This paper was written as part of my coursework at Pacifica, specifically for my Hebrew Traditions course with Dr. Christine Downing. This may be one of my more personal papers that sent me on a journey of immense self-reflection. While possibly not immediately obvious, this paper was challenging for me and has required a certain amount of courage to share publicly. I welcome comments and questions and hope you enjoy and/or gain your own personal insight.
My Personal Lilith’s Lair:
Surfacing from the Shadows and Defending the Right to Be
The archetype of Lilith has struck a chord deep within me. Initially attracted to her as a symbol of rebelliousness and seductive beauty, I found a wound has been exposed. This wound is not fresh, although I believe it has been smothered over time, and now feels raw, burning with fresh air, and seeking nurturing attention. Lilith is my wounded feminine. She defended her right to be. She defended against submission. She defended her equality and her independence. As a consequence she was diminished, cast aside, pursued in an attempt to subdue her, and given a reputation as a seductive demoness who would bring only destruction.
Attempts to diminish her do in fact bring forth a rage as a self-defense. To embrace her energy and give her equal consideration and treatment has the ability to produce balance and true empowerment. My inner Lilith was diminished quite some time ago and continues to fight against being subdued. This research is opening the door for her acknowledgment, to honor her, and give her the space she deserves in order to appease the rage and instead embody her independence and strength.
The Zohar tells of the sun and the moon, equal in the beginning, yet with a desire for the darkness to merge into the light; to merge night into day. As the moon and the night asserted herself in this task, a lover’s quarrel ensued between her and the sun. God intervened the argument, separating them and placing the moon in a diminished state. This is where Lilith was born (Koltuv 2-4).
The Rabbinic stories tell of Lilith being the first companion to Adam. When Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam and demanded her equality and independence, Adam refused and God sided with him. Lilith fled, feeling cast aside, craving her freedom, and God simply made another woman for Adam in the form of Eve. This is the wound: being disposable. Lilith could have been a powerful ally and companion for Adam. The strength behind her destructive rage could have been channeled into creative forces.
Lilith flees to the Red Sea, copulates with demons and produces demon offspring. God sent three angels to retrieve her but she refused to be subdued. The angels threatened to kill her demon children if she did not comply. Rather, she plotted her own vengeful path in the vow to kill infant children unless they were protected by amulets bearing either the names of the pursuing angels or the phrase “Out Lilith.” As a further act of vengeance, she sought out men sleeping alone, vulnerable, in order to seduce them and take their seed. Thus, she became associated with the demons (Genesis 2:18-24).
According to Jung, the demon representation speaks to the shadow of our psyche. The Lilith shadow exists in both masculine and feminine. The masculine seeks to suppress his anima, and yet feels innately drawn to her. The feminine shadow is the wound of being cast out, of being the diminished moon. When the demon is repressed it seeks expression (Kamerling 99-101). Rabbinic perspectives portray the demon aspect as seductive, assertive, and destructive. As patriarchy strengthened, these qualities were only further embedded as undesirable characteristics in the feminine. It was deemed that the feminine should embody the traits of Eve as “passive, faithful, and supportive” (Schwartz 6).
Questions arise in my mind with this understanding: Why is there harm in the masculine being partnered with an assertive and independent feminine? Why does the masculine fear the feminine power? Why are traits such as independence, strength, confidence, and passion not seen as valuable? “Because he is born of her, so his existence is completely contingent and thus she is associated with death” (Dr. Christine Downing).
In the context described above, passive seems to equal weak; faithful equals lack of ambition and independence; and supportive seems to be a one-sided affair. The Lilith persona is very capable of being fiercely supportive and loyal while maintaining a powerful presence capable of powerful teamwork in the relationship.
Based on my own experience, it seems the Eve perspective has been so deeply embedded in our psyche that modern day relationship dynamics subconsciously fall victim to the imbalance. I find myself with more questions than answers and more frustrations than insight.
Perhaps of some encouragement, Jung states that asking questions presents the opportunity to confront the demon. In The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine anthology Kamerling relays the story of the Queen of Sheba with Jungian analysis applied: In this story, Lilith finds a struggling innkeeper. She seduces him with silver coins that he uses to invest into his business, purchase elaborate items for his home, and buy his wife clothes and jewelry. Lilith sexually seduces him in exchange for the silver coins and makes him vow not to share the secret of their nightly meetings and that she is the source of his newfound wealth. Curious at her husband’s regular night time disappearances, his wife follows him and finds him in copulation with Lilith. Feeling betrayed, in an act of rage Lilith kills the children she bore of his seed and takes back the wealth she had bestowed upon the innkeeper (Kamerling 103-104).
Jung suggests the tragedy of this situation could have been avoided had the innkeeper asked questions: Who was this woman? Is she an illusion? What is the price of her generosity? He also proposes that it was the anima in the form of the wife that revealed the true nature of the demoness. Had the innkeeper confronted his feelings of weakness and helplessness in his impoverished situation, rather than act on compulsion and obsession, he would have found “opportunity for an expanded sense of self” (Kamerling 105). As quoted by Koltuv, von Franz stated “Lilith impacts individuation. She pulverizes the ego and is the transpersonal shadow” (78).
I assert relationship with self and with others would be healthiest with a balance of Adam, Lilith, and Eve. There is certainly much discussion on the importance for the feminine to listen to her Lilith, particularly at certain times during a woman’s menstrual cycle and phases of motherhood. During these times we may best be served in claiming independence and isolation rather than seek approval and love externally (Koltuv 88). While I understand the importance of self-love and self-reliance, I experienced a slight knee-jerk reaction to Koltuv’s statement: Is this a rejection of the masculine and of relationship due to feelings of hurt, betrayal, and fear of again being cast aside?
Koltuv tells of a modern day parable between the energies of Adam, Lilith, and Eve. Eve is away visiting family and Lilith comes to Adam. Adam desires Lilith but refuses to fully embrace her stating, “I love you, but I need a peaceful life.” Lilith responds, “have it your way. I am just your other woman, and I will not leave you, but will love you as I always did.” They spend intimate time together and in a moment of discretion, Lilith allows Eve to enter her body. Eve experiences a passion with Adam that was unique to her. She reveals that she is in fact his wife Eve and asks why he loves her with so much passion now. Adam believes he is with Lilith, however and states, “you will leave with dawn and I will not see you for a long time. If I am passionate it’s because our happiness is but short.” She replies, “I will stay with you, because you are full of fire for this other woman I have now taken over” (75-77).
This parable stirred up emotions of sadness and made my heart heavy as though the shadowy weight of unrequited love and the intense need for self-expression and identity had been cast upon my soul. Adam chose the assumed reliability of a submissive and dependent Eve but craved the passion, fire, and independence of Lilith. I have wondered in my own relationship experience if men grow bored with the Eve persona, cast her aside, and call Lilith to him. When he feels Lilith is too fiery for his convenience, he casts her aside and returns to Eve, who faithfully awaits him. Both women love him and find themselves unable to release him, despite feeling unfulfilled by the relationship.
I have my own Adam. He has always been drawn to the fire and independence of my Lilith. Yet as the fire mellows to a warm glow, a comfort envelopes the moments between us, and my Eve joyfully offers herself, my Adam repels.
How do we balance our Lilith and our Eve? How do we assert our independence and power while simultaneously communicating our desire for equality in companionship, to nurture, and to be protected? How do we remain challenged and stimulated by our masculine partner without diminishing his self-esteem?
Lilith is an instinctual and primal force connected with nature, with spirit, and with the Goddess. She heals in the wilderness and in communication with the moon. In such moments I have innately been drawn to the ocean at night, listening to the crash of the waves without the distraction of people and noisy energies. This calling has often been inspired during moments of heartbreak, of confusion, when the need to connect with intuition and spirit has offered to be the path of transformation and healing.
The primal force of Lilith is expressed sexually. If Lilith has been diminished into the shadow, and separated from her Eve, the result is a cold sexuality (Koltuv 74). If her masculine counterpart feeds this primal hunger, she no longer seeks isolation in moments of despair. She feels nourished. Perhaps she feels desired and has a sense of union.
Lilith has inspired the origin myths of numerous vampire stories. Upon initial glance, this connection seems apparent with Lilith’s reputation as a demonic creature who feeds on the life force of the living: the blood of children and the sexual virility of men. Vampire characters commonly hold the seductive appeal as sensual, primal creatures – again, much like Lilith. Vampires have long held a fascination for me and as I have progressed in my academic studies, my understanding and interpretation of vampires has grown in complexity and depth. Deeper reflection speaks to power, to strength, as well as to the misfortune of their being.
The vampire, cursed in its dark, blood-thirsty form, is the shadow of Lilith. The humanity of the vampire must be cast aside for the sake of the creature’s very survival. The vampire, abandoned to the night, has been diminished in its existence and can never rejoin the community of humankind.
The vampire is also alluring, just as Lilith is alluring to Adam and to the men she finds in the night. It is as though a thrill exists in the danger of such of a creature. Lilith (and the vampire) are “multi-faceted”; she “entices and terrorizes. She is raw, instinctual, primal energy connected with the earth” (Kamerling 48). There is courage associated with embracing one’s wild nature and that is erotically appealing.
The Judeo-Christian traditions have certainly taught that one’s wildness, instinct, raw, and primal energies are to be feared and repressed. Images of Lilith include wild animal elements, particularly the feet of owls; sometimes horns; and sometimes associations with bats. Her owl feet represent the wisdom of the night (Kamerling 109). A Sumerian terracotta relief depicts her as the Lady of Beasts (Koltuv 28). She is oftentimes depicted in opposition to Eve, such as in the Garden of Eden, entwined with the serpent. Her earliest known origin associates her with wind – a fierce natural element – in the Sumerian culture of 3000 BCE (Kamerling 98).
Rather than a symbol of evil temptation, serpent is commonly representative of transformation, healing, and connection with the earth in multiple cultures. As a creature with no legs, slithering on its belly allows it to be as closely connected with the earth as possible. The act of shedding the skin is a rebirth, allowing for healing and transformation. Lilith’s connection with the serpent may then suggest in non Judeo-Christian beliefs that she is a means to ground, to heal, and to transmutate.
Following the Asian principle of yin-yang, balance of opposites, Eve and Lilith are both important archetypes. Lilith cannot be banished but rather must be integrated into the consciousness and the collective psyche (Kamerling 100). She expresses herself when a woman’s Eve has caused neglect of her needs, giving priority to family, to children, to husband, and to work. Lilith violently exerts herself in anger, in eating disorders, in isolation and detachment, in depression, and in deviant and manipulative sexual behavior – rather, behavior that may be normally uncharacteristic of her (106). Healthy integration provides opportunity for transformation, for wisdom, and connection with self (109).
Eve is necessary for relationship with Adam to work. In her defiance to submit and express dependency, Lilith is incapable of having her needs met, and will flee relationship. Lilith can only find the freedom to change and grow in the solitude of the wilderness – without partner and without children (Koltuv 83). This inspires personal reflection: the “come and go, off and on” involvement with my personal Adam is mutual and therefore fulfills and denies needs on my part. One reason why I return to my Adam is because he challenges me and he does not aim to subdue me. I have found I in fact flee from other men who seek commitment, feeling resistance to the possibility of stagnation and mundane routine. These characteristics speak to my own personal imbalance of Lilith and Eve. Perhaps.
Schwartz asserts there has been no mention of Lilith as a child-killer in the same stories as her role of she-demon seductress and that this role seems to have evolved separately (8). After fleeing from the confines of Adam, Lilith sought out the cherubs above, only to be cast out by God and vanquished below. Perhaps this action caused a rage and retaliatory behavior towards infants and children. In addition to seeking independence from a man – whether father or lover – she also seeks independence from the role of motherhood. She puts her needs first (Koltuv 85-86). She strangles the infants as a symbol of resisting being herself strangled by attachment. Lilith strangles “her infantile needs for love and approval within a relationship and to flee from the needs of others” (Koltuv 88).
I also see an endearing vulnerability to Lilith. She is fierce and ruthless and wildly independent, yet she continues to return to Adam. She even seeks friendship with Eve. She is the beast who craves intimacy and connection.
I am reminded of a scene from a TV series which has taken hold of my attention in my free evenings. Appropriately, it is a show about vampires. In one scene, an incredibly powerful female vampire has been bewitched by evil magic. This vampire woman is a mercenary: elegant and refined in her ruthlessness. Her lover, one of the most powerful vampires in existence, has sought to save her from this evil spirit. She awakens suddenly from the spell, instinctively striking out with her hand on his throat in a self-defense gesture as her mind struggles to grasp what has happened. She then looks at her hero and a tear streams down her cheek, which he gently brushes away. She tells him of the evil she saw, and how it can be further defeated, portraying her ruthless and incredible strength, yet the tear betrays the softness in her heart; her femininity. She is vulnerable and she is grateful. Despite all the atrocities she has committed as both a vampire and as a mercenary, she feels and desires.
This duality of her character has made her one of my favorites. She is surrounded by other cunning and powerful female vampires, but they have not displayed this depth of emotion and vulnerability. This reminds me of the Lilith and Eve duality. They complement each other.
I wonder: Is darkness merely a perception?
Referring back to the love story and quarrel between the sun and moon, the Rabbinic texts continually refer to the moon as “diminished.” In traditions of Wicca and witchcraft, the moon is a tremendous source of power. Rituals and meditations are seen as more potent to be conducted during the phases of the moon rather than in the sunlight. The moments when the sun and moon merge in dusk and dawn are considered to be magical. Even the person not involved in mysticism and magic would find these moments are eerie and beautiful. In the moonlight, folkloric stories often tell of the ability to see the unseen; this is the time when portals open; the other senses are engaged.
One of Hillman’s famous quotes is “mythology is a psychology of antiquity. Psychology is a mythology of modernity” (23). Lilith began as a mythology as far back as Sumerian times and was adopted into several other cultures. She has been a constant source of inspiration for the plight of the independent, sensual feminine in cultures predominately dictated by patriarchal leadership. In a westernized society focusing more on psychology rather than on mythology, Lilith must emerge in discussion and evaluation of our behaviors and our perceptions regarding relationship with our self, in intimacy, with family, and with the demands of career and educational pursuits.
Lilith has uncovered a journey of dark and light; balancing the strengths and needs of the feminine; evaluating our perceptions of the independent feminine; inspiring understanding of healthy sexual desires and acts that feed the erotic passion yet do not manipulate others. She has asked me to honor these qualities within myself.
Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. Print.
Kamerling, Jane. “Lilith.” Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine. Ed. Fred Gustafson. Berwick: Ibis, 2003. Print.
Koltuv, Barbara Black. The Book of Lilith. York Beach: Nicolas-Hays, Inc., 1986. Print.
Schwartz, Howard. Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.