Lilit, Malkah ha-Shadim

by Jeffrey Smith

(originally posted to Babalon-l)

Of the all the figures in Midrash, it is Lilith who is most clearly Babalon.
It might therefore be helpful to investigate her.

Lilith, aside from a stray reference comparing her to a "screechowl" (the
translation is debatable), does not appear in the Bible itself. It is in
Rabbinic midrash (presumably relying on earlier legends) that we find the
full delineation of Lilith. The rabbis began with the Biblical reference to
man's first creation as a bisexual being--"male and female He [God] created
them [the first human]". Some of the rabbis found in this image something
similar to what Aristophanes proposed in the Symposium: a dual bodied being
later divided into two who must thereafter seek each other out. But others
tried to take into account the later creation of Eve detailed further on in
the text. If woman was created from Adam, after his initial creation, than
what happened to the female created at first? The answer, according to the
Midrash, was that she was Lilith; created with Adam, she refused to comply
with Adam's demand that she submit herself to him, and in the end fled from
him by using the Ineffable Name. Adam then complained to God about his
loneliness, and the creation of Eve followed, together with the "Fall" and
the Expulsion from Eden. Adam, blaming this on Eve, separated from her, and
for a time reunited with Lilith, before finally returning to Eve. (The
details of this first soap opera are reported with various embellishments.)
Lilith bore Adam a number of children in this interval, who became the
demons. After Adam's reconcilation with Eve, Lilith assumed the Queenship of
the Demons; in some versions she is the consort of Samael, in others she
remains unpartnered. As Queen of the Demons, she kills babies in their cribs
(apparently this was the folk explanation of SIDS), but only in the first
days of their life. Her greatest opportunity is with infant boys before
their circumcision on the eigth day, and in Germanic lands Jews developed
the custom of the "Watch-night" to counter her, a semi-magical vigil around
the crib on the night preceding the performance of the brit milah. In
addition to this, she still produces children, according to a much later
Kabbalistic elaboration. These demons are the children of men, as her
original offspring were the children of Adam, Lilith being impregnated by
the semen produced by masturbation and nocturnal emissions.

As may be surmised, the Rabbinic sources do not present Lilith in a
favorable light (although Adam does not come off too well either); they were
content to see her as filling out the Biblical picture, and as the archetype
of the "bad woman". Later, mostly Gentile, writers connected her with the
Harlot/Folly figure of Proverbs (most intelligently, Charles Williams's
portrait of Lily Sammile in _Descent into Hell_), and leave it at that.
Modern feminists, especially Jewish feminists, have tried to show her as une
femme ideal, drawing particularly on her spurning of Adam's attempted
dominance, and tried to establish her presence among the planets. But
Lilith's Babalonic identity goes further than that; and the full legend can
profitably comment on Babalon.

There are two foci in the legend: Lilith's position as the original mate of
Adam, and her later vocation as the destroyer of children.

As Adam's "other half" (literally), the whole Adam must include her. The
androgynous/hermaphroditic Adam-Lilith in union was the original form of
humanity. Thus Lesson 1: Babalon is a vital part of ourselves, and must be
integrated into our Selves if we are to be whole.

The legend does not say whether this dual human being was joined side by
side or back to back. If back to back, then Lilith automatically becomes
Adam's Shadow, and just as automatically something which Adam had to deal
with, even though he could never actually see her, always there and always
out of sight, and always to be cooperated with. (The same is of course true
of Adam as viewed from Lilith's perspective.) Side by side, the same
applies, although not in such a pictorially dramatic and literal form. Such
a conjunction is not conducive to procreation (the unitive emotional side of
sex would be rendered in this instance moot), and thus the two halves were
divided. Adam could see Lilith not only front to front but also in the round
(and she him); but now he must make an effort to unite with him. And here he
blundered; instead of accepting her as an equal, he attempted to dominate.
(One form of the legend puts this in openly sexual terms: he insisted on
utilizing only the classic man-on-top/woman-on-bottom posture. Other forms
of the legend depict the error as mutual: she tried to dominate as much as
he.) In psychological terms, he identified with his own ego, and not with
his full self; confronted with his Shadow/Deeper Self, he rejected it, or at
least tried to subject it to the demands of his ego. Lilith's response was
to fly away: she literally rose above Adam (now shrunk to the confines of
his own ego, not his full, Lilith inclusive self) with the power of the
Name. The Ineffable Name is the core of Being, and the generative power of
the Cosmos: this indicates how strong the energy must be which allows the
liberation of the Deeper Self from the ego, and how potentially
catastrophic. (Adam, after all, lost one half of his own self.)

Into the picture now comes Eve, the "mother of all living" (Chavvah, derived
from Chai, life, is the name in Hebrew; the connection is lost in the
Greek-derived version found in English Bibles.) But at first, she is not
this; she merely Ishah, Woman, as he was to her Ish, Man. The Biblical text
directly speaks of her being an "extension" of man. The verbal usage in
Hebrew portrays this almost directly: Ishah is simply extended Ish, Ish with
the female ending tacked on, so that we could render it "female man". The
English pairing woman/man mirrors this ("woman" derives from "wife-man").
And then, Scripture continues with the image of man cleaving to woman as one
flesh: recreating, in other words, the orignal Androgyne. (It may be noted
at this point that in some versions of the bisexual creation, Lilith does
not appear. In this tradition, Eve is the original female half; the creation
from Adam's rib is the separation into two individuals; there is harmony
between the sexes, albeit apparently at the cost of the female accepting the
dominance of the male.) Ishah is created from Ish's rib, from a part close
to the heart (in Biblical terms, the seat of the emotions, will, and soul),
and especially personal and intimate; in tactile terms even more intimate
than the genitals. (Is not touching somone's else's breast almost always
indicative of some emotional bond--the most intimate being the child feeding
from his mother). We see here God (reverting to the Midrashic context)
giving Adam another Lilith, another half of himself. And, because of the
previous history, it must be done on the sly, with Adam in a deep sleep, so
he does not conciously realize that Eve is Lilith.

Then comes the business of the Tree of Knowledge, in which Adam's first
patriarchal effort proves disastrous. (Note the Biblical text: Adam extends
the original prohibition, and in doing so leaves Eve believing that the
extension is also Divine in origin. The Midrash picks up on this; the snake
shows Eve that the extension (not to touch the Tree) can be flouted with
impunity, which leaves her to believe that the entire prohibition will not
be enforced. And the rest is "history".) For our purposes, it is necessary
only to note that Eve, the second Lilith, is the one that leads Adam into
attaining the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He is thus made into a spiritually
aware human being, because of his Deeper Self--only now, he does not realize
that Eve is himself, and the consequences are a cosmic catastrophe, at least
on one level. So he goes into a pout, and leaves Eve. But it is at this
point that Eve gains her name in the Biblical narrative.

The second focus of the Lilith material is the contrast between her
offspring and those of Eve. Lilith bears demons; Eve bears humans. Lilith is
impregnated by sex that is nominally unfruitful, male autoeroticism,
unpartnered. Eve is impregnated by sex that is normal and procreative in the
normal, partnered way. And Lilith is tries to destroy the offspring of her
rival. Lilith becomes the repository and incubationary of the male sexual
drive that can not be satisfied by normal means. It is sex without love,
without mutuality, for the sake only of pleasing one's ego: the male
complement of the Whore. If we return to our image of Adam as the ego and
Lilith as the Deeper Self, then we find that the ego represses and drives
into the Deeper Self what it cannot accept, and what it deems as
illegitimate. And what is repressed rebounds on the ego in the form of the
demonic, destroying what is acceptable and "legitimate" (symbolized by the
offspring of Eve). The lesson is, of course, that had the ego not tried to
reject its own products, the demonic would not destroy the remaining
offspring, and instead been harmonized, the illegitimate with the

There is a limit to Lilith's power of destruction: when the child under goes
the initiation of *brit milah*, circumcision; which symbolizes in two
tradtional phrases, being "sealed into the Covenant" and "coming under the
wings [protection] of the Shekinah". By the marking of its member, the child
becomes a member of the Community of Israel, both in its literal aspect and
in its Kabbalastic aspect ("Community of Israel" being one of the terms
denoting the Shekinah). This rite is applicable to infants and to adult
converts (to whom the phrase "coming under the Shekinah" is often applied),
and it is the essential rite of initiation into the Community. (That the
brit milah is exclusively performed on males can be ignored in our context,
as can be seen by the fact that woman can circumcise: they can initiate, and
only someone already initiated can initiate.) The infant/convert is married
to the Shekinah. (Cf. Zipporah's circumcision of Gershom in Exodus, and her
reference to "Bridegroom of blood".) The Arabs delay this rite to the onset
of maturity (we are leaving out the practice of "female circumcision" which
is actually contrary to Islamic law and teaching), but Judaism recognizes
that children are part of the Community, and can be initiated as well as any
adult, even if they have can not take on adult responsiblities. (The
ceremonies of bar/bat mitzvah mark this stage, which has legal but no
spiritual ramifications, just as the 18th and 21st birthdays have in Western
practice.) The circumcised child is literally the Child Crowned and
Conquering, even if he and every one else is unaware of it. He has married
the Shekinah, and the physical mark upon the sexual organ is one sign of

And what is the Shekinah? And why does the marriage to the Shekinah put an
end to the power of Lilith? Because the Shekinah is Nuit, and the Child has
thus attained Nuit, and (on the symbolic level at least) put Babalon/Lilith
back into Her proper place, as part of the Child's own Self. For Lilith when
recognized/integrated as one's Self loses her destructive power, or rather
the power is properly directed and recognized as fruitful.

Further cogitations welcome.

Brother Nu

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