Lilith's origins


Lilith is a character that becomes more important every day in Western folklore, although her image has been modified since her Mesopotamian origin, through Judeo-Christianity and literature that has associated her with other beings of neighboring mythologies or proto-feminist metaphors. This is undoubtedly the most widespread portrait today, and can be found both in nineteenth-century paintings and in current film series, where it often plays a role between villainy and freedom, between seduction and strength.

Lilith's name comes from the Sumerian root líl-, air or breath, which also used to be related to "spirit." However, this etymology is not clear, since there is also the ancient Akkadian root lail-, which refers to night. Without a doubt both could have been related in the ancient Mesopotamian world, since Lilith and the rest of the night demons have similar characteristics: they are equipped with wings, sometimes with bird feet, and their activity takes place in the darkness of the night. evening. The Mesopotamian Lilith is also associated with owls, which merges both elements.

In the Sumerian and Akkadian world the name "demons" as such did not exist, nor as a set of supernatural entities. These spirits were, simply, harmful forces, causing the evils of the world, both in nature and in human beings. However, as occurs in other cultures such as the Egyptian, this name is used to treat these entities to define them before the general public.

Of all the demons of the night, the most feared were the triad formed by lilû, lilîtum and ardat lilî. They frequented deserted, abandoned places, but often came to towns and cities at night, and entered houses like breezes, through doors and windows. Lilû and Lilîtum form a male and female couple, as is usual in Eastern polytheism, and both are characterized precisely by not having a partner and by being sterile. For this reason they enter the beds of women and men, respectively, whom they possess while they sleep. There were days marked on the calendars in which it was recommended not to sleep outside, not even on one's own terraces or roofs, considering that on those days the demons of the night were more likely to appear and attack. One of these days was Lilith's day, the seventh day of each month. When possession took place, the individual was unable to marry or have sexual relations, since he was already "married" to the demonic entity, and if an exorcism did not take place, the demon could claim him as his own in the afterlife.

Next to these two demons was Ardat Lilî. He appears in the Gilgamesh cycle, as a young and smiling, but evil entity, who has settled down to live inside the sacred tree (huluppu, oak?) that the goddess Ishtar has planted, along with other demonic entities, the serpent-who-knows-no-spells and the bird Anzu/Imdugud, sometimes presented as a griffin, half-lion. The other Akkadian name for Ardat Lilî is kiskililu had the Sumerian equivalent ki-sikil-lí-lá, and both refer to a beautiful virgin. But tradition presents it with a negative connotation, since it has not been satisfied, it has never gotten married or its marriage was not consummated, as could happen among marriageable young people, for example one of the future spouses died before it took place. marriage or consummation, being considered a strange, empty, intermediate state for a time. For this reason, Ardat Lilî desperately searched for men, seeking to break their marriages or marry them in a demonic way, the time when she was most insistent and powerful being the tenth day of each month, especially in the seventh month of the Sumerian year.

One way to exorcise this demon consisted of marrying her to another lilû, symbolically joining two figurines that represented them, so that they returned to their original place. Another way was the elaboration of a complex ritual, exposed in the texts of Labartû, offering twelve rolls and other foods, along with the figure of a black dog, for three days. After that time the spirit will enter the figure to enjoy these offerings, at which time the sculpture must be destroyed with a sword and the pieces must be buried far from the home, which will have been protected with water and flour, sacred elements.

Ardat Lilî is undoubtedly the one that most resembles Lilith as she is presented in the Hebrew world, since she was also associated with the demon Lamaštu, who had been denied motherhood and in revenge devoured the children of humans , while Lilû and Lilîtum will go to the medieval world as incubi and succubi.

In the Jewish world, Lilith undergoes an intense transformation, as she becomes Adam's first wife, although she will retain the evil characteristics inherited from the memory of the Hebrews in Babylon. In the Tanak Lilith is mentioned in Isaiah 34:14, inhabiting Edom, a region south of the Dead Sea that had been punished by Yahweh. <<There, surely, Lilith will be calm and find rest>>. The Semitic root lyl- means night, and was also associated with nocturnal birds, so it is not surprising that her figure was related to the Mesopotamian Lilîtum, and her personality merged with Ardat Lilî, Lamaštu and Ishtar, goddess of love, fertility, sexuality and also life and war, with an equally tragic relationship with his lovers. Lilith's greatest physical characteristic is, according to the Talmud, a very long mane. Many texts define her as malevolent, erotic, who comes in the night, and with hairy offspring. Its definitions coincide with other evil entities of the eastern Mediterranean world, such as the Lamia, Mormo, Empousa or the striges.

But until the 9th century, in a Midrash, specifically in the Ben Sira Alphabet, where we find the first story of Lilith in Paradise as Adam's companion. Adam complains to God about the disobedience of his wife, who refused to have sexual relations by remaining under him, considering it a degrading submission. This reason for complaint may also come from a rabbinic tradition where God required that human beings, as was the case with other animals, copulate with the male on top, since it was a natural order of divine origin. Regardless of this, when Adam insisted to Lilith, she pronounced the divine name of God, which is, in the Hebrew world, a complete audacity and blasphemy, since she only did it once a year, and in a low voice, the High Priest in the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the rest of the time only theophores were allowed. Well, after saying it she went up into the air, leaving only Adam, at which point he came to complain.

God orders three angels to pursue her, and they find her on the shores of the Red Sea, home of multiple demons (shedim), among them Samael, identified with Satan/Lucifer himself, and Asmodeus, a demon who frequently appears in legends. Jewish. With them and other demons, Lilith had numerous descendants, who are commonly called lilim, whose most notable characteristic was their hairy appearance, a belief that was maintained in Semitic folklore, considering it a way of identifying the half-breed children of jinn. The three angels insisted Lilith return multiple times, and when she refused, they killed a hundred of her children. In revenge, Lilith swore that every day she would kill as many of Adam's children, extending to all the descendants of the human race.

Zohar 1, 19a mentions Lilith as an evil entity called kelippa, husks, making her a symbol of evil, disposable, who was banished to the bottom of the sea, but with the fall of the sea she was able to come out and walk on the land to fulfill the promised evils.

A second tradition arising from Jewish mythology with memories of Babylon states that it is Lilith who recognizes her kidnappings and murders of infants as her destiny, just as she accepts without excessive qualms the death of one hundred children a day to prevent her infinite expansion, which she will try to equal them in human deaths. While in the Talmud Lilith was presented as an enemy of children of all ages, in these later texts it is specified that she harms boys until the eighth day, and girls until the twentieth. Some authors relate these numbers to the rites of family acceptance of the infant, to premature deaths, to the different purifications, or to the period of forty days in which the Jewish mother was considered impure after giving birth. As the angels are truly insistent, Lilith agrees with them, in exchange for being set free, that she will not be able to approach those children if they are protected by their names or seals, or amulets that mention them.

Even more modern texts attribute the protective function of the angels to the prophet Elijah, to whom Lilith would have also revealed her other names, for greater effectiveness: Satrina, Lilit, Abito, Amizo, Isorpo, Kalas, Odam, Ik, Podo, Eilo , Patrota, Abko, Kea, Kali, Batna, Talto and Partsa. It is said that these names, along with expressions such as "Lilith, get out of here", were written on the walls of the rooms of the women in labor, although in the Middle Ages the use of this type of expressions proliferated in the marriage bedroom, with cartouches in the four corners, and accompanied by the names of Adam and Eve, to also prevent the wife's rebellion. Likewise, some traditions have continued almost to this day, such as physically monitoring the room of the woman in labor, or reading sacred texts with the child, especially on occasions prior to his family presentation or his circumcision.

There were also recitations and spells against her. In the Sefer Raziel ha-Malakh (Book of the Angel Raziel), whose oldest complete edition comes from Amsterdam, in 1701, although it is not ruled out that parts of it come from the Middle Ages, we find the following incantation:

<<I conjure you, first Eve, through the name of your Creator and that of the three angels that God sent in pursuit of you, as well as through the name of the angel of the sea, to whom you had sworn that neither you nor any of your children would harm anyone who carried our name. That is why I conjure you through the names and seals of these angels that are written so that you do not harm this woman in labor (name) or her child, both day and night. You will not touch their food or their drinks, nor their 208 members, nor their 365 vessels. I formally forbid it, both you and your band, through the power of these angelic names and these seals>>

The image of Lilith became more and more perverted over time. They transform her into the wife of Satan or Iblîs (the Arab Satan), as a model of an evil, libertine, shameless wife. Likewise, since Lilith did not return and God removed a rib from Adam so that his next wife, Eve, would be linked to him, it was necessary to say what Lilith was made of. If God had modeled Adam from mud or clay (adama means red earth), Lilith could not have come out of that same mud, dignified, and it was said that God would have made her with residual, dirty mud, of pure filth, serving only this to justify her subsequent attitude and the "inferiority" of a female being. Other traditions, perhaps due to Mesopotamian memory mixed with the demons mentioned in the Red Sea, divide Lilith into the older or old Lilith, and the younger or younger Lilith, the first being married to Samael, the serpent of Paradise, and the young she would be married to Asmodeus. The first couple would have been born at the same time as Adam and Eve, as an evil counterpoint, as a balance on the negative side of Creation. The second couple would be part of the demonological development, where Asmodeus is a king of demons, and even giving them a daughter, Lilita, with the same characteristics as the mother.

Furthermore, Lilith, due to her anti-wife image, also ended up assuming the role of unbridled female sexuality, rapist of men, seductress in erotic dreams and in real life through her sensual image, perverter of all sexual relationships. She was made the mother of all demons not only physically, but also as a teacher of perversity. Lilith's image is a dual image: it is "masculine-active" in regards to her sexuality, and "feminine-passive" in regards to motherhood, and yet in neither case does it fit into the ideology of what it should be.

There even existed, in modern times, psychological definitions that fulfilled the stereotype of the woman-Lilith, as well as interpretive models of dreams where the "dream Lilith" always fulfilled the same seduction patterns for men and was correct in the same male fears. On the contrary, Lilith's "encounter" with women was completely different, like the shadow of a latent desire, or like the rejection of female people with whom they have had confrontations.

Closing the article as it began, the truth is that the figure of Lilith has taken a long time, and only in some sectors, to shed, at least partially, all the evil and negative connotations attributed to it. Her presentation as a femme fatale in literature and art, praising her sensuality and sexual interests, has not prevented her from, precisely, parallel to the figure of Satan, from becoming a rebel and a liberator, in short, a transgressive and feminist figure, whose archetype was really both linked to Ishtar and linked to Adam, and even more so, someone capable of mentioning a secret name of God without being afraid and swearing with it; but, although in its Mesopotamian origin it is already evil, the monotheistic presentation is not capable of justifying this supposed evil without introducing it in a very closed and strict religious-social context, clearly seeing how they were in charge of twisting its portrait to demonize, never better said, the female figure.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Durán Velasco, J.F. Tratado De demonología. De Prometeo a Malak Tâwûs, de Ahrimán a Iblîs. Editorial Almuzara. 2013.

-Filoramo, G. (ed.) Diccionario de las religiones. Akal, Madrid, 2001

-Hurtwitz, S. Lilith- The First Eve. Daimon Verlag. Hystorical and Psycological Aspects of the Dark Feminine. Switzerland, 1999.

-Servier, J. (dir.) Diccionario crítico de esoterismo (vol. I) Akal 2006

Related posts:

> Daemonic magic y magia naturalis. Magicology (I)

> Christian Demonology in Middle Ages.

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