Cultures around the world carry tales of vampires, but not all fit the Dracula stereotype: an old count preying on young women. While that is terrible, it’s nothing in comparison to Lilith, the queen and mother of these creatures of the dark. A combination of disturbing monster and ultimate seductress, she sucked the blood of men and caused disease, miscarriages, sterility, erotic dreams and nightmares. She was also—if you watched True Blood then you already know!—the first vampire.
Though tales vary slightly, the most common account of Lilith’s life comes from Jewish folklore and the medieval tale The Alphabet of Ben Sira. The basic story goes like this: Lilith was Adam’s first wife, made at the same time and of the same dust as Adam. Because she saw herself on equal terms with Adam, she refused to take the submissive sexual position and cursed him when he refused to see her as an equal. So, she ran away to the Red Sea and began sleeping with demons and having 100 children a day (sheesh!).
To bring her back to Eden, God sent three angels with a message that he would kill her demon children if she didn’t return to Adam. Lilith chose option B: she cursed the angels and was banned from Paradise forever. Now God had a man without a wife, so he borrowed Adam’s rib and created Eve, which only enraged Lilith further. She declared war against mankind, promising to murder children, torment men and destroy women’s hopes for families.
So where does the vampire connection come into play? Well, Lilith’s goal was to seduce men in the night, steal their semen and produce more demon spawn. But she would also sometimes suck their blood to make herself stronger, killing her victims once she was done. And she’s immortal because she didn’t eat from the forbidden fruit of the Garden, unlike Adam and Eve.
Men believed that whenever they had nocturnal emissions, Lilith had visited them; sometimes monks would even sleep with their hands over their genitals while holding a crucifix in order to keep her away. Similarly, it was said that the three angels God sent to bring Lilith back to Adam made her promise to not touch anyone who had an amulet with their names on it. Pregnant mothers would often wear these amulets or place them on their newborn children—especially the boys—to shield them from Lilith’s clutches.
Unlike good ol’ Count Dracula who looks pretty human, Lilith is often depicted with wings, talons and sometimes even a lion’s head. In fact, it’s only within the last few hundred years artists have portrayed her as a beautiful woman. She’s also associated with owls, jackals, deserts, snakes and according to the Kabbalah, Lilith’s powers are strongest during the waning of the moon.
But Lilith isn’t found in just Jewish culture: various aspects of her character and behavior pop up in Iranian, Babylonian, Mexican, Greek, Arab, English, German, Asian and Native American legends. She’s alluded to in the oldest manuscript we have, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud as well as the Alphabet of Ben Sira. She has modern references too. George McDonald, Goethe, John Keats, Robert Browning and C.S. Lewis outright address or allude to the queen of darkness while modern practicers of magic sometimes worship her.
Interestingly, some feminists have adopted Lilith as a symbol of equality because she refused to be subservient to Adam. Some of the most famous feminist writers, like Edith Perlman and Cynthia Ozick, have written for the Jewish magazine named after her. The magazine just kind of avoids the whole vampire, killing babies and succubus thing, or blames Lilith’s bad rep on the men who wrote history.
It’s pretty crazy how myths like these can be passed down through thousands of years of history, and in cultures around the world. It almost makes you wonder if maybe there’s some truth to it. But that would be crazy, right?
Well, some people certainly don’t think so.