Lilith or Lucifer or Both
in the Garden of Eden
jewish tradition the major strands of the lilith legend were tied together in the alphebet of ben sirach, which was a medieval kabbalistic text thought by some to be religio-political satire. other mystical hebrew texts in which lilith are mentioned are the zohar, buxtorf’s lexicon talmudicum, and sefer raziel.
her connection to feminine subjugation is often made clear by depictions of her marked genitals and chained ankles. she is the very essence of every early hebrew woman who simply didn’t know her place in socio-sexual politics. the mantra with which she is associated, “i will not lie below” was representative of every wayward thinking (read: non-submissive) woman of the time.
it is quite revealing to examine the similarities and differences between lilith and eve. seen in this way, lilith is the first, unsuccessful attempt at the creation of woman, with eve being the obvious model for “proper” femininity.
lilith came to embody everything that could be wrong, perverse or dangerous in sex. she was the personification of sexual impurity. as such, she was associated with infant death, miscarriages, barrenness, menstruation (which is, of course, inherently evil), impotence, female hysteria, carnal temptation, and even male nocturnal emissions.
The collected texts stitch together a marriage breakdown between Adam and his first wife Lilith. The issues seemed to be that they fought all the time and that they were sexually incompatible. "The last big fight that Adam and Lilith ever had was about sex. Adam demanded that Lilith, being the inferior female that she was, lie beneath him during sex. Lilith refused to take a submissive role, as they were both created equally.
lilith was chased down by the three angels, senoy, sansenoy, and semangelof, who ordered her to return to adam in the garden. she was told that if she refused, 100 of her demon babies would die each day. she refused. she also swore to bring death and suffering to mothers and children for the rest of her existence. (keep in mind that this is long before eve, the serpent and the tree, the fruit and the fall – most importantly, before the punishment of death was inflicted for the original sin.) thus, lilith’s oath would affect humanity indefinitely.
lilith wasn’t entirely unreasonable about the situation. she told the angels that people could protect their children by hanging amulets above their cribs and inscribing the names of the three angels either on the door or the walls. interestingly, the amulets were inscribed with the words, “adam and eve. out lilith!” or sometimes simply “lilit abi,” meaning “lilith begone.” this is thought by some to have become the much later english word, “lullaby.”
this is the basic outline of the lilith legend. it is a complexly evolving myth, however, with many variations of its theme. i’ll ouline some of these within the context of their cultures and time periods of origin. first, though, it is helpful to understand the origins of the lilith legend. the above, “completed” story is actually a medieval kabbalistic conglomeration of individual jewish folk tales which took over 3 millenia to weave together. the alphabet of ben sirah is the earliest surviving document to tell the tale in its completed form.
origin and etymology
Through this tale, Lilith's role grew among the myths people used to explain pain, sorrow, and unfortunate events. Just like her Babylonian counterparts, Lilith became known as the perpetrator of child deaths.
. When she saw that Adam would gain power over her, she uttered the ineffable name of God and flew off to a cave in the desert near the Red Sea. There, as queen of Zemargad or queen of the desert, she engaged in promiscuity, including with demons, and gave birth to 100 demonic offspring called lilim every day. The daughters all practice SORCERY, seduction, and strangling.
Egyp- tian cords and all the ornaments of the Land of the East hang from her nape. Her mouth is set like a nar- row door comely in its decor, her tongue is sharp like a sword, her words are smooth like oil, her lips are red like a rose and sweetened by all the sweetness in the world. She is dressed in scarlet and adorned with forty ornaments less one.
Lilith, who has the upper body of a beautiful woman and a lower body of fire, carries the fiery resentment of the Moon. Lilith lurks under doorways, in wells, and in latrines, waiting to seduce men.
In a text preceding the Zohar, Lilith and Samael are born joined as androgynous twins from an emanation be- neath the throne of glory. They are the lower aspects of another androgynous twin, Adam and Eve.
In the Zohar, Lilith arises from an evil shell or husk, a KELIPPAH, that is created in the waning of the Moon. In the beginning, the Sun and Moon were equal, and this created a rivalry. To end it, God diminished the Moon and made it rule the night. Lilith’s powers are at their peak when the Moon is dark.
lilith typifies the anath-worshiping canaanite priestesses who were allowed prenuptial promiscuity which was unequivocally forbidden in deuteronomy. at this time of intense national and religious introspection, it was common for the jews to attempt to distance themselves from other cultures, especially the canaanites and the babylonians. using the babylonian lilith as a representative of canaanite indiscretion worked to demonize both cultures
the sumerian lillake tablet depicts her as having mastery over (or at least association with) owls. however, this is all speculation, as exact translation is difficult due to the fact that lilith is a babylonian loan word having no hebrew equivalent.
gen 1:27 portrays man and woman being created simultaneously, with no mention of the rib. gen 2:22 shows god first creating man, and as an afterthought creating woman from man’s rib. the lilith legend fits into this discrepancy perfectly. the unnamed woman in the first account is thought to have been lilith and the woman of the second account is named as eve. again, this is not written in the talmud or the tanakh, but comes from the later midrash based on a much earlier oral tradition. the lilith story itself is far older than the idea of adam having a first wife, and both are older than the ben sirah alphabet which ties the two together.
through mistranslation, lilith was thought to have derived from layil, the hebrew word for night. thus, lilith, as she became hebraicized, came to be known as a night demon. much confusion has been generated by the translations and mistranslations of the name lilith in the bible. the only biblical reference to lilith is in isaiah 34:14. the new american standard bible translates lilith as “night monster” while the king james version translates it as “screech owl.”
the evolution of her tale didn’t stop with her introduction into judaism, however. biblical allusion led to talmudic tradition which, in turn, led to kabbalist mystical tradition. this was the period (11th to 13th centuries ce) that brought about the apotheosis of lilith. it was the kabbalistic writings that promoted her from being a mere night-demon to being the consort of samael (lit. poison of god), the demon of death. in some texts, she was the wife of adam and in others, the wife of satan. more than one kabbalistic passage alludes to her being the wife of god himself. the kabbalistic history of lilith is essentially a compilation of alternate versions of her story.
Viewing the character of the deity of Genesis with a sober, critical eye, the Gnostics concluded that this God was neither good nor wise. He was envious, genocidal, unjust, and, moreover, had created a world full of bizarre and unpleasant things and conditions. In their visionary explorations of secret mysteries, the Gnostics felt that they had discovered that this deity was not the only God, as had been claimed, and that certainly there was a God above him.
This true God above was the real father of humanity, and, moreover, there was a true mother as well, Sophia, the emanation of the true God. Somewhere in the course of the lengthy process of pre-creational manifestation, Sophia mistakenly gave life to a spiritual being, whose wisdom was greatly exceeded by his size and power. This being, whose true names are Yaldabaoth (child of the chaos), Samael (blind god), and also Saclas (foolish one), then proceeded to create a world, and eventually also a human being called Adam. Neither the world nor the man thus created was very serviceable as created, so Sophia and other high spiritual agencies contributed their light and power to them. The creator thus came to deserve the name "demiurge" (half maker), a Greek term employed in a slightly different sense by philosophers, including Plato.
She is the dark aspect of the Mother Goddess.
In addition to Jewish folklore, Lilith appears in various forms in Iranian, Babylonian, Sumerian, Canaanite, Per- sian, Arabic, Teutonic, Mexican, Greek, English, Asian, and Native American legends. She is sometimes associ- ated with other characters in legend and myth, including the queen of Sheba and Helen of Troy.
In medieval Europe, she was often portrayed as the wife, concubine, or grandmother of [the] Satan.