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Definition: Lilith from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(lĭl'ĭth), female demon of Jewish mythology, originally probably the Assyrian storm demon Lilitu. In Talmudic tradition many evil attributes were given to this supposedly nocturnal creature. In Jewish folklore she is a vampirelike child-killer and the symbol of sensual lust. Of the various legends connected with her, the one making her Adam's first wife is the strongest. Lilith appears in the Walpurgis Night section of Goethe's Faust and is discussed in Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah.

  • See L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. V (repr. 1956).

Summary Article: Lilith
from The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead

Lilith, one of the most famous figures in Hebrew folklore, originated as a storm demon and later became identified with the night. She was one of a group of Sumerian vampire demons that included Lillu, Ardat Lili, and Irdu Lili. She appeared in the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (approximately 2000 B.C.E.) as a vampire harlot who was unable to bear children and whose breasts were dry. She was pictured as a beautiful young girl with owl's feet (indicative of her nocturnal life). In the Gilgamesh Epic, Lilith escaped from her home near the Euphrates River and settled in the desert. In this regard, she earned a place in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). Isaiah, in describing God's day of vengeance, during which the land will be turned into a desert, proclaimed that as a sign of the desolation, “Lilith shall repose there and find her place of rest” (Isaiah 34:14).

Lilith reappeared in the Talmud, where a more interesting story was told of her as the wife of the biblical Adam. Lilith was described as Adam's first wife. They had a disagreement over who would be in the dominant position during sexual intercourse. When Adam insisted upon being on top, Lilith used her magical knowledge to fly away to the Red Sea, an abode of demons. She took many lovers and had many offspring, called the lilim. There she met three angels sent by God—Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof—with whom she worked out an agreement. She claimed vampiric powers over babies, but agreed to stay away from any babies protected with an amulet bearing the names of the three angels.

Once more attracted to Adam, Lilith returned to haunt him. After he and Eve (his second wife) were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Lilith and her cohorts, all in the form of an incubus/succubus, attacked them, thus causing Adam to father many demons and Eve to mother still more. Out of this legend, Lilith came to be regarded in Hebrew lore much more as a succubus than a vampire, and men were warned against sleeping in a house alone lest Lilith overtake them. Lilith (a name that in popular thought came to be attached to a whole class of demonic beings) were noted as being especially hateful of the normal sexual mating of the individuals they attacked as succubi and incubi. They took out their anger on the human children of such mating by sucking their blood and strangling them. They also added any complication possible to women attempting to have children—barrenness, miscarriages, and so forth. Thus, Lilith came to resemble a range of vampirelike beings that became particularly visible at the time of childbirth and whose presence was used to explain any problems or unexpected deaths. As a result, those who believed in the Lilith developed elaborate rituals to banish them from their homes. The exorcism of Lilith and any accompanying demons often took the form of a writ of divorce sending them forth naked into the night.

The myth of Lilith (the singular entity, as opposed to the whole class of demons) was well established in the Jewish community during the centuries of the early Christian era. She remained an item of popular lore, although little was written about her from the time the Talmud was compiled (sixth century C.E.) until the tenth century. Her biography was expanded in elaborate (and somewhat contradictory) detail in the writings of the early Hassidic fathers. In the Zohar, the most influential Hassidic text, Lilith was described as a succubus, with nocturnal emissions cited as the visible sign of her presence. Demons that plagued humanity were thought to be the product of such unions. She also attacked human babies, especially those born of couples who engaged in intercourse in improper fashion. Children who laughed in their sleep were believed to be playing with Lilith, and hence in danger of dying at her hand. During this period, Lilith's vampiric nature was deemphasized; rather, she was described as killing children in order to steal their soul.

The stories about Lilith multiplied during the Middle Ages. She was, for example, identified as one of the two women who came before King Solomon for him to decide which one was the mother of a child they both claimed. Elsewhere she was identified as the Queen of Sheba. Strong belief in her presence was found among more conservative elements in the Jewish community into the nineteenth century, and elements of the belief can be seen to the present time. In the 1970s, Marv Wolfman, the writer for Marvel Comics's The Tomb of Dracula drew on the Lilith myth to create an new character, Lilith, the Daughter of Dracula. She was killed along with all of the other vampires in the Marvel universe in 1983. Then in 1992, a new realm of the Marvel Universe, primarily populated by superheroes, was created around interaction with an evil supernatural realm. A new Lilith character appeared as the key figure leading the invasion of the supernatural into modern society. Through the mid-1990s, she was opposed by the Midnight Sons in several titles of Marvel comic books. Lilith has also been brought into the mythology of the role-playing game, in which the origin of vampirism is ascribed to the biblical Caine Lilith as the first wife of Adam, is seen as the mother of a child Ennoia who at a later point become a vampire and the mother of a new vampire clan, the Gangrel.

Sources:
  • Brown, Robert G. The Book of Lilith. Lulu.com, 2007. 240 pp.
  • Graves, Robert; Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis. Doubleday & Company Garden City NY 1964. 311 pp.
  • Hurwitz, Siegmund Lilith—The First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine. Daimon Publishers Einsiedeln, Switz., 1992. 262 pp.
  • Koltuv, Barbara Black. The Book of Lilith. Nicolas-Hays Lake Worth FL 224 pp.
  • Patai, Raphael The Hebrew Goddess. Ktav Publishing House New York. 349 pp.
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