Friday, 5 March 2010


When, last year, I got to see this Sumerian plaque (usually regarded as depicting Lilith) in the British Museum, I got very excited. Not only is it a beautiful and powerful figure, but Lilith is one of my favourite mythological characters - by some versions the world's first feminist. In Mesopotamia she was a night-demon and handmaid of the sex-goddess Inanna. In later Jewish folklore she was reinvented as the first wife of Adam, created at the same time as him from the earth (not from his rib as the later Eve was). She regarded herself as Adam's equal and, when it came to sex, refused to lie underneath but insisted they did it on their sides in token of this. When he wouldn't agree, she uttered the Ineffable Name and left him. She became a demon, haunting the night and forcing men to have wet dreams. She strangles babies and gets the blame for what we'd now call cot-deaths.  And when medieval artists started depicting the temptation of Adam and Eve - what do you know? Suddenly the Serpent becomes female - it's Lilith back to wreak revenge on her Ex. This is a carving in Notre Dame, Paris:

One of the very first stories I wrote was all about Lilith - although as it's not erotica I don't think there's any chance it'll see the light of day again. 

And she is the perfect subject for that sort of artist who rather likes the idea of a scary dominant sexy female demon...

Lilith by John Collier (1892).

Lady Lilith by Rossetti (1868)

Lilith by Kenyon Cox (1892)

You can see many more pictures of Lilith, ancient and modern, at the Lilith Gallery.


Jo said...

OO, I love that last one.

Do you know that's who CS Lewis's white which is?

So much I didn't realise about the Narnia Chronicles when I read them first... thankfully.

Beth said...

So, Lilith becomes a phallic female demon, and she tempts men to do what, exactly? ;-)

Janine Ashbless said...

The White Witch is called Jadis, Jo - she's described as being related to Adam's first wife, one of her kind, something like that ... can't remember exactly. But yes, he knew his mythology. Did you know that "Aslan" is Turkish for "Lion"? My impression from The Magician's Nephew in particular was that Lewis fancied the hell out of the Witch, despite him not approving at all!

The last picture is by Luis Royo, who's a Spanish fantasy artist I admire a lot. I'll do a post on him sometime - he's way more talented than Vajello and quite kinky. In the meantime, there's more of his work here on his official website.

Janine Ashbless said...

Beth, men are naturally pure and abstemious and are only made to have sex against their wills by wicked seducing women - didn't you know that?


Jo said...

Good point, she was a a sexy bad lady, it's true.

I knew a guy called Aslan. Tragically, he was impressed when I asked him if his parents were CS Lewis fans... most Irish people ask him if it's after the horrible skanky Dublin band of the same name.


Janine Ashbless said...

If I had a daughter I'd call her Jadis. I think it's a great name! And who wouldn't want to grow up to be a six-foot tall superhumanly-strong witch?

Madelynne Ellis said...

Jadis was on our list of girls names. In the end we settled for one of the Furies. :)

Craig Sorensen said...

I love the spirit and power of the Sumerian carving, and the sumptuousness of the Collier in particular.

Lilith is awesome.

Janine Ashbless said...

Madelynne, that's awesome.

Craig, even if I didn't know anything of the backstory, I'd love that Sumerian carving. Those owl-feet!

Kristina Wright said...

Oh, I *love* Lilith! She was the topic of my capstone paper for my humanities graduate degree. Lilith: First Woman, First Feminist. I have made the pilgrimage to the British Museum to visit her and you would have thought I was visiting the queen by my excitement! I've also used Lilith in my intro to mythology class. I love talking about her!

Thanks so much for posting this.