The Gilded Cage of Lilith as Feminist Icon

There is something grating about the discourse of Lilith in popular culture and modern neopaganism, which has always been hard for me to put my finger on. But I had a moment of clarity on the subject while having an unfortunately disappointing read through Koltuv’s Book of Lilith.

The concept of what Lilith can be, and the fullness of the spiritual path one can have with her, is utterly neutered by a culture in which the feminine is never viewed from its own perspective.

It is common in the modern day to hold Lilith up as a sort of commodified feminist girl power symbol. And while she does represent certain aspects of feminine power, it is, in a way, cheapening.

Feminism is important. But it only exists as a reaction to attempts at male domination. It has no identity of its own, no intrinsic “self-ness.” It is a reflex, a defensive cultural war. And unfortunately, it is also the only female-directed narrative of the feminine that we have in Western society.

And so our discourse of the feminine is chronically told from the third person out of habit of acquiescing to the male perspective, and focused on the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy rather than any truly meaningful discussion. Are women this? Are they that? Should they be allowed to exist at all? The most simplistic, unevolved discussions we could possibly be having, because unfortunately we still live in a world where we have not moved forward from these extremely unevolved questions.

But chaining Lilith to the task of feminist mascot forces her into a similarly uninspired box full of unevolved questions. Is she good? Is she evil? Does she like my politics?

I watch in dismay as primarily female neopagans fight against reality to claim that Lilith’s only history is the first two paragraphs of the Ben Sira story, and the rest of it, never mind the other 5,000 years of her history, never even existed because they struggle with these simplistic, unevolved questions and are unwilling to look honestly at her history as a demon. They see Lilith as the mascot of their confused sense of femininity, which is incapable of viewing itself from its own perspective rather than society’s. The nature of living in a world in which feminism is necessary, is that most women struggle to perceive themselves from their own perspective, rather than a man’s, society’s as a whole, or at best, as a reaction to men and society as a whole.

There is no sense of “I am,” and therefore there is no sense of “Lilith is,” because when your own identity is fragile and broken, you cannot perceive or respect the identities of anything outside of you either. “Lilith” becomes the life raft to which women without a sense of self cling, and in order for them to make sense of it, they have to find a way to push her into the respectability politics they are still beholden to, since they have no identity of their own.

So Lilith must stand for “girl power.” She must be traditionally “moral.” We must find a way to erase the difficult parts of her history. We must position her as a chess piece reacting to toxic masculinity, rather than observing her as an entity unto herself with her own purpose.

And so we wind up with vapid descriptions of Lilith masquerading as feminism from women who don’t know how to describe themselves beyond the male perspective, such as Koltuv’s sad belief that women’s only “power” is merely to be alluring to men.

Viewing Lilith this way kneecaps the possibility of any spiritual growth by reducing her down to a shorthand for shallow politics. And while, again, I do not deny the necessity of wrestling with these politics, that does not make them any less shallow, and it is no surprise that the most frequent question I hear from such practitioners is why Lilith never seems to respond to them.

Lilith is not a reaction to men, or to masculine entities. She is a force unto herself, and in most stories, she is birthed independently from the chaotic void itself. Her purpose is one that applies to all humans, and all of being, equally — she is entropy, void, chaotic arbitration of death. And while the latter is within the feminine domain amongst humans, on a cosmic level, it is universal.

Instead of using her as a way to continue reducing themselves, othering themselves, hitching their identity to a reflex rather than their own soul, why instead don’t women look to Lilith as a way to help them actually develop their own identity? An identity that is not just a reaction, not just an attempt to be socially acceptable, not just a response to men? Who are you, beyond all these defensive reflexes and trained habits? Have you ever asked yourself that?

To male devotees, have you asked yourself whether you view Lilith, or the feminine broadly, on its own terms, or whether you have the habit of viewing it only in relation to yourself and your own desires? I think Shy David’s pieces in the Broad section of my Library share some excellent thoughts on this.

As strange as it may sound, I don’t think Lilith honestly cares about the fate of sex politics amongst humans. Because Lilith doesn’t need to react to anything. Her power is settled within her. She is the void to which the hubristic always return. She will take her pound of flesh one way or another — she doesn’t need anyone’s permission or respect to do so. And she doesn’t care about it. If she cares about anything at all in terms of the human realm, it is merely that her children grow in themselves. Lilith does not need feminism because Lilith is irrepressible. And spiritually, so are you, if you claim it.

Feminism is utilitarian and political. It is the fight for a material world that women can live equally in, not a platform upon which you can build an identity as a human being, or even as a woman. Spirituality is the pursuit of those deeper aspirations of both self-hood and cosmic relativity, and we rob ourselves of that journey when we reduce Lilith to the political.

The ladder to prophesy, as Lilith has occasionally been called, is so much greater than a reaction to the pettiness of humans in general, or men in particular. You can start at the smallest levels of earthy decay, and follow it up all the way to the contractures of the universe itself. Lilith, perhaps more than any other entity I can think of, occupies all levels of divinity, and is accessible to you no matter where you are starting.

You have an entire universe of esoteric knowledge available to you through her. Why would you cage yourself in your struggles of the ego instead?