The History & Controversy of Wicca

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Tools of the Trade

 Wicca and controversy

As with the previous entry, which was made for those starting out and those who are not Wiccan, I am trying to debunk and clarify some things about Wicca that even some Wiccans get wrong. There are a lot of misconceptions about it, such as “Wicca is anything you want it to be!” or “Wicca is the oldest religion in the world!”. These are not exactly true. There really is no one size fit all Wicca and Wicca isn’t for everyone, especially in coven format, which was originally made for small groups of people. There is likewise, an attack on both Christianity and Satanism by many Wiccans and I find this to be outdated. For one thing, witches can have something to do with the devil or God whether Wiccan or not. For another, a lot of Wicca’s history is wrapped in controversy and at times, outright denial. This is fine.

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“Reclaiming” Heathenism & other forms of Paganism

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A painting of Thor, the god of thunder

Disclaimer: I am not a Heathen, I do sometimes work with Nordic gods but I do not consider myself a Heathen in any sense of the word. (I am however, a pagan.) This is completely an outsider’s point of view when concerning Heathenism and it will mostly focus on this. (It could be applied to other forms of paganism, though.) Also, this is an American perspective and focal point. (I know next to nothing about modern pagan communities inside Europe or abroad and their problems.)

“Heathenism” is an umbrella term, much like the term “paganism” is, for many unaware, referring to a plethora of religions with common ground. The main difference is that Heathenism concentrates more on a specific area of the world; Germany, Austria, Nordic practices, etc. (This much like Hinduism is used to denote the religious indigenous practices of India and abroad, despite their diversity.) According to Wiki it used to be called “Germanic Neopaganism”.

One of the biggest problems in the broader community is racism and “Far Right Paganism” that is very concentrated in Heathenism circles. A recent article on Wild Hunt caught my eye about how Heathens are trying to distance themselves from the white supremacists of the movement. To me, this is not just a Heathen problem but a pagan one as well. (If one considers Heathens also under the category of paganism.)

It’s knowledge now, that while the huge right leaning groups are Heathen, it seeps into other forms of paganism as well, which is a problem for us all. There is whole sites dedicated to exposing Far Right Paganism and their groups. (I don’t totally agree with everything left leaning in the link, I do applaud them on combating the problem though.) There is also Heathens United Against Racism, [HUAR] which recently issued a statement about the Portland killer. The killer himself, seemed to be an eclectic pagan/Heathen, however, HUAR still felt responsibility. Likewise, a rather funnier incident, is documented here with Heathens Against Hate. This has been a problem spanning decades.

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Fenrir and Tyr by John Bauer (One of my fave artists)

What inspired me for this article, was the little bit towards the end of the Wild Hunt post:

One interviewee who wished to remain anonymous keeps his religious practice hidden from coworkers and superiors, not because he’s worried about being labeled a devil worshiper, but because he is concerned, due to the public opinion, that he’ll be called white supremacist.

This is a problem. I am fairly certain, the interviewee, is not the only one who feels this way. Despite the fact that there are plenty of others doing something to combat the problem, there is too much media attention on the racist/hate issue. There is just too much negativity in the communities. It’s such a mess to be in something now associated with the “bad apples”, so to speak, of the movements.

I am reminded of how bad the reputation of paganism and witchcraft was in the earlier decades of the 1900’s. (And to a degree, Heathenism as well because it has more of a positive meaning now.) Many people sought to regain control over this public image. This was particularly a point in early Wicca movements with Valiente and Gardner, and then later in the 1980’s with Satanic panic. It got so bad that Wiccans, some of which to this day still do it despite the fact most people don’t care, tried to distance themselves from any notion of “devil worship”, literary and modern Satanism, and “bad apples” of the occult communities who sacrifice peoples’ pet cats on Halloween. (At least the stereotype. I don’t think we should distance ourselves from modern Satanism, either. But I will save that for another post.)

While I agree with them largely, that they are not literary Satanism or the form of paganism the monks of the medieval period made it out to be, I think they should be more welcoming of modern Satanism. In the previous decades, introducing yourself as a witch/Wiccan or pagan, citing no devil worship and the like, is acceptable for the time period. Now, I think it is outdated with how well known Wicca is, post-1990’s. No one really associates Wicca or even most paganism with that anymore, except evangelicals and similar Christians who don’t care to understand it. (Can’t please everyone!) However, the effort of the communities did pay off by explaining to people what they are about and how they were not Abrahamic as the majority.

In this sense, as modern pagans and witches reclaimed their image from literary Satanism and Christianity, I believe the same could be done from the hateful groups that are attempting to hijack the spiritual growth of the community and the communities themselves. It is because of the efforts of many Neopagans, over the decades, that the word “witch” now has an entirely new meaning that is beyond the original dictionary and academic definitions. (The original meaning was “one who practiced harmful or black magic”.) Most people who use the title are not going about trying to conjure demons or curse people on a regular basis, as the mythology originally implied and said.

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A painting of Odin. A good symbol of inclusiveness.

So, what did they do? Educate. Keep espousing the traditions. Keep being friendly, open, and welcoming to people. Keep being inclusive. Be patient when people don’t know, ask, and inquire about your religion and beliefs. You attract more flies with honey, than vinegar. Meaning the “hate” is not as effective as love/friendliness (And all those gooey, warm, positive emotions.) in attracting and keeping people.

Educating (And correcting) people and removing ignorance, removes criminal behaviors, racism, transphobia, anti-feminism, hypermasculinity, and so forth. These things need to be backed in science and there is plenty of resources in introductions to anthropology alone, on inclusiveness/diversity of homo sapiens, to help back debates up, which everyone should do. Even if you don’t change a mind by publicly debating online with the person, remember, that the message has the potential to change someone else’s mind who is lurking and reading.

It is best to correct and educate, when you can and when relevant, to spread the good ideas. Voices of the other side that is inclusive, on an individual level, need to be heard, and not just the voices of racists/hateful members in the community. (Remember, you still have to pick and choose your battles. Some people simply are not worth it or the effort.)

I am a realist though. I do not expect such measure to completely eradicate hate and exclusiveness in the community, that would be unrealistic. But it could curb stomp it’s teeth in. I mean, hell, most Wiccans/witches, I’ve met, are inclusive, but it doesn’t stop Z.Budapest and Maxine Sanders from being anti-trans.  It does need to be said that Asatru and other Heathen/pagan religions are NOT inherently exclusive, racist, transphobic, etc to people. I know it’s not usually coming from the pagan community, the public does not know this, however.

Ishtar: The Feminist Symbol

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The Burney Relief (Old Babylonian period) – Often Identified as Ishtar

Introduction

(Warning! Long post! Also, Trigger Warning for discussions of rape, violence, gender, and sexuality!) Ishtar, the ancient Babylonian goddess of love, war, and sex is a complex figure. She evolved from the goddess Inanna in the earliest civilization in the world; ancient Sumer. (Modern day Iraq.) Her figure is at least 5,000 years old and her worship enjoyed popularity throughout all ages of Mesopotamia. (Unlike many other goddesses whose popularity waxed and waned.) She had many aspects, that added to her character over the ages. It was because of this some scholars theorize that Ishtar may have originally been a combination of several local goddess, which explains the complexity of her character.

While the mainstream academic view is that of Ishtar being a spoiled “brat”, trying to get what she wants, and that of a capricious teenager in mythology, this view ignores what could be garnered from modern  feminist interpretations. Looking at it from an ancient perspective, Ishtar is an independent woman in patriarchal societies that frowned upon that sort of thing. In a modern perspective, Ishtar stood up for herself when she was raped, back in time when rape wasn’t always a big deal,  owned her own sexuality, was independent of men, and remained an important figure of fertility in nature.

It was because Mesopotamians didn’t like demonizing and oppressing their goddesses too much, even if they went out of the gender norm, that the wild aspect of Ishtar’s lust (Killili) and violence seem to have contributed to the myth of Lilith, a more popular feminist figure of the modern age. Lilith (Babylonian Lilitu) became then, and subsequently in cultures who inherited the myth (Israelites),  a woman that was used to warn other women about the dangers of being independent woman in a society where women were owned by the males of their respective families. (In fact the Babylonian word for “prostitute” and “independent woman”, both of which Ishtar and Lilith typically identify, are similar for such reasons because both ideals are looked down upon in their respective societies.)

This essay will explore Ishtar’s character and myths in the ancient world, while offering a modern feminist interpretation of such mythology. She can be used a modern symbol of female empowerment, much in the same way her maiden Lilith is used by feminists. (The main reason why Ishtar is not viewed in the same lense of Lilith, is because Lilith enjoyed being interpreted by Romantic artists of the Victorian period and evolved into a symbol of modern Jewish feminism. Whereas, Ishtar became hopelessly lost in the veils of time, mostly.)

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History

It is important to note the historical background of Inanna’s (Ishtar) as it is a necessary component of her character. The goddess Ishtar is probably the most substantial goddess of the Ancient Near East in the Mesopotamian region.  She is connected to a plethora of goddess, like the Persian Anahita. But most particularly, she is identified with the Syrian-Canaanite goddess Astarte.

Tradition in the ancient world split Ishtar’s origins in two. In the priestly tradition she was regarded as the daughter of the principle god and ruler of heaven, Anu. (Sumerian An) The folk tradition offers the idea that she is the daughter of the moon god Sin (Sumerian Nanna) and as a consequence, the sister of the solar god Shamash (Utu). In Babylonia, these three made a triad, Sin of the moon, Shamash of the sun, and Ishtar of the earth. Ishtar here, is represented by the eight pointed star, Shamash by the solar disk, and Sin by a crescent moon symbol. She received the title of “Queen of Heaven and Earth” because of this.

Ishtar’s two most important aspects are fertility and war. The Babylonians emphasized her sexual aspects, while the Assyrians chose to focus on her power as a goddess of war. Prior to the rise of Marduk, Ishtar was the main deity of war. (Marduk eventually replaced her in Babylonia.) As the goddess of sex and fertility, Ishtar’s cult was comprised of priestess-prostitutes, in what is called “sacred prostitution”. The goddess herself being the goddess of prostitution.  In her war aspect, she vied for power and the battlefield was titled “the playground of Ishtar”.

Inanna’s capital was the city of Uruk. This is where her principal shrine was held. It was named “E-ana” or “House of Heaven”. Here is the origins of her as the daughter of Anu himself. She is also connected to the “morning/evening star” or the planet Venus.

The high priestess and daughter of Sargon of Akkad revered Inanna, and helped raise her to prominence. The priestess’s name is Enheduanna. She is considered the earliest poet in the entire world, who was not anonymous, she was also the first woman to hold the title of EN which was of great political substance. Even though Enheduanna was a priestess of the god Nanna, her most famous works are about Inanna. (It is likely Sargon moved her to the city of Ur to secure power in the Sumerian city-state.)  ‘The Exaltation of Inanna’ is her most famous work and this work influenced the conceptions of the goddess.

Ishtar’s popularity continued to grow over the region. Eventually, her cult spread to the Mediterranean. She evolved into the great goddess Aphrodite, where the cult of sacred prostitution spread. Inherited from the Ishtar mythologies, the Greeks began to think of the evening and morning stars as one star, instead of two separate ones. Later, Aphrodite survived as the Roman goddess Venus.

Ishtar’s Descent into the Underworld

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ishtar offers Gilgamesh sex. In which he spurns her advances, citing a long history of her cursing her former lovers:

“For Dumuzi the lover of your youth
You decreed that he should keep weeping year after year.
You loved the colourful allallu-bird,
But you hit him and broke his wing.
He stays in the words crying ‘My wings!’
You loved the lion, whose strength is complete,
But you dug seven and seven pits for him.
You loved the horse, so trustworthy in battle,
But you decreed the whip, goad, and lash for him
You decreed that he should gallop seven leagues (nonstop),
You decreed that he should be overwrought and thirsty,
You decreed endless weeping for his mother Sililu.
You loved the shepherd, herdsman, and chief shepherd
Who was always heaping up the glowing ashes for you,
And cooked ewe-lambs for you every day.
But you hit him and turned him into a wolf,
His own herd-boys hunt him down
And his dogs tear at his haunches.
You loved Ishullanu, your father’s gardener,
Who was always bringing you baskets of dates.
They brightened your table every day;
You lifted your eyes to him and went to him
‘My own Ishullanu, let us enjoy this strength,
So put out your hand and touch our vulva!’
But Ishullanu said to you,
‘Me? What do you want of me?
Did my mother not bake for me, and did I not eat?
What I eat (with you) would be loaves of dishonour and disgrace,
Rushes would be my only covering against the cold.’
You listened as he said this,
And you hit him, turned him into a frog (?),
Left him to stay amid the fruits of his labor.”
– tablet VI, SBV ii

Ishtar is shown as sexually independent and bound to no man, in the texts. This is not normal of Mesopotamian women. However, she tends to curse her many lovers in the end. Gilgamesh enrages Ishtar through his rejection. She sends the Bull of Heaven out at on him and his friend as revenge. Gilgamesh manages to slay the Bull of Heaven, at the cost of his friend’s life.

It is because of this event that leads Ishtar to perform the necessary funeral rites. The Bull of Heaven was the consort of the underworld goddess Ereshkigal–Ishtar’s sister/rival. Thus, Ishtar must descend to the underworld, since she is responsible for her sister’s husband’s death. However, Ishtar’s appearance in the underworld is two-fold. She is after obtaining power over the underworld by seizing Ereshgikal’s throne. This would make Ishtar the Queen of Heaven, the Earth, and the Underworld.

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A Sumerian relief showing Inanna (Ishtar) in the middle, worshipers above her, and underworld creatures below her.

But in order to pass through each seven gates, Ishtar must remove an article of clothing. This is symbolic, as it stands, to show Ishtar’s loss of power as she keep descending to lower levels. Once she passes to the last gate, she is completely naked.

After the final gate, seeing the throne, Ishtar attempts to seize it from Ereshkigal. Angered, Ereskigal and her demons slay Ishtar and hang her corpse on a hook. Ishtar once dead, husbands will not copulate with their wives, animals will not mate, and crops will not grow. It is Ishtar whose power is so great that she is imperative to existence in the world. The gods see this and decide Ishtar must be revived to restore order, so they bargain with Ereshkigal, who demands a replacement for Ishtar.

As Ishtar travels to the surface, newly brought back to life thanks to the other gods, she checks to see who is mourning her. All the gods mourned her except, her husband Tammuz (Dumuzi) is seen enjoying her splendor while she was dead and not mourning her in any way whatsoever. So, she sentences him to death as her replacement in rage. The demons gather their strength up and take Tammuz from Ishtar’s throne. Gestianna, Tammuz’s sister, offers to exchange places with Tammuz every six months to appease Ereshkigal.

Here Ishtar is a great symbol, she attempts to seize power for herself and she removes that which threatens her power. She does not allow those to disrespect her, even if that disrespect comes from her own husband.

She has many lovers and even her relationship to Tammuz can be ambiguous at times. She does not seem to have a permanent mate. Nor are any real children ascribe to her, with a possible exception of Shara. Bound by no man, bound to no children, and certainly she is not bound by traditional family life as the patriarchal Mesopotamian society would have it. She usurps it. She retains this independent character throughout her entire mythology; no children and no permanent lover is a prominent theme. She takes the power she can for herself and she removes all which is a threat to her independence. Not even if the threat is from someone of the same gender.

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Inanna (right) being presented a king-worshiper

Ishtar vs Mount Ebih

Ishtar for the record, formerly would bow to Anu. Now she has taken her own path. Swayed by her anger at mount Ebih for dishonoring her. She has decided to take matters into her own hand, even at the cost of disobeying the top god. This makes her wholly independent. She chose this and she takes responsibility for her actions.

The poem “Inanna and Ebih” is very interesting as Anu the sky father, refuses to help Ishtar. Very similar to Yahweh in the Garden of Eden with Eve, the patriarch Anu is not so tolerant of women’s equality even when Ishtar requests aid. But unlike Yahweh, An gives up and breaks his alliance with Ishtar when she disobeys. Anu is typically a key source of Ishtar’s divine power, this act however, seems to shake cosmic order.

O maiden Inanna. I will not set my head with yours against the fiery radiance of the mountain.

An say this to her:

INANNA! PORTENOUS ONE! HOLY! ILL-BODING!

FURY OVERTURNS HER HEART!

When academics look over this characterization between Anu and Ishtar, it is interpreted as Ishtar being a spoiled child to her father and throwing, what could essentially be called, a “hissy fit”. This is how some scholars now see Ishtar, which would be a very classical and patriarchal view. Rather, than looking at it as a woman standing up for herself against one who has dishonored her, to the point of disobeying the head of the pantheon; Anu. She challenges Anu’s patriarchal authority. There is no other goddess in the same mythos that does this. (At least that I know of!)

In Mesopotamian (Ancient Near East) societies, similar to historical biblical ones mentioned in the bible, women were typically owned by the head male (patriarch). Unmarried women would be owned by their fathers. Married women by their husbands, and if they are widowed, then by his brother or their uncle, if there was no male heir. Noble women usually had more freedoms, however, the society was emphasized that women be groomed to be wives, mothers, and caretakers. Men were thought to do this to preserve “legitimate” lineages and to curb adultery.

There are many tales told to women of the dangers of being an independent woman. Ardat lili (Akkadian for Lilitu) was typically used for this gesture. Themes of prostitution, women owning their sexuality, and adultery were commonly told tales of caution. This increasing sexualization of Ardat lili and Lilitu definitely came over from the Ishtar aspect. Despite this matter, Ishtar’s cult thrived and so did prostitution. It is amazing that Ishtar’s mythology preserved a more positive look for women outside of societal norms.

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Ishtar’s Rape

One of the most notable stories about Ishtar is the one that occurred about her rape. It is not just the fact that rape had happened to Ishtar in the story, it is also very note worthy that Ishtar sought to punish the rapist, personally. This was back in an era when rape was identified as offence against a man’s property if a married woman was raped, and when the rape of an unmarried virgin forced the girl to be married to her rapist.

In the code of Hammurabi of the Ancient Near East, the rape of a betrothed virgin woman was a crime punishable by death, but this is more because of the husband. However, if a married woman was raped, this was considered “adultery” and punishable by both the deaths of her and the rapist.  Similarly, in Ancient Hebrew law, if the woman was raped within city walls, cries of help would be assumed so someone would help her, if not, then the victim and rapist were executed. Outside the city walls, especially of a virgin, the rapist was required to pay for and marry the victim. There was no justice for the survivors of rape in the Ancient Near East.

This is why this particular story is very important when examining Ishtar as feminist symbol. She sought justice where there was none. She punished what was fleeing from punishment. Even when the water god, Enki (Babylonian Ea) hid the rapist. Ishtar did not give up searching for such a man.

In the setting of the story, Ishtar goes on an adventure to learn justice and falsehood. Soon she becomes wary, and falls asleep underneath a tree. A man takes advantage of this. Ishtar awakes dismayed and filled with vengeance. The man flees with the help of Ea, who helps all those he petition him. Ishtar cannot find this man as she destroys the land. Finally, she too, petitions Enki who revels his location.

Then the woman was considering what should be destroyed because of her genitals; Inana was considering what should be done because of her genitals. She filled the wells of the Land with blood, so it was blood that the irrigated orchards of the Land yielded, it was blood that the slave who went to collect firewood drank, it was blood that the slavegirl who went out to draw water drew, and it was blood that the black-headed people drank. No one knew when this would end. She said: “I will search everywhere for the man who had intercourse with me”. But nowhere in all the lands could she find the man who had had intercourse with her. – Now, what did one say to another? What further did one add to the other in detail?” – Inana and Shu-kale-tuda: translation 129-138

[…….]

When he had spoken thus to her, …… hit ……. …… added (?) ……. …… changed (?) him ……. She (?) determined his destiny ……, holy Inana spoke to Cu-kale-tuda: “So! You shall die! What is that to me? Your name, however, shall not be forgotten. Your name shall exist in songs and make the songs sweet. A young singer shall perform them most pleasingly in the king’s palace. A shepherd shall sing them sweetly as he tumbles his butter-churn. A young shepherd shall carry your name to where he grazes the sheep. The palace of the desert shall be your home. – Inana and Shu-kale-tuda: translation 290-310

It is simply wonderful to find a story that is thousands of years old, where a goddess seeks justice for the rape at hand. In many stories, rape is not punished and is somewhat socially acceptable. In some myths, such as Poseidon and Medusa, the victim is punished. (In this case Medusa was punished by Athena.) Even Hera, Queen of the gods in Greek myth, is said to have married her rapist, Zeus, to cover her shame. (Zeus being the epitome of what a man is in Greek culture.)

Ishtar is empowering as a Feminist symbol, here, because she refused to be a victim any longer. She didn’t just kill the man, either. She likewise, had the man remembered for all eternity because of the shame he brought on himself for the act. This is why she mentions this, and it should be taught as a lesson. But most of all, as with her other stories, Inanna refuses to take any shit, especially from a man.

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Sumerian image of Inanna (right) ready for battle

Ishtar and gender

One of the most interesting aspects to Ishtar and her cult, was the androgyny/gender crossing in her character.  Inanna, in her warrior aspect, takes on the role of a male.  She “appropriates” this role by striding into battle, a completely male dominated domain. She is referred when she is off to battle as embodying that of a young man. All the while, she is still considered a woman. But she is far outside the domestic domain of the Ancient Near East, a taboo in and of itself.

This part of it trickled into Ishtar’s cult. Ishtar herself, challenges the social norms. Even to the point of welcoming the “manly woman”, who was usually socially ostracized in Mesopotamian society. There may have been cross dressing women, and men, as a portion of Inanna’s cult. In one poem Ishtar is described:

Inanna… Dressing as a maiden, within the women’s rooms. Embraces with full heart, the young girl’s handsome bearing.

Here, “handsome” was used to explain “cross gendering”, in the translation. One could summarize this is what would be called a “dyke” in modern culture. We cannot say for certain about lesbianism in such a context, because of how ancients defined their own sexuality and how the texts were written. But at least, some of these “handsome women”, were not just simple tomboys or cross dressers.

Many texts exist that make reference to Ishtar’s cult personnel, in temples, as being eunuchs, androgynous, sexually ambivalent, intersexed, or trans because she embraces them. In the poem “Lady of the Largest Heart” we learn that Inanna “turn man to women/woman to man/are yours Inanna”. In this, her cult also challenges the hetero-normative Mesopotamian culture. She breaks sexual boundaries and gender boundaries–all taboo.

  Conclusion

Ishtar welcomes all gender identities and sexual identities into her cult. She is a social justice symbol from an era when such a thing never existed. In a time when this sort of thing was shunned and people were socially ostracized for it; Inanna embraced all the social misfits of society. Even the goddess herself crosses gender boundaries, breaks taboos.

As Betty De Shong writes in her book “Inanna: Lady of the Largest Heart“:

Inanna represents the full expression of whole range of possibilities for woman’s identity. That range includes same-sex unions. Inanna is free to travel throughout the landscape of her sexuality, enjoying each scene to the fullest. She sanctions sexuality in its many forms as the surging of the life force itself. To suppress a viable expression of sexuality, such as same-sex unions would be anti-life to Inanna and would go against the creative force of her nature.

Likewise, she is a symbol of justice for rape survivors. She does not stop searching for the perpetrator until she punishes him. The punishment befitting of the crime, for the era, she destroys him. Humiliates him for all time by letting the story circulate as a lesson. She is the refusal to remain a victim, she inspires those to empower themselves against those who committed such injustices.

When she battles the mountain, she is taking on patriarchy itself, symbolically. Not just by the fact that she had disobeyed the authority of the father god An, she also took on the embodiment of a male mountain. The gods, especially An, were in awe of Ebih and fearful. Inanna challenged this as well, she destroyed the mountain that was not respecting her. This could inspire many women to take on their own patriarchal cultures and remove their own mountains. Especially, if they block their paths in life. They too, like Ishtar, can fight to keep their autonomy.

Lastly, in the Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld, she even challenges another female’s domain. Inanna lusts for power, why is this considered a bad thing when so many women suffer from a lack of power in their own lives? Even other women can bring down patriarchal norms on females. Can’t we be like Ishtar and seize the throne ourselves? Why must we lay down? Ishtar is the embodiment of what we should seek; the power we need/want, even at the cost of usurping it from someone else. Though she did not get what she wanted in that particular story, she did get power later from Enki by stealing it successfully for herself and her people. This is how we should be as feminists.

References:

  • Inanna Lady of the Largest Heart by Betty De Shong Meador
  • The Hebrew Goddess (3rd Enlarged Edition) by R.Patai
  • Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia by Black and Green
  • DR: Ishtar/Inanna
  • Herstory on Rape
  • Wiki for Greek myths

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lilith: A Modern Goddess

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Lilith in Eden

Disclaimer: So, I am in the process of making this huge post on the goddess Ishtar in a modern interpretation. In the meantime, I wrote a modern view of Lilith as a goddess of Neopaganism, combining what I learned and UPG. I have published this on Wiccan Together and Tumblr. But this seems a better place for such a modern view.  It’s aimed at Neopagans who know that Lilith is not an ancient goddess of anything, and have trouble placing her for their own personal usages. It does not rely so much on comparing her to other goddesses, it mostly relies on interpreting her own vast mythos.

It’s my own personal view, but feel free to use this in your personal practice or expand on such. I am perfectly comfortable with it and I want to make it available for anyone to use. Thanks! 🙂

Warning! Extremely long post!

There is many modern interpretations of Lilith and while I’ve written extensively on the subject of Lilith over the past few years, most of it was concerning a factual point of view and other people’s’ interpretations. These are my own personal views on Lilith, the dark goddess.

My views of Lilith have evolved from a more traditional point of view, that was staunch on her being a demoness, to accepting the more modern interpretations of her character. This took a lot of time, almost a decade, of dealing with my personal experiences with Lilith herself and me rethinking what I had previously thought over time. I had realized how much she had benefitted me, as I started to grow into an adult. (I will get on more about that later in the article.)

Major concerns about worship

I understand she is not a goddess for everybody and there are many reasons for this. I will cover two major factors here that I have encountered. The first major factor I noticed about Lilith that people have the most difficult time with is that of her child killing aspect. (This is one factor I will admit to having for along time.) While this aspect was used to blame SIDS on in medieval and ancient times, I will not romanticize it. It is true, Lilith can be a child killer. (In the same vein, we could call her a “rapist”.) However, this aspect is a later development to the character of Lilitu and Lilith. It is most certainly a characteristic that she inherited from Lamashtu. It is not a deniable part of her character, though for some it overshadows everything else. I find this problematic, as many may point the finger at Yahweh for killing children, other gods have been said to do such ill behavior. This includes the dark goddess Hekate who sends evil spirits out on people, and monsters such as Lamia who eats children, but Hekate can also protect people from them. This does not make these gods “unworshipable” nor does it make them have no benevolent aspects. (I also want to note that I do not personally think Lilith is a goddess that anyone under 18, or more preferably 20, should worship since her character is very sexualized. She certainly is not a goddess of children as some assert or a goddess for children.)

The second major reason people are hesitant is because she was not originally a “goddess” but rather a “demon”, or more accurately, a spirit, which is a better term for what the ancients considered her. The reasoning that she should not be considered among deities. I find this to be the most problematic because if we are approaching Lilith from a more pagan view, then it should be noted that ancient pagans were known to worship people as in the case Egyptian Imhotep, various emperors, and oddly, even George Washington in some Americanized Shinto traditions in Hawaii. Furthermore, many cultures had words for divine spirits and gods that were the same. Shintoism does this with “kami” which can be used to refer to both and the ancient Aztec word “teotl” functioned similarly.

Now where does that leave Lilith in her connection to divinity? What makes her a “divine spirit”? In two major places; ancient Mesopotamia and Jewish mysticism/Judaism. In the ancient near east, Lilitu was certainly molded after an aspect of the sex and war goddess Inanna/Ishtar called “killili”, which is why the Burney relief was so controversial in it’s identity. (It could be Ishtar, it could be Lilith.) Ishtar sent Lilitu out to “lead men astray” and mostly, she has a sexualized character like Ishtar. (She is also Ishtar’s handmaiden.) She is an embodiment of the kilili aspect of Ishtar. But “Is she is Ishtar herself? is entirely different question. I do not think they are exactly the same. They’re definitely related in my own opinion, as I work with both. (I think it’s like how you have the main Aztec god Tlaloc, and he has divine spirits that help him that look like him called Tlaloque that function similarly.)

The other cue of divinity of Lilith is in Judaism or more specifically Jewish mysticism, as you know, Lilith was used to explain Genesis’s dual passages about male and females being created. The first passages details the sexes being created at the same time, and the latter one states it was later with Eve. Now, the Zohar, is a Jewish mysticism book that is essentially biblical commentary and expands on Lilith’s mythology. In the Zohar, Adam and Eve are created in the “image of God” and later it states, Samael and Lilith are created in the image of Adam and Eve. (This means they are also made in the “image of God”.) Lilith and Eve represent dual characteristics of the female aspect of God, in a similar way that Adam and Samael represent God’s male half.

Lilith: Goddess of….

As we have got the hard parts out of the way… What exactly is Lilith to be considered the goddess of? She was never historically worshiped by people. There are no temples or inscriptions to go by. In both medieval, and the ancient times, had some views of her that could be construed as quite sexist. Views on sexuality and women have changed considerably over the centuries. Lilith was originally used to demonize women and sex, because the cultures she was in were very “conservative”.

Another problem is there is so many different answers to what Lilith covers! I am sure if you ask many different people of different religions or beliefs, because Lilith is worshiped among a diverse group of people, you will get many different answers. People from Wiccans to Satanists love Lilith, people from very different paths. Some may take a more Kabbalah stance, while others revel in her ancient past. Even still, there are people, like myself who use a mix of these mythologies. I am willing to offer my own personal views on Lilith, I have not seen people cover some of the themes I ascribe to her. I figure that this can be used to help worshipers of Lilith, those who want to be closer to this dark goddess figure but do not romantanize her to the point of denying her myths. (Note: These are the major aspects and associations I consider her with, there may be others I forgot to add or maybe something pertaining more personally to the readers that I skipped over.)

  • Lilith is a goddess of knowledge. This comes from me personally working with her and her Kabbalah mythology. In some myths, Lilith was the one who tempted Eve of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, the snake of the tree. (As you probably know, serpents are ancient symbols of wisdom.) Similarly, a story of her and king Solomon has him outwitting her and being granted powerful knowledge from this. (As the Queen of Sheba.) In her ancient past, she was associated with owls and while this is more from the Greek side of things, we can still use owls as symbols of wisdom and not just of the underworld. Likewise, Lilith’s element is wind/air. This element is connected to all things mental and especially intelligence. Even more astounding is that as a literal figure, Lilith is one of the oldest surviving in the world. Coming from the first civilization of Sumer, to modern times. She must be wise and knowledgeable about humanity.
  • Lilith is a trickster goddess. (Something almost unheard of because most trickster gods are male.) Not just from the riddles that were posed by the Queen of Sheba, or the deciet she used against men in Jewish lore, but you can see it nowadays in how many people confuse her and Ishtar, or confuse her myths with other goddesses. Some even say she is an ancient Sumerian goddess demonized by men or a goddess older than Ishtar. From my personal experience, she used to “trick” me such as saying she was “God”(?) at some point, I don’t really know why. But it really helped me in the end when I saw the truth. Through her trickery I gained so much knowledge of ancient religion and Kabbalah, because I wanted to study more of it. I learned of civilizations I never even heard of before and I learned the origins of the Hebrew religion that became Judaism.
  • Lilith is a witch goddess. This is more from traditional Jewish folklore, but Lilith is undoubtedly considered a witch and her female children are well versed in witchcraft, too. She fits the image of a traditional witch, not the crone image nor the romantic Neo-Wiccan image, but one of the seductress who uses her power and deceit against men. An independent woman who will not be tamed, she travels through the other worlds and searches for prey. Even her red hair is a trait of a witch. (She is certainly a model for witches of the female variety.)
  • Lilith is a goddess of sexuality. I am fairly certain almost all people who worship Lilith can agree on this. She is the divine whore for Ishtar, but she was also made after the aspect of Ishtar that is a divine whore. Therefore, Lilith is a patroness of prostitutes, similar to Ishtar and Aphrodite. She represents carnal desires and wantonness. She can be lewd, crude, and unacceptable to society’s rules about sexuality. She is a symbol of freedom and liberation of one’s desires. She is wild. On the sexuality side, I also believe Lilith can help get over sexual abuse that people suffer. Lilith may benefit those who are gay, lesbian, bi, and trans, in my own opinion. In the Kabbalah specifically, Lilith was originally a hermaphrodite in some versions and seduced Eve as a female. (Ancient myths state a male version of Lilith who seduced women was call Lillu. Whether or not Lilith is the same as the male being, is up for debate.)
  • Lilith is a goddess of death. Not just of the obvious child death, Lilith would be a symbol of sin in Kabbalah which equates to death. There she is married to the angel of death, Samael. She and Samael symbolize the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which is the opposite of the tree of life that promises immortality. Mankind is always seeking the tree of life, but forsaking the tree of knowledge. The tree of life may promise a certain kind of power, however, it is not realistic. The tree of knowledge, though, offers the power of knowledge which can be used to stifle death as well. For myself, I likewise consider Lilith a goddess of abortions, because of her aspects and also because abortions give women freedom over their bodies. Lilith represents the power to choose and in that choice, it is bodily autonomy. Similarly, I believe Lilith can help those who have suffered miscarriages or child death, recover from the loss of a child.
  • Lilith is a goddess of the wilderness and animals. This is an oft ignored aspect, but Lilith from her early days of Lilitu and her later days in the Zohar is always associated with the wilds and wild animals. This comes into play as she is associated with owls. In ancient near east lore, owls are associated with the wilderness, abandoned places, ruins, isolated places, cemetaries, wild animals, evil spirits, the underworld and death. All of these attributes are still a part of Lilith. You see that with the Isaiah passage about her hanging out with other wild beasts, and it is a part of the narrative with Mesopotamian lore as well. My experience with Lilith has taught me how much she knows about the wilds and the wild beasts. I have asked her, for example, what kind of birds Anzu birds of Babylonian myth were since they have so many theories as to what they are. (She had told me the eagle identification is correct.)
  • Lilith is a maiden and a mother, but never a crone. In the Babylonian days Lilith was described as a infertile maiden (unmarried young woman) and in the Zohar she is said to look about “20 years old”. She is always described as beautiful and young in nearly all her myths. There is no myth I have ever come across, modern or ancient, that pits her looks as anything less than a charming, pretty, young woman. Her mother aspect is the dark aspect that you see as the child killer or the one willing to abandon her young to be slayed in exchange for her own independence. (She preys on pregnant women or mothers at times too, though this is rare behavior.) She is harsh to her children, she teaches them strict and hard life lessons, but they learn. However, Lilith is eternally youthful and will not ever reach the crone stage. She could be applied to either the maiden aspect or a dark mother aspect of the Goddess, but never the crone aspect for she is never old and haggard.

Why Lilith?

This is just my personal experience as to why I choose to indulge myself into Lilith and her symbols. I cannot speak for anyone else on the matter and I am not trying to “convert” anybody. I am just sure some people wonder why anybody, or just myself, would worship Lilith. So,I will share some personal experiences, which is something I do not do often….

My first real experience with Lilith as a goddess was when I was basically still a Neo-Wiccan. (And I am now still, but I left it for some time to “find myself”.) I had been a Neopagan at that point for two years. I was reading a book on a few different religions and it had her listed as a “Hebrew” goddess, which I guess now looking back you could make that claim. Something drew me into trying it out, but then I remembered that I stopped believing in anything Hebrew/biblical/etc at the time, which is a stupid belief I picked up as a teenager from some Neopagan book I cannot remember. (Originally I was a Christian, so it was me trying to “let go”.)

I had some beliefs about Lilith before that I picked up before paganism and before I was really into feminism. I was about 14 at the time and I didn’t know much. I remember watching the history channel and how one woman explained Lilith and praised her for standing up for herself. I picked up on this idea, briefly. My mother took me to a church and somehow the topic came up, and I said Lilith was great, happily. The pastor looked at me and said “No. No. She really is not.” which come to think of it I think tainted my view of her for along time because I felt bad, like I had done something wrong for going against the church basically.

After the stint when I was 18, I forgot for awhile until Lilith started visiting me regularly in my sleep when I was about 19. She “tricked” me a few times, by her claims which I researched and found out were not true. I grew to distrust her and every ounce of me tried to resist her and in my opinion, “go against my nature”. I studied her obsessively for a few years and for along time. I bought a lot of books on her and through my studies I also came to learn about Ishtar, Asherah, Astarte, Kali ma, ancient Sumer and Babylonia, etc. I read just about everything about Lilith good and bad. But I still held onto these “conservative” views about her, not about being a woman or sex, I could care less. I just could not get over the child killing aspect of it all and her trickery, even though all of it benefited me.  I lashed out at her online, and her followers trying to tell them she is a demon all the time. Emphasizing her evil traits. I was mean to her and abusive, when she was not to me and I shouldn’t have been looking back. I feel bad about it now because she showed a ton of patience with me, I don’t know why.

Well, in 2007 I was dabbling in different philosophies and religions, I took up “Aztec reconstructionism”, which was one of the biggest mistakes of my life but I learned a lot from it. I kept trying to be someone I was not to “fit in” with people who did not even like me for who I was. (They weren’t nice people.) Why? I have no idea why, really, I guess I just wanted to fit in. I worshiped Tlaloc for years, and here is the kicker, he had child sacrifice performed in his name. That was worse than what Lilith does really! (Also, I am still into Santa Muerte who is just as dark as Lilith is.) She does not tell people to kill children for her! I loosened up about Lilith but something still bothered me.

Namely, my spirit animal, you see is a white owl and I consider Ishtar/Aphrodite/Isis like my mother. Now every thing I researched about Lilith would have made me associated with the same things because in most cultures white is the color of death and owls symbolize death/underworld, evil spirits, abandoned places, prostitution in Babylonia etc. (In ancient times, even owls were sometimes called “lilitu”, so it made Lilitu the spirits or spirit and Lilitu the owls a confusing thing! This would mean that I too, was a “lilitu”.) Owls are almost universally associated with witchcraft, vampirism, and as death omens. Pretty much also stuff I am associated with it. I did not want to admit how much “in common” Lilith and I had, but it just kept piling up. Even with the Solomon story she is said to have “hairy legs” and having a lot of body hair (Like Esau) was an ANE symbol of an evil or dark spirit. I suffer from hirtuism, so that always stuck in my mind. On top of the fact, that originally my hair was strawberry blonde until I got older and red heads are associated with like the god of chaos Set and witchcraft. (Now it’s dyed red, haha.)

You’d think this would be a wake up call to me, eh? Like all the puzzle pieces fit into place… Nope. I stubbornly clinged to the old gods, of which now I am only loyal to a few. That religion messed me up and was about just as bad and unhealthy for me as Christianity. It made me distressed and any religion that isolates you and causes you distress, is not “healthy”. I left. Did a ritual and I found out I am very eccletic and do not fit anywhere. Wicca is my thing. (Took years to stop pretending to be someone I am not.) I have always maintained being a witch throughout my spiritual and religious endeavors, because that is who I am and Lilith is a part of me as well as being one of the best things that ever happened to me no matter how much I resisted, in the beginning. After all that I decided it was time to break taboos. All the beliefs I was determined to cling to had fallen apart on me and I can worship Lilith if I want. I am free. I am not a slave anymore.

I should not hold the child thing against her nor should I be afraid something “bad” is going to happen to me for embracing Lilith. Plenty of people worship Lilith, and nothing “bad” happens to them because of it. In fact all the bad things she did, usually happens to people who do NOT worship her. (Mostly, Jews, I guess? Idk, but it seemed like they were a target way back when.)

I stared into Lilith and I stared back into myself. She showed me who I was and who I should be. How I should be free and value my independence…. How to stand up to people and assert myself. She helped me over come abuse on emotional, verbal, and sexual level, and helped show me that those unhealthy people I do not need to be around. As she is also a part of my identity, she is likewise separate from it. I am a Lilith, as she is a Lilith. I value the wilderness, nature, animals, death, and knowledge as she does. As part of the Craft, I too, am constantly studying and gaining wisdom. I am always learning and growing. I am wild. My only regret is I wish I had realized this sooner and stopped resisting so much.