Disquieting Truths About Lilith, The Night Hag  

Jen Jeffers
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She's been called many things throughout history - The Lady in Black, The Night Hag, Lilith, The Morrígan - 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 intent on poisoning humanity. She induces sleep paralysis. She is both golem and 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 victims as they slept - she perpetuated the myth of the evil woman capable of stealing 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.

She Might Sit On Your Chest At Night
She Might Sit On Your Chest At... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Disquieting Truths About Lilith, The Night Hag
Photo: Henry Fuseli/Wikipedia/Public Domain

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 breath, move, or speak - with the Night Hag sitting on their chests. This feeling of paralysis gives them the feeling of being "pinned" down by her as they struggle to escape from the pressure. Sufferers also complain of hallucinations, shooting pains, and a feeling of suffocation. 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. She has an array of magical powers and can transmit "demon fever" to her victims by biting them and invading their dreams.

Given the medical world's lack of compelling explanations for the (incredibly widespread and well-documented) phenomenon, 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 and is reported to have happened to about 15% of the population during their lifetimes. Even though this sleep condition has been documented since ancient times, modern medicine holds that it is generally not harmful and only lasts a few moments before the sleeper fully recovers. Further research suggests that sufferers may be predisposed to this condition through traumatic events or severe disruptions in life.

She Has Always Existed
She Has Always Existed is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Disquieting Truths About Lilith, The Night Hag
Photo:  Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

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 female figure, well-documented throughout history. She is mostly known as Lilith - a seductress, a heroine, a murderer, and the embodiment of all female wiles and secrets. For 4,000 years, she has wandered the earth as a sinister power who has preyed on pregnant women, eaten infants, and terrified the innocent with her dark knowledge. She has been an intrinsic part of the literary and artistic imagination, illustrated in some of the oldest writings ever discovered. Her 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 image of the Night Hag has made a permanent mark on the dark history of the world.

She Can Bear The Children Of Human Men
She Can Bear The Children Of H... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Disquieting Truths About Lilith, The Night Hag
Photo: Fritz Schwimbeck/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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. Although they are fertile and able to bear the children of men, 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 poisonous breasts filled with lethal liquid instead of milk. 

The Night Hag is always female and can reproduce by mating with a male of any species, human or animal, although typically she opts for a civilized race. Once she has impregnated herself, she usually kills her mate and goes on to bear a child who appears normal with black or bluish hair. Disguised as a normal woman, she usually gives this child up for adoption - unless the child is a girl, in which case she returns to transform the girl into a similar Hag once she reaches puberty. 

She Left Adam Because He Wouldn't Let Her Be On Top
She Left Adam Because He Would... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Disquieting Truths About Lilith, The Night Hag
Photo: via Flickr

Her image as a darkly feminine jinn 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 is not interested in her "wifely duties" and does not want to lie under Adam during sex. She wants to be on top, literally and figuratively, in her rightful place as a free and powerful woman. She does not want to rule over Adam - she just wants to be equal considering they are "both created from the earth." 

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 Tetragrammaton of the lord, Yahweh, 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 flew away a more powerful being, set up to become a supernatural character who is of the earth and yet not beholden to it.