Lilith, Whose name means "Night Spirit," is a Sumerian dark Goddess Who is linked with the great Goddess Inanna. She may have Her origins in a type of night or wind demon; and in the Sumerian tale of The Huluppu-Tree, dating to at least the mid-third millenium BCE, Lilith represents Inanna's fears:
At that time, a tree, a single tree, a huluppu-tree
Was planted by the banks of the Euphrates.
The tree was nurtured by the waters of the Euphrates.
The whirling South Wind arose, pulling at its roots
And ripping at its branches
Until the waters of the Euphrates carried it away.
A woman who walked in fear of the word of the Sky God, An,
Who walked in fear of the word of the Air God, Enlil,
Plucked the tree from the river and spoke:
"I shall bring this tree to Uruk.
I shall plant this tree in my holy garden."
Inanna cared for the tree with her hand.
She settled the earth around the tree with her foot.
"How long will it be until I have a shining throne to sit upon?
How long will it be until I have a shining bed to lie upon?"
The years passed; five years, then ten years.
The tree grew thick,
But its bark did not split.
Then a serpent who could not be charmed
Made its nest in the roots of the huluppu-tree.
The Anzu-bird set his young in the branches of the tree.
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.
The young woman who loved to laugh wept.
How Inanna wept!
(Yet they would not leave her tree.)
Here Lilith is a stand-in for Inanna's fear of Her own power and sexuality, represented by the throne and the bed She wishes to build for Herself. But Inanna is too afraid to face Her fears alone. She first goes to Her brother Utu, the Sun God, Who refuses to help Her. But Gilgamesh, the famous hero, will, and does so by striking the snake at the roots and chasing the Anzu-bird away. Lilith also then leaves the tree; however, She, it is said,
...smashed her home and fled to the wild, uninhabited places.
In other words, though Lilith flees, She gets a shot in first. Lilith always does things on Her own terms.
After this, Inanna gets Her throne and Her bed, and is able to claim Her power.
A little of Lilith's legend bled over into the local monotheistic traditions, and so She found a place in Jewish legend as the first wife of Adam, created like him from clay. When She rejected Adam because he insisted that he was superior, She uttered the sacred name of God and left Eden, to give birth to demon children in sadness. She was regarded as a dweller in desolate places, and commonly believed to be a succubus, causing lust and nocturnal emissions in men.
Now, of course, I'm a Pagan, so inclined to regard that last talent with kind of an Eh? So what? but apparently it has caused some distress over the years among the monotheists. Poor things.
At any rate, it does speak to Lilith's sexual power and ability to cause fear. I'm not surprised, really, that Lilith is showing up this week, the week of Samhain here in the north (or for that matter, odd as it sounds, for Beltaine in the south, given that holiday's association with lust), the week that ushers in the dark half of the year.
Lilith is the fear that keeps us from beginning, and keeps us from acting. Standing here at the threshold of the dark at Samhain, I am not surprised that fear is coming up. What lies ahead of us now is the dark, and we will not be able to see there. I do not know what the solution is, whether to chase Her out with brute force, as in Inanna's legend (though if you do expect that She will not like it, and will destroy something on Her way out), or whether one can go into the desolate places, Her land and home, and seek Her beauty and strength there. Lilith is strong and righteous in Her own way, after all. In the Jewish legends, She had such obvious respect for Her own self worth that She chose to flip off God and be alone rather than live in Paradise as an inferior.
I suspect that Lilith will prove a friend to bold women.
And as always, I ask What does She say?
I cry in the night.
I scream in the night.
I will fight for you I will destroy for you I will kill for you.
Gods and men, they have lost their claim. I see what they do, have done, will do, and I do not forget. I will destroy them. It must be done. It is right. I am right.
I am dark, yes, and that means I am wise, too; though that part has been forgotten, erased, smudged out of recognition. The owl is mine, is She not?
And I am the serpent. Here, at the threshold of the dark, the dark that precedes the light, always. Ask me how I know. Or don't. How brave are you? I am the serpent, shedding its skin as it slides into its hole, down, down into the dark. Like Inanna and Her seven veils, isn't it? Strange. Or not.
I am anger and I am right. I am dark-eyed Lilith, and I will do whatever it takes.
Smart Women. You know there is a star in the apple, that symbol of shining Knowledge. Eat. Remember.
The Huluppu-Tree from Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer