… That there was a woman before Eve? You probably did but for those of you who did not, her name was Lilith. And boy, was she different! This post is about Lilith but it’s about so much more.
I was always fascinated by Lilith, from the first moment I heard about her (which was only the case when I was already married). To be honest, I actually think we need to be a bit of a Lilith if we want to be true to ourselves. But then I might not see the entire picture.
So here is what I know about Lilith or found online (I know that the Internet doesn’t necessarily provide you with the right info), please feel free to tell me more in the comments, if you like:
Apparently Adam’s first wife was not Eve but a woman named Lilith, who was created in the first Genesis account. Only when Lilith rebelled and abandoned Adam did God create Eve, in the second account, as a replacement. In an important 13th century Kabbalah text, the Sefer ha-Zohar (“The Book of Splendour”) written by the Spaniard Moses de Leon (c. 1240-1305), it is explained that:
At the same time Jehovah created Adam, he created a woman, Lilith, who like Adam was taken from the earth. She was given to Adam as his wife. But there was a dispute between them about a matter that when it came before the judges had to be discussed behind closed doors. She spoke the unspeakable name of Jehovah and vanished.
In the Alpha Betha of Ben Sira (Alphabetum Siracidis, or Sepher Ben Sira), an anonymous collection of midrashic proverbs probably compiled in the 11th century C.E., it is explained more explicitly that the conflict arose because Adam, as a way of asserting his authority over Lilith, insisted that she lie beneath him during sexual intercourse (23 A-B). Lilith, however, considering herself to be Adam’s equal, refused, and after pronouncing the Ineffable Name (i.e. the magic name of God) flew off into the air.
Basically Lilith did not agree to be dominated by the man who was her partner. She wanted to be equal. An issue we still understand today but at the same time there seems to be a shift happening towards equality. At least in some areas of this world.
I don’t know about you but when we were taught religion in school nobody ever mentioned Lilith. She was non existent. I wonder if it was because she was the opposite of what was desired for such a long time in history: A woman that follows a man’s demand.
Now this is not about feminism! It’s just an observation.
Adam, distraught and no doubt also angered by her insolent behaviour, wanted her back. On Adam’s request, God sent three angels, named Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, who found her in the Red Sea. Despite the threat from the three angels that if she didn’t return to Adam one hundred of her sons would die every day, she refused, claiming that she was created expressly to harm newborn infants. However, she did swear that she would not harm any infant wearing an amulet with the images and/or names of the three angels on it.
At this point, the legend of Lilith as the “first Eve” merges with the earlier legend of Sumero-Babylonian origin, dating from around 3,500 BCE, of Lilith as a winged female demon who kills infants and endangers women in childbirth. In this role, she was one of several mazakim or “harmful spirits” known from incantation formulas preserved in Assyrian, Hebrew, and Canaanite inscriptions intended to protect against them. As a female demon, she is closely related to Lamashtu whose evilness included killing children, drinking the blood of men, and eating their flesh. Lamashtu also caused pregnant women to miscarry, disturbed sleep and brought nightmares.
In turn, Lamashtu is like another demonized female called Lamia, a Libyan serpent goddess, whose name is probably a Greek variant of Lamashtu. Like Lamashtu, Lamia also killed children. In the guise of a beautiful woman, she also seduced young men. In the Latin Vulgate Bible, Lamia is given as the translation of the Hebrew Lilith (and in other translations it is given as “screech owl” and “night monster”).
It needs to be remembered that these demonic “women” are essentially personifications of unseen forces invented to account for otherwise inexplicable events and phenomena which occur in the real world. Lilith, Lamashtu, Lamia and other female demons like them are all associated with the death of children and especially with the death of newborn infants.
It may be easily imagined that they were held accountable for such things as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS, also called crib death, or cot death) where an apparently healthy infant dies for no obvious reason. Cot death occurs almost always during sleep at night and is the most common cause of death of infants. Its cause still remains unknown.
By inventing evil spirits like Lilith, Lamashtu, and Lamia, parents were not only able to identify the enemy but also to know what they had to guard against. Amulets with the names of the three angels were intended to protect against the power of Lilith.
So maybe the story of Lilith is one of them used by the church to gain power in creating fear (almost like politicians do…). Down the line of “if you believe in those angels your child will be spared”. I wonder what they told those poor parents who lost the babies no matter the amulets?
I just can’t get rid of the thought that this is another example of creating a tool, a story in order to scare people off and follow the ones that promise them a better life if they do what they are told to do.
In a way it’s about all those who stood up for themselves or for what they thought is right. About those who did not apply to the norm. Women who were confident of themselves, their body. Women who might have been able to heal. We all know what happened to them, how many of them burned. Inexplicable things scared those who were in charge. In order to keep on top of things those who did not follow the ones in charge, those who dared to question things or do them differently had to be stopped. In order to do so you had to come up with stories.
Lilith also personified licentiousness and lust. In the Christian Middle Ages she, or her female offspring, the lilim, became identified with succubae (the female counterparts of incubi) who would copulate with men in their sleep, causing them to have nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams.”
Again, Lilith and her kind serve as a way of accounting for an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon among men. Today, 85 percent of all men experience “wet dreams” (the ejaculation of sperm while asleep) at some time in their lives, mostly during their teens and twenties and as often as once a month. In the Middle Ages, celibate monks would attempt to guard against these nocturnal visits by the lilith/succubus by sleeping with their hands crossed over their genitals and holding a crucifix.
Through the literature of the Kabbalah, Lilith became fixed in Jewish demonology where her primary role is that of strangler of children and a seducer of men. The Kabbalah further enhanced her demonic character by making her the partner of Samael (i.e. Satan) and queen of the realm of the forces of evil.
In this guise, she appears as the antagonistic negative counterpart of the Shekhinah (“Divine Presence”), the mother of the House of Israel. The Zohar repeatedly contrasts Lilith the unholy whorish woman with the Shekhinah as the holy, noble, and capable woman. In much the same way, Eve the disobedient, lustful sinner is contrasted with the obedient and holy Virgin Mary in Christian literature.
Through her couplings with the devil (or with Adam, as his succubus), Lilith gave birth to one hundred demonic children a day (the one hundred children threatened with death by the three angels). In this way, Lilith was held responsible for populating the world with evil.
Isn’t it crazy how much responsibility is given to a single woman? The fear of the power of a strong woman must have been so intense in order to make her responsible for populating the world with evil. Imagine how many women had to die because someone, who must have been clearly completely horrified by women (or maybe one woman in general), came up with a crazy story like this. It’s nothing more than a story. And yet it got so deeply imprinted in our life that we might not even see the craziness of it.
So called “witches” burned because they resembled a woman mentioned at some point by someone in a book. Women got hunted down because they did not believe in man being superior. Jeanne d’Arc had to lose her life because she was too strong for the ones in charge.
If you ask how Lilith herself, the first wife of Adam, became evil, the answer lies in her insubordination to her husband Adam. It is her independence from Adam, her position beyond the control of a male, that makes her “evil.”
She is disobedient and like Eve, and indeed all women who are willful, she is perceived as posing a constant threat to the divinely ordered state of affairs defined by men.
Lilith is represented as a powerfully sexual woman against whom men and babies felt they had few defenses and, except for a few amulets, little protection. Much more so than Eve, Lilith is the personification female sexuality.
Her legend serves to demonstrate how, when unchecked, female sexuality is disruptive and destructive. Lilith highlights how women, beginning with Eve, use their sexuality to seduce men. She provides thereby a necessary sexual dimension, which is otherwise lacking, to the Genesis story which, when read in literal terms, portrays Eve not as some wicked femme fatale but as a naive and largely sexless fool. Only as a Lilith-like character could Eve be seen as a calculating, evil, seductress.
In the case of Lilith it’s all about women and men who are afraid of a woman who stands up for her right to be equal.
But it goes so much further. In the end it’s not only about gender. It’s just about being equal and having equal rights. About standing up for what you want and not giving in. The story of Lilith is only one among many. And it repeats itself. Over and over again.
Look at our world and where we stand. Look how people that think outside the box, that behave outside the norm, people who stand up for themselves get treated. In most case they struggle. They struggle to be heard and accepted. They struggle to not be blamed for bad things. Over centuries people who didn’t surrender the system or the ones in charge got blamed for diseases, the plague and so on. Even in our times it was done. Homosexuals got blamed for HIV although we all know how ridiculous that was or still is.
It’s time to evolve. Time to become bigger than what we were and still am. Time to do that step and stop blaming what we can’t surrender, understand or control for what scares us. Time to stand up. Not only for us but for a better world. A world in which equality is true. To go back to Lilith one more time:
In the end we are all made of this earth. All equal. Made by the same ingredients. None of us is better than the other. Nobody stands out because the ingredient their made of are unique. It’s all the same. And it’s time we finally accept it.