(Painting: Dante Gabriel Rossetti)
According to the Jewish Midrash’s explanation for the two separate accounts of the Creation Story, Adam’s first wife was a woman called Lilith. She was made of the same soil as man and therefore was his equal. But when Adam tried to dominate Lilith she rebelled, fled the Garden of Eden, and abandoned her mate to consort with more submissive demons instead. So God created another mate for Adam and called her Eve.
From the Sixth Century BC, Lilith was portrayed as a female demon who killed infants and threatened women in childbirth, and perhaps because of this association the scriptures began partnering Lilith with Samael (Satan), making her the Queen of Evil. Her Hebrew name translates into “night creature,” “night monster,” “night hag,” and “screech owl” – and only the three angels Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof can protect against her wicked powers.
In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church identified Lilith (and her daughters, the Lilim) with female succubae – demons who copulate with sleeping men, causing their erotic dreams. Contrasting with the pure, submissive, Holy Mother, Lilith was a disobedient, lustful sinner who used her sexuality to seduce and ruin men. Her evil stems from being willful – a dangerous threat to patriarchal order and stability.
Mirrors were the direct entrance into Lilith’s realm. Vanity allowed Lilith and her daughters to enter an unsuspecting maiden through her eyes, then lure her into all manner of wild, promiscuous behavior.
In some cultures Lilith is the wind-witch. She brings storms, sickness, and nighttime predators. She is bird-like – often depicted with talons and wings – and the name Lil is also associated with the Sumerian word for “wind”‘ “air,” or “storm.”
Today, however, some wiccans and occultists worship Lilith as the “first mother.”
Brunel, Pierre. Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.
Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999.
Witcombe, Christopher: “Eve and the Identity of Women” (7) http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/7evelilith.html
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