Disquieting Truths About Lilith, The Night Hag

She's been called many things throughout history - Demon, Night Hag, Lilith - and yet, she is always the same. Creepy, terrifyingly powerful, and malignant, she can appear as a potent seductress, the stuff of a nightmare, or as a wretched crone. She induces sleep paralysis. She is like a golem or jinni, made from the dust of the earth and yet imbued with supernatural powers. Her disquieting image dates back to the most ancient stories in civilization - from Adam's first wife in Paradise to the succubus who would sit on the chest of her marks as they slept - she perpetuated the myth of the evil woman capable of taking peace from the innocent.

In each historical portrayal, she is uniquely terrifying and, at the same time, remains a universal symbol of woman's unconquerable power. In most myths, she is chaos and she is ungodliness, but in every guise throughout history, she is a figure that can never be fully understood or vanquished.

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  • She Might Sit On Your Chest At Night
    Photo: Henry Fuseli / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Might Sit On Your Chest At Night

    Although most people recognize the Night Hag as a mythological figure, the paralyzing sleep condition related to her image is one of the most terrifying disorders in the medical world, as people often wake unable to breathe, move, or speak - with the "old hag" or Night Hag sitting on their chests. This feeling of paralysis gives them the feeling of being pinned down by her. Ancient stories of why this happens vary among cultures, but many agree these nightly episodes are the result of a visit from the infamous Night Hag. 

    Though the medical world tends to explain this phenomenon as a form of sleep paralysis, many people believe it is the result of supernatural forces, ghosts, or demons who are looking to terrify the living. This sleep syndrome happens to people of all races, ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds, though it may be more common in certain groups. Further research suggests that sufferers may be predisposed to this condition through narcolepsy, sleep deprivation, panic attacks, or posttraumatic stress disorder.

  • She Has Always Existed

    Although there have been endless reports of the Night Hag, she is generally perceived as a presence that watches and lurks, always staying out of direct sight. She is a dark figure that can bring about auditory hallucinations - strange voices, ringing, buzzing, scraping, and laughing sounds - and strike fear in the hearts of those around her.

    But the Night Hag is not just a witch from dreamland, she is a pervasive cultural figure, well-documented throughout history. She is mostly known as Lilith - a seductress, a hero, a slayer, and the embodiment of all female wiles and secrets. For more than 4,000 years, she has wandered the Earth as a sinister power who has preyed on pregnant women, infants, and men and terrified the innocent with her dark knowledge. She has been an intrinsic part of the literary and artistic imagination, appearing in some of the oldest writings ever discovered. As Janet Howe Gaines shows in her study of Lilith for Biblical Archaeology, Lilith's reputation as a mighty jezebel began in Babylonian demonology and moved through the world of the ancient Hittites, Egyptians, Israelites, and Greeks. She can be found in the Bible, the Talmud, and in Jewish writings from the Middle Ages. Cast as the witch, the Eve, and the succubus, the Night Hag image has made a permanent mark on the dark history of the world.

  • She Can Bear The Children Of Human Men

    Mostly known as Lilith throughout history, the Night Hag's name derives from the Sumerian word for female demons or wind spirits called the Lilītu

    Although they are often perceived as beautiful and alluring, these dangerous spirits seek the destruction of anyone they dislike. They tend to target pregnant women and babies or act aggressively toward those they want to intimidate. The Lilītu dwell in the desert and other isolated, dark spaces and have breasts filled with toxic liquid instead of milk. 

  • She Left Adam Because He Wouldn't Let Her Be On Top

    Her image as a darkly feminine spirit continued until the 7th century, at which time her reputation became even more sinister. Sometime around the year 1000 CE, an anonymous text titled The Alphabet of Ben Sira was introduced to the Jewish community. In it, Lilith plays a big part as the winged destroyer who preys on the innocent, and she is also a major player in the history of the world - she is Adam's first wife, the one before Eve, who leaves Eden because she does not want to be inferior to man. In this fanciful addition to the age-old Biblical tale, the Almighty fashioned a woman for Adam named Lilith who was supposed to serve as his loyal companion. But Lilith does not want to lie under Adam during intimacy. She wants to be on top, literally and figuratively, as a free and powerful woman. She does not want to rule over Adam - she just wants to be equal.

    Much to the chagrin of the Creator, Lilith continued to fight with Adam and eventually became so frustrated with his arrogance that she brazenly spoke the sacred name of God, the Tetragrammaton, which was reserved only for holy priests. In doing this, she shockingly proved her unworthiness to live in Paradise with Adam. As a result, she became associated with the demonic and flew away to become a supernatural character who is of Earth and yet not beholden to it. 

  • Her Hairy Legs Are A Dead Giveaway
    Photo: Possibly Simeon bar Yochai / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Hairy Legs Are A Dead Giveaway

    Outside of the Bible, the most legitimate source on Lilith is found in an ancient book called the Zohar, one of the most respected volumes in Jewish mysticism.

    Lilith is mentioned many times in this text. And depictions of her support the idea that she was created at the time of Adam from the dust of the earth. She is also described as the unsuitable wife of God's first man and the demon who inhabited the serpent's body to tempt the original Eve. In this way, the fall of man was not only the result of female weakness but also of woman's perniciousness. According to the Zohar, Lilith was in league with Satan and represented the ultimate female figure of wickedness: "She wanders about at night time, vexing the sons of men and causing them to defile themselves [emit seed]” (Zohar 19b). She even disguised herself as the Queen of Sheba to seduce King Solomon. But he spied her hairy legs and recognized her as the beastly imposter she was. 

  • She Exists In Her Own Plane Of Reality

    Known primarily as a fantasy creature from various folkloric tales, the Night Hag is described as an incredibly evil and merciless woman who exists in her own fiendish plane, mostly invisible to the eyes of men. She is most commonly used to explain the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, although her disquieting figure has pervaded the centuries, weaving its way through endless religious and cultural texts.

    She is believed to be many things - a malevolent witch, a succubus, a devious woman, a nightmare - who has the power to immobilize a person by sitting on their chest as they sleep, thereby haunting them in their dreams. People who have suffered from this sleep condition sometimes called "Old Hag Syndrome" attributed the "presence" they feel to the Night Hag and her demonic ability to bring terror to the peaceful realm of sleep.