May/June, 1998 Volume XII Number 12

Lilith faire or evil?

by Cathy Ramey

This summer, it is expected that we will see a host of concerts around the nation, a purported "celebration of women" by musical artists who are, for the most part, women. The series of concerts hailed as Lilith fair are the brainchild of Sarah McLachlan, herself a musician and singer of songs. Last years retinue, the first Lilith fair, met with unexpected enthusiasm and success, so much so, that this year the list of performers is expected to be quite large, offering more variety, more stops along the tour, and even the occasional out of place male performer.
It is hard to condemn an event that seems so entrepreneurial, and so music-in-the-park in its portrayal. But looking beyond the atmosphere of women and men, primarily teens and twenty-somethings, listening to an open air assemblage of New Age folksy musicians, the events ought to give pause. It is reported that among those chiefly supporting the series of concerts is Planned Parenthood, America's number one purveyor and destroyer of unborn children. In light of the concert namesake, such support is understated, and ghoulishly natural.

For identification with Lilith the key lies in the owls and the bird feet. Lilith is arguably identified with the owl in Isaiah 34

Who is lilith?

Lilith . . . the name sounds light, airy, whimsical, but the creature behind the name is none of these. Archeological depictions of one thought to be the lilith creature include what appears to be a hybrid woman with bird feet standing upon two lions. Another shows her as a darkly naked creature with long hair flying along the spine of her back. Her hands and feet are clawed and menacing. Amulets which have been found in abundance, and which some identify with Lilith, show a creature with the many-eyed head of an insect, the body covered with hair and spines, tentacle-like arms and a tail that is broadened out like a flipper.
Lilith is very much the product of ancient mythology and religious mysticism, with a hard twist of contemporary feminist evolution making her into what some today are calling a goddess. Her origin though is something else entirely. In fact, until recently she, or it, has never been referred to as a goddess in ancient sources. Renee Rosen of the University of Kansas refers to a book by Patai titled The Hebrew Goddess, and argues,

There is absolutely no evidence that Lilith was worshipped as a
goddess until modern times. There were goddesses worshipped at
various times by the Hebrews (for instance Asherah or Astarte),
but Lilith was a demon, not a goddess.

But modern day spiritists, eager to cash in on the New Age trend of goddess worship ("The goddess is alive and magic is afoot!") have elevated this grotesque beast in such a way that one would, not being better informed, imagine her as a fairy or sprite type of creature. As her story unfolds, the picture that is drawn is, at best, whether viewed as an alluring goddess or a hideous specter of a demon, of one who rebelled against God and now lives to drag others along in insurrection and destruction.
One of the earliest references to Lilith is thought to be found on the Gilgamesh Stone, a Sumerian tablet which dates back to about 2000 BC. The inscription, a fabled Egyptian-Semitic creation account, records that a goddess named Inanna planted a tree hoping to build of it a throne and a bed. She goes away for ten years and returns to find that,

A serpent who could not be charmed
made its nest in the roots of the tree,
The Anzu bird set his young in the branches of the tree,
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk. (Wolkstein 83: p. 8)

Other objects of reference include are what are thought to be "incantation bowls" now located at The Semitic Museum, Harvard University. These demonstrate that the Lilith legend had transitioned and broadened within little more than 400 years to speak of the creature as an entirely evil spirit bent upon enticing men to nocturnal passion and killing newborn children.

You are bound and sealed,
all you demons and devils and liliths, . . .
The evil Lilith,
who causes the hearts of men to go astray
and appears in the dreams of the night
and in the visions of the day,
Who burns and casts down with nightmare,
attacks and kills children,
boys and girls.

An 18th or 19th c. Persian amulet. Intented to protect a newborn from Lilith in her role as baby-stealer.

The transition demonstrates the power of wedding together folklore from many pagan traditions. Here she has risen from being referred to rather obliquely as a "dark maid," to the status of a very powerful demon-like creature with allusions to Egyptian, Babylonian, and Semitic mysticism.
Lilith, most of the legends say, was the first wife of Adam. Variations (which I summarize generally though they are often written in sexually explicit ways) include the following: First, that male semen has a power of its own and that she arose out of a dream that a jealous Adam had after watching animals engage in sexual behavior. Another, that God created her at the same time as Adam, with both of them facing each other and sexually linked so that each was a hermaphrodite (having both male and female genitalia), only later being separated into two individuals. That God created Adam of the dust of the ground, but this first wife of sediment and slime, making her evil disposition entirely the fault of God.
But possibly the most popular Lilith legend today, in that it satisfies a certain feminist ideal of woman as badly treated by an over-bearing patriarchy, is the story that God created Adam and his first wife out of exactly the same substance. This story says that Adam and Lilith were at odds with each other from the start. Adam took the attitude of a superior and saw his wife as socially of lower rank and primarily useful for serving him.
(Contrast that with a true biblical account of Adam who enthusiastically welcomes the woman God created to complement him. The biblical Adam underscores the woman's inherent equality with him by stating, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). In other words, she is just like me.)
Under the Lilith legend, Adam's first wife was aggressive, high strung, with a sexual nature that demanded satisfaction. Her husband's greatest crime was in attempting to be intimate with the first wife while lying on top of her. Lilith, who is painted as anxious and dissatisfied with life in Eden even from the start, sees this as Adam's ultimate effort to dominate and humiliate her. She appeals to God, but finds, much to her ire that His sympathies are with Adam. Finding no relief, she utters the unutterable and secret name of God, and flees the garden.
Here the legend is particularly Egyptian in content in that in Egyptian mythology, it is the goddess Isis who learns the unutterable name by nearly killing the god Ra. She poisons him slowly, and then when he is at the point of death she offers a curative potion, but only if he will reveal his name. It is assumed, though nowhere stated, that Lilith obtained the secret information from Isis who is one of an unholy trinity of friends; Isis, Lilith, and a maiden from the Isle of Lesbos named Gylu are all part of the Ra mythology.
Lilith, both in fear after uttering the name, and anger because she sees no way to rule over Adam, flees to the Red Sea. (Modern feminists reinterpret this as an effort to preserve her dignity.) She copulates with a multitude of demons who live there and are willing to serve her for the favor of having sex. She bears offspring of lilim, a thousand per day, explaining, according to Lilith legend fans, the proliferation of evil spirits let loose upon the world. (One variation has her fleeing into a cave and carrying on instead).
The story unfolds that God sends forth three powerful angels to bring her back at Adam's appeal. They find her among the demons, but she refuses to return. It appears that her knowledge of God's unspeakable name gives her some sort of special power to resist. Jewish mysticism holds that having fled soon after her creation and without having eaten from the forbidden tree in the garden, she is an eternal creature, free to roam the earth as she pleases.
In refusing to return to the garden, Lilith is told that in punishment the mighty angels will destroy one hundred of her offspring every day. To which she responds that it will be her task to, in a sense, replace them by killing human babies. Only an incantation (referred to earlier) would protect against her claim to a child.
It is interesting to surf the Internet on the modern day Lilith phenomenon and note that she is sometimes referred to by worshippers as the goddess of abortion. Books, many of them more creative than accurate about the legend, also make much of her ability to dispatch with children at will. The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths & Secrets says,

She was the goddess of rage, alienation, stillbirths, abortions; and her devotees gave us fingernail/toenail polish.

Not surprisingly, she is also known here and there among her contemporary followers as the goddess of divorce.
The Lilith legend has survived for over two and three millennia in large part due to early Jewish mystics whose oral tradition and kabbalah involved the use of a talisman, including the incantation, to ward her off, away from men sleeping alone, and especially those without morals, and to protect those babies, particularly before male circumcision, who, it was widely thought, she would steal the breath from while they were sleeping. Infant losses commonly referred to as "crib deaths" or SIDS were at one time more commonly thought by mystics to be the work of this she-devil.
Some religiously idolatrous, eminently superstitious Hebrew rabbis eventually expressed an elaborate, even if entirely unfounded, tradition which wove together the weakest possible support from Scripture (Torah, and prophetic literature) and other sources (midrash references). In point of fact though, the Bible has only one reference to lilith, one that may refer to the creature of so much myth, or it may not. The evidence either way is scant. Isaiah 34:14 says,

The wild beast of the desert shall also meet with the jackals,
And the goat shall bleat to its companion;
Also the night creature shall rest there,
And find for herself a place of rest. (NJKV)

The words translated "night creature" are the word, lilith.

Persian incantation bowl with Lilith in the middle, surrounded by a prophylactic text in Aramaic.

Though biblical evidence is slender at very best, a liberal exegete can create any number of meanings even from a single text. And such liberality makes it possible to marry a single word reference to many other passages of Scripture. After all, Bible literature is weighty and authoritative, even among those who fiercely reject the message of Scripture. An audacious mystic, anxious to attach as much significance as possible to an interpretation would attempt to see parallels throughout the text. Keep in mind, their interpretations were also part of their daily economic trade. And during various periods of history, such an independent and self-serving hermeneutic was even promoted both by more dissident Jewish rabbis from before the time of Christ and especially again in the middle ages from about the thirteenth century.
To demonstrate how rashly Lilith is transported into Scripture, consider that one such source entitled The Treatise on the Left Emanation, written by a Rabbi Jacob in the thirteenth century, argues that Lilith is to be found in Isaiah 27 where the text remarks that Leviathin, lillith, they argue, will be slain. Or Numbers 24:17 where the "star" which is said to rise from Jacob is concluded to be none other than this mythical-spiritual creature. And elsewhere, in Isaiah 34:5, she is said by him to be represented in the text as Edom.
The end of Lilith's story, at least as for now, is that she is hailed as the deceiver extraordinaire who enticed Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree, feminist mystics argue, in order to free the timid and oppressed second wife of Adam. And while there are aspects of the evolution of this so-called goddess that we may be tempted to laugh off as nothing more than archaic superstition, the unfettered goddess is, according to modern devotees, working to make a comeback. Rosen responds to any effort to restrict her influence to the past by saying,

On the contrary: there is plenty of evidence of modern worship, at
least among some Wiccans, Neopagans, Satanists, Judeopagans,
goddess worshipers, etc.

His point is hammered home in a book edited by Alix Pirani entitled The Absent Mother: restoring the goddess to Judaism and Christianity. All of this leads one to consider that if indeed the goddess is alive, something will be afoot at Lilith fair, and it likely will have little to do with honoring God.

Lilith faire of evil?
Black Women and breast cancer
Telling the truth at Fort Hood in Killeen
A matter of choice