#FolkloreThursday: Lilith

Michelle Gomez as Lilith, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Ah, Lilith. Mother of Demons or the First Feminist?

(12) Her nobles shall be no more, nor shall kings be proclaimed there; all her princes are gone. (13) Her castles shall be overgrown with thorns, her fortresses with thistles and briers. She shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches. (14) Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the Lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest. (15) There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. (16) Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and His spirit shall gather them there. (17) It is He who casts the lot for them, and with His hands He marks off their shares of her; They shall possess her forever, and dwell there from generation to generation.

Isaiah 34 (NAB)
John Collier 1887

Depending on which source you use and who’s talking about her, it could honestly go either way; demoness or feminist. Supernatural books, tv shows and movies love to use her as the cunning and badass demoness. Academics love to examine and analyze the aspects of her story and use her as a cutout for all the wrongs that have been done to women. She fascinates us because her legends all hinge on the idea that she was Adam’s first wife, and was made from the clay, just as he was. Her creation was equal to his and so she refused to be subservient.

After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, “I will not lie below,” and he said, “I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.” Lilith responded, “We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.” But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.

Alphabet of Ben Sira
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866-1868

So she fled the garden and possibly had sex with Samael, although who seduced who is up for debate. Three more angels show up to take her back but she is in the process of giving birth to just so many children. The angels begin slaying the children until Lilith agrees to go back. On her return she finds that Adam has a new mate, one who will cause her own trouble really soon. Lilith is not happy about Eve, and so she steals Adam’s “seed” while he’s sleeping and uses this to create a host of demons to replace her lost children. However, Lilith will also take out her retribution on human children for what was done to hers and thus is created the origin story of Lilith as a night-hag who takes children in their sleep.

Her house sinks down to death,
And her course leads to the shades.
All who go to her cannot return
And find again the paths of life.

Proverbs 2:18–19
LeGrebe, 2016

What is known for certain is that she is old. She is very old. Supposed references to her go all the way back to Mesopotamia and the Epic of Gilgamesh. She (or what is assumed to Lilith) pops up here and there all across ancient texts, but not always by name. The general assumption has always been that she is the one referenced when a certain type of woman is being discussed in the Bible and other sources. Sometimes, though, her name is just right there:

And I, the Instructor, proclaim His glorious splendour so as to frighten and to te[rrify] all the spirits of the destroying angels, spirits of the bastards, demons, Lilith, howlers, and [desert dwellers] … and those which fall upon men without warning to lead them astray from a spirit of understanding and to make their heart and their … desolate during the present dominion of wickedness and predetermined time of humiliations for the sons of lig[ht], by the guilt of the ages of [those] smitten by iniquity – not for eternal destruction, [bu]t for an era of humiliation for transgression.

Songs of the Sage (4Q510–511),  fragment 1

Lilith’s story is not one that can be condensed down into a blog entry, though. There are reams of lore and academic texts and hypotheses and theories about who she was, where she came from, and what she became. But in studying the fragments, it’s not hard to see how women would find a kindred spirit in her. All the stories seem to agree that Lilith was passionate and wanted to be independent. Sometimes, her story simply appears to be that of a woman who refused to be subservient in a time when that’s what all women were expected to be. Was she simply a woman who bucked her cultural, social, and religious mores and so was branded as a demon, much as women would be branded as witches later in history? Or was she an amalgamation of stories that served to keep other women in line and doing their duty? Because, I mean, that seems as likely a possibility as any.

Karin Boye, Date Unknown

One thought on “#FolkloreThursday: Lilith

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s