…to The Lilith Institute,
a center for learning and ceremony which transmits many types of knowledge — oral, written, iconographic, spiritual, emotional, and embodied. Our passion and our work: to help women find voice, as they connect with each other and to the power within.
See our Calendar for further details on our Classes & Circles.
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On a trip to Jerusalem in 1999,
as I was wrestling with Lilith, wondering what She wanted from me and where else the Sacred Feminine lived within Judaism, I was inspired to write my first piece of liturgy. I have updated it a bit but my kavanah, my intention remains the same.
Invocation to Inanna-Ishtar / Lilith / Shekhinah…
She of all knowing, dark wisdom… She of the deep abyss, snake’s descent, owl’s knowing…woman of the dark, the light.
We praise you, we stand in awe marveling at the myriad surprises you hold in store for us
always respectful of your power, your M/mystery.
Shekhinah-Lilith-Ishtar, we worship you, in all your aspects; we sing your name.
Walk with us as we yearn to see you, to feel you, to exchange the divine sparks we both need to live… Never let us forget your P/presence in, around and through us, as we seek to proclaim and praise you in every corner of the world, in your many guises, by every name.
Walk with us as we love you, when we are angered by you, when we fail to comprehend you and when we renew our resolve to serve…
Be patient with us as we must be with ourselves, each other… holding your Presence even when we are in doubt or despair.
Let us walk into this new millennium as a time of healing, of casting new roles for ourselves and others, weaving new threads of oneness and wonder
Inanna-Ishtar, Lilith, Shekhinah, keeper of the Mystery
Be with us through ecstasy and harmony
through death and destruction
through reawakenings and rebirths
You who were given the setting up of lamentations, the care of children,
the rejoicing of the heart, the giving of judgments, the stirring of sexuality,
the making of decisions.
In the eye of this wisdom, rising forth from the power of your being, your foresight, your intent…how is it we ever got lost, taken over, subsumed?
Allow us always to remember our inner strengths, to come from a place of understanding our own power, to feed and celebrate our ruach, our neshama/soul, our lifeforce.
Let us not be swayed from our goals.
Work with us, inspire us, protect us as we weave your work – our work.
Help us, sweet dark lady of the night, holy winged figure of the light—rageful, wise judge, warmest heart, soulful visionary, YOU who dwell within each of us, YOU who holds the key to our heart, our mafteyach ha-lev …highest priestess of the Temples, and the Cosmos, to whom every knee must bend and every tongue give homage.
For it is your word we write now upon the doorpost of our house and upon our gates,
Your word, acts, images and thoughts we share, grow mad at, rejoice and weep with, from which we seek to learn.
It is you who makes rise our greatest laughter, happiness, peace and compassion, and you who also sees and gives us our greatest anger and storm, temper and venom…
Holy Mother, Source of All, Goddess of earth and sky, rivers and mountains, night and day, highest and lowest planes of our existence, and beyond,
We seek to embody your sacred passion, your wisdom, your strength.
Be with us now. – D’vorah J. Grenn, 1999
2nd LILITH’S FIRE CIRCLE NOW OPEN!
Our second cohort of Lilith’s Fire Circle starts September 18, and is now accepting applications!
For details, please write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifteen spaces available.
Trista Hendren, founder of Girl God Books, will be our special guest Zooming in from Norway, as will Girl God Partner Monette Chilson, author of My Name is Lilith and the just-released Lilith Circle Guide mentioned above. For those who may want to quench their thirst now and don’t want to wait until Fall, reading Lilith’s Fire is a good place to start !
This next series will be a deeper dive into the fires of transformation, available to us through the stories of Lilith’s journey through the wilderness, the descents faced by Inanna-Ishtar and Persephone, and stories of other female deities across cultures.
Just out from poet and cultural theorist Dr. Judy Grahn!
The Institute’s goals:
- Continue planting seeds for spiritual change, social action and greater cross-cultural understanding;
- Critically examine existing patterns of thought, behavior and language through new, non-patriarchal lenses, acting as a catalyst for personal and cultural transformation;
- Facilitate an ongoing exchange of ideas across diverse spiritual traditions; and
- Encourage women to recognize their potential to be change agents in their own lives, and so in their communities and the world.
In Spring 1999, I founded Voice of the Spirit, a women’s spirituality conceptual framework within which circles of women came together to examine and re-vision ancient sacred texts and contemporary issues, as we explored spiritual practices and practical solutions relevant to our daily lives. This work continues through Mishkan Shekhinah, a mobile sanctuary, and in a variety of settings.
Mojuba and Todah, respect and deep gratitude to my mother Rita Kolb Grenn, my grandmothers Annie Francesca Kolb and Gertrud Silberstein Gruenbaum, to my father Walter Joachim Grenn—all of whom instilled in me compassion, an unfailing moral compass, and a thirst for knowledge. Thanks, too, to all my ancestors for insisting that I follow my intuition, especially my godmother, educator, activist and spiritual leader Milli Sabath, and dear friend and inspirer Kaye Schuman, z”l, both of blessed memory, for their faith in me, their sage advice and unwavering support.
Modupe/Todah/many thanks also go to my elders and spiritual teachers, especially: Yeye Aworo Fajembola Fatunmise, Ohen Imene Nosokpikan and Iya Isefalona Oshogbo, ibaye, who taught me to hear the ancestors–and to pay attention; and to Rabbi Nadya Gross and Rabbi Shefa Gold, who connect me to my roots and my future.
A Brief History of Lilith
The mythical figure of the ‘dark goddess’ Lilith—a symbol of the independent, rebellious, sensual, courageous, passionate, rageful potential in us all–has been as much a source of inspiration as she has been a flame igniting my curiosity since I was first introduced to her in 1985. For this, I thank an extraordinary teacher, Rabbi Bernard M. Zlotowitz of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.
According to Jewish legend, Lilith was Adam’s first wife and Eve’s predecessor. In the most commonly-told version of the tale, she is made from the earth, as is Adam. For this reason, she refuses to lie beneath Adam sexually, and when he insists, she mutters God’s secret name, leaves the Garden of Eden and Adam, and flies off to the Reed Sea [today called the Red Sea] to live her own life. After Adam complains to God about being alone and Eve comes into the picture, we learn—in traditional patriarchal recountings—that she is warned against the ‘evil’ Lilith and feels Lilith is a rival competing for Adam’s affections. In a contemporary feminist midrash or reinterpretation of this legend by Judith Plaskow, however, we see Lilith painted as Eve’s counterpart, confidante and friend (Womanspirit Rising, 1979).
Lilith is consistently portrayed in many cultures first as a demon, who might have been good or bad, then as a child-killer and temptress; as a woman embodying or representing the devil and often personified by Eden’s serpent. In literary and iconographic representations, she is clearly depicted as symbolizing the “evil” inherent in all women. Yet many contemporary women see in her the embodiment of the Goddess, Great Creatrix, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Goddess of Love and War, designations she shares with her counterparts Inanna, Ishtar, Asherah, Anath and Isis. As a goddess of love, beauty and things erotic she is akin to the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus; in her wildness and thirst for justice she and Bhadra Kali, the Hindu goddess, could be thought of as sisters. The question of how bloodthirsty she may or may not be—and whether the role of avenger is a positive or negative one—remains an open one. There is also the question, which has gone largely unexplored, of the royal or divine status which may be signified by her serpentine crown and the rings she holds, usually recognized as symbolizing Sumerian royal authority. “She also holds the ring and rod of power. Thus she joins the first rank of gods” (Johnson, 1988).
Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, in her landmark work Black Madonnas (1993), calls Adam’s treatment of Lilith “the first violence done to women”. If one reads this as rape, as some writers do (Philips, 1984; Ostriker, 1993), one begins to view the Garden of Eden as more prison than paradise. No wonder, then, that Lilith left Adam and Eden; in so doing–as Aviva Cantor wrote in the first issue of LILITH Magazine (1972)—Lilith chose loneliness over subservience.
The patriarchy’s treatment of Lilith has been similar to its treatment of Eve. Both have been demonized – Lilith for her independence and open sexuality, and Eve for her quest for knowledge.
We can trace Lilith’s development through both art and text; through mythological as well as talmudic, pseudepigraphic and apocryphal sources. They include: the 3rd millenium story of Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree; a 2400 BCE text referring to a Sumerian storm demon; the famous terracotta relief of Lilith known as the Burley plaque from circa 2300 BCE; in Babylonian legends dating from roughly 1800 BC; in Aramaic incantation texts found in bowls around 600 CE in Nippur, Babylonia (Iraq), Arslan Tash (Syria) and Persia (Iran); in Rabbinic literature, midrashim and folklore from the 5th to the 12th Centuries CE, in 15th and 16th Century European sculpture and woodcuts, in Kabbalistic sources beginning in the 12th and appearing through the 17th Century CE, in literature carrying her through to the present day. The only actual Biblical reference to Lilith or ‘the liliths’ is in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 34:14); whether or not it truly represents this mysterious figure is a matter of conjecture.
I find Lilith, as both symbol and mythological figure, endlessly fascinating. When I first learned of her I was in corporate life; when I returned to school to pursue an MA degree, she rapidly became the focus of my thesis: “Lilith as Everywoman in Ancient Text & Modern Midrash: Transforming a Demonized Eros”. Whichever legends about her one chooses to believe, for me she symbolizes both the best and the worst in women (and men), and shows us the desirable, mysterious, pro/creative, regenerative and healing powers of the dark or unknown as well as the socially unacceptable or amoral attributes of ‘the dark’.