Lilith, the Ancestral Woman

By Keith Sherwood & Sabine Wittmann

To women who yearn to overcome their limitations and emerge with all the power, creativity and radiance that is their birthright, Lilith, the insubordinate and freedom-loving, ancestral woman, who combines fertility and strength, shadows and light, offers a model. She brings to the attention of woman ready to transform themselves the dangers of weakness and submission. She is a woman who isn’t afraid to assert herself – who never surrenders and who embraces her own sexuality.

You might not know this; but according to Hebrew tradition, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. She was not created from Adam’s rib, like Eve, his second wife, but was formed from the same clay that he was formed of – which, at least in Lilith’s mind, made her Adam’s equal. Of course, this created a problem for Adam.

From the Alphabet of Ben Sira, which was imported to Europe in the 6th century A.D., we learn that, “…as soon as she had been created, Lilith started an argument and said: ‘Why should I lie beneath you? I am worthy as much as you are, and we have both been created from the earth.”’ This upset her relationship to Adam so much that Lilith decided to leave paradise.

The Alphabet of Ben Sira pictured Lilith as a highly sexual woman with an almost hypnotic effect on men. Of course, Lilith was much more than that. She radiated all the power and feminine qualities that lie dormant in each woman. This was the source of her erotic appeal and why she refused to submit to the dominance of men.

Radiance & Power

The ancient archetype of Lilith is relevant to women today because it provides them with a new identity based on freedom, power and radiance. It embraces all the shadows in the female psyche – as well as the unfulfilled desire and hunger that is the legacy of paradise lost.

Could it be that the myth of Lilith shows us what women have lost? If so, perhaps it’s the archetype of Lilith that can guide a woman into the deepest corners of her mind in order to show her her ancestral femininity and strength. And, if a woman is ready to embrace those qualities by seeing Lilith as a positive role model for women, she can reunite with them. Because every woman deserves what Lilith wanted to achieve – to be herself and express herself fully. And – when it comes to men: not to stand above them, or beneath them, but merely to be their equal.

Lilith’s Bad Name

Although Lilith personifies a positive archetype of women, she has been vilified by patriarchal societies for millennium. In the Old Testament, she was mentioned only once (Joshua 34, 14). Other than that, she was completely banned from it. In the New Testament, she fared even worse. Christian scholars associated her with demons called Succubae, which means ‘whore of hell’. According to Christian scholars, Succubae were gorgeous creatures who where sexually skilled and who haunted men in their dreams to bear their demonic children. It was said that the love of such a demonic creature would corrupt men for the love of any other mortal woman.

Lilith was demonized because she was considered a threat to a male dominant society. Ancient Hebrew society was male dominant – so were all medieval Christian and Islamic societies. Societies such as these are called patriarchal because the father is the supreme authority in the family.

The oppression and demonization of women continued throughout the Middle Ages into the Renaissance in Europe and North America. In some modern patriarchal societies, women continue to be marginalized – in others, women are routinely oppressed – in some, they’re even brutalized. The oppression and demonization of women and their innate feminine power has been institutionalized in all male dominant societies since ancient times. How else do you explain the sordid story of the witch hunts that took place in Europe and America?

Witches & Plague-Spreaders

As the historian Steven Katz noted, “After the bubonic plague (1347-1349), people in Central Europe focused their fear and rage on witches and ‘plague-spreaders’, who they believed were attempting to destroy the Christian kingdoms through magic and poison.” According to Katz, “The overall evidence makes plain that the growth – the panic – in the witch craze was inseparable from the stigmatization of women.” He argues that, “The witch-hunts and burnings can be viewed as a case of ‘genderized mass murder.’”

“Many scholars,” he added, “have argued that it was the women who seemed most independent from patriarchal norms – especially elderly ones living outside the parameters of the patriarchal family – who were most vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft”.

Some people mistakenly believe that it was the mass hysteria, brought on by the plague, which was responsible for the witch hunts. But the truth is that the witch hunts would never have occurred if women and their feminine power hadn’t already been demonized for centuries.

To illustrate how late medieval Europe viewed women, we can turn to the “Malleus Maleficarum” (The Hammer of Witches), published by Catholic inquisition authorities in 1485-86. It’s the classic evocation of this deranged misogyny. “All wickedness,” write the authors, “is but little to the wickedness of a woman. ... What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colors. ... Women are by nature instruments of Satan – they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation.”

An Alternative to Patriarchy

Although patriarchal societies dominate the world today, this was not always the case. There was a time when matriarchal societies dominated Europe, North Africa and Central Asia.

Although no two matriarchal societies are exactly the same, some features are common to them all. In matriarchal societies women and men have equal rights. And, care is taken to maintain a healthy balance between women and men – as well as between humans and the natural world. This leads to a non-violent society that values life and relationships above power and wealth. Matriarchal societies also embraced the qualities of good character. These qualities include non-harming, loyalty, perseverance, discipline, patience, long-suffering and courage.

Another unique feature of matriarchal societies was the adoration of life, symbolized by the Goddess, which included the planet Earth and the richness of life that is nourished by it. Because Lilith or another archetype of the universal feminine, Shakti, Isis, Tara, etc. served as the model, every young woman was taught that she had a wealth of power and beauty which would emerge once she embraced her authentic feminine power.

Both women and men in these societies recognized that the well-being of the community depended on this wealth and power being shared freely. That’s why in matriarchal societies and those influenced by matriarchal societies – such as those found in Egypt, Tibet and India – girls were taught, by women of wisdom, to know themselves, love themselves and share the universal qualities of Lilith with those around them.

The Missing Element of Evolution

While it’s true that patriarchal societies in the West appear to be evolving, people who continue to support patriarchy can profoundly affect a woman’s ability to be herself and express herself freely. That’s because people who embrace patriarchal core-values can project their values in the form of negative waves of energy and consciousness at other people.

Girls are particularly susceptible to these influences as they assimilate the cultural values that devalue them and as they become more attached to fields of subtle, non-physical energy and consciousness that block the natural flow of feminine energy and consciousness through their subtle field.

These projections may not change a woman’s fundamental belief in herself. But they can disrupt her subtle field of energy and consciousness; and that can interfere with her ability to experience pleasure, love, intimacy and joy or to embrace the universal qualities of Lilith.