Goddess of the Month - Lilith


Lilith, by John Collier
Lilith by John Collier

Lilith is an enigma in Goddess lore. Ideas and theories abound, and stories are few. First wife of the Hebrew Adam, Goddess of night or birds, demoness, original Semitic Great Mother, the possibilities are endless. Lilith is all of this and more. Her enigmatic nature enables Her to be all She desires and all we desire of Her. Some of the names attributed to Her include:

Lady Air - Sumerian
Night with Moon - Sumerian
Hand of Inanna - Sumerian
The Beautiful Maiden - Assyrian
Screech Owl - Hebrew (from the book of Isaiah)
Wind Spirit - Babylonian

It has been very difficult to find many ancient worship sites or information about Lilith as Goddess. From what I have been able to find, it seems Her centers of worship were associated with Inanna and Astarte in the Middle East. She is a Tantric Goddess in many ways for She encourages women to explore their sexuality and embrace it as a sacred thing. Her title of Hand of Inanna (or Handmaid of Inanna) goes back to this idea. She was embodied by a Priestess who was a sexual initiatrix for young men in the temples of Inanna. Young women would serve in Her temples as Ardat Lili, "Young Women of the Wind", engaging in sacred sexual acts within the temple for various festivals and also for sacred magickal purposes.

Most reference Her from the Hebrew tradtion that makes Her into a demoness that seduces men and kills infants. I reject this. Stewart Farrar in The Witches Goddess says of Lilith, "Nowhere is the vigorous determination of patriarchy to suppress memories of the Primordial Mother more evident than in the Biblical Garden of Eden."(1) He goes on to discuss what he has found and his opinion of the process of the demonizing of Lilith's name to the point where She is unrecognizable from what She originally was, and how he sees Her fall in Hebraic tradition as a rejection of independent femininity and female power. I have to agree. The small pieces we have from pre-Biblical writings are nothing like those from Talmudic stories. Her equation by the Hebrews with screech owls is symbolic of her connection with dark female power and magick, and male fears of both. Mr. Farrar says something else beautifully true, with which I have to agree, and I feel could be the basis for reclaiming this Goddess for ourselves as modern womyn. "Truths banished to the unconscious do acquire talons - representing both our fear of them and their ability to tear a way through the veils of hypocrisy and distortion with which we have tried to surround them. Only when we come to terms with them and integrate them with consciousness is their loveliness restored, so that their talons become feet again. Only when the night-owl is admitted to the sunlight can we appreciate the beauty of her plumage. Lilith, the true Mother of All Living, must be reacknowledged - so that she and Eve can become one again. For without that one, Adam is only half a man."(2) The deep truth in this is that womyn must open their eyes and see their half selves as womyn raised in and influenced by patriarchy and reawaken their inner Lilith self. They must reclaim the divine rebel who will not submit, and reactualize themselves in all aspects: magickal, spiritual, and yes, sexual.

Sumerian Legend of Lilith translated by Charles Alexander Moffat, from The Lilith Gallery

Before the stars were born
Before people built great cities
The great mountain Atlen shook
And bled fiery blood
As it gave birth to Lilitu

The land all around burned
Many animals and people died
When Lilitu opened her eyes
Lilitu saw the ashes of her birth
And wept tears like rain

Lilitu's tears became rivers and streams
Flowers grew where Lilitu walked
Trees grew where Lilitu sat
The ashes became fertile soil
And an orchard became Lilitu's home

In Lilitu's orchard many animals are
People came to live in paradise
Lilitu gave them grain and taught them to harvest
Lilitu made bread and beer
The people rejoiced, ate and drank

One day a great prince came to the land of Atlen
He spied Lilitu and wooed her
But Lilitu spurned and rejected him
The great prince became very angry
He spied two lions and killed them both

Lilitu wept for the lions
She cradled their heads in her arms
The lions awoke to her tears
The lions licked away her tears and became strong
They became Lilitu's loyal friends

The great prince saw this
And again he wooed Lilitu
But Lilitu became a bird
She flew away from him
Angry, the prince began hunting birds

Lilitu saw this and was upset
To spite the prince she spat at him
And mated with a serpent
Lilitu gave birth very quickly
Her child was like no other

The child had six arms
The child had a serpent's tail
The child was very strong
Lilitu called the child a marilitu
The Marilitu attacked the great prince

The great prince and the marilitu fought
The fought day and night
For night after night
And day after day
But neither could win the fight

Lilitu saw this and mated again
Another marilitu was born
And another and another
Two hundred and sixteen were born
In fear the great prince ran away

The people of the orchard rejoiced
The marilitu's farmed the land
The marilitu's protected the people
But the great prince swore vengeance
He cursed the mountain Atlen and its land

Atlen became angry at this curse
The mountain and the land shook
Atlen shook and bled and cried
Its fiery blood made fires
And its tears made floods

Afraid Lilitu turned into a great bird
She grasped people in her feet
She carried animals on her back
The marilitu's and the lions carried people too
Together they fled the land of Atlen

Lilitu went west and east
Lilitu went north and south
Finally she came to dry land
The people thanked Lilitu greatly
The people built statues in her honour

Lilitu wept for her lost home
Her tears formed two rivers
The rivers joined together
They flowed into the ocean
The people grew grain by the river

The people grew great orchards
They built buildings and towers of stone
The people grew healthy and the land rich
Merchants from far places travelled there
News of the wealth of the land grew

The great prince heard of the land
He sent his heralds to inquire of its lady
But Lilitu fed his heralds to her lions
The great prince sent an army
But the marilitu's destroyed his army

Finally the great prince went
When he saw the beautiful orchards
When he saw the six-armed marilitus
The great prince knew the lady was Lilitu
In fear he disguised himself as a woman

The great prince went to Lilitu's temple
His disguise fooled the people
But the lions knew his scent
The two lions warned Lilitu
So Lilitu prepared a trap

Lilitu summoned thirty-six young men
She filled a hall with thirty-six silver platters
She ordered thirty-six beasts slaughtered
At last she was ready
She invited the people to the feast

People came from all over the land
The great prince came too
The great prince arrived in disguise
But Lilitu knew him eagerly
She welcomed him as an honoured guest

The great prince accepted her hospitality
He sat before all the people
The thirty-six young men were brought forth
"Please choose a man," Lilitu commanded
Not wanting to be rude the great prince chose one

Lilitu bade the great prince to sit beside the young man
The silver platters were brought forth
The people feasted on the meat of thirty-six beasts
Great gifts were brough forth
Lilitu gave the gifts to the great prince

Confused the great prince accepted
Then the feast was finally over
Curious, the great prince questioned Lilitu
"Do you always give such grand gifts to strangers?"
"Only when someone is married," Lilitu answered

Realizing what had happened the great prince became angry
He ripped off his disguise
He drew his sword and his dagger
"Why have you made me marry this man?" he demanded
"Because you can never marry me," Lilitu answered

Enraged the great prince attacked Lilitu
The two fought endlessly for Lilitu was very strong
Whenever the prince would get too bold
Lilitu would change into a bird
The great prince fell to the ground and wept in despair

The great prince professed his love
He promised that he would never quit
He prepared to cut his own throat
Finally Lilitu grew tired of this game
She felt pity for the great prince

"I will grant you one kiss," Lilitu declared
Desperate the great prince accepted
The moment the great prince's kiss had been dealt
His body flooded with life and then death
So great was the pleasure of one kiss that he died

Lilitu wept for the great prince
But the great prince remained dead
Saddened Lilitu knew she could never love
No mortal man could taste her kiss and live
Her tears brought life, but her kiss brought death.

(1) Farrar, Stewart and Janet The Witches Goddess (Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing)1987. p130
(2)ibid p133

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