Lilith is a female Demon of the night and Succubus who flies about searching for newborn children to kidnap or strangle and sleeping men to seduce in order to produce Demon children. Lilith is a major figure in Jewish Demonology, appearing as early as 700 B.C.E. in the book of Isaiah; she or beings similar to her also are found in myths from other cultures around the world. She is the dark aspect of the Mother Goddess. She is the original “scarlet woman” and sometimes described as a screech owl, blind by day, who sucks the breasts or navels of young children or the dugs of goats.
In addition to Jewish folklore, Lilith appears in various forms in Iranian, Babylonian, Sumerian, Canaanite, Persian, Arabic, Teutonic, Mexican, Greek, English, Asian, and Native American legends. She is sometimes associated 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 Satan.
Lilith appears in different guises in various texts. She is best known as the first wife of Adam, created by God as twins joined in the back. Lilith demanded equality with Adam and, failing to get it, left him in anger. Adam complained to God that his wife had deserted him. God sent three angels, Sanvi, Sansanvi, and Semangelaf, to take Lilith back to Eden. The angels found her in the Red Sea and threatened her with the loss of 100 of her Demon children every day unless she returned to Adam. She refused and was punished. Lilith took revenge by launching a reign of terror against women in childbirth, newborn infants—particularly males—and men who slept alone. She was forced, however, to swear to the three angels that whenever she saw their names or images on an amulet, she would leave infants and mothers alone.
After the Fall, Adam spent 130 years separated from Eve, during which Lilith went to him and satisfied him during sleep. They had a son, who became a frog. The earliest account of Lilith appears in a midrash, Alpha Bet Ben Sira, which attempts to resolve the discrepancies in the Torah about the creation of Lilith in Genesis, followed by the creation of Eve just a few passages later. In the midrash, God created Lilith in the same way as he did Adam, but he used filth and impure sediment instead of dust from the earth.
Adam and Lilith were at odds with each other from the beginning, and she refused to lie beneath him during intercourse. 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.
She became the bride of Samael, the Devil (in some accounts called Ashmodai, or Asmodeus), in a union arranged by the Blind Dragon, an entity who has been castrated so that his offspring will not overcome the world. The lilim are hairy beings, having hair everywhere on their faces and bodies except their heads. In a text preceding the Zohar, Lilith and Samael are born joined as androgynous twins from an emanation beneath 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. She is the seducer of men and the strangler of children; the latter role is sometimes attributed to Naamah.
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. She is adorned with the “ornaments for seduction”:
Her hair is long and red like the rose, her cheeks are white and red, from her ears hang six ornaments, Egyptian cords and all the ornaments of the Land of the East hang from her nape. Her mouth is set like a narrow 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.
Men who sleep alone are especially vulnerable to Lilith.
The Zohar also describes Lilith as a female aspect of Leviathan, who has a Serpent body. She is Leviathan, the Tortuous Serpent, the counterpart to the male aspect, Leviathon, the Slant Serpent. Lilith is the serpent who tempts Eve with the apple of forbidden knowledge in paradise and thus instigates the Fall. She also persuades Eve to seduce Adam while she is menstruating and impure.
The numerical value of Lilith’s name equals the Hebrew word for “screech.” Thus, Lilith is the “Demon of screeching” and “the princess of screeching” and is personified as a screech owl. In legend, on the Day of Atonement, Lilith spends the day in a screeching battle with Mahalath, a concubine to Samael. They taunt each other so much that the very earth trembles. Also on the Day of Atonement, Lilith goes forth into the desert with 420 Legions of her Demons, and they march about while she screeches. Lilith is also known as Lady of the Beasts, who rules the wilderness and all beasts, the animal side of human nature.
In her guise as the queen of Sheba, she attempted to seduce King Solomon. He discovered her true nature by having the Djinn build a throne room with a floor of glass. Lilith mistook it for water and raised her garments in order to cross it to his throne. Her hairy, bestial legs were revealed in the reflection of the glass. Amulets and Incantation Bowls traditionally protected new mothers and infants against Lilith. Common amulets were knives and hands inscribed with Charms; some had bells attached. Frogs also protect against her.
Male infants were vulnerable for the first week of life, girls for the first three weeks. Sometimes a magic circle was drawn around the lying-in bed, with a charm inscribed with the names of the three angels, Adam and Eve, and the words barring Lilith or protect this newborn child from all harm. Sometimes amulets with such inscriptions were placed in all corners of and throughout the bedchamber. If a child laughed in its sleep, it was a sign that Lilith was present. Tapping the child on the nose made the Demon go away.
According to lore, men who had nocturnal emissions believed they had been seduced by Lilith during the night and had to say incantations to prevent the offspring from becoming Demons. Any seed spilled during sex, even marital sex, is at risk for becoming lilim.
- Koltuv, Barbara Black. The Book of Lilith. Berwick, Me.: Nicolas-Hays, 1986.
- Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: New American Library, 1974.
Thesis : Lilith – Eros and Evil