The magical origin of the lullaby

I have my dear friend and a wonderful author and actor, Mark Gollaher, to thank for sending me on the track of this tidbit. The word “lullaby” comes from “Lilith abi” which is apparently Israeli for “Lilith, go away.” Again, thanks Mark!


Lullabies: sweet cooing sounds that lull a precious baby to sleep; bonding moments between mother and child. How could these possibly tie into the dark legends of Lilith? I want to state up front that no one knows for sure if “Lullaby” actually comes from “Lilith abi.” There are many origin stories. However, after the research I’ve been doing, this one makes as much sense as any other. Understand I am talking about legend – not an actual Lilith.

Babylonian lullaby tablet from 4000 BC now resides in the British Museum
Babylonian lullaby tablet from 4000 BC now resides in the British Museum

Let’s go back to the first actual record of a lullaby. This beautiful Babylonian tablet from 4000 BC now resides in the British Museum. I’ve transcribed the translation but you can listen to in at The Universal Language of Lullabies.

Little Baby in the dark house
You have seen the sun rise
Why are you crying?
Why are you screaming?
You have disturbed the house god.
‘Who has disturbed me,’ says the house god?
‘It is the baby who has disturbed you.’
‘Who scared me,’ says the house god?
‘The baby has disturbed you, the baby has scared you, making noises like a drunkard who cannot sit still on his stool. He has disturbed your sleep.’
‘Call the baby now,’ says the house god.

Richard Dumbrill of the British Museum (an expert in ancient music) explains that the lullaby is a warning to the child. “They try to tell the child that he has made a lot of noise, that he woke up the demon, and if he doesn’t shut up right now, the demon will eat him.”

The article in the link is fascinating in that it explains the nature of ancient lullabies as being as much warnings and teachings as simply trying to put children to sleep.

If you have read my page on Lilith as the First Wife of Adam, you remember that legend has her leaving the Garden of Eden against both Adam and God’s wishes. Without rewriting what is already on that page, Lilith of the legend declares war on the descendants of Adam and Eve threatening to kill babies unless protected by the names of the three angels. Infant mortality rates what they were back then, Lilith became the bane of pregnant women and nursing mothers. Lullabies were thought to be a means of protection for the child. As shown in the lyrics above, the crying of the child could draw unwanted attention. It might even get you eaten by the demon.

Before we think “boy were they superstitious!” we should look at some of our own lullabies.

Most of the more classical are songs of protection. Here are a few.

Brahms’s Lullaby (Lullaby and Goodnight)

Original German

Guten Abend, gute Nacht,
mit Rosen bedacht,
mit Näglein besteckt,
schlupf′ unter die Deck!
Morgen früh, wenn Gott will,
wirst du wieder geweckt.

Guten Abend, gute Nacht,
von Englein bewacht,
die zeigen im Traum
dir Christkindleins Baum.
Schlaf nun selig und süß,
schau im Traum′s Paradies.

Literal English Translation

Good evening, good night,
With roses covered,
With cloves adorned,
Slip under the covers.
Tomorrow morning, if God wants so,
you will wake once again.

Good evening, good night.
By angels watched,
Who show you in your dream
the Christ-child′s tree.
Sleep now blissfully and sweetly,
see the paradise in your dream.

Traditional English

Lullaby and good night,
With roses bedight,
With lilies o’er spread
Is baby’s wee bed.
Lay thee down now and rest,
May thy slumber be blessed.

Lullaby and good night,
Thy mother’s delight,
Bright angels beside
My darling abide.
They will guard thee at rest,
Thou shalt wake on my breast.

Where our traditional English version says “Lay thee down now and rest” the original German version translates to the more ominous “Tomorrow morning, if God wants so, you will wake once again.” Both versions have angels watching over the child while the English version has the interesting error of changing the cloves (or sometimes carnations) to lilies, which are the flowers associates with Lilith along with the lotus.

All Through the Night

Once again, angels are assigned the task of protecting the children throughout the dark hours. They are particularly told to “let no peril harm” the little one, thereby protecting them from evil (unnamed) forces.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night

Angels watching ever round thee
All through the night
In thy slumbers close surround thee
All through the night
They will of all fears disarm thee,
No forebodings should alarm thee,
They will let no peril harm thee
All through the night.

I feel that our most disturbing lullaby has to be… yes:

Rock-a-Bye Baby

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Here, no exorcism is necessary against Lilith. No. This time we need to exorcise the possessed parent who put the baby in the tree top!

Rock-a-bye Baby
Rock-a-bye Baby

4 thoughts on “Lilith as the Origin of the Lullaby”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your origin of lullabies and have come to follow the same doctrines. I studied Art History and Literature at LSU to find I had read myself right out of the mainstream’s comfort zone for the southern Bible Belt and its staunch believers. I too have read the stories of Lillith, Adam’s 1st wife, and find them intoxicatingly interesting.
    Please let me know of simular articles, I would love to read them.
    Respectfully,
    Havis

    1. Thank you for your interest. I studied at LSU as well. I hope you will keep contact. My book is getting closer to coming out. I hope you enjoy it once it is published.

  2. I’m not sure where I read that the Term Lullaby came when Adam and Eve
    were trying to force Lilith to leave the Garden of Eden.

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