Sumerian or Assyrian terra cotta relief of a woman with bird feet, accompanied by various desert animals, sometimes speculated to be Lilith. However, the connection between Lilith and this relief is currently regarded by some scholars as dubious.
She has wings and is wearing (only) a multiple-horned mitre, both characteristic of portraits of high divinity. The object in her left hand appears to be an ankh, reminiscent of a famous Egyptian portrait of the Canaanite goddess, Anat, and a snake, characteristic of portraits of the Cretan goddess.
This image distinguishes itself from the mass of goddess images in the ancient world due to the bird feet and the accompanying animals. The presence of animals is not unusual. In fact, the lions she is standing on create something of a problem (if this figure is Lilake/Lilitu), since they are generally associated with Inanna. For identification with Lilith, the answer lies in the owls and the bird feet. Lilith is arguably identified with the owl in Isaiah 34. Also, the Gilgamesh prologue associates the tree-dweller with the owl, so if the tree-dweller is Lilith, that strengthens the argument.
By : Emil G. Hirsch, Solomon Schechter, Ludwig Blau
Lilith is a female demon. Of the three Assyrian demons Lilu, Lilit, and Ardat Lilit, the second is referred to in Isa. xxxiv. 14. Schrader (A) takes Lilith to be a goddess of the night; she is said to have been worshiped by the Jewish exiles in Babylon (B). Sayce (C), Fossey (D), and others think that "Lilith" is not connected with the Hebrew "layil" (night), but that it is the name of a demon of the storm, and this view is supported by the cuneiform inscriptions quoted by them. It must, however, be assumed that the resemblance to the Semitic "layil" materially changed the conception of Lilith among the Semites, and especially among the Jews. No definite conclusions can be drawn from the passage in Isaiah, where it is said of the devastated palaces of Edom that wild animals shall dwell in them "and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech-owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest" (E). Baudissin connects Lilith with Zech. v. 9.
Lilith is more fully described in post-Biblical literature, where she appears as a demon of the night, as suggested by her Hebrew name. Three classes of demons are mentioned: spirits, devils, and "lilin" (F). The first have neither body nor form; the second appear in complete human shape; the third in human shape, but with wings (G). Adam procreated all the spirits while he was under a spell (H). Similarly, Eve bore demons to male spirits for the space of 130 years. This corresponds to the view that the demons are half human (I). Hence an abortion which has the shape of Lilith may be a child, though it has wings (J). Lilith is a seductive woman with long hair (K); she is the Queen of Zemargad (L); Ahriman is her son (M). She goes about at night, fastening herself upon any one sleeping alone in a room (N). "The Lord will protect thee" (O) means, according to Targ. Yer., ". . . from lilin." The meteor-stone is her arrow and is a remedy against disease (P). Kohut's assumption that Agrat bat Ma'lat ("daughter of the dancer"), who roams at night with myriads of demons (Q), is the queen of the lilin, is not verified. King Solomon, who commanded all spirits, had the lilin dance before him (R).
Kohut identifies Lilith with the Parsee Bushyansta, and the Arabic translators render the word in Isa. xxxiv. 14 by "ghul," which is identical with the "lamia" of the Vulgate. In the Talmud, however, there is nothing to indicate that Lilith is a vampire. The Arabians, on the contrary, are said to regard Lilith, under the form of Lalla, as a "holy dame" (S). The name "Lilith" is found also on amulets with terra-cotta figures (T). In the later Middle Ages the mystics systematically amplified demonology on the basis of the traditions and the current European superstitions, and they also assigned a more definite form to Lilith (U). The superstitions regarding her and her nefarious doings were, with other superstitions, disseminated more and more among the mass of the Jewish people. She becomes a nocturnal demon, flying about in the form of a night-owl and stealing children. She is permitted to kill all children which have been sinfully begotten, even from a lawful wife. If a child smiles during the night of the Sabbath or the New Moon, it is a sign that Lilith is playing with it. One should then strike the nose of the child three times and drive Lilith away by the prescribed rough words (V). Lilith likewise appears to men in their dreams; she is the bride of Samael (W). It is said in a Judæo-German book (X) printed at Frankfort-on-the-Main in the beginning of the eighteenth century that Lilith deceives men and has children by them; infant mortality is regarded as a consequence of this miscegenation (Y). In a certain legend she appears as the Queen of Sheba, who in the guise of a beautiful woman seduced a poor Jew of Worms (Z). As she was eager to seize new-born infants, mother and child were provided with amulets, which since early times were regarded as an efficient protection against magic and demons; Lilith is the chief figure on the "childbirth tablets" still hung on the walls of the lying-in room in the East and in eastern Europe. The name "Lilith" occurs also in non-Jewish superstitions (AA). The conception that she was Adam's first wife (BB) appears to have been spread through Buxtorf's "Lexicon Talmudicum," s.v. Lilith is a clear instance of the persistence of popular superstitious beliefs.
(A) "Jahrb. für Protestantische Theologie," i. 128
(B) Levy, in "Z. D. M. G." ix. 470, 484
(C) "Hibbert Lectures," pp. 145 et seq.
(D) "La Magie Assyrienne," pp. 37 et seq.
(E) Isa. xxxiv. 14; see Cheyne's note ad loc.
(F) Targ. Yer. to Deut. xxxii. 24; Targ. Sheni to Esth. i. 3; passim
(G) Rashi to Sanh. 109a
(I) ?ag. 16a
(J) Nid. 24b
(K) 'Er. 100b
(L) Targ. Job i. 15; comp. Bacher and Kohut
(M) B. B. 73a
(N) Shab. 151b
(O) Num. vi. 24
(P) Gi?. 69b
(Q) Pes. 112b, bottom
(R) Targ. Sheni Esth. i. 3
(S) Schwab, "Les Coupes Magiques et l'Hydromancie dans l'Antiquité Orientale," p. 11
(T) idem, "Coupes à Inscriptions Magiques," p. 62
(U) see the quotations in Eisenmenger, "Entdecktes Judenthum," ii. 417 et seq.
(V) Joseph Cohen, "'Eme? ha-Melek," p. 84b; comp. Grunwald, "Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," v. 62
(W) Schwab, "Angélologie"; comp. Zohar ii. 267b
(X) "Hanhagat ha-?asidim"
(Y) comp. Grunwald, l.c. v. 10, 62
(Z) Grunwald, l.c. ii. 30 et seq
(AA) Lammert, "Volksmedicin," p. 170; Grunwald, l.c. vii., col. 2, n. 4
(BB) comp. Gen. R. xxiv.; Yer. 'Er. 18b
W. M. Menzies Alexander, Demoniac Possession in the N. T. pp. 15-16, 26, 44, 55, Edinburgh, 1902;
Bacher, Lilith, Königin von Smargad, in Monatsschrift, 1870, xix. 187-189;
W. W. Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgesch, i. 128, Leipsic, 1876;
Bar Bahlul's Syrisches Wörterb.;
G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, etc., pp. 47, 50, 54, Vienna, 1850;
Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum, ii. 413 et seq.;
C. Fossey, La Magie Assyrienne, pp. 26, 37 et seq., Paris, 1902;
M. Grunwald, Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, ii. 68, 74; v. 10, 62; vii. 104;
F. Hommel, Vorsemitische Kultur, p. 367;
idem, Die Semiten, etc., p. 368, Leipsic, 1881;
W. M. Menzies Alexander, Demoniac Possession in the N. T. pp. 15-16, 26, 44, 55, Edinburgh, 1902;
By Zella Bardsley, 2002
How can a little candle shine at midday? God thereupon said to her, Go and diminish thyself. She felt humiliated and said, Why should I be as one that veileth herself? (Song of Songs 1:7).
In flies the unabashedly sexual, autonomous, articulate and intelligent Lilith, her free spirit torn in half by patriarchy, separated from the passive, subjugated Eve. Eve remains after patriarchal religions took the life out of the Great Goddess and threw her, as Lilith, into the red sea.
Lilith is a deity far older than, and closely connected with, Inanna. The Talmud states she was formed in response to Adams request for a mate. Jehovah used mud and sediment to form her, rather than the pure dust he used for Adam. Of course, woman's nature is essentially moist, of earth, so these symbols can be taken in that spirit. Male and female he created them, Genesis states in its first version of the creation story, yet later the Bible changes its mind, casting out Lilith and the feminine sacred. Lilith's crime? She pointed out that as they were created equally, she and Adam should mate so. Hebraic tradition said Adam requested Lilith because he tired of mating with beasts, a common custom of the day. Though he could force the animals to lay beneath him, Lilith objected (The Catholic church still proclaims any position other than to male-superior position to be sinful).
The Kabbalists describe the creation of Adam, or man, as androgynous. The first human was created as an androgyne with two faces, one looking in each direction, a balanced whole. Later this being was sawed in half, and backs were made for each of the faces. Adamah was Lilith's name in this tradition, the Hebrew word for soil or Earth.
Lilith originally sat on a throne, a threefold willow tree, not unlike Yggdrasil, with a serpent-dragon at its roots and Zu-bird on top. When Lilith first arrived on Sumerian terra-cotta reliefs at about 1950 BCE (on the Burney relief) she entered as a beautiful naked woman with lovely prominent breasts, unabashedly sexual, standing on two lions, flanked by owls, wearing a snake turban and sporting wings (an obvious angelic connection). Her hands, raised high, hold two objects similar to Libra's sign. These objects have a striking similarity to the Egyptian sign of law: a ruler and measuring stick symbolizing power.
The Ginza, sacred book of the Madaean Gnostics, depicts Lilith as a sort of sacred form uniting heaven and hell. Her frog aspect is that of transformation, the link between death and regeneration. In these texts, Lilith is viewed not as being a child-stealing demoness, but as a good spirit comforting women in labor.
Lilith knew the power name of Jehovah and demanded that he give her wings with which she flew away to live happily and equally among the elemental spirits. Trying the second time with Eve, passive, less intelligent, modest, he was still unhappy, although Lilith returned to his bed occasionally at Adam's request.
Lilith is the consciousness of absolute equality of female and male. This equality is reinforced by the potential androgyny in each, intensified by the sexual androgyny of Lilith's tales. Without her, the blessings of life's waters decay into dusty knowledge. She is the instinctual, earthy aspect of the feminine and the animating embodiment of sexual longings. She is the kind of sensual yearnings women know a few days before menstruation.
Patriarchal religions' attempt to annihilate the Great Goddess through fear and shame are the roots of their demonization of Lilith. In her stories, they endeavor to destroy the Goddess through fear, creating a terror of her, entirely skewing the death-regeneration aspects of this Goddess, so similar to Kali. The stories exemplify patriarchal religious misogyny and the ascribing of all evil upon women, particularly the "evil" of female sexuality.
In disbelief, Lilith shunned Adam's ideas of her inferiority and tried to shake some sense back into Eve at the tree of knowledge. She finally left the garden altogether, surrounded by bad press. The Great Goddess being sliced, diced and split into Eve and Lilith by patriarchy, shows the beginnings of the fragmentation of women's bodies, as well as woman's alienation from her own body. When women reject the inculturation of body-hatred, the addictions, obsessions and compulsions surrounding this self-hatred will cease to exist. We will begin to see the body once again as a whole and magical gift rather than viewing it in small pieces with guilt and shame.
The spiritual and political were one in the culture of the Goddess. It is only with her suppression that we have come to live in a profane world. The Christian Church has remained, since Constantine, a rigidly masculine, hierarchical structure in whose organization women have played little part. It has perpetuated, in a way that has debauched its own inner meaning, the patriarchal spirit of Judaism, which has consigned Lilith, the Great Goddess, to the bottom of the Red Sea (a version of Kali-Ma's Ocean of Blood which gives birth to all beings). But even Jewish orthodoxy in its strictest periods never succeeded completely in eradicating the worship of the goddess, who as Lilith, was reinstated and honored by the Kabbalists whose erudition, with that of the Arabs', fed the culture of Languedoc. Lilith's story symbolizes the desacralization of the Goddess, the casting her away and demonizing her, making one jealous sky-god of importance. Even through the slander of patriarchal scribes, Lilith remained a powerful Goddess in Jewish folklore of central Europe until the sixteenth century CE17, much as Mary continued to symbolize the Goddess for the Catholic tradition.
When man excludes his feminine nature, he identifies only with his Appolian mind and the instinctive nature is dispossessed and turns shadowy. Archaeological evidence shows how the Great Goddess is dispossessed by the new gods of the Northern invaders who consequently change her powerful images to a dangerous strength hidden behind the masculine dream of alluring houri (beautiful virgins provided in paradise for the faithful). The period ending about 5400 BCE is when the culture of woman as the equal sex of the gardening culture of the Great Goddess began to change.
Lilith was also maligned as child-killer when in fact, prior to patriarchy, she was said to tickle babies in their sleep and watch over mothers and infants to protect them in their first days. This aspect was skewed with the onset of patriarchy when their religions asserted that a woman had no honor except in conjunction with her husband. Woman was socialized to cling and develop strong infantile needs for love and approval from a man. Lilith as the child-killer executes these infantile needs. The child-killer aspect becomes destructive when woman does not listen to her own Lilith energy to address her needs for freedom and equality.
In the Talmud, the Zohar and the Bible, Lilith is described as the soul of beasts, as "every living creature that creepeth." She is the Lady of the Beasts, for she is of nature, the Great Goddess of the Earth. She does not intend to transcend Earth, as the patriarchal religions who would choose to destroy Earth to meet their own ends, then transcend it. No, she is here to heal Earth, to be of Earth. Lilith is animal as we are animal, and Lilith understands that we must consider our relationship to all beings of Earth, as well as our responsibility to future residents of Earth. In Sumerian terra-cotta plaques, Lilith is shown as a hybrid birdwoman with a sensuous body and powerful clawed feet. Her lack of clothing symbolizes her tie to nature. She is guarded by the owl, bird of wisdom (which reinforced her lunar characteristic). She stands on the lion and wears the crown of Sumerian royalty. The bird-woman motif is ancient. The Bird Goddess in Old Europe is the Cosmic Creator who also helped women in childbirth and nursed infants. In 7 BCE, Assyrian women chanted to Lilith as winged sphinx for aid in giving birth. The sphinx is well known for her riddles and is hymned as the wise virgin. For this Goddess-Protector/Creator symbology to be reversed in patriarchy as a threatening female power certainly illustrates the complete paranoia and control of misogynistic religious leaders.
Lilith, whose name means "screech-owl" is about woman's voice. Lilith continues to speak even amidst her suppression, her demonization, her continued casting away and the denial that she exists. Lilith speaks, and sometimes she screams, for her voice and all women's voices must be heard. The voice of human nature cannot be suppressed. This "screech" definition comes from the Roman "Strige" and is the derivation for "Strega," the Italian for witch or wise woman. Lilith is the primeval instinctual free spirit. The owl also symbolizes wisdom. Wisdom in most languages is a feminine noun, most often personified as a woman or Goddess. Though she loves to play (in wisdom) she is not to be trifled with. This ideal comes from a time when the feminine principle had not yet been subjugated to the structure of patriarchy.
Stories surrounding Lilith tell of her willow tree (a tree sacred to the Goddess, this one planted by Inanna herself) home on the Euphrates River in which she lived in a nest. This home she shared with the Zu-bird, or the Sumerian storm-god exemplifying the matriarchal equality between genders). Gilgamesh, a Sumerian "hero" (here symbolizing patriarchy) donned his armor and approached with his 400 pound ax. Both the Zu-bird and Lilith fled. Lilith chose to be cast out rather than cut down or submitting to power over. This story illustrates a part of female individuation. A woman's process often involves the feeling of being cast out and forced in consciousness.
Lilith is woman essence, the Goddess who gave the gift of grain, the creatress, the Mother-Protector, she who birthed the Moon. She cannot conceive of inferiority to any other, a concept totally alien to a culture never seeing or conceiving of anything resembling power-over, a civilization living in balance with nature and her cycles. She is woman-strength, independence, respectful of every being's autonomy. She is the ancient Goddess who brought the gift of written language and agriculture. She is utterly confused at this degradation of her strength and the distortions of her natural sexuality into the misconception of temptress. In this age many reclaim her, as she has chosen well between oppression and freedom.
Lilith is joy, strength, power, wisdom and female sexuality controlled by the autonomous female of matriarchy. This articulate, intelligent and powerful aspect of femininity had to be annihilated in order for patriarchy to meet its goals, lead to Lilith's bad press and to create a fear-base to ostracize the Goddess. Lilith could not betray her understanding of her humanity or feel the shame that Adam embraced.
Patriarchy put men in the position of taking their instinctual sexuality and forcing it into the mold of the "proper wife" they would marry conflicting with the night fantasy of their desire. They blamed a "demon" for their nocturnal emissions, a product of their own sexual repression. Patriarchal religions had such fear of sexuality that monks were instructed to fend off succubae (Lilith's incarnations, or rather their own bound desires) by crossing their hands over their genitals and clutching a crucifix. Of course, these succubae were said to be quite beautiful (aren't our fantasies beautiful?), yet were termed, "night-hags." It was said that after an experience with such a hag, no mortal woman could suffice. Originally, the Goddess ruled the magic of the life forces of sexuality, birth, life and death. With the onset of patriarchy, the male god took the power of life and death, splitting sexuality and magic from motherhood. In this sense the Goddess was split in two, Eve and Lilith these halves. Adam was forced to sacrifice his instinctuality and lose touch with his Lilith anima and her lunar ways.
Eve was not as powerful as Lilith whom Adam now met only in nocturnal fantasies. The Zohar supplied many rules of protection from Lilith, saying she appears: "in all places where people perform their conjugal intercourse immodestly naked or by light of a candle.
Patriarchy's religions impose incredible pressure on women. They are to be a "vessel" for man's sperm, yet the responsibility for making certain any of numerous rules are not broken lest Lilith arrive (including making no sexual decisions) lies with the woman. Of course, these rules would drive away any sexual desire, so that not only could Lilith not arrive, neither could any feminine arousal. The Zohar describes her dangerous appearance:
Her ornaments for the seduction of the sons of man are: that her hair is long and red like a rose, her cheeks are white and red, from her ears hang six ornaments, Egyptian chords and all the ornaments of the Land of East hang from her nape. Her mouth is set like a narrow door comely in its decor, her tongue sharp like a sword, her words are smooth like oil, her lips are red like a rose and sweetened by all the sweetness of the world. She is dressed in scarlet and adorned with forty ornaments less one. Yon fool goes astray after and drinks from the cup of wine and commits fornications and strays after her.
Lilith's sexual energy is animating, hungry and natural. It is a pulsing, throbbing, primal, wordless state. With fire and heat she cuts to the essential nature of things, including the bonds of relationship between man and woman in patriarchy. She chooses separation over constraint.
There is evidence that Lilith has some connection to the Valkyries. The Zohar links her with Bat Zuge, one of the fallen angels. Some traditions suggest that she is at times accepted by Jehovah as his consort, displacing his rightful queen, Matronit. She is seen as the dark face of Ishtar, and often is seen as synonymous with Kali. In a Sumerian tablet she appears as the right hand of Inanna, symbolizing the initiatory descent or the monthly female cycle. She is known as Þ"Lady of the Air," hence her wings. She may have been written into the Talmud and Kabbalah based upon the Babylonian Lilitu, whose texts describe the murder of the Goddess Tiamet, an analogy of the Goddess suppression with the onset of patriarchy. She may also be a distorted version of the Goddess Ninlil. Biblically she is associated with the Queen of Sheba, who had a close relationship with King Solomon, as well as the Black Virgins of Europe. The refrain from the Song of Songs: "I am black, but I am beautiful," results in the exchange of gifts including the Ark of the Covenant which he gave to the Queen in the royal line of Ethiopia.
Lilith is repeatedly connected to the Tree of Knowledge. She was often shown on the tree with her serpent tail and animal foot, upside down. This shamanistic symbology shows her power of transformation on the ladder toward wisdom, common to women in periods of major change in the second half of their lives. Second half of life relationships for women tend to be characterized by a communion of love which is sexually alive, active and deeper than possible in younger times. This integration of Lilith energy is a vital part of woman's individuation process.
A common recurring theme with Lilith is her hair. The Talmud describes her long hair, a traditional symbol of essentially feminine wisdom. In patriarchal orders of women, as well as those betrothed in orthodox orders, women are required to sacrifice their long, seductive and ensnaring hair. Woman's hair has been cut, bound and covered in an effort to separate her from the Goddess-given sexual power of Lilith. There is also mention of the hairiness of Lilith legs in stories of her relationship with King Solomon. This is certainly another symbol of her aspect of Lady of the Beasts, her connection to nature.
Lilith has repeatedly Panic, Dionysian qualities (leading to the term scapegoat). She is essentially connected to nature, her bird's feet linking her to the swan-maidens and goose-queens of the West as well as to the Harpies and Sirens. The wild ass is Lilith's own animal, a reputedly intelligent mammal (the ass was also ridden by pregnant Mary to the manger and was ridden by the Messiah into Jerusalem). A Hellenistic relief depicts her as a nude female mounting a nude and sleeping man. These symbols of the winged female belong to the domain of mysteries, where she is an enchanting, seducing and even orgiastic form of the feminine.
In order for woman to develop fully, she must integrate Lilith's qualities of freedom, movement and instinctuality. Her distinction is that aspect which refuses to be bound in relationship; her equality not that which means sameness or merging, but rather equal freedom to grow, change and be oneself. As in the story of Gilgamesh, Lilith would rather choose fleeing in the wilderness than subjugation or being cut down. Her time in the wastelands is often experienced as a meeting of one's madness, a time alone. This is crucial to a woman's process and connects to the ancient idea of the menstrual hut, where a woman can reflect on her wounds and emerge healed and renewed. This time, the dark Moon, a woman can connect with the elemental feminine within to allow the natural healing process to occur. Lilith's owl symbol is the wisdom of the dark Moon, the nocturnal wisdom and healing which occurs in descent. In Sumerian sculpture she is depicted as standing on the solar Lion, a typical symbol of Jehovah. She has transcended patriarchy in her wisdom.
A woman must be true to her own feminine feeling. When her Lilith nature is mirrored, she can reach a higher level of development and know her deep sources of feminine wisdom, her wholeness. Grabbing hold of Lilith is that episode in which a woman faces the ties binding her and proclaims that she will no longer be a puppet to those who hold her. She will no longer be a plaything to her spouse, her society, her church, her parents, her family. It is when woman claims her power that she claims Lilith. Though patriarchy has asked us to cast her out or suppress her, we need to know Lilith as our feminine shadow and call upon her power personally and collectively. Lilith cannot be banished, she will manifest in some way. If we embrace her and find an understanding of our dark feminine nature, the lunar consciousness, we will no longer as women be spiritual outcasts trying to wrestle power from a masculine god. We will reconnect to the original Mother Goddess, the Earth Mother, created of the Earth in equality.