The incantation against Lilith appears in the Zohar, a work most likely compiled in the late thirteenth century in north-central Spain. By the eighth century the legend had taken shape that Lilith was Adam’s first wife. Created from the earth with her husband, she refused to give up her equality, fought with him about how they should have sex, then pronounced the four-letter name of God and flew away. In Kabbalistic lore she is both a strangler of children and a seducer of men.
Lilith grows jealous of pious couples, whose sexual congress on the Sabbath evening brings about a union of the masculine and feminine aspects within the Godhead. Envious of all this, she prowls the earth, looking for husbands and wives who violate the sanctity of their intimacy by having intercourse by lamplight. When she finds such a couple, she pounces and takes possession of the soul of their offspring.
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This poem originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry magazine