A history of a demonic tradition that was stolen from women – and then won back again.
The history of a demonic tradition that was stolen from women – and then won back again.
Demonic temptresses – from siren-mermaids to Lilith – are well known today, and their mythology focuses around the seductive danger they pose to men. But the root of these figures can be traced back 4,000 years and in their earliest incarnations they were in fact demons worshipped and feared by women: like Lamashtu, the horrific talon-footed, serpentine monster, who strangled infants and murdered pregnant women, or the Gello, the ghost of a girl who had died a virgin and so killed expectant mothers and their babies out of jealousy.
This history of a demonic tradition from ancient Mesopotamia to the present day – from Lamashtu and Gello, to Lamia and Lilith, and mermaids and vampires – shows how these demons were co-opted by a male-centred society, before being recast as symbols of women's liberation. We also learn what this evolution can tell us about the experience of women and womanhood: the danger of childbirth, changing attitudes towards sexuality and the movement for women's rights.