Category: Lilith

Lilith as Serpent and Symbol of Transformation

Lilith: Serpent and Symbol of Transformation

serpent3images (1)

Meister Eckhart : The ground of the soul is dark

A reminder that I treat the myth of Lilith as just that, a myth, a powerful one that resonates today because of its psychological dynamic. Any ongoing dialogue with myths, dreams, stories, fairytales inter alia puts us back in touch with the deeper layers of the psyche, those inner forces that play themselves out on the world stage.

In the previous post we left Lilith brooding in the depths of the Red Sea. She felt her inner strength returning after what seemed an eternity, cleansed by her tears and the salt of the sea she now felt as salve; and her forging in the flames. It was time to end her isolation and return to the Garden of Eden to effect a change on the status quo.

In the most mysterious of ways she returns, disguised, as serpent, to beguile Eve to accept the apple and thereby disobey God’s admonition to not eat the fruits of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil on pain of death and other dreadful punishments.

We know from the Creation story that Eve and Adam were expelled from Paradise and that women have been blamed ever after for this sinful act of accepting the fruit – the repercussions still felt today, even if unconsciously. I’ll write a later post about Eve and the temptation that was presented to her. But for the moment I want to negate that age-old myth of woman’s ‘sinfulness’ and say that Eve was the awakener for Adam, Lilith the awakener for Eve. To paraphrase Paul Tillich (Western theologian), the Fall represented ‘…a fall from the state of dreaming innocence…’ and awakening from potentiality into actuality; and that the ‘fall’ was necessary for the development of humankind, a symbol for the human situation, not a story of an event that happened ‘once upon a time’.

Can Lilith as serpent be a viewed as a harbinger of change and as symbol for transformation?

 Our first reaction to the temptress may be one where we instinctively recoil in distrust and fear. We have an archetypal disposition to fear this highly dangerous creature with forked flicking fangs. Historically, the symbolism of the serpent has the association of sexual temptation, of being against God, subversive and evil.

Lilith shed various skins in the depths of the Red Sea, shedding her anger, shedding her pain and sadness, feeling the lessening of the bonds, becoming tighter, and emerged to offer Eve choice and voice. Lilith knew that Eve was restricted in the Garden. She knew that Adam and Eve were entirely dependent on G.d the Father and that they were naive and obedient children with no real freedom for growth within those boundaries.

Lilith can be seen as a trailblazer in that she refused to remain repressed in the depths of the Red Sea. The brutal injury to her psyche from being expelled from the Garden for expressing herself almost broke her. The dark had served her well and for long and she knew her time had come. She was in touch with her anger and pain and stepped out from that place of extremity in her urge for healing and wholeness, never wholly achieved perhaps; but each little bit of understanding of the dark feminine within each of us, man and woman, brings us closer to wholeness and healing, individually and collectively. She challenged the patriarchal view that women were to be ‘obedient’. She donned the guise of serpent. The older paradigm of being in bondage in the depths of the Red Sea was a skin to be shed – it was too constricting, restricting; and its origins were blatantly unjust. There was no more symbolic way than to put on a new skin and arrive as serpent, the wisest of the creatures. She would live life in abandon but not in abandonment. 

We too face trials and tribulations and long to be bathed in the light, to be comforted and mothered in loving arms. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve felt sick, tired, betrayed, disappointed. We’re vaguely aware of the resentments building up inside us like a pressure cooker, or we feel our hearts hardening or closing down. The mothering that we yearn for a these times – some other to be a container for our sadness – may be unavailable. We need to look deep inside ourselves to find a way to acknowledge those dark energy bearing feelings of hopelessness and despair, rage, anger and woundedness. Our feelings and emotions are not to be dumbed down.

Many times our energy is not a polite one. It is the sort of energy used by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama who refused to give up her seat on a bus for white men in 1955, a forerunner in challenging the legality of segregation. The Black Sash here in South Africa comprised of women started this movement in 1955 to protest against coloured people (inter alia) not being allowed to vote. Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban edict of banning girls from receiving an education and took a bullet to her head.

We hiss loudly when we see gender discrimination, littering, undue use of plastic bottles, rape and mutilation of not only women and children, but of our land and sea. We hiss at those in the corridors of power who have only their profit line as goal. We’re doing a great deal of hissing and spitting at what goes on on our country under the leadership of our president and his sychophants – corruption is rampant and the use of tax payers money is used for the most nefarious purposes …

The feminine principle stands for all that is life-giving as well as life destroying, paradoxical though that is. It stands for chaos from which order emerges in a new transformative form. It is both joyful and grieving. It is dark and fecund, like the soil of the earth. It embraces ALL in life and in death. Pain and suffering, sorrow, grief, anger, destruction, wildness, non- conformity, death and darkness are all embraced by Lilith. She also embraces compassion, joy, creativity, light, playfulness, mothering, nurturing, birthing, ugliness and beauty. She devours and she transforms. Nothing is meaningless to her. She knows that ALL is part of the whole of life and death. Wanting only the good and light and the heights is an awful denial of the depths.

There is much in the literature where the serpent is revered: for example –

Aesculapius, the ancient Roman god of healing, is symbolised by two serpents representing the principles of sickness and healing, entwined around his staff. Serpents were renowned for their ability to seek out healing herbs and plants for treatment off illness in the population.

Hippocrates (460 BC) the father of western medicine, is represented to this day as a healer carrying a staff, around which is wound the serpent. My husband wears such a tie on which this emblem is.

The story of the Buddha tells how, after his many and various terrifying trials and tribulations brought on by Mara, he met his greatest trial while sitting under the Bo tree. Mara and her Furies sent a thunderbolt down from the sky to strike him down dead. But, at the ultimate moment the cobra, the King of Serpents, emerged from the shadow/darkness to offer the Buddha its hood for protection – which he accepted.

That which can kill can also cure. By bringing Lilith out of the shadows and acknowledging all sides of her, is a step towards healing and wholeness.

roses-with-thornsrose with thorns – like Lilith

with thanks to google images

next post: Eve


Lilith in Exile


Please note that I’m regarding the myth of Lilith as just that, a myth. Myths and fairy tales, legends and stories from time past and present, have something of the eternal about them and speak to contemporary issues that we face in our daily lives.

Lilith (first wife of Adam in the Garden of Eden according to the Midrash – see previous post) was banished to the depths of the Red Sea to be never seen or heard of again. In one fell swoop, all that she had known, unity in the Garden, was ripped from her.

 We’ve all experienced those dreadful times when we’ve been utterly lost in our grief and sadness; personal illness or that of our loved ones; when life is a constant uphill battle and the inner and outer worlds seem to conspire against us.

Sometimes, when in crisis, it is important to do nothing for a while and just sit in the awfulness of it. It is not the time to jump out of the fire to avoid the burning, but to endure and sit in the flames. It is not the time to frantically search for answers, immediate resolution. It is a time for no-action, patience, endurance.

I see Lilith in her exile, in the flames, sitting, with her knees drawn to her chest, her chin resting on her knees, her arms and hands wrapped around her legs. She sits; she doesn’t move. She knows she has to be here; now is not the time for her to escape. For the moment she must just sit, in the flames, and resist the temptation to jump out of the fire and not be burned. She must be burned. But the fire slowly strengthens her. She kindles the fire adding new branches to the furnace to keep the flames burning. She is kind to the fire. She feels akin to it. She stirs the ash. Perhaps she is reminded of things of beauty that were fashioned after being in the fire, beautiful crystal glass work, ornamental beads, clay pots, beautifully crafted and fired, made from the same substance as she. She feels that she is slowly being forged and fashioned, that the fire is strengthening and purifying her. Perhaps she wonders in some way if this is an alchemical process, one that takes a long time and furthermore, she knows not what lies in store for her. She feels in the absolute stillness of doing nothing, a dynamism. She senses the paradox in this, knows that stillness and movement somehow belong together even if they appear to be completely opposite to each other. She feels her blood quicken in some barely discernible way. Her frozen heart is melting. She feels a sharpening of wits, while at the same time a lessening of her previous bonds. She feels looser yet tighter at the same time. Her perceptions and attitude change. She sees that there is more. It seems to be out of her grasp but worthwhile reaching for and waiting for.

Lilith is in the fire and also in the depths of the Red Sea, wet, not only from those watery depths, but also very much from her tears. Tears of rage, frustration, anger and deep, deep sadness at her plight. How in the name of heaven did it come to this? A life of mutual joy and co-operation with Adam was not to be. She was rejected not only by him, but because she used His ineffable name in her rage (according to the legend), she was cast down, discarded, exiled and thus thrown upon herself. Perhaps from her personal experience of rejection, surely the deepest wound to her psyche, she learned never to be the instrument of rejection, hurt and wounding. Her own wounding showed her the path. From her extreme anger, disillusionment and sadness, there was a glimmer of the potential of its opposite, that of compassion and joy.

We are all daughters of Lilith and Eve; they are present in our modern psyche. We feel annihilated sometimes, invisible, unworthy, not free to act or choose, to remain submissive and demure. We lose touch with our earthy and passionate nature, our need for solitude sometimes, our connection with the dark moon.

Highly charged emotions are valuable in that they are meant to disturb us, so that we do not ignore them; that they are brought out of the festering dark. The deepest work is usually the work on the very darkest corner of our souls. Do not reject the corner stone, those other unknown parts of one’s self. ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone’ (OT Psalms 118 vs 22). Destructive tendencies such as self-sabotage can be transformed into something more refined and spontaneous and joyous. Reflection is never easy, yet it is work worthy of the effort for the rising consciousness of the dark feminine and for unity to once more be re-gained.

Like all archetypes, Lilith has two polarities. We may be inclined to call one side positive, the other negative, but this is not wise as it is a value judgment. All modalities of Lilith are  experienced within ourselves, her dark and light, her manic and depressive moods, the sinner and the saint, her strengths and vulnerabilities, her wildness and her conformity. The sun and moon, seeming opposites, belong with each other.


Sitting, for such a long while as Lilith did in the depths of the Red Sea, pondering, reflecting, allows us as humans the space to connect with our elemental core, thus bringing consciousness and healing to the fore.

Images: courtesy Google images.

Next post: Serpent as symbol, agent of change and transformation

Lilith, First Wife of Adam

Lilith: First Wife of AdamLilith -

I’ll be writing a series on Lilith, the Dark Feminine, once a week. This myth still has its affects and effects in the contemporary lives of both men and women. It is necessary to bring Lilith out of the shadows, as well as Eve on whom the blame, even unconsciously, is placed for accepting the apple. I’ll be writing about her too.

According to the Midrash*, Lilith, first wife of Adam, was born from the same mud and clay at the same time as Adam in the Garden of Eden and thus they were equal. Lilith refused to be submissive to Adam. The ensuing argument in which Adam, and God, refused to see Lilith’s side of the story caused her banishment by God for her blasphemous rage to the depths of the Red Sea to be never seen or heard of again. But she does re-appear, from her exile, in the guise of the serpent who offered Eve the apple. Lilith, as serpent, was instrumental in Adam and Eve’s exile. In contemporary psychological terms, this banishment is referred to as the ‘Rise’ of man, and not the ‘Fall’ as it was seen as necessary, Fate, for them to move from unconsciousness and to strive for consciousness.

This meant leaving Paradise and its unity, into a world of duality, where pain and pleasure, light and dark, life and death, temporal and eternal, into a world of opposites with which to contend, and to experience over and over the extreme of them. To re-find themselves in a newly-found world of the collective –

Lilith as serpent has had a seriously bad reputation. She is viewed inter alia as a whore, responsible for the death of new borns, men’s wet dreams at night (to sap their strength), Bride of Satan and In her demonised and objectified form she is indeed frightening and threatening.

She is seen as all we are not, she who is the container for the dark and earthy creative feminine. We have all sought to repress her through our projections. Looking at her in a one-dimensional way means that we do this at the expense of other more enlarging and encompassing ways. We have put her out there, as not belonging to us and the hard work is bringing her in again, allowing her into our psyches to her rightful place within us.

If we relate to her in a more compassionate way we can see in her, some of ourselves. We all get into horribly dark places at times, when we feel unloved, unappreciated, unvalued, unfairly treated, exiled even from ourselves and we feel that dark, destructive and dangerous energy rising. Too often we act out our feelings of rage and despair, disempowerment and feelings of helplessness, stuffing ourselves with food, drink, drugs, anything, to rid us, numb us, tamp down those uncomfortable feelings and emotions. We repress those feelings, in an unnatural way, thereby repressing the vessel. Repression stored in darkness is soul destroying. It tends to become distorted and, if disregarded, turns against us to our detriment manifesting in ways we know only too well ..

What are we to do with that roiling energy? Do we disregard it as too foreign to ourselves, too black, too dark and dangerous? Can we bring Lilith energy out of the shadows and connect to it in a different way, releasing some of its demonic powers by acknowledging her?

Her energetic force arose as a result of opposition and suppression. Her spirit was broken but not indefinitely. If we bathe her, wash and cleanse her with our tears she will be redeemed and transformed. We need to rid her from the socially conditioned and condoned guilt that we have taken it upon ourselves to suffer. Can we reach deep inside ourselves and connect to the core of our sadness, anger and wounding and allow healing to take place allowing the divine, constructive and beautiful feminine to be restored?

It is important to be aware of both her divine and demonic powers. She is not to be cast out and banished – it is only by banishing her that that she becomes demonic. Anything that is repressed will find a way out, for expression. She can be redeemed through our conscious awareness of her. Given the proper outlet the darkness within us can be constructive. Dreams can offer a way of bringing her into consciousness if we take the time and effort required.

Barbara Koltuv, in her book ‘The Book of Lilith’ says: ‘Experiencing Lilith in her many forms is part of the process of giving birth to the feminine self‘. (italics mine)

Hannelore Traugott, German Lilith expert:  ‘ .. Lilith…is striving to become conscious again. Let’s call it archaic energy, spiritual femininity, something akin to the wisdom of the goddess. As long as we don’t have access to this energy we experience it psychologically as loss, suppression, isolation, emptiness, addiction and above all, power struggles’.


from the mud and murky depths, arises the lotus, petal by beautiful petal, striving for the light.

* Midrash: Rabbinic study into the spirit of the scriptures for a larger understanding.
* Oil painting by John Coller, 1887

next post: Lilith in Exile