Why Lilith? The reason for the name behind the Apothecary.

February 9, 2012
Ishtar in her marital aspect

Ishtar in her marital aspect

My name is not Lilith. As many of you know, dear readers and customers of my Apothecary, my name is Sarah. Though many people name their businesses after themselves, the reason for using the name Lilith is a bit convoluted, and I often get questions about it, so I will try to be articulate about my reasoning here.

Lilith first appeared in ancient Hebrew texts as a demon or a monster, but I am not concerned about those earliest references which are controversial in their authenticity at best. More interestingly,  Lilith appears in the 8th–10th centuries in Jewish folklore as Adam’s first wife, created at the same time as Adam, and considered his equal, unlike Eve who was created from Adam’s rib.  In the 13th Century mythology, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she mated with the archangel, Samuel. Though Lilith is a name often used in reference to a feminine stance, I wanted to think deeper about this mythological figure and what she represents. The fact that she was Adam’s equal from the start rather than made to serve him, that she was fiercely independent, and strong in character certainly stand apart from the story of Eve. She took control of her own sexuality and copulated with an archangel, thereafter refusing to return to the Garden, which despite it’s earthly delights, was not quite up to par with sex with an archangel, I’m guessing. Call it a hunch.

Burney ReliefThis is an Babylonian image that is often associated with Lilith and in my earliest labeling, I used this image on all of my products. Called the Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE), this figure is apparently based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal. How perfect! The pairing of those two goddesses lends even more interest to the Lilith story, though the linkages may be only the red threads between them that exist in my mind. While  they may not be related to Lilith, the Assyrian Ishtar (or Sumerian, Inanna) is the goddess of fertility, war, love, and sex. Even as the goddess of fertility, she was not as kind and benevolent as you might think, and she was above all the goddess of sexuality and could be brutal to her consorts and lovers. That said, she had many faces, just as we humans do, and in a famous legend about her decent to the Underworld. There, Ereshkigal, the goddess of the Underworld, allows her to enter but only according to the rules. She must shed her clothing as she passes through each of the seven gates. When she finally arrives, she is naked and in a rage! Ereshkigal puts her in prison and sends 60 diseases upon her, but eventually Ereshkigal is commanded by the gods to revive her by sprinkling her with the waters of life.

And why am I telling you all of this? Because this descent and revival is so intrinsic to our life on earth as human beings. First of all, we need to nurture the many sides of our characters, and those may include facets we are not encouraged to present to the world, at least as dictated by our modern societies. We are not ‘encouraged’, for women especially, to present our anger, frustration, our deepest sexuality, our moods if they are not sunny and bright. We are told to be Superhuman in our ability to stay bright and lively and committed to everything, even when we are burdened with difficulties, with family troubles, with work, or even with the fatigue of our intense, modern lifestyles. Ishtar’s story reminds us of the need to feel our rage, to allow that descent to the Underworld and our darkest places, even if that means a temporary, quiet withdrawal from social obligations. We need to be able to confront our own demons, to even be assaulted by the emotions we feel, and then to have the space to seek respite, to nurture ourselves back to life again, thus the ‘sprinkling of the waters of life’ for revival. But it is important to note that these darker aspects of our nature are not necessarily needing to be expunged — they are part of who we are, and these dark places also need to be accepted as part of our whole being. There is a fantastic Jungian analysis of this mythology that was quite formative in my thoughts about this mythology, and also in my own journey,  allowing myself to feel and be respectful of the complexities of my inner world and deepest nature.

Bravery accompanies Her:
Ishtar the bold
Her festivals are the Warriors´ festivals,
The stimulation of the warriors at combat,
The rousing of officers
The liberation of armies
Her rage at combat,
Her enthusiasm in battle
Reveal Her true Nature
And demonstrate what Ishtar knows how to do!

So how does this all connect to me naming my business Lilith’s Apothecary? Well, quite simply it is a reminder to us all that we have every right to a firm footing in the world, that we have the ability to not only be equals with our peers, lovers, and mates, but that we can also allow the many parts of ourselves (those deep, hidden, or even dark places included) to exist in harmony and balance.  Using herbs, our plant allies, to nurture our deeper selves is just one piece of this need to attend to ourselves more fully.  In my small way, and despite more limited means than the large corporations we have come to know so well, I want to help provide men and women with the ability fulfill this important function with natural,  raw ingredients — minerals such as clay and mica; gifts from the animal kingdom like milk, yoghurt and honey; and oils, essential oils, and raw herb matter to nourish ourselves both inside and out. With these materials from the earth, we are able to nudge our bodies into balance, hopefully. Above all, the herbalist is concerned with helping a person achieve holistic balance, and thus it is also my primary motivation. By looking at the full person, we can help try to ascertain what needs should be met, and hopefully what we can suggest as helpful assistance, ideas, and suggestions for achieving that equilibrium that we all seek.

I do hope all of that makes sense. You’ll be happy to know that my new website, complete with herb consulting details, is only now waiting for me to tweak a few things and then it will be live very soon. If you have any comments, stories, or feedback, I would love to hear from you. xo ~ Sarah

Incidentally, you may be interested in my Ishtar blend, named for this very story and with the achievement of hormonal and emotional balance in mind. I just ordered some organic shatavari root so I can make you a custom blend if you would like to try it.

Ishtar root tea


Tamara’s Herbes interviews Lilith…er, me!

February 19, 2009

Herbally-inspired artisan and fellow etsian Tamara of Tamar’s Herbes has recently interviewed me for her charming blog as a featured seller. I thought I would share this interview for those who would like to know a bit more about what is “behind” Lilith (or who!) as Tamara’s questions are great. Don’t miss that last ‘random question’ for a fun bit tidbit or two! Thanks Tamara.

I am trained as a medical anthropologist and work full time in the public health sector. The intersections of disease, healing, and culture have always interested me, from historical, cross-cultural, and even philosophical perspectives. I’ve been studying herbal medicine for a number of years now, and when I first discovered herbology, it was a total “ah-ha!” moment — finally everything was coming together in a way that really resonated with my life. It’s my true passion! I am also a mother with a two and a half year old toddler, Maeve, and wife of Tony McNichol, who is an archaeologist and kindred spirit. I work a forty hour week and then spend between 15 and 20 hours more (at least!) toiling away at night in my basement workshop to create what is Lilith’s Apothecary, a vehicle for my herbal knowledge.

Well, first of all, Lilith does fulfill many of my creative needs. In that sense, I am lucky. I would love to be able to devote more of my life to the Apothecary, but at the moment, my day job provides an income that we can’t really do without. The tough part is not finding moments to be creative, it’s finding a way to make THAT my full-time job. Finding a balance between a full-time job and a ‘hobby’ that really wants to be a full-time endeavor is not easy, actually. Lilith is always growing! But that’s a good thing.

You mean, philisophically? I could answer this questions a hundred times over. I personally believe that a lot of the problems that we have as a species boils down to the fact that we’re just big apes at the end of the day. It sounds reductionist, but when you look at primate behavior, it makes more sense why we as humans do the things we do. That said, what we lack in biological superiority, we do have in the potential to be creative, wise, and cultured beings. I wish we could — as a species — tap into that aspect of ourselves more readily. Can’t there be more Ghandis? Capitalism needs to go, for one thing. It demands an underclass.

I think we all think about this. At the end of the day, I want to feel as though I have impacted people in a positive way. I don’t think there is a legacy that is more important than being a loving, positive influence on those you love the most. I’ve been to memorial services of academics, for instance, who were mostly estranged from their own children because of the all-consuming nature of their work. The negative impact that had on those children is probably worse than the so-called legacy of their academic contributions.

Yoga is a wonderful respite, but I haven’t practiced in a while. It’s really hard to make time for myself that isn’t “work” related, even in terms of Lilith. That said, Ikebana (the art of japanese flower arranging) has been a wonderful outlet for me. I study with an ikebana teacher of 30 years, Midori Tanimune, and she is an incredible influence on me. I have learned so much from her. I also make jewelry, and have a little site http://www.lilithsjewels1.etsy.com, and I do custom work for family and friends, which is a lot of fun.

Etsy, for as ‘expensive’ as it ends up being between etsy fees and paypal fees, has been a wonderful thing for me. I have learned so much about my business since I opened Lilith’s Apothecary in 2007. My photos have evolved, my products have evolved, I’ve been able to reach a much wider audience, and I get a real sense of what my market is and a deeper confidence in my product and what I have to offer.

In my studies of herbology, I learned how to make basic skin care preparations, including salves, ointments, syrups, linaments, tinctures, creams, and skin care products. I have always had sensitive skin, and I realized how superior my hand made products were compared to commercial versions. Family members started “ordering” products from me, and soon I was being commissioned to make things at christmastime as gifts. Once etsy came along, beginning to think about a real business began to take shape, and the etsy store has really forced me into a wonderful learning curve.

I love making bath & body things, but I also love herbal teas, which I offer in my shop, using my herbal knowledge, and I make jewelry, garden, love cooking & nutrition, and practicing ikebana. I hate to sound like a dork, but creating is really what I love to do most, whether it’s a dandelion and gruyere quiche or my latest ‘Boudoir Blossom Facial Cream’

I wish this was a full time business! Maybe someday it will be. It is not really a hobby though, either, as I devote 15-20 hours a week to the development of Lilith, on top of my full time job and family responsibilities. Do I *make* money? No, not really, but I am optimistic! Lilith is young.

Other crafters’ stories of success can be very inspirational (though sometimes it makes me feel a bit defeatest too). At the end of the day, just knowing that I would not ever really want to live without Lilith keeps me going. It’s too much of a wonderful creative outlet for me, and I absolutey thrive from the feedback and interaction with customers. Such a positive experience.

I love the creative evolution ~ the continual refining of a product as well as trying out new formulas and products.
The shameless self promotion that I know i should be engaged in 24/7 to really push these products and get myself out there.

I have no idea. But let’s say that in ten years, I want Lilith to sustain me financially.
That’s my dream. I don’t know if it will happen but that’s my dream.

I have a website that has been in development for a year now and a source of great frustration. Hopefully it will be together soon ~ that’s a different story. I don’t have a brick and mortar store and don’t forsee that happening for a long time, though maybe some day! I am starting to do some consignment and wholesale and it will be interesting to see where that takes me. mommaeve_christmas08

Random Question:
If you were having a dinner party and could invite three famous people, who would they be?

I would like to be really ‘clever’ with this question, but I think I’ll be self-indulgent and answer it as honestly as I can (of course it is somewhat impossible because there are so many people I’d love to sit down & share a glass of wine with). I am not sure if these famous people are supposed to be alive or if I can drag some back from the dead, but I’ll be doubly indulgent and go with the latter: Marcel Duchamp, Alistair Crowley, and Gertrude Stein. Now that would be an interesting party!


January 17, 2009

hm. twittering. I felt at first that I was just talking to myself (and that’s okay) in my attempts to find distractions during my day job, but then a cloud began to emerge … of…followers. A few I know well, a few I have never heard of in my life, though there is a tangential connection of some kind, and a few are loyal customers/acquaintances through Lilith. I am not sure yet what I think of the whole twittering phenomenon except that….
*sometimes it’s nice to just communicate a sentence or two to someone instead of feeling you owe them the big email ‘update’ as you’ve put it off for months.
*sometimes it’s just nice to kind of echo the banalities of your life (the bird that was flying around in your bedroom on a january morning, the fact that you watched Sillyville with your toddler, a yen for pumpkin muffins. Is this because of the fact that so much of our community is indeed Virtual?
Well…feel free to follow me on twitter (www.twitter.com/herbmuse) and I’ll be happy to exchange a few of those real-life-me moments!