Friday, September 25, 2009

Daughters of Lilith


So as some of you may or may not know, the last several months I've been working on a piece about Lilith. I devoted a chapter to her in Secrets of Rusty Things but to make sure everyone is on the same page the basic background of the Lilith story is that according to Jewish myth she was Adam's first partner. She, unlike Eve (who was made from Adam), was made of the same dust Adam was, thus she was his equal, thus a tad more independent than her symbolic sister...just a tad. As the story goes she would not submit to Adam (not to get too graphic...but lets just say sexual positions were part of the conflict). She wanted to be Adam's equal. Ultimately when Lilith decides she can't handle being beneath Adam (physically and metaphorically) she flies the coop. Literally. She flew off to the Red Sea where she made her new home. Adam tried to get her back, and three angels were sent to retrieve her. She had been hanging out, copulating with demons when they arrived and they threatened to kill 100 of her offspring a day if she did not return. To counter she replied that she would be on the prowl for any infants or pregnant mothers who came from the lineage of Adam. Needless to say...they stayed separated.

She is considered the mother of all succubi (plural of succubus) who are female demons that seek to steal the lifeforce from men. For me Lilith myth has always been a bit paradoxical. She epitomizes that tragic hero/heroine in which fate deals a nasty blow and sends them off on a grim path. In her case the die was cast merely for her assertion of her individuality...it was this that leads her to a darker fate. On one hand you can't help but sympathize, on the other hand...you probably wouldn't want to mess with her.

A few things to think about before I reveal the piece. One of the earliest depictions of her is from Sumeria. She is portrayed as a winged and clawed harpy-like woman.
Interestingly enough, most speculate that the Lamia from Greek myth came from the Lilith myth. The Lamia was a snake/woman shapeshifter that would lead men to there doom. the Lamia is often considered a vampire, of sorts, certainly a succubus. One interesting thing though is that many depictions of the Adam and Eve in artwork reveal a serpent with a woman's torso. The devil in female form...or Lilith...or the same?

Here's Michelangelo's version:


And Fillippino Lipi's

And Hugo van der Goes'....though if that is Lilith...she is less snake-like and somewhat more salamander-esqe.

Of course sometimes she is someone who just likes to hang with serpents. This is John Collier's version of Lilith.

Very Lilith-y...though, I'm not sure about the hair.

Sssssssassy......It always seemed that the snake charming thing had some sort of relationship with this myth. A woman not tempted by the serpent...instead... in control of the serpent. I can certainly see a Lilith metaphor. I'll stay away from the Freudian references.

Speaking of snake women, one of the most striking images I've ever come across is the serpent maidens in Hinduism. The Nagas.
Not really demons, but, as you will see, the image stuck with me when I created the daughters of Lilith.

Oh yes...and here is a contemporary Naga from the Bollywood film..."Hisss"


The reason I went into all of the information above is that I wanted to give everyone a point of reference. I wanted to show some of the various influences that went into the piece.
So finally...

It all started with a box I found in North Carolina. It was used to mold dynamite...well that is what the antique dealer told me anyway.

I knew I wanted to do a Lilith's Daughters piece, so first step was to start making the little succubi. I wasn't really sure at this point how the box itself would turn out.

Here they are now...aren't they purdy in all there different headdresses?
Compare them to the Hindu serpent princesses
..same spermy bodies.

So when all was said and done...after many mind-changing moments I finally got to here. The entire piece is about 4 feet long...and twenty daughters.

Here's a close up Lilith. It took awhile for me to get her coloring right. I wanted something cool and watery. By the way the metal skull came from foundry I was at in Bali.

In my stash of goodies I had a cast iron object that had the name Adam on it. It's above the glass eye.
And yes that is actually a life sized glass eye that I picked up in shop in Soho called Evolution. I also purchased a freeze dried bat while I was there.


One of the most frequent asked questions about this piece is in reference to the teeth. You can see them framing the daughters.

They are not real. They came from a dental kit that was used to make dentures. There were hundreds of them...I put quite a dent in the stash.


This little bit of text came from the scrap of paper I found on the floor as I was finishing the piece.
I thought it was perfect in reference to Lilith and Eve. Oh yes...that is from a revolver on the bottom. I thought it appropriate...also I think Judy is going to find me some Hebrew text that would be appropriate in scroll form. They will be placed in the cylanders.


This is a bad angle but above the daughters toward the center-left you can see one of the hands that is used to open the box when the daughters want to come out and play.

And the last shot I'll show is one that I think really represents the Sumerian source
Once again here it is the Sumerian version
So there is Lilith and her brood. Hope you enjoyed storytime.

36 comments:

yona said...

dang michael, i truly am impressed... you have done your lilith homework (obviously)... such an inspiration you are that at this very second i am almost wanting to jump in my studio and do some work of my own. At the very least i would love to see it in person. will u be bringing it to art and soul??? yona

Ann Renee Lighter said...

Michael, this post was SO interesting! Your work on this piece is fabulous, and being able to read the background information and view the images that inspired it makes it even more meaningful. Thanks so much for sharing.

BloggingQueen said...

[thoughtful wolf whistle] As my dad would say, "Hoo, Lawd!" I love following mythology through your eyes, man. I like to play Reference the Myth in my head as I examine your work. Marvelous, marvelous, marvelous.

peggy gatto said...

First, I loved having the background information.
Being raised catholic, I just knew it was a slippery snake!!!
I like the way they are a cross between a salamander, a snake and a mermaid(they were temptresses too)
This is an extraordinary piece. Over the top!
And I think the dolls are quite beautiful, yet dangerous.
Thanks michael!!!!

Lady Miss Tiff said...

Absolutely fantastic! Though I was already very familiar with Lilith, I really liked your information and how you brought it all together. Most marvelous indeed.

*jean* said...

woooowww - amazing work + amazing post....

thanks

azirca said...

Fantastic! All of Lilith's daughter's are incredible, each one unique with their adorning headdresses. I love how you have housed them in the little niches. Your attention to detail is second to none.
Kudos to you.

WondrousStrange said...

Amazing...horrifying...beautiful...
inspiring!!

Kim Tedrow said...

Well done, provocative, and thanks for the backstory, I appreciate the work that went into it

Vickie said...

Lilith & her brood are wonderful! The scrolls will be the perfect finishing touch. That reminds me of the Tibetan prayer wheels with scrolls of prayers within them.The mythology of Lilith is always fascinating, but your masterpiece is magnifique!

ODD imagination said...

I obviously don't know my history because you just introduced me to Lilith for the first time. I rather like her and would have fled too.
Amazing and intricate piece and I love that you took the time to describe it. I would like you to say more about where you found Lilith's feet. It wouldn't be her without them.

Sarah .B. Scott said...

This is an amazing piece, so layered both visually and symbolically. I have always viewed Lilith as a sort of cautionary tale for Eve, to "keep her in line" so to speak. I've always loved Sumerian sculpture and relief, to me it is sensual and austere at the same time.

Anyway, I am very excited to take your class at Artfest in 2010! I have followed your blog for a few years now and find your work utterly remarkable.

Judiwithaneye00 said...

I think I better read the bible - they left Lilith out of the story in Sunday school class. As dark as you work appears to be sometimes - there is always that wry little twist of humor. I love this piece. Took a quiz on FB today "What Crazy Bitch are you?" I think I would prefer to be Lilith rather Sinead O'Connor. Thanks for the background stuff, Mr. Demeng. That really IS a dynamite mold (how appropriate), I have seen them before.

Lisa South said...

I've always been fascinated with the story of Lilith and I think you've really done her justice with this piece. It's gorgeous and I can't get over how perfect that "Adam" piece fits in - what a score! The teeth (even though fake) definitely add to the overall creepiness factor and the little babies are so adorably evil looking! I love their spermy little shapes and individual head pieces!

cynthia said...

Too bad kids in most American schools are not taught mythology (or anything else, for that matter) using your art form. The students would remember every little detail of the lesson forever using this approach. Well done, Michael.

Julie Prichard said...

Excellent, Michael..really!

deMeng said...

..thanks everyone for the kudos about the Lilith piece. Its always nice to be rewarded and know that all the hard work was worth the effort.

I just decided...I will be bringing Lilith to Portland Art and Soul next week. So if you want to see her and the girls in person that will be one opportunity.

see some of you there.

rscoach said...

Incredible, Michael - loved the background commentary - I love the whole piece but especially love the little daughters - each unique and so intricate with their little headdresses - the attention to detail in this piece is wonderful - I have always loved the story of Lilith - as you may or may not know there is a Jewish feminist magazine named for her which I subscribe to - thanks for sharing - have fun in Portland - xo

Angie in AZ said...

Wow Michael... it's so YOU! LOL! Love the story background. I'd love to know how you created the serpent bodies! And, I have to say, I think Judy is rubbing off on you just a tad. I see some influence.

Hey, did you ever get a message from me offering to send you a tiny doll that looks like Medusa? Let me know if you want it. Shoot me your addy and I'll stick her in the mail. She was road kill I found in the alley and I swear, her hair is like Medusa and is made of string instead of "doll hair". She is screaming your name, I tell ya'. I'll resend a photo if you want to see her.

Kathy Pinkerton said...

Michael, "Lilith's Daughters" is terrific. Love the back story with pictures...especially the carnival pictures, the snake charmers and the "Hiss" image...never saw those before, very cool. As always you surprise and delight us with a deep, dark and humorous work! Here's something for your amusement; The Snake Dance on UTube, from the Bollywood movie "Bride and Predjudice"...kind of goes with the others in a nutty way. Thanks for sharing the context of your work with us. kp

Yve said...

I didn't know too much about Lilith but now the femenist connection makes sense. Kind of reiterates just how male-oriented organised religion is, men have souls women are just there to tempt or be used!

Your work is truly amazing and so much thought an skill has gone into it. Stunned :o)

cindy shake said...

Now it will be hard to keep a straight face the next time I meet anyone named "Lilith!" Very hip components. Thanks for sharing the creative process -the best part.

burgundybelle said...

Do you remember Lilith on the old "Cheers" sitcom? I don't think the choice of her name was a coincidence. This piece is deMeng spooky and the source of dreams. Soooo good.

Deb said...

My gawd, that's awesome!

Kim said...

Fabulous piece and great back ground to help with the story. All those little serpentine babes look amazing. Love all the little touches in the piece that build up the overall story. Great job!

Suze said...

ok..now you're starting to scare me !!!

XXOOO

Tecu'Mish said...

FABULOUS!

LizNess said...

Beautiful! Also, caught you more recent post -- can't wait to see this in person (see you at vendor night)! =)

Sam Marshall said...

Hi Michael,
I loved this story and the imagery behind your creation.

Kim said...

Michael--what a fascinating piece! Thank you for all the background information--it makes your art piece even more meaningful! You are a true inspiration.

Boracay hotel package said...

This was my first time reading about Lilith.The story about Lilith was very interesting. Some of the pictures were weird and scary but they were wonderful. Thank you for sharing this with us. The story about Lilith was researched well.

Deryn Mentock said...

Michael, I was hoping you'd have this piece posted on your blog. I hope you don't mind that I grabbed a few of your photos to post it on mine. Incredible Lilith! It was great seeing you at A&S. It was one of the things that made it a truly wonderful experience!

Distressing Delilah a.k.a. jenn said...

uh, yes, I totally enjoyed storytime. Do you think you could have another one ready tomorrow! Never knew anything about Lilith..let alone her daughters! Superb piece!

Jen Crossley said...

Totally amazing out of this world Michael

kelsey said...

As soon as I started reading your explanation about Lilith it hit home with me...I've just finished reading Laurell K Hamilton's "Anita Blake" vapire series (all 16 books!) and there are references in them to the Lama, Nagas, succubi and plenty of "submitting"!!! lol

Another masterpiece of the darkest order!

zoe said...

holy cow, man, this is amazing! first of all, the information you gave was fascinating--that's the first time i've heard the lillith story told in just that way; a way which gives me a lot more to think about. and the images are certainly inspiring. but your piece is fabulous. fascinating! great stuff, thanks!