The following article was first published in the winter 2016 edition of Pagan Dawn magazine, and is designed to be a short evaluation of the importance of the godform Lilith to the human psyche. It highlights the various social accretions that she has acquired over the last few thousand years, everything from feminist icon to transgender crusader, as well as much more besides. It boasts a much tighter focus and cleaner prose than my previous work, and will hopefully reflect the high esteem that I hold her in as an entity whilst also approaching something akin to true journalism.
Lilith and Modern Neo-Paganism
By Gavin Fox
As a male neo-pagan with a deep seated love for the darker side of what we do, I made it a personal goal as I developed my own magickal identity to approach the supposed mother of the incubi and succubi for her wisdom. Little did I expect the androgynous, rebellious exile that I would find, nor did I realise just how quickly she would become a cornerstone of my magickal practice. Lilith’s is a long and twisting tale, with as many outcomes as the number of groups who identify with her in some way.
Few goddesses divide opinion like the Mesopotamian spirit who would later be re-purposed as the first wife of the Biblical Adam by Jewish Mystics in the Middle Ages. Tentatively tied to the Screech Owl of the Book of Isaiah, the Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the succubus of medieval Catholicism, she may have been all of these or none. Certainly, modern scholarship has sought to dismiss any connection between the Burney relief held at the British Museum and Lilith, implying that she was not important enough to warrant such overt veneration.
The most widely accepted version of her origin lies within the pages of the Alphabet of Ben Sira. This satirical Jewish text is responsible both for bringing the once forgotten Lilith forward in to the modern era and also tentatively within the bounds of religious orthodoxy, albeit in a starkly adversarial context. Created from the same dirt as Adam, and rightly considering herself as his equal in every way by virtue of this, she abandoned her domineering husband when he attempted to force himself upon her. Refusing to lie beneath him she instead uttered the ineffable name of the Abrahamic god, an action as taboo as it was liberating, and escaped from the Garden of Eden into the wider world.
Alone but unbowed, she soon sought solace in the arms of Samael, the Talmudic angel of death. Thousands of children would be born from their otherworldly union in the caves along the banks of the Red Sea, as well as further copulations with Adam achieved through her mastery of the magickal arts. In time, her offspring would become the very incubi and succubi which plagued the followers of the mainstream Abrahamic religions well into the age of enlightenment. These spirits supposedly stole semen from unsuspecting males and used it to impregnate women, cementing their role in popular culture as shape shifting night terrors and the cause of nocturnal emissions in otherwise devout communities.
While the historical Lilith is most readily identified with sexual excess and the quest for personal pleasure at the cost of normal marital relations, it is intriguing to note that a more multifaceted interpretation of her role in human spirituality is slowly emerging. True, some modern magickians are content to simply scratch the surface, seeing her as nothing more complex than a godform to invoke when seeking to harness supernatural energies for dominance over the same or opposite sex. The proliferation of articles on the internet claiming to allow for the foolproof summoning of her children as little more than glorified sex toys also add weight to this crass misinterpretation of her essence, even if few bother to mention Lilith by name.
Considering her desire for autonomy, as well as her role as the dominant sexual partner during intercourse, some female witches accept her as a darker facet of the divine feminine. In this aspect she is venerated as a metaphor for the fiery passions that bubble beneath the surface of the god and goddess duality.
She is also occasionally identified with the crone aspect of the triple goddess, the wise and experienced matriarch who brings an understanding of death and inevitable decay to the life cycle of the modern pagan. Here too we see ties to both Kali and Hecate, themselves keys to the underworld for those willing to undergo such a turbulent initiation.
To Feminists she is an icon of rebellion against a male dominated society that still views women as second class citizens as a result of Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. In this respect Lilith’s male authored origin story can be seen as a double edged sword. While it is a powerful metaphor for feminine autonomy, it was initially created by the exclusively male priesthood to present a patriarchal view of the right for man to rule over woman. It also highlights the consequences of allowing female sexual desires to burn out of control.
It is also interesting to note that a long running Jewish feminist magazine has chosen her name as its title, expressly to embrace that desire for equality despite the obvious difficulties in reconciling Lilith’s passionately outspoken nature with the tenets of orthodox Judaism.
With a little historical detective work it is not difficult to look beyond Lilith’s assumed femininity to a time before her resurgence within the Abrahamic religious texts. Here she is numbered among the Lilitu, a minor class of unclean spirit that dwelt in the deserts and sought to lead travellers astray. In these older representations she is viewed as gender neutral or even androgynous, an undefined, winged, clawed and hairy entity that assumed whichever form was relevant to her desires at the time.
Because of this many transgender members of the modern neo-pagan community view Lilith as a patron of sorts. In this aspect she represents freedom of expression at any cost, authenticity in the face of ridicule and the decision to choose exile over unjust societal pressures. She also embodies a more up to date and liquid view of personal sexuality, and the removal of birth defined biological gender as a prerequisite for socially acceptable relationships.
As has been shown, there are as many interpretations as disputes with regards to her pedigree as a single historical entity, but in a universe steeped in archetypes and memetics that matters little. Truly, if she had not existed before the twentieth century we would have needed to create her anyway, so vital to the current human situation is the vein of anarchic self empowerment that she represents. Lilith is a patron of the outcast, a rallying point for the abused and a voice for the ignored. She is every inch the original rebel, and it was that aspect that brought us together.
Being called by Lilith is an intriguing experience. At first she may seem to be a weird choice of patron for a male neo-pagan who spends most of his time working with the known and unknown dead. But as a representation of non reproductive lust and thief of semen it could be argued that Lilith is the ultimate icon of unlife, removing many a potential mortal from the world before they even draw their first breath. Bridging the gap between pleasure and oblivion, she is in some ways the perfect godform to encapsulate the mindset of the modern necromantic movement, as well as the neo-pagan desire for social equality.
Many of the magickal texts outlining the methods required to approach Lilith are firmly rooted in the left hand path, but adherence to such a belief system is not required for a successful conjuration. While she has been adopted by these practitioners, as well as a notable section of the modern vampire community, it is worth recognising that she pre-dates such concepts entirely.
But Lilith is an extremely primal and unruly energy to allow into your life, a harsh and unforgiving mistress who cares little for the consequences of how she delivers on her promises. As mentioned earlier, it is here that she shares much with the crone of modern witchcraft, a wise yet barren matriarch who knows through bitter experience that the most rewarding outcomes sometimes require a painful journey to achieve. Mysterious accidents, illnesses without definite causes, even floods and property damage are all seen by her as viable ways to either give you what you seek, or what you truly need.
She works best as a mercenary of sorts, an entity to approach only when a well defined need presents itself, and to be discarded once the request has been made much like the spirits of the Ars Goetia, who may in fact be her offspring. Eschewing long term devotion, Lilith instead craves short bursts of focussed attention as payment, especially both male and female sexual energies. She seems to be especially drawn to writers and artists who can generate it for her, adding an undefinable undercurrent to their work.
Evidence of a less sexualised communication between Lilith and the modern entertainment industry can be easily found works of supernatural fiction which feature her as either antagonist, saviour or both. Indeed, one of Lilith’s main strengths in this regard is her ability to represent so many core aspects of the human condition which remain hidden from society, allowing her to continue to be relevant even in an age of information overload and eight second attention spans.
My time working with Lilith was brief, numbering but five years, yet this still around half the total period that I have considered myself both a neo-pagan and a practising magickian. She was never my goddess, as I prefer to work alone for the most part, but we both derived mutual benefit from our occasional interactions. While I call on her less and less now, moving as I am beyond the point where I actually require outside help to attain my desires, I have fond memories of the projects that we worked on together and the scars to prove it too.
Lilith is so many things to so many people, but I have been lucky enough to see a side of her that so many will never understand. She is the original feminine rebel, as well as the first human to say no to a higher power. For that reason and many more besides, she will always be an important archetype for man and woman alike.