The Key of Lilith

It's been over a year since I've added to the pantheon of God Keys and all the while, this Lilith design has been folded away in the dark of my sketchbook, awaiting the right energy and inspiration to usher her into reality. The time has finally come.

This idol is inspired by an ancient Babylonian sculpture known as Queen of the Night (alternately, the ‘Burney Relief’), circa 1750 BCE, housed in the British Museum. The true identity of the figure is lost to antiquity, but she is believed to depict Ereshkigal, Queen of the great earth and goddess of the underworld; Ishtar/Inanna, the goddess of sex and fertility; or the demon Lilith. She is depicted nude, wearing only her jewelry and the horned headdress of divinity. Her wings grant her the freedom of the heavens, while her vulture-like talons connect her to the underworld. In the sculpture I reference, she is also depicted with lions, and flanked by staring owls.

The Burney Relief is a mystery of ancient Mesopotamia, its exact place of discovery unknown. It passed between a variety of London antique dealers throughout the 20th century before finally coming into the possession of the British Museum in 2003, for the sizeable sum of £1500,000. Comprising fired clay, it would likely originally have been painted in ochre paint to smooth over the pitting left by chaff mixed into the medium. With a mischievous face framed by braids, the elaborate hair of the central figure may actually be a ceremonial crown or wig. The spurs on her calves are understood to be dewclaws. Owing to its large size, the sculpture is likely to have formed a site of worship within a shrine, or even a brothel, according to scholar Thorkild Jacobsen, since sacred prostitution was the domain of Ishtar.

Key of Lilith

One story recounts how Ishtar descends into the underworld to rescue her lover Tammuz, the god of the harvest. Seven precincts yield to her, at each threshold she removes first her crown, then her braided pendants, her necklace, her bracelets and anklets, the jewels from her breast, the girdle about her waist, and finally her dress. Naked before Ereshkigal, she is imprisoned, much to the sorrows of the earth and heavens. Her redeemer comes in the form of Asushu-Namir, the twin-gendered progeny of the water god Ea, whose magic overcomes that of Ereshkigal. Leading Ishtar back out through the seven precincts, where the goddess reclaims her garb and adornments, Asushu-Namir is cursed by the Queen of the Night to be forever a stranger in their own home, but blessed by Ishtar with the gifts of prophecy, wisdom, and healing.

This goddess is embodied as a wild woman, embracing her primal power, but she is also a figure of divine dignity, holding the symbols of sacred right. There is wisdom in her mysterious smile. She stands as goddess of empowered and emancipated femininity, a proclamation of strength which dates back to the cradle of civilization.

In these troubled modern times, we may still draw strength from the rebel Lilith, the sacred harlot Ishtar, the dark and all-embracing Ereshkigal; respected, beloved, and feared. Find this power in your own Key of Lilith.