Lilith in Hebrew (לִילִית) meaning “screech owl”, “night hag” or “night creature” is a figure in Jewish mythology that is believed to be derived from a class of female demons known as the Lilitu found in the religions of Mesopotamia (Sumer Akkad Babylonia and Assyria). The Lilitu were malicious, winged spirits which had the tendency to prey on pregnant women and infants. Amulets and incantations were used as protection against such evil spirits.
Lilith in the Bible
Mention of Lilith is made only once is the Tankakh (part of what is known as the Old Testament to Christians) in Isaiah 34:14-15
And shall-meet desert creatures with jackals
the goat he-calls his- fellow
lilit (lilith) she-rests and she-finds rest 34:14
there she-shall-nest the great-owl, and she-lays-(eggs), and she-hatches, and she-gathers under her-shadow:
hawks [kites, gledes ] also they-gather, every one with its mate. 34:15
In the king James version the word Lilith is translated into screech owl, which is very likely the proper context in which the word Lilith is being used. It is interesting to note that in Latin Bibles the term Lamia is used in place of Lilith.
Lilith as the first wife of Adam
The earliest depiction of Lilith as the first wife of Adam is in the Medieval text 'The Alphabet of Ben Sira written between 700 – 100 A.D. It contained twenty-two proverbs in Aramaic and Hebrew each written in alphabetical order, It is enriched with fables and commentary. The Alphabet which is believed to be satirical in nature, makes references to incest, masturbation, and flatulence, but is best known for its twist on the creation story found in Genisis.
While God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Genesis 2:18). He also created a woman, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.' Lilith responded 'We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.' But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: 'Sovereign of the universe!' he said, 'the woman you gave me has run away.' At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angels to bring her back. - The Alphabet of Ben Sira
Lillith in jewish folklore
Lillith in jewish folklore was punished for being unable to bear children for Adam, therefore cast out of Heaven. Those who she gave birth too soon died shortly after. In this folklore, she is usually associated with Asmodeus as his queen.
The second myth of Lilith grew to include legends about another world and by some accounts this other world existed side by side with this one, Yenne Velt is Yiddish for this described "Other World". In this case Asmodeus and Lilith were believed to procreate demonic offspring endlessly and spread chaos at every turn. Many disasters were blamed on both of them, causing wine to turn into vinegar, men to be impotent, women unable to give birth, and it was Lilith who was blamed for the loss of infant life. The presence of Lilith and her cohorts were considered very real at this time. Two primary characteristics are seen in these legends about Lilith: Lilith as the incarnation of lust, causing men to be led astray, and Lilith as a child-killing witch, who strangles helpless neonates.
In Popular Culture
- Lilith is depicted as the goddess of vampires in the HBO series True Blood. She appears as a naked woman drenched in blood, who only manifests when vampires hallucinate. She is worshipped by vampires.
- Lilith, known as Dark Lilith in the episode, appears in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, as the disguise of Marcie Fleach in the episode Night on Haunted Mountain. It appears as a winged woman with red eyes and horns. Marcie dressed as it so she could lure Mystery, Inc. to an abandoned ship and use them to get past the traps and retrieve a significant disk piece for her boss.
- Lilith appears as an antagonist in the Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare. She is the mother of Sebastian Morgenstern, and resurrects him when he is killed by Jace Herondale.