This one might be a little controversial, but I've given this subject a lot of attention and research. I'll do my best to cover this entity with respect and with accuracy.
As popular as she's become in recent years, it's hard to pin down exactly who or what Lilith is. The earliest mention of Lilith as Adam's first wife came from The Alphabet of Ben Sirach, a midrash that's mostly satirical in nature. This seems to be the most commonly accepted version of her, but even this version has multiple interpretations.
It's speculated that Lilith and Adam were made at the same time from the same soil, and that they may have even been the same being at one time. However, they couldn't agree on how things should run. Lilith didn't want to "lie below" Adam, which could be taken literally as in a sexual position or figuratively in that she wanted to be treated as equal to him. They fought and she left. Specifically, she spoke the name of God and flew away. Some angels tried to bring her back and threatened to kill one hundred of her children every day if she refused, but she stood her ground and promised the same back; she would kill human children.
Older texts that mention (or seem to mention) Lilith are the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible, and Inanna and the Hulupu Tree. However, these texts only mention her (or a word similar to her name) in passing, so we can't even be positive that they were referring to the Lilith we "know" today. She's a very mysterious character.
Lilith has been linked to several older entities, probably the most popular being the lilin. For a long time, the Burney Relief was thought to depict Lilith, but it's generally accepted that it's more likely to be Inanna or Ereshkigal.
So... what can we figure out from all of these bits and pieces?
Each source seems to hint that she's defiant or dangerous. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible both list her with vicious animals.
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....
- The Dead Sea Scrolls
Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.
- Isaiah 34:14
The above Bible verse depends heavily on which translation you're reading. Sometimes "Lilith" is left as-is, but sometimes it's translated to "screech owl" or "night creature."
The story of Inanna and the Huluppu Tree also has Lilith listed as an adversary along with a couple of vicious creatures.
Then a serpent who could not be charmed
Made its nest in the roots of the Huluppu-tree.
The Anzu-bird set his young in the branches of the tree.
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.
So from these four sources (The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Bible, Inanna and the Huluppu Tree, and The Alphabet of Ben Sirach), we see a common thread: Lilith is always shown in a negative light. We also see a trend of her being associated with birds, snakes, and trees, especially in The Alphabet of Ben Sirach and Inanna and the Huluppu Tree. The "bird" association shows up again in the Bible verse, where her name is sometimes translated as "screech owl."
The source most people these days point to is the Alphabet of Ben Sirach, given that it has the most information for us, so that's the main basis for my understanding of her.
Jewish folklore has built onto this story to make her the reason for miscarriages and SIDS (okay, she said she kills human babies, makes sense). She also has morphed over time into Samael's consort/wife (makes sense, they both defied God) and a succubus (if you take Ben Sirach literally, she was sexually dominant).
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Lilith. I’ve been working with her for nearly a decade. My original understanding of her was the very new age idea, the OG feminist, that whole thing. And I still can certainly see that interpretation of her. However, I learned more. I found the Alphabet of Ben Sirach and learned how Lilith has been viewed traditionally by Jewish people. I learned that she kills human babies. After that, some of my work with her involved asking her not to take fetuses and newborns from my friends and family.
Digging for authentic information about Lilith is exhausting. There’s so much new age fluff to sort through. Don’t get me wrong, I love new age fluff, but not when it’s appropriative, which is… often.
So many people don’t do the proper research. They think the Burney Relief depicts Lilith— if they even know the name of the image at all— but it most likely doesn’t. They think Lilith is a protector of women, but there’s nothing in the original texts to support that. She protected herself. She left Eden because she didn’t want to be underneath Adam. I’ve even seen her referred to as a fertility goddess. She’s the opposite of a fertility goddess!
I wasn’t raised Jewish. I’ve seen many posts of Jewish people explaining why they don’t like the worship of Lilith by non-Jews, and I want to be respectful of that. It’s a bit of a spiritual crisis for me. It’s important to show that we can and should do some self-reflection and deep soul-searching when faced with something we find unpleasant or difficult. At the very least, we can listen and try to correct misinformation, which is my goal here. I believe that I still have some thinking to do before I can make a solid decision.
Got a little personal there at the end, but vulnerability is a virtue.