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
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:
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.