New Deities

At that time in my life when I believed that the Goddess was going to save humanity by everyone awakening to matriarchal consciousness, I came across a deity I’d never heard of before: Lilith. In Medieval Jewish literature, she was Adam’s first wife who refused to lie beneath him “like a pinned wrestler” during sex. Of course, said the literature, Lilith was REALLY a Sumerian goddess, the “hand of Inanna” who gathered prostitutes, and those EVIL PATRIARCHAL INVADERS demonized her, because that’s what they do.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s wrong. The Alphabet of Ben Sira, which is uncritically accepted as a source for the Lilith mythos, is an antisemitic parody of Jewish literature (which also includes the tale of a biblical patriarch who is too fat to ride a horse). There is also little evidence to suggest that Lilith (as the plural lilitu or later, the demon Lamashtu) was ever anything but a child-killing, infertility-causing demon.

There’s also the issue of the Burney Relief:

The Burney Relief

This image is (again) unquestionably accepted as depicting Lilith, but even assuming that there was ever a single figure in Sumerian literature named Lilith (there isn’t) there’s the small matter that you don’t give offerings to demons who “accept no pleasant gifts. They never enjoy the pleasures of the marital embrace, never have any sweet children to kiss. They tear away the wife from a man’s embrace. They snatch the son from a man’s knee. They make the bride leave the house of her father-in-law,” (from here) let alone depict them with the shugurra crown (used only in depictions of high-ranking deities) and measuring rods. To be fair, though, scholars are still piecing together who this represents (I’ve heard a convincing argument for Ereshkigal) but one thing’s for certain: a cult object like this relief wouldn’t be depicting a demon.

There’s also this relief, which does depict Inanna/Ishtar:

She’s the one in the centre, natch.

Notice the hat, the bird feet, the folded wings, the fact that she looks almost identical to the figure in the Burney relief?

Anyways, I could go on about mistranslations, bad Hebrew, and whatnot, but I think it’s time to get to the point. The fact is, even though Lilith’s story has been raked over the scholarly coals, there are people (like Anya Kless) who have interacted with a being who goes by the name of Lilith who is definitely deity-like if not a goddess. (I absolutely recommend her devotional Queen of the Desert to anyone who is interested in modern devotion to Lilith, btw.)

So, what does one make of this? Do we assume that Kless and co. are making it all up? Delusional, perhaps? No, I don’t think its that simple. The thing is (and this is something a lot of reconstructionists miss) that when a deity comes into contact with you, you don’t say to hir “Do you have a source that proves your existence?” or ask them to hand over their papers that say they’re a deity and qualified to receive offerings. “I’m sorry, did you clear that with customs?” No, that would be like someone wondering how animals can talk in fairy tales. They just do, those are fairy tale rules and fairy tale logic.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should run around claiming you’re a Sumerian reconstructionist and then start going on about “dark goddess Lilith” but to my knowledge, Kless is a Northern Tradition Pagan. I occasionally post at the Natib Qadish Discussion Group and this is something that makes them grumbly, and, you know, I think that they have every right to be grumbly, just as Heathens do when someone comes into their space claiming that characters from Marvel are the real deities. However, other than mislabeling, do I really have a problem with people who worship Lilith, or the Aghama, or Cthulhu? Erm, maybe that last one, but overall, no, not really. If it works for you, do it. Seriously, I do some things that are pretty non-Germanic and definitely modern. Why? They work. If it works, who really gives a shit if its older than dirt or something you invented yesterday unless you’re trying to replicate things that are older than dirt?

So, yeah, maybe Lilith was never a Sumerian goddess, but who says she can’t be a modern goddess? Maybe she doesn’t have the sort of pedigree that the very old deities have, but even the very old deities were new, once.

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5 thoughts on “New Deities

  1. I agree, if it works do it. There are too many moronns trying to tell other Pagans how and who to worship. Personally, I’m heathen, or norse pagan if you wil. But unlike some, I don’t turn to Odin, Freyja and Thor first. I primarily work with the web, vættr, alfr, ancestors/disir and my animal protectors/followers.

  2. I totally get this.

    Many of the arguments against the worship of Loki center around the fact that there’s no archaeological or historical evidence for Him ever having been worshiped. But I didn’t get to know Loki from books. Nor have a lot of Lokeans I’ve met. And it doesn’t matter whether or not Loki was worshiped, the way Thor or Odin or Frey was, in ancient times; He’s here now, and people are going to deal with Him as He is, not as others say He is.

    People forget that the gods aren’t necessarily obligated to act as They once might have, nor to appear as humans expect Them to, and while there is something to be said for traditional ways of approaching Them, things change — both here and Elsewhere.

    1. Also, I’ve always felt there was something off about that relief supposedly depicting Lilith. Thanks for the explanation — that it represents Inanna makes far more sense to me, and rings more truly, for whatever that’s worth.

      1. It’s also possible that it could be Ereshkigal–the figure is supposedly painted red, which seems like an odd choice for inanna-Ishtar (not so unusual if she’s being depicted as a goddess of war) but I’m not sure there are any depictions of Ereshkigal to compare to the relief. (Then again, the Sumerians were pretty apprehensive regarding anything to do with the underworld, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t given a lot of attention.)

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