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A modern colorized rendition of an ancient terracotta plaque which portrays winged Lilith standing on a throne of lions and accompanied by two screech owls; the uncoloured original plaque, known since the 1930s as the Burney Relief, and currently displayed as The Queen of the Night relief, is in the possession of the British Museum

Lilith, Lilit, or Lilitu, whose name means "disease-bearing wind spirit," is an ancient Sumerian and Mesopotamian demon or succubus. She is associated with night-time winds and storms, and is said to roost in trees, from whence she descends to have forced sex with unwary men, and to kill newborn babies. She is mentioned once in the Jewish and Christian Bible, at Isaiah 34:14: "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest." In this translation, the term "screech owl" is actually the Hebrew word "lilit." Other Bible translations render "lilit" as "night hag," "night bird," or "night monster." Much of what we know about Lilith derives from Jewish sources such as the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 100b, Niddah 24b, Shabbat 151b, Baba Bathra 73a), "The Book of Adam and Eve," and the "Zohar Leviticus" (19a), where she is described as "a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man." Her name and image appear frequently on Jewish protective talismans and in incantations and rabbinical literature. She is also mentioned in the Mandaean cosmology of Gnostic deities from the first century C.E. onward. On the other hand, the well-respected 12th century Sephardinc Jewish philosopher Maimonides rejected the very concept of her existence.

According to Jewish lore, Lilith is said to have been Adam's first wife, created by Yahweh before Eve, but from unclean filth, muck, mire, or sediment rather than from the pure clay dust used for Adam's creation. Nevertheless, Lilith considered herself Adam's equal, because they were both made out of soil. For this reason she refused to lie beneath Adam during sexual intercourse, and was so offended by his insistence on it that she uttered the magical name of God, rose into the air, and left Adam. He complained to God, who sent the angels Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof to fetch her home. These angels found her near the Red Sea, consorting with demons and giving birth to a hundred demonic children every day. She refused to return to Adam, even under threat of death. Lilith also reminded the angels that God had already put her in charge of newborn children, so she could not be killed. This meant that a creation of God was a dire threat to newborns -- but she promised that she would spare any newborn who was protected by an amulet bearing the names of the three angels. All of that history aside, since the 20th century, this evil entity, long thought to be responsible for miscarriages, still-births, and sudden infant death syndrome, has been recast by some Neo-Pagans as a Pagan goddess who functions as "an archetype of the dark feminine," embodying righteous rage, self-protection, confident sexuality, and the rights of rebellious women.

Lilith is typically depicted as a winged, naked, bird-legged, and sharp-taloned young woman, accompanied by screech-owls. She may hold the ancient symbol of the rod and ring in each hand, identifying her eternal existence and more-than-human status. Psychics, spirit workers, and root doctors who work within the Pagan and Neo-Pagan traditions may call upon Lilith for strengthening and empowering women, seeking justice for oppressed women, and demanding vengeance for women who have been wronged. Traditional Jews continue to view her as a demon who kills babies.


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