The origins of Lilith, the demonic mother of all evil spirits, can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia – the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq. This time period predates the biblical figures we are more familiar with such as Adam and Eve, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad by thousands of years. These ancient Mesopotamians believed in an unseen force behind all of creation that was both masculine and feminine at once, Lilith.
Lilith in Ancient Hebrew
According to ancient Hebrew mythology, Lilith was a young woman who became Adam’s first wife after he helped her to slay her would-be rapist. However, when she decided she wanted to have children, Adam refused, explaining that God had told him not to have any. Enraged by his defiance and incensed by his willingness to bow down to authority, Lilith ran away in despair. She then became Satan’s consort and gave birth to countless demons—including Samael and numerous Lilin; both are associated with vampires today. As punishment for her actions, God sent three angels—Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof—to chase down Lilith; they succeeded in capturing her but only managed to render her sterile before freeing her once again.
Lilith in Ancient Mesopotamia
One could argue that even as early as Babylonian demonology (circa 6th century B.C.), traces of Lilith can be found in Mesopotamian depictions of Inanna’s demonic alter ego, known as Lilith or Lilitu. Inanna was an important goddess with a multitude of responsibilities and duties within the ancient Sumerian culture. As patron of both sexual activity and fertility, she controlled women’s sexuality—but her husband Dumuzi was meant to take control after marriage. The demons Lilith, Ardat-Lili, and Irdu-kug were all considered by scholars to be evil counterparts to these roles of Inanna; it is from these texts that we get our modern image of Lilith as being a dangerous succubus. Interestingly enough, however, much like how depictions of zombies over time are quite different from their original concepts (primarily because zombies didn’t exist), there is not necessarily a direct connection between what we call demons today and those mentioned in ancient Mesopotamia. For example, although Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan sneaker brand may be called a demon shoe in casual conversation today, as some people believe that he has supernatural powers when wearing them on his feet, demonology refers instead to Biblical demons (disembodied spirits). This alone illustrates just how intertwined religion and philosophy have been throughout history. Religion isn’t necessarily science but does have scientific roots. Demonology hasn’t necessarily changed much either: very few practices have become more commonplace than speaking ill of another behind their back—and somehow somebody always finds out about it! Of course, we think you know better than to use your negative remarks towards others negatively. Right?
Lilith in Talmudic Literature
The Talmud, a central text in Jewish studies, includes not one but two stories about Lilith—the first female human, made from dust like Adam; and a demonic succubus who was responsible for death in childbirth (among other things). It’s perhaps no surprise that Babylonian demonology—and Mesopotamian culture at large—would be steeped in misogyny. But it is interesting that so many ancient civilizations had their own form of Lilith myths. Maybe it makes sense, though—after all, sometimes even moms can make your life a living hell. What better way to explain misfortune than by blaming it on an evil woman?
Lilith as a SuccubusSuccubi are often said to have sexual intercourse with sleeping men, thus producing demon children. Succubi are a standard feature of medieval European demonology. It was once believed that women could become succubi by performing evil acts in life; modern myths state that they are born as succubi, or can be turned into them by demons or devils. The incubi and succubi were thought to be servants of Satan, and may appear during a demonic ritual or in a place where an act of heresy has been committed.
Lilith as an Incubus
Lilith’s earliest depictions come from Mesopotamia, where she was believed to be a demon who would steal babies from their cribs. Ancient Near Eastern cultures thought that if a woman were to become pregnant, but did not want to raise a child, then she would employ a daimon—which is what scholars believe incubi and succubi are—to father her child.
The Origins of the Name Lilith
Where does a demoness get her name? Though little is actually known about Lilith, she’s considered to be one of two things. First, there’s a Judaic origin tale from before 1000 BCE in which a female entity named Lilitu fell from heaven and slept with men while they were sleeping, causing them to have unwanted pregnancies. She also was said to have caused other evils in society such as disease and death.