Lilith Pictures: Ancient and Magical


relief diagnal view relief front view Sumerian or Assyrian terra cotta relief of a woman with bird feet, accompanied by various desert animals, sometimes speculated to be Lilith. However, the connection between Lilith and this relief is currently regarded by some scholars as dubious.
  She has wings and is wearing (only) a multiple-horned mitre, both characteristic of portraits of high divinity. It is not clear what she holds in her hands. The object in her right hand is worn or broken, so, while it is likely, we cannot be sure that she holds similar objects in each hand. The object in her left hand could be an ankh, reminiscent of a famous Egyptian portrait of the Canaanite goddess, Anat, or a snake, present in other Egyptian-Anat pictures and , of course, characteristic of portraits of the Cretan goddess (or perhaps her priestess). Both have their examples in ancient Near Eastern iconography, including material from Iraq (Mesopotamia), and it doesn't really look like either a snake or an ankh, truth be told.
  The only ways in which this image distinguishes itself from the mass of goddess images in the ancient world are the bird feed and the accompanying animals. The presence of animals is not at all unusual. In fact, the lions she is standing on create something of a problem (if we want this to be Lilake/Lilitu), since they are generally associated with Inanna. For identification with Lilith the key lies in the owls and the bird feet. Lilith is arguably identified with the owl in Isaiah 34. Also the Gilgamesh prologue associates the tree-dweller with the owl, so if the tree-dweller is Lilith, that strengthens the argument. My current reading is that the bird feet clue us in that this is not Inanna, but whether it is Lilith is still a matter open to speculation. London Museum Collection
clay plaque A very similar image -- this time a baked clay plaque from the Old Babylonian period (2000-16000 BC). I suspect it is safe to assume (is it ever?) that this represents the same supernatural being as the preceding, in spite of the change in menagerie (she now stands on two horned animals -- ibex?). The, feet and wings are certainly the same. The miter and wings are common motifs, but, as noted above, the bird feet are an important identifying symbol, even without the owls. Of course the same caveats apply here as there. If that is not Liliake/Lilitu, this probably is not either. (Paris, Louvre [AO 6501])

Magical or Prophylactic

Amulet 7th-6th century BC Syrian amulet to ward off "Lili". Or, perhaps, a modern forgery of the same. See the translation and discussion. (Aleppo National Museum)

Bowl Detail of center Persian incantation bowl with Lilith in the middle, surrounded by a prophylactic text in Aramaic. (Private collection)

Bowl Detail of center 6th century CE incantation bowl. Lilith in the middle surrounded by an Aramaic prophylactic text designed to ward her off. (University Museum, University of Pennsylvania)

amulet Medieval apotropaic amulet to protect from Lilith during childbirth and infancy. Technically, Lilith does does not appear in this amulet. Rather we have 'portraits' of the three angels who are her bane: Snoy, Snsnoy & Smnglof. Above the angel portraits, in each of the two panels, we have the names 'Adam and Eve' and the phrase (in smaller print) "Out Lilith!" From The Book of Raziel (Amsterdam,1701).

amulet amulet An 18th or 19th c. Persian amulet. Intended to protect a newborn from Lilith in her role as baby-stealer. What look like bubbles on her skin are supposed to be chains binding her. See the transcription and translation. (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

amulet Lamp: Probably fake 'Roman Period' with copy of Burney relief. This item was recently auctioned by an antiquities dealer. Since auction winners are kept confidential, I do not know who currently owns it. To my knowledge it has not been tested to verify age. If it is really Roman period, as it purports to be, it is most interesting indeed, since it would show that either the Burney relief (see above) was known much later than we would have supposed, or that both follow a common iconographic model with surprising exactness. If this is the case, it makes it even less likely that either is intended to represent Lilith. However, while awaiting any significant test on the piece's antiquity, I am inclined to strongly suspect that it is a modern forgery, explicitly based on the Burney relief (first image above).


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