Friday, December 4, 2015

Lilith, Adam's First Wife 1884


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The name Lilith is from a Hebrew root, meaning "darkness." It occurs in the thirty-fourth chapter of Isaiah, verse fourteenth, where it is, in our version, translated "screech owl." The passage is, "The screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest." In Cheyne's version the passage is translated:

"The satyr shall light on his fellow;
Surely Lilith shall repose there.
And find for herself a place of rest."

This is the only place in the Bible where the word occurs.

According to an old Eastern legend, the name of Adam's first wife was Lilith, of equal age with himself, and sole possessor of his love till Eve came. In his affection for this new, fair creature, born from his own body, he neglected the charms of Lilith. Consumed with jealousy and love turned to hatred, Lilith sought counsel from the serpent, the subtlest of creation, and, in pursuance of their plot, took his form and tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden tree, gaining her revenge in the expulsion of the fallen ones from Eden. Michael Angelo (or, as it should be, according to Grimm, Michael Agnolo) brings the legend before us in his fresco of The Fall, in the ceiling of the Sixtine Chapel, by giving to his snake the head and trunk of a woman.

According to the story of the Rabbi Ben Sira, Lilith was impatient and quarrelsome. Unwilling to conform to wholesome conditions, she revolted, and pronouncing as a charm the secret name, was henceforth an evil demon. She is represented in the form of a beautiful woman, elegantly clad, who slew children. She stands by the side of child-bearing women to kill the infants. Hence the amulet or phylactery is inscribed in Hebrew, "Adam and Eve, without Lilith."

The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in his "Legends of the Prophets and Patriarchs," refers to this old belief. The Talmud gives several versions of the story. Lilith was a witch, and was thought to steal children. Her name survives in the word "lullaby," which comes from "Lilith" and "abire." This refrain to slumber songs is a sort of exorcism. Another idea is that Lilith was an air spirit, and by her Adam procreated the demons.

It is difficult to make a connected story of the legends given by the Rabbis concerning this witch. According to one tradition, Adam and Eve, when expelled from Eden, were cast upon the earth at places one hundred and seventy-five years' journey apart; Adam on the Island of Ceylon and Eve upon Mount Arafa, near Mecca. The witch Lilith, knowing that Adam was alone, offered her companionship, which was accepted. Afterward Adam, happening to meet Eve again, returned to his allegiance and informed Lilith that she might find another companion. The witch fell into a great rage and swore by heaven and earth that she would destroy every child of man that should be born. To prevent the execution of this threat the Jews in former times used to place an amulet with a Hebrew inscription upon it over doors, windows, and upon chimneys and beds of confinement, so that the witch might not enter the house and harm newborn children. According to the Jews of Tunis, however, Lilith was the wife not of Adam but of the devil. They believed that she had a special spite against new-born babies, and they also used an amulet for protection against her.

Another version of the story is given in this way: When God, in the beginning, made the first man in Paradise, he said: "It is not good that man should be alone.' Therefore he made a wife for Adam from the dust and she was called Lilis. Soon after these two began to quarrel and squabble with each other, and Lilis said, "I will not be in subjection to thee"; and Adam said, "Neither will I be under thee, but I will be lord over thee, since thou wert made to be submissive." Lilis answered, "We are both alike and neither is better than the other. We are both made from the dust and neither will obey the other." And when it was evident there could be no agreement between them, Lilis cried out the holy name of God and immediately flew away through the air. Then Adam spoke to God and said, "Lord of the whole world, the wife which thou hast given me has flown away." Then God sent three angels to Lilis to say to her, "If you will come back, well and good; but if not, then a hundred of your children shall die every day." The angels followed her over the sea to Egypt and delivered to her the message of God. When she would not consent to go back, the angels said, "Then we will drown you in the sea, since you will not go back." Thereupon Lilis begged them that she might live a little while longer, and declared that she had been created in order that she might torment and kill new-born children for eight days from their birth, if they were boys, and for twenty days if they were girls. When the angels heard this they wished to take her by force and carry her back to Adam. Then Lilis swore to them an oath that as often as she saw their names written npon a piece of paper or parchment she would have no power over young children and would do them no harm. She also accepted as her punishment the sentence that one hundred of her children should die every day. Upon this they permitted her to live. Since then every day a hundred young devils from among her children have died. And mothers write the names of these three angels upon pieces of parchment and hang them about the necks of young children in order that Lilis, seeing these names, may remember her oath and do the children no harm.

Still another variation of the legend is, that Adam and Lilith were created at the same time, and were joined together, back to back, with only one body. They did not agree, and, at their request, God separated them, giving each an independent body; but they still quarreled, and Lilith devoted herself to witchcraft and the companionship of devils. Then Adam left her, and Eve was afterward created to take her place.

According to a different story, Adam did not meet Lilith until after he was expelled from Paradise. He lived with her for one hundred and thirty years, and she became by him the mother of many giants and wicked demons. Lilith appears in Walpurgisnight in Goethe's "Faust," and Mephistopheles warns Faust against her.

"Faust. But who is that?

"Mephis. Note her especially, Tis Lilith.

"Faust. Who?

"Mephis. Adam's first wife is she.
Beware the lure within liar lovely tresses.
The splendid sole adornment of her hair.
When she succeeds therewith a youth to snare.
Not soon again she frees him from her jesses."
—Taylor's Translation.

In Dante Rossetti's sonnet, "Lilith," she is pictured as a beautiful woman with enchanted golden hair, who draws men within her power and destroys them. He makes use also of the legend concerning her, that whenever a youth fell in love with her, he died, and "one strangling golden hair" was found twisted tightly around his heart.

In the same poet's beautiful ballad, "Eden Bower," he makes Lilith consumed with jealousy against Eve, and the true author of the temptation and fall.

Ths Grecian and Roman stories of the Empusa or Lamia would seem to have their counterpart in this legend of Lilith. It may be, however, that the designation is a contraction of Alilith, the Arabian Ilithia, a goddess of maternity and childbirth. It is easy to form it from Lila, the Night, and so refer it to Alilat, the nurse-goddess; but the passion to destroy children, being the obverse of her normal position, seems to render the other etymology preferable. The ogre mentioned in the tale of the "Arabian Nights" would show that young men were also sought, and so justify the lines of Goethe.

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