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Lilith (Hebrew לילית) is a mythological female Mesopotamian storm demon associated with wind and was thought to be a bearer of disease, illness, and death. The figure of Lilith first appeared in a class of wind and storm demons or spirits as Lilitu, in Sumer, circa 3000 BC. Many scholars place the origin of the phonetic name "Lilith" at somewhere around 700 BC.[1] Lilith appears as a night demon in Jewish lore and as a screech owl in the King James version of the Bible. She is also apocryphally the first wife of Adam.

[edit] Mesopotamian Lilitu

Around 3000 BC, Lilith's first appearance was as a class of Sumerian storm spirits called Lilitu. The Lilitu were said to prey upon children and women, and were described as associated with lions, storms, desert, and disease. Early portrayals of lilitu are known as having Zu bird talons for feet and wings.[1] They were highly sexually predatory towards men, but were unable to copulate normally. They were thought to dwell in waste, desolate, and desert places. Like the Sumerian Dimme, a male wind demon named Pazuzu was thought to be effective against them.[4] From these accounts Lilitu was a name for one figure and class of similar spirits.

Other storm and night demons from a similar class are recorded around this time frame. Lilu, a incubus, Ardat lili ("Lilith's handmaid"), who would come to men in their sleep and beget children from them, and Irdu lili, the incubus counterpart to Ardat lili.[5] These demons were originally storm and wind demons, however later etymology made them into night demons.

Lilith's epithet was "the beautiful maiden". She was described as having no milk in her breasts and was unable to bear any children.[6][7] Babylonian texts depict Lilith as the prostitute of the goddess Ishtar. Similarly, and corresponding to Babylonian depictions, older Sumerian accounts state that Lilitu is called the handmaiden of Inanna or 'hand of Inanna'. The texts say that "Inanna has sent the beautiful, unmarried, and seductive prostitute Lilitu out into the fields and streets in order to lead men astray". That is why she is called the 'hand of Inanna'.[8][9]

Identical to the Babylo-Sumerian Lilitu, the Akkadian Ardat-Lili and the Assyrian La-bar-tu presided over temple prostitution. Ardat is derived from "ardatu", a title of prostitutes and young unmarried women, meaning "maiden". Like Lilith, Ardat Lili was a figure of disease and uncleanliness. One magical text tells of how Ardat Lili had come to "seize" a sick man.[1] Other texts mention Lamashtu as the hand of Inanna/Ishtar in place of Lilitu and Ardat lili.

Lilith is also identified with ki-sikil-lil-la-ke, a female being in the Sumerian prologue to the Gilgamesh epic.[10][1][11][12] Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is sometimes translated as Lila's maiden, companion, his beloved or maid, and she is described as the "gladdener of all hearts" and "maiden who screeches constantly".[1] Another female being (or ephithet for Lilith) is mentioned alongside Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke: Ki-sikil-ud-da-ka-ra or "the maiden who has stolen the light" or " the maiden who has seized the light" and identifies her with the moon.[1][13]

Likewise, the earliest reference to a demon similar to Lilith and companion of Lillake/Lilith is on the Sumerian king list, where Gilgamesh's father is named as Lillu.[10][1] Little is known of Lillu (or Lilu, Lila) and he was said to disturb women in their sleep and had functions of an incubus, while Lilitu appeared to men in their erotic dreams.[1] Such qualities are further suggested by the Semitic associations made with the names Lila and Lilitu, namely those of lalu, or wandering about, and lulu, meaning lasciviousness.[14]

Samuel N. Kramer has translated the relevant Gilgamesh passage as:

a dragon had built its nest at the foot of the tree
the Zu-bird was raising its young in the crown,
and the demon Lilith had built her house in the middle.
Then the Zu-bird flew into the mountains with its young,
while Lilith, petrified with fear, tore down her house and fled into the wilderness.[15]

Diane Wolkenstein translates the same passage as:

a serpent who could not be charmed made its nest in the roots of the tree,
The Anzu bird set his young in the branches of the tree,
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.[15]

However, the Anchor Bible Dictionary[16] disputes the identification of Lilith in the passage:

Two sources of information previously used to define Lilith are both suspect. Kramer translated Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as "Lilith", in a Sumerian Gilgamesh fragment. The text relates an incident where this female takes up lodging in a tree trunk which has a Zu-bird perched in the branches and a snake living in the roots. This text was used to interpret a sculpture of a woman with bird talons for feet as being a depiction of Lilith. From the beginning this interpretation was questioned so that after some debate neither the female in the story, nor the figure is assumed to be Lilith. (Vol.4, p.324)

Lilith is further associated with the Anzu bird, (Kramer translates the Anzu as owls, but most often its translated as eagle, vulture, or a bird of prey.) lions, owls, and serpents, which eventually became her cult animals. It is from this mythology that the later Kabbalah depictions of Lilith as a serpent in the garden of Eden and her associations with serpents are probably drawn. Other legends describe the malevolent Anzu birds as a "lion-headed" and pictures them as an eagle monster,[17][18] likewise to this a later amulet from Arslan Tash site features a sphinx like creature with wings devouring a child and has an incantation against Lilith or similar demons,[19] incorporating Lilith's cult animals of lions and owls or birds.

[edit] Burney Relief
The Burney Relief, "Queen of the Night", ca. 1950 BC.
The Burney Relief, "Queen of the Night", ca. 1950 BC.

The Gilgamesh passage quoted above has in turn been applied by some to the Burney relief, which dates to roughly 1950 BC and is a sculpture of a woman with bird talons and flanked by owls. The relief is Babylonian, not Sumerian or Assyrian, as sometimes described. While the relief may depict the demon Kisikil-lilla-ke or Lilitu of the Gilgamesh passage, it might be a goddess. The piece is dated roughly about the same time as the Gilgamesh fragment featuring Lilith, this, in turn was used translate it as Lilith/Lillake, along with other characteristics of the female being in the Gilgamesh passage. The key identification is with the bird feet and owls. She is wearing a multiple-horned mitre and has wings, both indications of high divinity. The objects in both her hands are symbols of divine authority. However, the relief is also thought to be of the Sumerian goddess Inanna or her underworld sister Ereshkigal and some scholars currently regard the connection with this relief and Lilitu/Lillake as dubious.[20] The relief was purchased by the British Museum in London for its 250th anniversary celebrations. Since then it was renamed "Queen of the Night" and has toured museums around Britain. Modern pagans have been allowed by the museum to organize religious ceremonies around the relief. A similar relief dating to roughly the same period is preserved in the Louvre (AO 6501).

[edit] Related myths

Lamashtu (Sumer Dimme) was a very similar Mesopotamian demon to Lilitu and Lilith seems to have inherited many of Lamashtu’s myths.[21] She was considered a demi-goddess and daughter of Anu, the sky god.[22] Many incantations against her mention her status as a daughter of heaven and exercising her free will over infants. This makes her different from the rest of the demons in Mesopotamia. Unlike her demonic peers, Lamashtu was not instructed by the gods to do her malevolence, she did it on her own accord. She was said to seduce men, harm pregnant women, mothers, and neonates, kill foliage, drink blood, and was a cause of disease, sickness, and death. Some incantations describe her as "seven witches".[23] The space between her legs is as a scorpion, corresponding to the astrological sign of Scorpio. (Scorpio rules the genitals & sex organs.) Her head is that of a lion, she has Anzu bird feet like Lilitu and is lion headed, her breasts are suckled by a pig and a dog, and she rides the back of a donkey.[24]

Two other Mesopotamian demons have a close relation to Lilitu, Gallu & Alu.[25] Alu was originally an asexual demon, who took on female attributes, but later became a male demon. Alu liked to roam the streets like a stray dog at night and creep into people’s bedrooms as they slept to terrify them. He was described as being half human and half devil. He appears in Jewish lore as Ailo, here, he is used as one of Lilith’s secret names. In other texts, Ailo is a daughter of Lilith that has had intercourse with a man. The other demon, Gallu is of the Uttuku group. Gallu’s name, like Uttuku, was also used as a general term for multiple demons.[26] Later, Gallu appears as Gello, Gylo, or Gyllou in Greco-Byzantine mythology as a child stealing and child killing demon. This figure was, likewise, adapted by the Jews as Gilu and was also considered a secret name of Lilith’s.[27]

Another similar monster was the Greek Lamia, who likewise governed a class of child stealing lamia-demons. Lamia bore the title "child killer" and was feared for her malevolence, like Lilith.[28] She has different conflicting origins and is described as having a human upper body from the waist up and a serpentine body from the waist down.[29](Some depictions of Lamia picture her as having wings and feet of a bird, rather than being half serpent, similar to the earlier reliefs of Greek Sirens and the Lilitu.) One source states simply that she is a daughter of the goddess Hecate. Another that Lamia was subsequently cursed by the goddess Hera to have stillborn children because of her association with Zeus, alternately, Hera slew all of Lamia's children (Except Scylla.) in anger that Lamia slept with her husband, Zeus. The grief caused Lamia to turn into a monster that took revenge on mothers by stealing their children and devouring them.[30]

Lamia had a vicious sexual appetite that matched her cannibalistic appetite for children. She was notorious for being a vampiric spirit and loved sucking men’s blood.[31] Her gift was the "mark of a Sibyl", a gift of second sight. Zeus was said to have given her the gift of sight. However, she was "cursed" to never be able to shut her eyes so that she would forever obsess over her dead children. Taking pity on Lamia, Zeus gave her the ability to take her eyes out and in from her eye sockets.[32]

The Empusae were a class of supernatural demons that Lamia was said to have birthed. Hecate would often send them against travelers. They consumed or scared to death any of the people where they inhabited. They ...

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