Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Sibyls, Lamia, Lilith

The Libyan Sibyl, named Phemonoe, was the prophetic priestess presiding over the Zeus Ammon Oracle (Zeus represented with the horns of Ammon) at Siwa Oasis in the Libyan Desert.
The word Sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess. There were many Sibyls in the ancient world, but the Libyan Sibyl, in Classical mythology, Lamia, foretold the "coming of the day when that which is hidden shall be revealed."
The Greeks say she was the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, a Libyan queen loved by Zeus. Euripides mentions the Libyan Sibyl in the prologue of the Lamia. The Greeks further state that she was the first woman to chant oracles, she lived most of her life in Samos, and that the name Sibyl was given her by the Libyans.
      Michelangelo's rendering of the Libyan Sibyl, Sistine Chapel,                                                                  
In ancient Greek mythologyLamia was a beautiful queen of Libya who became a child-eating daemonAristophanes claimed her name derived from the Greek word for gullet, referring to her habit of devouring children.
Some accounts say she has a serpent's tail below the waist. This popular description of her is largely due to Lamia, a poem by John Keats published in 1819 Antoninus Liberalis uses Lamia as an alternate name for the serpentine drakaina Sybaris. However,Diodorus Siculus describes her as having nothing more than a distorted face.
Later traditions referred to many lamiae; these were folkloric monsters similar to vampires and succubi that seduced young men and then fed on their blood.

LAMIA was a child-devouring Daimon. She was a daughter of the god Poseidon, and the mother of the sea-monsters Scylla and Akheilos. Her name and family suggest she was originally imagined as a large, aggressive shark.
In one story, Lamia was a Libyan queen loved by the god Zeus. When his jealous wife Hera learned of their affair she stole away her children. Lamia went mad with grief, and tore out her own eyes. Zeus then transformed her into a monster allowing her to exact her revenge by hunting and devouring the children of others.
Lamia often appears as a bogey-monster, a night-haunting demon which preyed on children. She was sometimes pluralized into ghostly, man-devouring demon Lamiai.
The Greek word lamia means dangerous lone-shark. Such sharks were also referred to asketea (sea-monsters). As such it is likely that she was identified with the monstrous sea-goddess Keto. Both Lamia (Lone-Shark) and Keto (Sea-Monster) were said to have spawned the monster Scylla (the Rending One). Another child of Lamia was the boy Akheilos (the Lipless One) who was transformed into a shark by the goddess Aphrodite.
LA′MIA (Lamia). 1. A daughter of Poseidon, became by Zeus the mother of the Sibyl Herophile. (Paus. x. 12. § 1; Plut. de Pyth. Orac. 9.) 2. A female phantom, by which children were frightened. According to tradition, she was originally a Libyan queen, of great beauty, and a daughter of Belus. She was beloved by Zeus, and Hera in her jealousy robbed her of her children. Lamia, from revenge and despair, robbed others of their children, and murdered them; and the savage cruelty in which she now indulged rendered her ugly, and her face became fearfully distorted. Zeus gave her the power of taking her eyes out of her head, and putting them in again. (Diod. xx. 41; Suidas, s. v. ; Plut. de Curios. 2; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pac. 757; Strab. i. p. 19.) Some ancients called her the mother of Scylla. (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1714; Arist. de Mor. vii. 5.) In later times Lamiae were conceived as handsome ghostly women, who by voluptuous artifices attracted young men, in order to enjoy their fresh, youthful, and pure flesh and blood. They were thus in ancient times what the vampires are in modern legends. (Philostr. Vit. Apollon. iv. 25; Horat. de Art. Poet. 340; Isidor. Orig. viii. 11; Apulei.Met. i. p. 57.)

The Lamia: In this 1909 painting by Herbert James Draper, Lamia has human legs and a snakeskin around her waist. There is also a small snake on her right forearm.

 John William Waterhouse - Lamia 2

          Lamia, John William Waterhouse  note the snakeskin on her lap.

The Delphic Sibyl was a legendary figure who gave prophecies in the sacred precinct of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Pausanias claimed that the Sibyl was "born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal "nymph". Others said she was sister or daughter to Apollo. Still others claimed the Sibyl received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Themis, who passed it to Phoebe. The Delphic Sibyl has sometimes been confused with the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo who gave prophecies at the Delphic Oracle. The two are not identical, and should be treated as separate figures.

 Michelangelo, Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel

The Erythraean Sibyl was sited at Erythrae, a town in Ionia opposite Chios.
Apollodorus of Erythrae affirms the Erythraean Sibyl to have been his own countrywoman and to have predicted the Trojan War and prophesised to the Greeks who were moving against Ilium both that Troy would be destroyed and that Homer would write falsehoods.                                                       

Michelangelo,  The Erythraean Sibyl

The sibyl who most concerned the Romans was the Cumaean Sibyl, located near the Greek city of Naples, whom Virgil's Aeneas consults before his descent to the lower world (Aeneid book VI: 10). Burkert notes (1985, p 117) that the conquest of Cumae by the Oscans in the 5th century destroyed the tradition, but provides a terminus ante quem for a Cumaean sibyl. It was she who supposedly sold to Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, the original Sibylline books (q.v.). Christians were especially impressed with the Cumaean Sibyl, for in Virgil's Fourth Eclogue she foretells the coming of a savior - possibly a flattering reference to the poet's patron - whom Christians identified as Jesus.
   Michelangelo Cumaean Sybil                                            

The Persian Sibyl was said to be prophetic priestess presiding over the Apollonian Oracle; though her location remained vague enough so that she might be called the "Babylonian Sibyl", the Persian Sibyl is said to have foretold the exploits of Alexander the Great. The Persian Sibyl, by name Sambethe, was reported to be of the family of Noah. The 2nd-century AD traveler Pausanias, pausing at Delphi to enumerate four sibyls, mentions the "Palestinian Sibyl" Sabbe.

         Michelangelo Persian Sibyl                                   

 Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, Apollo and the Cesarean Sibyl



 Elihu Vedder  The Cumaean Sibyl                           

John Collier Priestess of  Delphi                                                                                 

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun – Persian Sibyl

   Aeneas, the Sibyl and Charon, ‎ Giuseppe Maria Crespi                 

In Greek mythologyCharon  is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.

  Jan the Elder Brueghel  Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld      
"The Sibyl [performing the rites of necromancy at the oracle of the dead at Cumae] first lined up four black-skinned bullocks, poured a libation wine upon their foreheads, and then, plucking the topmost hairs from between their brows, she placed these on the altar fires as an initial offering, calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell. While other laid their knives to these victim’s throats, and caught the fresh warm blood in bowls, Aeneas sacrifices a black-fleeced lamb to Nox (Night), the mother of the Furiae, and her great sister, Terra (earth), and a barren heifer to Proserpine. Then he [Aeneas] set up altars by night to the god of the Underworld [Hades], laying upon the flames whole carcases of bulls and pouring out rich oil over the burning entrails. But listen! - at the very first crack of dawn, the ground underfoot began to mutter, the woody ridges to quake, and a baying of hounds was heard through the half-light: the goddess was coming, Hecate. [a path then opened up for the Sibyl & Aeneas to travel down to Hades]." - Virgil, Aeneid 6.257
    Dosso Dossi (Italian, 1490-1542) – Sibyl                              

   Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sibyl                            

       Andrea del Castagno – Sibylle    

 Edward Burne- Jones A Sibyl

John William Waterhouse Consulting the Oracle       

  Tibetan Buddhism

In Tibet, oracles have played, and continue to play, an important part in religion and government. The word "oracle" is used by Tibetans to refer to the spirit that enters those men and women who act as media between the natural and the spiritual realms. The media are, therefore, known as kuten, which literally means, "the physical basis".
The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India, still consults an oracle known as the Nechung Oracle, which is considered the official state oracle of the government of Tibet. The Dalai Lama has according to custom, a custom that has endured for centuries, consulted the Nechung Oracle during the new year festivities of Losar. Nechung and Gadhong are the primary oracles currently consulted; former oracles such as Karmashar and Darpoling are no longer active in exile. Another oracle the Dalai Lama consults is the Tenma oracle, for which a young Tibetan woman is the medium for the goddess. The Dalai Lama gives a complete description of the process of trance and spirit possession in his book Freedom in Exile.  


In ancient India, the oracle was known as Akashwani or Asariri (Tamil), literally meaning "voice from the sky" and was related to the message of god. Oracles played key roles in many of the major incidents of the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. An example is that Kansa, the evil uncle of lord Krishna, was informed by an oracle that the eighth son of his sister Devaki would kill him. There are still a few existing and publicly accessible Oracles in India.


Main articles: Oracle bone script and Oracle bone
Oracles were common in many civilizations of antiquity. In China, the use of oracle bones dates as far back as the Shang Dynasty, (1600–1046 BC). The I Ching, or "Book of Changes", is a collection of linear signs used as oracles that are from that period. Although divination with the I Ching is thought to have originated prior to the Shang Dynasty, it was not until King Wu of Zhou (1046–1043 BC) that it took its present form. In addition to its oracular power, the I Ching has had a major influence on the philosophy, literature and statecraft of China from the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – AD 256).

ORESTES AT DELPHI   Museum Collection: British Museum, 350 -340BC

Orestes seeks refuge from the avenging Furies (Erinyes) of his mother Clytemnestra at the shrine of Delphi. He grasps hold of the omphalos stone beneath the sacred tripod as a suppliant of the god. Apollo receives him, and turns to face one of the pursuing Erinyes. He is wreathed in laurel, and holds a laurel branch staff. On the other side stands Athene, Orestes' patron-goddess, who has guided him to the altar. She wears a helm and her gorgon-headed aigis cloak. Above her is the ghost of Clytemnestra, who drives the Erinyes against her son to avenge the crime of matricide. The two Erinyes are depicted as huntresses, wearing short-skirts and hunting boots. Their arms and hair are wreathed with poisonous serpents. One of the pair is winged.

In Greek mythologyOrestes  was the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. He is the subject of several Ancient Greek plays and of various myths connected with his madness and purification, which retain obscure threads of much older ones.

Let's go back to Lamia again.
Later traditions referred to many lamiae; these were folkloric monsters similar to vampires and succubi that seduced young men and then fed on their blood.
In folklore traced back to medieval legend, a succubus (plural succubi) is a female demon appearing in dreams who takes the form of a human woman in order to seduce men, usually through sexual intercourse. The male counterpart is the incubus. Religious traditions hold that repeated intercourse with a succubus may result in the deterioration of health or even death.

         Johann Heinrich Fussli, The Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Women
An incubus (nominal form constructed from the Latin verb, incubo, incubare, or "to lie upon") is a demon in male form who, according to a number of mythological and legendary traditions, lies upon sleepers, especially women, in order to have intercourse with them. Its female counterpart is the succubus. An incubus may pursue sexual relations with a woman in order to father a child, as in the legend of Merlin.

Incubus, coloured aquatint.Walker, Charles: The encyclopedia of secret knowledge

Lilith is a character in Jewish mythology, found earliest in the Babylonian Talmud (completed between 500 and 700 AD/CE), who is generally thought to be related to a class of female demons Līlīṯu inMesopotamian texts.

Direct Talmudic References

b. Erubin 18b
Rabbi Jeremia ben Eleazar said, "During those years (after their expulsion from the Garden), in which Adam, the first man, was separated from Eve, he became the father of ghouls and demons and lilin." Rabbi Meir said, "Adam, the first man, being very pious and finding that he had caused death to come into the world, sat fasting for 130 years, and separated himself from his wife for 130 years, and wore fig vines for 130 years. His fathering of evil spirits, referred to here, came as a result of wet dreams.

b. Erubin 100b
Lilith grows long hair.

b. Nidda 24b
Lilith is a demoness with a human appearance except that she has wings.

b. Nidda 24b
 is a demoness with a human appearance except that she has wings.
b. Shab. 151b
Rabbi Hanina said, "One may not sleep alone in a house, for 
Lilith takes hold of whoever sleeps alone in a house."

b. Baba Bathra 73a-b
Rabba bar bar Hana said, "I once saw Hormin, a son of 
Lilith, running on the battlements of Mahoza.... When the demonic government heard of it, they killed him [for showing himself]."

Talmud citations are informed by the translations of I. Epstein. (The Babylonian Talmud. London: Socino Press, 1978) and Raphael Patai, Patai81, pp. 184f.).

 Direct or Possible Biblical References
Isaiah 34:14f
Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.
There shall the owl nest
and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow

Lilith in the Dead Sea Scrolls

The translation is that of Florentino Garcia Martinez. .

And I, the Sage,
declare the grandeur of his radiance
in order to frighten and terrify
all the spirits of the ravaging angels
and the bastard spirits,
demons, Liliths, owls and [jackals...]
and those who strike unexpectedly
to lead astray the spirit of knowledge....

John Collier, Lilith 

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lilith