** Authors Note**
This essay is meant to start a conversation, but it still has more research to be done. I plan on adding and editing in future posts to clarify my points.
It’s time to restore the dark side of the divine feminine from the sexual haze that accompanied the dark goddesses, Lilith, rise in profile in the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s.
I say this because many of the most prominent writers of the time period were male and strongly focused on sexual taboo. As such the idea of the “sacred whore” and “mother of demons” and succubae captured most of the writers’ imagination while other, potentially less ‘feminine’ and darker aspects of the Divine Feminine were left at the wayside due to the fact they did not seem as scandalous as a woman who enjoyed and desired sex.
Lilith is more than a model for sexual taboo, female sexual indulgence, and all things that happen in the night. Lilith is used as the figure in stories that feature female choice and independence. Traits that in this modern world are still frowned upon in women. One of the most notable works to feature Her, The Alphabet of Ben Sirach (read here), Lilith purposefully leaves the Garden of Eden. She chooses free will over a so-called paradise. She defies angels who demand that she return to Adam at once. She chooses her own path. Whether the work is a parody or satire or not, this is a powerful position for a woman. The fact that Lilith was the vessel chosen for these ideals is no mistake.
Continuing the Judeo-Christian narrative, there are stories that have Lilith as the temptress of Eve. In this take, Lilith is the snake that results in all of humankind being permanently expelled from the Garden of Eden. (read more here) That is monumental. Lilith draws in Eve to have her eat the fruit of good and evil. She tempts Eve with freewill and freedom. Not a sexual freedom, but a personal freedom. The ability to make her own choices. In some religions, Lucifer is seen as the light that provides free will to humankind (Michelle Belanger (2007). Vampires in Their Own Words: An Anthology of Vampire Voices.). I respectfully argue that it was actually Lilith who brought free will to humanity, at least for women especially in the Judeo-Christian context. Lilith in this context is a woman who is aware of her enslavement, and is an unwilling participant. She attempts to free other women from the same enslavement.
Many Neo-Pagan women of various Left and Right hand paths have come to acknowledge Lilith as a symbol of independence. However, as acceptance of Lilith grows so has fear. I’ve run into people who refer to Her as a “goddess without rites” because no one has ever established a conventional, widespread way to worship Her. Many argue if She should even have rites. Still to this day there is a raging debate about whether or not She belongs in Neo-Pagan paths at all. This debate ignores her decisively pre-Abrahamic origins.
Mentions of Lilith can be found in The Gilgamesh and in ancient Sumerian worship. According to the Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Isles, one of the earliest pre-Abrahamic faith stories involves her yet again choosing freedom and independence. In that particular story, Lilith is given a choice of joining “modern society” or remaining in the wild. She chose the wild and to not be domesticated (637).
Notably, she also has an association with owls. Owls held a very different reputation in Western pre-modern history than they do today. Owls were scary. Owls presaged death, in some cases presaged war, and all kinds of bad omens. Her lack of domestication, Her association with scary concepts, and Her use in Abrahamic faith traditions have tainted views of Lilith as a goddess or demon. More often, one is just as likely to Hear of her being the mother of demons as you are of Her choosing to not submit sexually to Adam. Her scary aspects are still regarded as reason enough to not learn and acknowledge Her presence.
Many of the things that are feared about Lilith deal with the realm of sexuality. Again, she is partially reduced to Her sexual nature and Her independent nature forgotten. While many women acknowledge Lilith as a symbol of independence, Lilith is still in many ways seen as primarily a sexual being.
My own worship of Lilith makes use of her sexual aspects. In time it came to embrace so much more such as basking in my freedom. I came to understand a deeper connection between sexuality and choice and my own independence as a woman. A connection that is in need of much more exploration by the community at large.
How does a goddess who can be linked to so many things get reduced down to her sexual abilities? Why is there such fear of a goddess who is associated with such strong and powerful themes? I contend that Lilith’s initial rise in prominence in modern history is due to the growth and interest surrounding sex, sexual purity, and sexual cleanliness. However, to keep Her reduced to the realms of being primiarily a sex or lust goddess or demon or demon goddess actively ignores Her contributions in other aspects. She is most easily a goddess of choice, freewill, and freedom. However, the late 1800’s and 1900’s was an interesting time for the ideas surrounding sex. For example, Thelema founder Aleister Crowley lived between 1875 and 1947. In that time period alone, there were two world wars and the rise of several scientific ideas (that have now largely been discredited) that revolved around racial purity. The ideas of racial purity in turn revolve around sex. Crowley who made his own “sacred whore” and then in a footnote of the book Libre 419 said that this whore, Babalon, was Lilith lived in time period of increasing attention to who is having sex and with whom. Lilith with Her associations with birthing demons, causing men to have nocturnal emissions, and even miscarriages became a foil to the era’s views on sex. She was a symbol of the forbidden and taboo. She was unbridled sexuality. She also actively defied having sex with an “approved partner.” A theme that undoubtedly resonated throughout the era of eugenics. She became a sexual symbol in an increasingly global and sexualized world and that symbolism has caused a neglect of her other traits.
Lilith is the embodiment of the dark feminine in more ways than Her sex. The idea of the Divine Feminine have largely revolved around the idea of maiden, mother, crone. This triplicate does not leave space for women who do not partake in the mother phase of life. It also reflects the sexual nature in which many neo-Pagan religions sprung up. Lilith represents choice. Anyone can argue that she fits into the triplicate because she both represents the freedom of the maiden and is the mother of demons. This argument ignores other darker aspects. She has been considered the devourer of babies, the cause of miscarriages, and infertility. Moving away from a literal understanding of these topics, it is easy to link Lilith to the idea of not having children, whether by choice or nature. It is not at all bad or evil. Women who cannot become mothers or choose to not become mothers are able to turn to Lilith to embrace other life paths. The dark feminine is about choice and freedom and being able to live in a different way than the predisposed path.