Notes gathered during the writing of Souvenirs from Bad City.
The ancient archetype, as old as the Babylonian myth of Lilith herself. Lilith is believed to have evolved from a type of Mesopotamian demon into a night creature, or night hag, in Hebrew myth, recorded in a list of monsters in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Quoting the Book of Isaiah 34,
(12) Her nobles shall be no more, nor shall kings be proclaimed there; all her princes are gone. (13) Her castles shall be overgrown with thorns, her fortresses with thistles and briers. She shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches. (14) Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the Lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest. (15) There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. (16) Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and His spirit shall gather them there. (17) It is He who casts the lot for them, and with His hands He marks off their shares of her; They shall possess her forever, and dwell there from generation to generation.
It is interesting to note that the King James version of the Bible translated Lilith as “screech owl” - but notably, the Moffat Translation of the Bible released in 1922 translated Lilith as “vampire”. Lilith was so often translated as a “screech owl” or “night creature”, explained by the fact that her name is rarely mentioned in Hebraic text, and when it is, it’s often because she represents the female epitome of chaos and ungodliness. For an audience with little knowledge of Mesopotamian legend or Hebrew folklore after the 8th century, “Lilith” the word was *hapax legomenon in the Christian Bible - a word that occurs once within a body of work. Because I am fascinated by the many Western translations of “Lilith”, I also looked up the Greek and Latin translations in Bibles preceding the total spread of Christianity in Europe. I discovered that “Lilith” became “Lamia”, as recorded in the early 5th century by the Latin poet Vulgate :
et occurrent daemonia onocentauris et pilosus clamabit alter ad alterum ibi cubavit lamia et invenit sibi requiem
Isaiah (Isaias Propheta) 34.14
And demons shall meet with monsters, and one hairy one shall cry out to another; there the lamia has lain down and found rest for herself
Very early renditions of the Bible, such as Wycliffe’s Bible in 1395, preserved this Latin translation of Lamia. Unknown to myself, in ancient Greek mythology, Lamia was a stunningly beautiful Lybian queen who became a child-eating demon, having lost her mind in grief and despair. In some stories, as those transcribed by the poet Horace, she was cursed by Hera to eat her own children, and was tormented by the possibility of bringing them back alive. Lamia transcended her Greek origins through the poetry of John Keats, and in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Aurora Leigh”. In Mediterranean folklore, she was a fairy-tale villain, a threat used by mothers to induce good behaviour in children.
Why so much focus on a name? Lamia and Lilith, two distinct creatures who were both muddled together after their legends and stories left the Near East. There is a strong vampiric element to the stories of both demons - there is also an interesting conflation of the independence of women’s will, uncleanliness, and the murder or devouring of children, in the myriad stories recorded on both demons.
Leinweber, D. W. “Witchcraft and Lamiae in ‘The Golden Ass’”. Folklore 105. UK: Taylor & Francis Group, 1994: 77-82.
Ogden, D. Night’s Black Agents: Witches, Wizards, and the Dead in the Ancient World. New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2008.
Robert Graves and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis New York: Doubleday, 1964. pp 65-69