Variations: Abeko, Abito, Abro, Abyzu, Ailo, Alio, Alu, Al?, Amiz, Amizo, Amizu, The Ancient, Ardad Lili, Astaribo, Avitu, Bat Zuge, Batna, Bituah, Bogey-Wolf, Chief of the Succubi, Daughter of Night, The Devil's Consort, Dianae, Eilo, The Flying One, The Foolish Woman, Gallu, Gelou, Gilou, Gil?, Grand Duchess of the Eighth Hell, Heva, Hilthot, 'Ik, 'Ils, Ita, Izorpo, Kakash, Kalee', KALI, Kea, Kema, Kokos, Labartu, Lamassu ("Bullgod"), Lavil, Lilatou, Lilats, Lilitu, Lilla, Lilu, Maid of Desolation, Night Hag, Night Jar, The Night Monster, The Northerner, Obizuth, Odam, Partasah, Partasha, Patrota, Petrota, Podo, Pods, Princess of Demons, Princess of Hell, the Queen of Hell, Queen of the Succubi, Queen of Zemargad, Raphi, Satrina, Satrinah, Talto, Thilthoh, W
ERZELYA, Zariel, Zephonith
From the earliest records of man, there is a story of an ancient being that preyed upon children. It was suspected to be female and demonic, and killed not only children but also women who were with child and men, seducing them and draining them of their blood. Over the eons, it has had many names and many titles, but today, we call it Lilith.
In ancient Assyria she was called Lilitu and described as a demoness with wings and a hairy body, much like the djinn of Arabic lore (see HAIR). In the Babylonian tradition, she was one of a trio of demons. Lilith had aligned herself with the other two demons after she had been banished from the Sumerian goddess Innana's garden. She is mentioned in the Sumerian telling of Gilgamesh and lived in a willow tree.
In Hebrew texts King Solomon had at first mistaken the Queen of Sheba for Lilitu, as she had unshaven legs, reminding him of the djinn of Arabian tales. In the Hebrew bible, Psalm 91 called her the "terror of the night." In Isaiah 34:14, she was called the "night devil."
In the Talmud, it is not Lilith's hatred for infants that causes her to kill them, but rather her love for them. Infertile and unable to have a child of her own, she slips into a nursery and gently picks up the infant to hold against her breast. Eventually her desperation to be a mother to a child of her own becomes much too distressing and Lilith accidentally smothers the baby to death as she presses it against her.
Because there are so many ancient texts and beliefs that have Lilith in their mythology, her story is a difficult one to exactly set straight. But the most familiar story of Lilith, as well as the oldest record of her, comes from the anonymously written Hebrew text The Alphabet of Ben Sira. There has been much speculation as to when the text was originally written. Some sources claim that it is as old as the seventh century and as young as the eleventh century, but most scholars are content to split the difference and say the ninth.
The text tells the story of the birth and education of Rabbi Ben Sira. The final section of the text is written as taking place in the palace of the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar. The king asks the prophet a series of questions that must be answered by telling a story. There are 22 questions posed, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, hence the name of the book. In the fifth passage, King Nebuchadnezzar demands that his son, who is suffering from a mysterious illness, be cured. Ben Sira responds with the tale of Lilith, the first wife of Adam.
It says that she was Adam's first wife, created from filth and mud. They were joined physically back to back, but she complained so insistently that God separated them. Still, she was not content with her lot as Adam's subservient wife and mother to their children. Wanting equality, she left her husband to live with a group of demons outside of Paradise. By crying out the name of God, she was given the ability to fly, and did so, leaving Adam far behind. God was not pleased with Lilith's new life and sent three angels to speak with her: Sanvi, Sansanvi, and Semangalef. Their job was to persuade Lilith to return to Adam and their children. She adamantly refused and was punished for it—cursed so that none of her children would survive their infancy. With Lilith on the brink of suicide, the angels took pity on her and a compromise was struck: she would be given power over newborn boys for the first eight days of their lives, and the first twenty days of life for newborn girls. In exchange, she promised not to harm any child who had the names of the angels written near them. Lilith wandered the world and came to be near the Red Sea, where she met the demon Sammael. Bound by their mutual hatred for humanity, they spawned a race of demonic beings, the LILIM.
There are as many variations to the story of Lilith as she has aliases and titles combined. Many believed that it was Lilith and Sammael who plotted the downfall of Adam and Eve. In fact, numerous pieces of art depict a woman, Lilith, offering the Forbidden Fruit to Adam and Eve.
There have been hundreds of books written about Lilith, who she was, what she means, and how to interpret her story; equally as numerous are the points of view accompanying each. Some are Christian, some Jewish, some are from a purely historic point of view, while others yet have taken such a wild interpretation and speculative spin that she has become lost in their message. Suffice it to say that no matter what a person is looking for in the Lilith story, there is an interpretation of it to suit his needs.
Source: Conybeare, Jewish Quarterly, xi, 30; Leeming, Goddess, 11115; Turner, Dictionary of Ancient Deities, 291