Lilith: How an Ancient Goddess Became a Demon, a Forgotten Wife, and Then a Modern Feminist Goddess
Fans of 90s music no doubt know the name Lilith. Lilith Fair was a music tour that featured only solo female acts or female-fronted bands. If you know the music festival, you likely already associate the name Lilith with feminism a bit. But do you know why Sarah McLachlan chose the name Lilith to begin with? Because of her history as Adam’s first wife, who was created as an equal and refused to be subservient to him. Lilith has a rich history that isn’t just tied to the myth from Judaism that saw her cast out from Eden.
The first depictions of Lilith come from Mesopotamia, a goddess who protected women and children. She was the handmaiden of Inanna and therefore associated with sex, love, and beauty. She was associated with serpents and birds, often being depicted as having wings and talons. She was a midwife, assisting women in childbirth and nursing babies born in ill-health.
In control of her own power and sexuality, Lilitu (as she was known) was a danger to those in power as the society shifted towards patriarchy. She was transformed from the handmaiden of Inanna into her prostitute (Inanna slowly became Ishtar). Lilitu’s sexuality was now a weapon and a danger. She is said to have been sent into the streets to lead men astray, described as the “beautiful, unmarried, and seductive prostitute” of Inanna.
From here, she became a demon who stole and ate children. It is likely this change in her depiction influenced her later depictions as the mother of all vampires or all demons. But the negative reworking of her image didn’t stop with the Mesopotamians and Babylonians. As Jewish patriarchy began absorbing other cultures and practices into their own, Lilitu became Lilith, and her role as an evil woman continued.
The First Wife of Adam
Did you know that in some Jewish traditions, Eve is considered Adam’s second wife? His first wife was Lilith. Formed from the same clay as Adam and made as his equal, Lilith knew her worth and wouldn’t be a submissive wife to Adam. When it came time to have sex, Lilith refused to lie beneath Adam and instead wanted to make love as equals. Adam wouldn’t hear of it, believing himself superior. Lilith argued that as they were made from the same earth, they were equal. She becomes frustrated with the argument, swore, and flew into the air – exiling herself from Eden to be free.
In the Jewish legend, the Hebrew god sends three angels after Lilith to order her back to Adam. She is threatened with “100 of her children dying every night” if she doesn’t return. Determined to be her own free woman, Lilith remains where she is. She is said to give birth to demons and sacrifice the children of mortals to prevent her own children from being killed. She won’t return to Eden, even though it means the death of her children.
She is also seen as a succubus, tempting men with her dirty sensuality and leading them to their ruin. This is also how she spawns more demon babies. She is portrayed as the antithesis of what a woman is supposed to be in the society of the time. She refuses to submit to her husband, she harms children rather than nurturing them, she enjoys sex, and won’t apologize for her power.
In some traditions, she transforms into the serpent that Eve encounters, suggesting she eat from the tree of knowledge. Depending on the depiction of Lilith, sometimes it is out of jealousy and vindictiveness. Other times, it is out of a duty to sisterhood, trying to spare Eve and free her from being second to Adam.
Witch, Vampire, Demon, Dark Goddess
Though the Mesopotamian and Jewish depictions of Lilith are the most well-known, in other traditions, she is seen as a vampire (sometimes the progenitor of all vampires, as Cain is sometimes known), a witch, a demon, and a dark goddess. Many of these depictions find foundation in her original legends and lend to her place in modern Wicca and Pagan worship. Especially the view of her as one of the original practitioners of witchcraft.
Working with Lilith
The story of Lilith refusing to be second to a man makes her a clear feminist icon. It is no surprise that she is the namesake of a female-focused tour and that modern women look to her for feminist empowerment.Whether you view Lilith as a goddess, spirit, or something else entirely, there are certain innate features of hers that cannot be disputed.
Lilith is a champion of independence but is not heartless in its pursuit. She seeks out the taboo and flourishes in rebellion. The epitome of the dark feminine, with power over the subconscious, the primal, the hidden, the wild. Not a threat to children at all, but instead revels in their chaos and mess, fiercely protecting them at all turns. She’s the witch laughing in the flames at the stake, knowing what others see as madness is really her power and gifts. She is the longing for wildness in the heart of every woman.
Lilith rules over feminine power, the power inside every woman, independence, witchcraft, defiance, rebellion, non-conformity, wildness. Her correspondences include serpents, birds of the night such as owls, red wine, apples, the dark moon, and nighttime. She is associated with motherhood, darkness, sexuality, passion, taboos, and subconscious fears.
Call upon Lilith when you need help sticking to your convictions and principles. She’ll help you stand for what you believe in, even when others all seem to be against you. Lilith will help you explore new areas of your sexuality. She can help you tap into the wildness crouching deep inside you, ready to spring free. She can also help you with shadow-work, assisting in unearthing, and examining old wounds so you can heal past trauma.
Calling on Lilith Ritual
In most Wiccan and pagan traditions, the sacred feminine and masculine represent different aspects of life, personalities, and energies. Often, the masculine (either in energy or via the God) is utilized for spells and rituals focused on strength. But sometimes, what you need can’t come from the masculine. Sometimes what you need is unmatched feminine ferocity, strength pulled from the fury and darkness that has built over millennia. In those instances, calling upon Lilith will aid you in finding your inner strength and releasing that power.
For this ritual, you will need:
- a sliced apple (to eat, make sure it is in good shape)
- red wine (or grape juice if you don’t drink alcohol)
- bloodstone (for strength, courage, and confidence)
- a small plate
- any owl or serpent statuary or imagery you’d like to include on your altar
- music from a female artist you like
Perform this ritual at night. If there is a dark moon soon, wait for that if you can. If you can perform it outdoors, that will work best, as Lilith lives in the wilds. Set your statuary or imagery on your altar if you’d like. Place the bloodstone at the center. Place the plate with the sliced apples to the right of the bloodstone. Place the chalice with the red wine to the left of the bloodstone.
Begin by focusing your intention on calling Lilith and finding your strength. Meditate on your intentions for a few moments. Play the music, pick up the bloodstone, and begin to dance. Dance wildly, widely, without inhibition. Feel the wild within your heart grow and let it flourish in your dance. Dance to a few songs, holding the bloodstone tightly as you do, letting the energy you are raising be intensified by the power of the stone.
Turn down the music (but not off) and return to your altar. Touch the stone to the apple and the wine, then replace it in the center. Hold your hands over the apple and wine and recite this incantation:
Lilith, First Witch, Dark Mother
Protector of all who are othered
Help me release my power
No longer see me cower
Move both hands over the apple. Recite this incantation:
Knowledge from its flesh
Wisdom that is refreshed
I bring your power into me
I set my wildness free
Eat one slice of apple, focusing your intention. Move both hands over the wine. Recite this incantation:
Millennia of tears and blood
Building into a flood
Of women’s fury and power
I bring to myself in this dark hour
Take a sip of the wine, focusing your intention. Turn the music up again and call to Lilith to dance with you.
Lilith, wild, strong, and free
Join in and dance with me
Help my strength to grow
My own power let me know
As you dance, take breaks to thank Lilith, eat more of the apple, and drink more of the wine. Continue until both are gone. Carry the bloodstone with you when you need the strength of the dark feminine.