Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Some call him Robin Good-fellow,Hob-goblin, or mad Crisp,And some againe doe tearme him oftBy name of Will the Wisp.
Other names are "Kitty", "Peg", and "Jack with a lantern". "Poor Robin" sang:
I should indeed as soon expectThat Peg-a-lantern would directMe straightway home on misty nightAs wand'ring stars, quite out of sight.
In Shakespeare's Tempest a sailor exclaims: "Your fairy, which, you say, is a harmless fairy, has done little better than played the Jack with us". Dr. Johnson commented that the reference was to "Jack with a lantern". Milton wrote also of the "wandering fire",
Which oft, they say, some evil spirit attends,Hovering and blazing with delusive light,Misleads th' amaz'd night wand'rer from his wayTo bogs and mires, and oft through pond or pool;There swallowed up and lost from succour far.
"When we stick in the mire", sang Drayton, "he doth with laughter leave us." These fires were also "fallen stars", "death fires", and "fire drakes":
So have I seen a fire drake glide alongBefore a dying man, to point his grave,And in it stick and hide.
Pliny referred to the wandering lights as stars. The Sumerian "mulla" was undoubtedly an evil spirit. In some countries the "fire drake" is a bird with gleaming breast: in Babylonia it assumed the form of a bull, and may have had some connection with the bull of lshtar. Like the Indian "Dasyu" and "Dasa", Gallu was applied in the sense of "foreign devil" to human and superhuman adversaries of certain monarchs. Some of the supernatural beings resemble our elves and fairies and the Indian Rakshasas. Occasionally they appear in comely human guise; at other times they are vaguely monstrous. The best known of this class is Lilith, who, according to Hebrew tradition, preserved in the Talmud, was the demon lover of Adam. She has been immortalized by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
Of Adam's first wife Lilith, it is told(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve)That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive,And her enchanted hair was the first gold.And still she sits, young while the earth is old,And, subtly of herself contemplative,Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,Till heart and body and life are in its hold.The rose and poppy are her flowers; for whereIs he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scentAnd soft shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?Lo! as that youth's eyes burned at thine, so wentThy spell through him, and left his straight neck bentAnd round his heart one strangling golden hair.
Lilith is the Babylonian Lilithu, a feminine form of Lilu, the Sumerian Lila. She resembles Surpanakha of the Ramayana, who made love to Rama and Lakshmana, and the sister of the demon Hidimva, who became enamoured of Bhima, one of the heroes of the Mahabharata, and the various fairy lovers of Europe who lured men to eternal imprisonment inside mountains, or vanished for ever when they were completely under their influence, leaving them demented. The elfin Lilu similarly wooed young women, like the Germanic Laurin of the "Wonderful Rose Garden", who carried away the fair lady Kunhild to his underground dwelling amidst the Tyrolese mountains, or left them haunting the place of their meetings, searching for him in vain: