She’s everywhere in popular culture these days, from museum exhibits to music’s Lilith Fair, to goddess depictions in Tarot decks. But where did she come from? Her origins are a bit murky, but it seems her myths date back to Mesopotamia, where she was seen as a wind demon, and source of illness and disease. By now most people are familiar with the stories from Jewish lore of her as the first wife of Adam, who refused to be subservient to him, they argued, she spoke the ineffable name of God, and flew out of the Garden of Eden. After that the myths really grow.
Some stories tell of her becoming the consort of the demon Samael (one of the fallen angels), others that she went into the ocean. Despite God sending three angels – Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof – to fetch her back, she still refused to return, at which point the angels threatened to drown her (sounds like a bunch of good ol’ boys to me). Finally she got them to leave by promising that when she saw any of their names or forms in an amulet placed on or near a child, she would not harm the infants she claimed she had been created solely to destroy. But, she had to agree that 100 of her children (demons) would die every single day. She agreed, and the angels left.
She shares many of her attributes with an earlier Mesopotamian demon, or demigoddess, Lamashtu, who was a daughter of the sky god Anu. Lamashtu supposedly fed on babies, on their blood and bones, stealing them from their mothers, perhaps the first vampiric figure. One of the aspects of her that is most fascinating to me is that she did bad all by herself, and not at the direction of the gods. Which means other demons were acting under orders of the gods. :::pause for dramatic effect::: Again, by inscribing amulets with the name and likeness of another god or demon, known as Pazuzu, children could be protected from her. The space between her legs was described as a scorpion, corresponding to Scorpio who rules over the genitals and sex. And the Lilith card here in the Moon Oracle is assigned to Scorpio.
The Lilith card pictured above clearly shows a strong influence from the Burney Relief:
This bas relief (retitled by the British Museum as “The Queen of the Night”) in terracotta has a spotty provenance. It seems to have appeared sometime in the 1930s in the possession of a Syrian dealer, but as it was not part of an archaeological excavation its exact origin remains a mystery. Is it a fraud? Some people undoubtedly believe it is, but it is now housed in the British Museum, lending it some credibility. No one knows precisely where it came from or how old it is, although traces of pigment and the style of the carving tend to date it to around 1750 BCE. Whether it even is intended to depict Lilith is not certain. If the tablet was constructed as a focal point for worship, it would be unusual to have such a thing for a demon, as no known demonic cults existed at the time. Demons couldn’t be bargained with, either with food, or drink, and apparently weren’t interested in sacrifices. One thing ancient man needed was gods he could bargain with: We’ll kill this fatted calf, and you give us a good crop this year. Can’t do that with demons. Thorkild Jacobsen therefore suggests it is not a depiction of Lilith, but instead Inanna/Ishtar. Further, Inanna was the only goddess associated with lions, although the Assyrian lilitû demons were associated with lions. Perhaps that is why Caroline Astrop chose to depict a snake on her illustration of Lilith, since the snake is closely associated with Lilith.
Lilith has been depicted as the snake which seduced Eve in the Garden. Seductress, holy prostitute, appearing to men in erotic dreams, she was called the “hand of Inanna”. Sumerian texts tell us, “Inanna has sent the beautiful, unmarried, and seductive prostitute Lilitû out into the fields and streets in order to lead men astray.”
However, it seems she may have been preceded in that role by the father of Gilgamesh, Lilû, who supposedly did the same things, only to women, making him the first incubus. Only later were these traits assigned to the female lilitû demons. (The legend of Gilgamesh is the earliest known text, dating back to somewhere around 2500 BCE.)
But, all this fun history aside, the card’s meaning from the accompanying book states:
When the Black Goddess Lilith is selected, you must take firm steps to survive courageously against all odds. Events and people may be currently creating an evil image about you but this must be ignored. You will need to be prepared to go to the utmost of passionate action to achieve the desired end: you can sit back no longer. Change is inevitable, and that which is no longer useful must be rejected. Everything must be reassessed to determine its worth.