Still from "The Possession"
Untamed female sex demons, possessive evil spirits, brainless mud men, and even some exorcisms. Who says Jews don't know how to get down with the dark side?
Jewish demons demand respect too. A religion over 3000 years old has compelling stories that take a look at the darker side of Judaism and the entities inhabiting its books. Enter: Lilith.
A relief in Babylon, considered to be an early depiction of Lilith
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Lilith (which translates to night monster or night scream) was Adam's first wife. Though she was created from the same dirt God used to create Adam, she's said to be made of filth. (Unlike Eve, who would come later, and was made from Adam's rib.) Adam and Lilith did not get along, largely because Adam was angry that God made him from the dirt as his wife.
Lilith was willful and strong-minded. Adam tried his best to make her subservient but Lilith could not tamed. Adam insisted on missionary sex whereas Lilith demanded to be on top. In an utter rage she screamed out, "Yaweh," the sacred name of God, then sprouted wings, rose into the air and flew away. When Adam's next wife, Eve, was created, it's said that God put Adam to sleep so he wouldn't see how she was made.
Lilith's legend grew throughout Mesopotamia and it was believed that she that would fly around strangling or kidnapping newborns, possibly preying on pregnant women as well.
It was also believed that Lilith could fertilize herself with male sperm to give birth to her own demon babies. The Babylonian Talmud warns: "It is forbidden for a man to sleep alone in a house, lest Lilith get hold of him."
'Lilith' by John Collier, 1812
For Babylonian Jews of the world, life was filled with spirits and demons that inhabited every facet of the physical world. These spirits were everywhere. Nothing was safe. You couldn't even leave food under your bed without demons infesting it. Typically, they were demons in league with Asmodeus, King of the demons, and his Queen Agrat bat Mahlat, who had 10,000 demon attendants (squad goals, anyone?). The demon queen is considered a sacred angel of prostitution and on the Sabbath she's known to park her chariot and dance on the roofs of Jews.
Judaism even also has their own history of demonic possession and exorcism. In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk was an evil spirit that entered a living person, cleaving to his soul and causing mental illness. Souls that had sinned so greatly weren't allowed to transmigrate because they were karet, which means "cut-off by God" in Hebrew. Jewish exorcisms occurred all the way up to 1904, when Rabbi Ben-Zion Hazzan exorcised a dybbuk out of a woman.
A performance of play called The Dybbuk about a Jewish woman's demonic possession.
Most rabbis, unless they're ultra-Orthodox or they're in the movie The Possession, seem to be skeptical of demonic possession. "Judaism has a very strong prohibition against any kind of belief in witchcraft and magick and stuff like that," says Rabbi Ron Herstik, a Reform rabbi (and my father). "Every religion has a folk religion, what the common people believe, everyday people, and that's always existed in Judaism. The belief in things unseen, Herstik muses, "has to do with the unconscious workings of the mind, of the things we conjure up." He adds, "as we do that we create forces or we name forces and give voice to forces that we otherwise don't understand. "Magick is a way of saying there's a force out there that we can use to manipulate nature, to manipulate time, to manipulate fate and people who can do this are talented in some way whether they are witches or warlocks or whatever you want to call them. They are endowed with this power to be able to do that to basically manipulate reality through magick."
"You're not supposed to do that because witchcraft implies that there's a power paranormal to God's power or a power that can go behind God that can accomplish ends that human beings want and you're not supposed to screw around with God, basically," Herstik says. In other words playing God, is God's least favorite game.
But playing God is just too much fun, especially when you can create a golem, or a body without a soul. The most common way to create a golem is by shaping mud into a man like figure, and using God's name to bring it to life. A golem is created by magic to serve its creator, and even appears in the Bible in Psalms. A famous legend has it that in 1720, Maharal of Prague created a golem to protect the Jewish people from anti-Semitic attacks. The golem got out of hand and Maharal removed God's name from its forehead, and it returned to dust.
'The Golem' by Warren Chriswell, 1997
Demonesses, demons, evil spirits and soulless bodies inhabit the pages of Jewish legend. And if that isn't enough, the first mention of Satan derives from the Book of Job, translated from the Hebrew word for adversary. Satan who worked as God's roaming ambassador, is the one responsible for taking all of Job's riches and killing all of his family except his wife, in an effort to see if Job will denounce God, which he doesn't. Even though God was the one to order Satan to carry out his will, it's still good old Satan who gets the bad reputation. And although killing off family members is fine with God, practicing witchcraft and conjuring up spirits is still totally not.
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