, mothers, and neonates, kill foliage, drink blood, and was a cause of disease, sickness, and death. The space between her legs is as a scorpion, corresponding to the astrological sign of Scorpio. (Scorpio rules the genitals & sex organs.) Her head is that of a lion, she has Anzu bird feet like Lilitu and is lion headed, her breasts are suckled by a pig and a dog, and she rides the back of a donkey.

Lilith seems to have inherited many of Lamashtu’s myths.

 Lilith was known in ancient Israel 8th century BC.  Lilith appears as a night demon in Jewish lore and as a screech owl in the King James version of the Hebrew Bible.  The Book of Isaiah 34:14, describing the desolation of Edom:

KJV: “The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.”

On God’s day of vengeance, the land will be transformed into desolate wilderness.  The “place of rest” in the desert from this passage may allude to the myth Inanna and the Huluppu Tree.   Lilith flees to desolate lands and finds repose there.

She is also apocryphally the first wife of Adam.

The Old Testament tells the story of Lilith as Adam’s first wife.  After Lilith  refuses Adam he creates Eve from his own rib.  Eve is submissive to Adam.  This story begins the mythology of Lilith as representative of feminine power.

Images of the Garden of Eden

Michelangelo  (1475-1564):

 Lilith as seductrice.

Lilith’s connection to the Snake.

Juan Medina (1948-)

Due to Lilith’s refusal to bear Adam’s children she has come to symbolize female power.  From the “Shrine of Lilith”:

Lilith depicted with wings:

Lilith depicted with her primary consort, the Snake:

Lilith as storm demon:

Lilith as Madam:

Lilith is featured in the 1954 film. Poster:

Production photo:

There is also a 2011 film “Lilith”.

Lilith’s power extends to the cosmos:

Lilith is the dark side of the feminine psyche.  She must be defeated for the creative light and nurturing quality of woman to attain her true power.  This struggle exists in each individual woman and also in the cultural understanding of woman’s place in human society.

Lilith embodies the eternal partnership of passion and evil.

18 thoughts on “Lilith

  1. I disagree that Lilith necessarily represents evil and that feminists are misguided in reclaiming her. To me the male patriarchal religions have obviously demonized her – she was not a prostitute in the negative sense, but a sacred prostitute – she initiated men into the feminine art of love and sex. She is a symbol of female erotic power who would not bend to men, knowing herself and her worth. You see all the male gods go about doing as they please – no one demonizes them for it. But because Lilith is a female, she is demonized for her nature. She is the mystery that brings us out of our innocence and naiveté. Personally I feel that like Kali, she reflects your own fear. If you fear the dark, she will appear terrifying. If you understand and accept her, she will show you deep wisdom. The dark feminine has been greatly misunderstood and demonized.

  2. Good points. What is the porpose of a male centic cosmos? It is misguided; the creative principle is female; the male principal is destroying what the female principal has created.
    Of course there is the male principal of protecting what is created. That is what an ideal philosophy might posit, I’m positing it here.
    Lilith was weeded out by rabbis to explain Genesis 27 of “creation week”. She is God’s “first woman” to differentiate from the “second woman”, Eve. She wanted to be on top in the sexual position as if there is divine law of the missionary position. Also Lilith wanted to be coequal with Adam. This is the origin of the Jewish folklore of Lilith. To me? Literary fun and I am writing about it but the seriousness of the male centric cosmos is underneath. I am fully aware that the male centric is destructive.

    • I think we are living in a confusing time. Mythology has been destroyed in its original meaning and form. But we’re still humans who need mythology for our souls. The modern interpretations of Lilith are true because we make them true – it is an archetype that many women feel the need for, can relate to – it’s a powerful, resonant image/archetype whose time has come. A mythic figure becomes real the more people believe it, relate to it. As a woman who has struggled a lot with patriarchy and finding myself as a woman, I know how important the modern view of Lilith is to many of us. However the modern view of Lilith is not the ancient view of Lilith, we’ve taken the name but not much else. Why? Do we need that name to give her power, an ancient mystery? I’m pondering this. Can she have another name? She is Kali in India, NOT a demon, the most powerful of all, ender of time itself, primordial creation. As a Western woman I’m looking for images of the divine feminine, and the dark aspect of the divine feminine, and for what is meaningful and valuable to my own experience and spirituality. For centuries “dark” has meant “evil”, and anything associated with “woman” has meant “evil.” But how is nighttime evil? How is woman evil? How are blood, sex, death – all natural phenomena- evil? I now follow the Indian Tantric path, but it isn’t my culture of upbringing and sometimes that throws me. However, the view of the masculine and feminine, the dark and the light, is much more true and resonant for me than Western views. I keep searching…

      And yes, the viewpoint of masculine as structure for the feminine is very in line with the nondual Tantric teachings. The feminine can also destroy – Nature is always birthing and destroying and rebirthing, that’s the truth of the universe. See Kali…she stands upon Shiva, who is the destroyer. All returns to the feminine, which is all existence. The masculine can try to dominate the feminine with its physical strength, and try to control the feminine out of fear (the feminine is chaos, pure energy that cannot be controlled…life cannot be controlled). That’s what men have been doing for 1000s of years, anyway.

  3. It might be that we are living in confusing times but the time for me is focused on work. I don’t need personal mythology, I need mythology to work on, to use, so my perspective on Lilith is quite different regardless of me being a man. I am using her, otherwise I have no use for her. This of course is a male perspective and the perspective of a user of myth and not a need to arm myself to do battle with a male dominated world. So I see how you use myth and symbols in this.

    In the matter of doing battle with a new female dominated dating world is another story and I find that I may need to shield myself from women who have taken on the new age mantle of the goddess/warrior, so there is a female domination that is attempted towards men in both the spiritual acumen they profess to have and intellectually, since men have fallen in IQ it seems.

    I am a western man, understand eastern spirituality some but take my spirituality as a transcendentalist and I prefer to be lost in this sense because a spiritual path has a beginning and an end in a straight like so wandering is good for me and I consider I’m doing a spiritual journey. I am the most free person I know and live with no cliches, no dogma. I wandered into the Lilith concept by writing a story about a fallen rabbi and the 12th century rabbis tried to understand who the woman was in Genesis 1:27 as differentiated from Genesis 2:21, Eve. They called the first one Lilith from the Sumerian pantheon of stories that seeded many middle-eastern cultures.

    Men have been doing what men have been doing for millennia and men now are not looking to dominate women as I can tell, unless you’re living in the Southern states of the United States or messed up in the Abrahamic religions. Sociobiology will explain a lot about gender roles; the hallucinations of religion is an overlay that will soon pass if we survive as a species long enough.

    Militarism, well, I hope women get over it and cooperate with men that are aware. I’m only interested in Lilith as a literary subject otherwise it is of no interest to me but women are interesting as they have become the “new men” in a sociological sense, have rightfully ascended into a position of equality with progressive men who understand but there was no instruction manual for this social and spiritual change as there are never any manuals for any change and we are still dealing with it. I know you need your talismans and symbols. It is nothing I need and most women I know have ascended into the gender neutral world I live in with only their personal strength as human beings taking their gender with them as an accessory. We are different species emotionally but intellectually the same.

  4. I’ll never know what a woman needs. I was raised by women, the youngest with three older sisters and a very attentive mother and will still have to try to understand contemporary women aside from the women that raised me.

    I do understand this, that maligned groups members looked beyond their experience cohorts and sought symbols that embodied something else, something that may have been a successful accomplishment of a metaphoric journey through hell. In this sense the Lilith character does not comport. The maligned group members had their heroes that overcame the groups travails though.

    I’m here as a man. I’m here for a completely different reason.

  5. Lilith does not need to be defeated. Lilith should be embraced. That idea breeds more weakness amongst women. Lilith is an immortal. This is why the bible states that in the end the screech owl will have her mate. Lilith represents power. A concept that most individuals despise, especially in women. You seem to be one that despises power amongst the substandard.

    • I made a film from the oldest story to be written down in history. To empower oneself it is necessary to embrace both dark and light sides of the psyche. In this ancient story Lilith is destructive and writes her own ending in isolation.

      • Hey, Molly — we talked before. Thanks for that interesting adaptation of the 12th tablet. I liked it.
        Here’s mine, not a film but a recasting of it for modern times, with air condition and the groundwork for a book I’m writing.
        Prologue

        Gilgamesh and the Garden Of Inanna
        A Sumerian tale with certain contemporary
        Modifications

        Once upon a time there was a willow tree on the banks of the Euphrates, its fronds bowing, praying mournfully for rescue from the first great flood.
        And once upon another time and place there was an ancient red barked Sequoia in the lush Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Smelling thunder and lightning, it was in fear.
        And once upon a later time there was an old Civil War oak in Atlanta, Georgia. With Spanish moss hanging low its grey beard from ancient branches, it feared a Union soldier with a match.
        All the trees drank the water of their birth from rivers and streams.
        But the South Wind or Nor’easter or El Niño, tremendous rains or merciless fires tore at the root and the crown, while the rivers flooded and all that was gathered by mortal man, car lots, strip malls, architecture, plantation mansions and the mournful willow tree, all were in danger of being drowned or burned.
        With pity, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and the Goddess of Love and War looked upon the willow tree being flooded by Nammu, the great increasing sea, and scooped the willow up in Her hand.
        Inanna planted the tree in Edin, her holy garden on the Euphrates. For when the tree grew big, She planned to make of its willow-wood an executive desk for Herself and a bed for Her and Her husband, the shepherd Dumuzid. This, of course, would be the supreme honor for the willow tree and the way the goddess would show her love for eternity.
        Scarlet O’Hara, with characteristics of the divine woman, feared fire, for her decorous swing hung from the mighty oak.
        Queen Califia, the Amazonian princess living on the island now known as California, and a garden from top to bottom, is prone to fire. All of these goddesses became alarmed at the ensuing loss. Goddesses love their trees deeply — fortress, wisdom, utility and beauty their trees were to them.
        On cuneiform tablets, it was long ago written about the willow tree and Inanna’s garden where she lived sometimes and the bad eternal creatures that she transported by rescuing the willow tree.
        Living in the willow tree were a snake that knew no charm at the base and a miscreant Anzu-bird with his mischievous clutch of entitled tweeties living in the top fronds.
        But living in the middle was a deep problem for man and his children, Lilitu, Maid of Destruction — Lilitu would not let an ax touch the bark. She foiled every attempt, weakening all axmen by stealing their seed in wet dreams. When the sun went to sleep, The Maid of Destruction was awake with the moon.
        Inanna, beautiful Goddess of Love and War but not indifference, cried in Her garden about the infestation of her beloved willow tree.
        Inanna’s twin brother Utu, the Sumerian sun god, arose with Sherida The Rising Dawn who was his consort. Sherida complained of Inanna’s weeping, so Utu did what He could by shining hot and bright, but Lilitu’s power was too strong with air-conditioning, and the additional protection from above and below. Terror for man and his children was right in the middle.
        Then Gilgamesh, the great Sumerian hero, came to Edin when he overheard Inanna’s weeping complaint. Being two-thirds a god, he came to Her rescue.
        He donned his armor weighing three hundred and fifty pounds and with his ax, forged in a god’s furnace and weighing over four hundred pounds, he banished the snake that could not be charmed. The snake slithered off to reappear and tempt the second woman created by Jehovah at least five centuries later in the Hebrew Bible. You see; snakes, in old times, had incredible shelf lives.
        Seeing the destruction from Gilgamesh’s ax, the Anzu-bird fled with his entitled tweeties to the mountains. Anzu-birds also had incredible literary shelf lives and reappeared in Greece, transformed as a nobler creature.
        But Lilitu, she tore down her house, angrily, murderously because God murders one hundred of her demon children every day, but that’s another story for the Midrash of rabbis who came with the Moors to Spain. It will become relevant.
        Lilitu lives in desolate places, which she knew as her haunts thousands of years ago, and today she lives in a house sitting on the Hayward Fault and in the bedroom of her daughter. Oh, Lilith is there and lends her name to a feminist magazine; astonishingly she has been reinterpreted. The terror for man and his children is now acceptable in some circles of culture.
        Written on cuneiform tablets was that Inanna lavished Dumuzid on the willow wood bed. And, you know, a Goddess lavishes anyone she wants.
        So very long ago, love was born there on the wood of the tree where Lilitu had built her house and was driven away by Gilgamesh. You know, she hates him but wants to jump his bones.
        The snake that knows no charm, the miscreant bird with his clutch and Lilith, they all have returned to the lovers’ bed — Gil’s attention is on the moon lit shoulder of a woman from Southern California.

    • Historically, power is something that comes from the adventure of men. There are women of that level of power but unfortunately sociobiology has kinda left it for the few.
      I don’t subscribe to cliches. Lilitu existed on the Burney Relief, a demon and a goddess by depiction. An interesting literary figure, nothing more for me. Of course, I am a man. We have many symbols of power, some hollow, some solid.
      If you think I don’t think women are now a man’s equal, you are wrong. It’s taken time and I will discover more of women as time goes on and women gain a sense of humor. Laugh a little, just a little. Again, I ask; the gender spilt amongst Americans is about even. Why are there so many less women comedians? You may think this is a trite inquiry but it is a lot more important than you may think. Discover why people make jokes and what give them the freedom to laugh at themselves.

      • I like your story! Try not assuming what others think… then you discover those who are working ‘outside the box’. Both my daughters work as comedians and writers of humor.

      • Okay. I make assumptions about something I think has been proven in present day America only.
        Glad to hear you and your daughters are aberrations.

  6. Of course, that’s not my story. I’m just modifying an old and very precious story from the beginning of stories. I modify it only and add the periodic goddesses as they sometimes appear unrecognized in literature. My book is called “Death by Dating” and it is a Sumerian/detective tale of the misery of Internet dating for Baby Boomers and this has become an old story. It is based on actual events in the life of a woman I knew and asked permission to use it, got it. Therein is Sumer and Midrash of rabbis and the sex, drugs and R&R sixties, porn stars, addiction, and ghosts of the Taiping Revolution. Lilith, of course, is a powerful influence on my story but so is narcissistic personality disorder, not mine but the sickness of American society. Believe me when I say that Lilith is a cherished character and strong women ore the only dish on my menu and they are really not too rare.
    I can only comment on other’s comments, and I see no humor in the goddess/warrior post New Age. Maybe Madame Blavatsky had a sense of humor but it died on the cutting room floor of the “New Age” which is actually a rehash of Theosophy in my mind.

  7. Yes; this is how I view it but Genesis 1:27 talks of a first man and woman. Then creation week is over and it’s Miller Time.
    What’s rabbis to do except try to figure who is the first woman and while we’re at it with the midrash, who is the first man?

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