A mystery of mysteries: Out of the power of the glow of Isaac’s noon (i.e., the Gevurah), out of the dregs of the wine, there emerged an intertwined shoot which comprises both male and female. They are red like the rose, and they spread out into several sides and paths. The male is called Samael, and his female [Lilith] is always contained in him. Just as in the side of Holiness, so in the Other [Evil] Side as well, male and female are contained in one another. The female of Samael is called Serpent, Woman of Harlotry, End of All Flesh, End of Days.
Rashi to b. Sanhedrin 109a
Of Lilith’s several contradictory origin myths, I find this one the most fascinating. Here Lilith is no mere human, but from the beginning She is a mighty Power, existing within Creation, but not created by God…
The above passage is quoted from The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai. It is itself a quotation of Rashi, a medieval commentator on the Talmud and the Hebrew Scriptures, here remarking on a passage in the Talmud’s Tractate Sanhedrin. But what does Rashi mean?
Rashi’s text states that “the power of the glow of Isaac’s noon” is the Sephira Gevurah, better known in Western Occultism as Geburah, meaning “Strength”. Another name for Geburah is Din: “Justice”. According to Wikipedia — points off for my use of Wikipedia, but the following description is useful here — “Geburah is understood as God’s mode of punishing the wicked and judging humanity in general. It is the foundation of stringency, absolute adherence to the letter of the law, and strict meting out of justice.” It is associated with the planet Mars and the color red (like Mars, blood, and wine).
“The dregs of the wine” — this indicates the most worthless and repulsive aspects to be found in Geburah. Such aspects of the ten Sephiroth are generally known as the Qliphoth, the “husks”, “peels” or “shells” of the Sephiroth. In other words, “the dregs of the wine” is the spiritual garbage of Geburah. The evil aspects of Geburah. But — how can God create something with an evil side, something with such “dregs”? The answer is (somebody correct me if I’m wrong) that in Kabbalistic and rabbinical thinking God is not omnibenevolent. God can do and create evil. As it says in the Book of Isaiah:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD [Yahweh] do all these things. — Isaiah 45:7 (King James Version)
Rashi continues — there emerged an intertwined shoot which comprises both male and female… But it seems God did not create Lilith and Samael. They arose from the Qlipha of Geburah — i.e., its evil, darkest and worst aspects — almost as if They evolved there the way life evolved on Earth. Patai describes this version of Lilith thus:
a divine entity which emerged spontaneously, either out of the Great Supernal Abyss, or out of the power aspect of God (the Gevurah or Din), which manifests itself chiefly in the divine acts of stern judgement and punishment. This stern, punitive aspect of God, one of His ten mystical attributes (Sefirot), has at its lowest manifestation some affinity with the realm of evil referred to as “the dregs of the wine”…
Another, slighltly different version of this origin story, says Patai, explicitly names Samael as one of Qliphoth that temporarily hid the light of Geburah at the moment of Creation. The light of this Sephira named Strength broke forth, shattering the Qliphoth, one of which was Samael, and He in turn brought out another Qlipha, who was Lilith Herself. Thus, according to this myth, Samael and Lilith can be regarded as titanic Powers emerging from the harshest, least pleasant of the Qliphoth, or as Qliphoth themselves.
What about the intertwined part, though, which comprises both male and female? Why is Samael’s female [Lilith] always contained in him? Fortunately the answer is contained in this snippet of Rashi’s commentary. Just as in the side of Holiness, so in the Other [Evil] Side as well, male and female are contained in one another. God is seen as comprised of both male and female: Yahweh and the Shekinah, usually translated in Christian Bibles at least as the glory of the Lord. But the Shekinah is much more than than the shine (the literal, etymological meaning of glory) of Yahweh. She is regarded to the present day in some branches of Judaism as the consort of Yahweh and also regarded as part of Divinity Itself, although separate from Yahweh. Despite the demonization long before in the days of Hebrew polytheism of Yahweh’s original consort, the Goddess Asherah, he still — even to this day — has, perhaps must have, the companionship of a Divine female.
What does that have to do with Samael and Lilith? —It means that Samael and Lilith are mirror images of Yahweh and the Shekinah. That they are, when you get right down to it, the God and his Divine consort of the Other [Evil] Side (and Divine Consort means Goddess and nothing but Goddess, I mean come on!). Just as Yahweh and the Shekinah must always be bride and groom, so must Samael and Lilith. And what about the contained in him part? — that can be regarded as hyperbole, as exaggeration. Because in closely related lore and myth, since the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 CE., the Shekinah has remained in mournful exile upon Earth, while Yahweh sits in Heaven — but He still might well not be alone after all (more on that later)… This sort of comparison of Samael and Yahweh is undoubtedly what gave rise to Samael’s title The Other God. Or maybe the title The Other God gave rise to this sort of myth: Who can say? Likewise, the comparison of Lilith and the Shekinah is the reason why, for example, in the writings of Kabbalist cum Rabbi Isaac Hacohen from the 13th century it states that “Lilith is a ladder on which one can ascend the wrungs of prophecy.” —Clearly he viewed Lilith as a source of what Christian theology calls revelation, and what today’s pagans and polytheists call Unverified Personal Gnosis, or UPG for short.
But wait! There’s more!
First I have a confession. I don’t really understand the difference between the Matronit and the Shekinah. Mention of the Matronit is coming up. Perhaps the Matronit is a more personalized way of conceiving of the Shekinah — the word, though Hebrew, clearly contains the root of the Latin word for mother: mater, matris. I don’t think I’m wrong if I conflate the Shekinah and the Matronit as one and the same. If I am wrong, I’m in good company because many writers conflate them. Patai sees a slight difference that eludes me … enough, you get the point I hope.
So when the Shekinah remained on Earth and Yahweh returned to Heaven after the destruction of the Second Temple, I hinted that Yahweh might not have remained alone. Who could possibly be more fitting, in a delightfully twisted sort of way, to take the Shekinah’s place than Lilith Herself? Of course that’s exactly the story other myths tell. Patai writes —
The Zoharic idea [is] that the most terrible outcome of the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel was that because of them [i.e., Israel, the now exiled Jews] God was forced to accept Lilith as his consort in place of the Matronit…
Of course the mythographers rail against this state of affairs. When the Messiah comes —
Those Messianic days will mark not only the reunion of God and the Matronit and the rejection of Lilith, but also the end of Lilith’s existence. For, although Lilith has existed since the sixth or even fifth day of Creation, she is not immortal.
Alas, the Messiah is a no-show, whether you’re a Jew and deny Jesus as Messiah or Christian and affirm him as Messiah. Neither the Second Coming, nor the First, are happening. As Ronald Reagan famously once said: “Mistakes were made.” Maybe the Lilith-Yahweh-Matronit soap opera is a mere figment, a not-even-a-myth. If not, it looks like Yahweh is stuck with Lilith forever. Despite the protestations of the pious, I somehow suspect that having Lilith as consort for all eternity has its perks for the old Semitic Deity…
—Two more things are left to be discussed. —First, I’ve related these tales in the manner of those who don’t believe in them at all. Yet I’m a sorceress, I work with spirits, I pray to Gods and Goddesses and assorted other non-physical Entities. I summon angels and demons and they come and speak with me. I’m a believer. I believe that Lilith and Samael exist, and Yahweh and the Shekinah to boot. This begs the question Which of all these stories about Lilith are true and which aren’t?
Lilith exists, I accept that as a fact. To deny it would be to deny my own lived experiences and betray all that I am. What are we besides the sum of our memories of our lived experiences plus some genetics thrown in? Nothing. I won’t be a nothing: I won’t deny my lived experiences. So I claim Lilith lives. If one accepts Lilith as a living Being, then the answer to the above question becomes None of all these stories about Lilith need be true. If every tale told of Her is a figment, She still exists. And yet because we can learn so much about Her nature from these myths, there must be a connection. Either She Herself inspired the myths or some of the myths really are true. We’ll never know if any of the myths are true. And if some are true we’ll never know which ones those are. Still Lilith lives, the myths still teach.
Which of all these stories are true and which aren’t? isn’t actually a very important question after all.
The second thing is the remaining sentence from the Rashi quotation that began this entry. The female of Samael is called Serpent, Woman of Harlotry, End of All Flesh, End of Days. —Serpent … although medieval iconography very often shows Lilith as the Serpent who tempted Eve, Rashi was a Jew. I believe he would have denied the truth in the doctrine of the Fall. The snake would have been neither Lilith nor Samael nor Satan to Rashi. In other myths about Samael and Lilith they are given the names of Slant Serpent and Tortuous Serpent. But I haven’t read up on that for over a year, not since the last time I read The Hebrew Goddess. So I can’t explain or expatiate Serpent right now. —Woman of Harlotry … that one’s easy. Lilith as succubus. Lilith as the seductrix of Adam. Lilith as the corrupter of men’s moral qualities and stealer of a certain bodily fluid.
—End of All Flesh, End of Days … these two are hard. As Kabbalistic and rabbinical thinkers believed that Lilith would be destroyed when the Messiah came, they could not have taken these epithets at face value. It could be simply extreme hyperbole: Lilith is in fact a very dangerous Spirit. But calling Her basically the end of all life and the end of all time — I can’t believe these epithets are just meaningless hyperbole, they’re too poetic and evocative.
Like so much about Lilith, on this point I have no clue.