Tamar Ettun’s Texts from Lilit
A play of communication—with each other, through veils of mysticism, and across space and time.
Texts from Lilit: 31 Cards to Connect to Your Inner Demon
(Self-published with SUNY Purchase's Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, 2022)
Booklet and 31 playing cards in a custom sticker tin box
Demons—historically feared yet respected, warded off in the name of health and home—are ineffable, less in their reputation as miasmatic bringers of disease and more in their resemblance of the human condition. They have been with us (at least) since the Neolithic era, materializing alongside the advent of agriculture, written language, and of course, organized religion. The word itself comes from the Greek daimōn, and has been translated generally as “spirit” and specifically as “lesser deity” and “tutelary deity.” The convergence of demon and deity is the basis of Tamar Ettun’s Texts from Lilit: 31 Cards to Connect to Your Inner Demon. The thirty-one cards share stories, advice, and pose questions such as: “Tonight, are you a trapped demon or a tethered divinity?”
Lilith has been conceived many times and in many ways throughout history. Her origin is in ancient Mesopotamia (the oldest known civilization in the world), unfolding alongside Judaic mythology. Her extracanonical story within the Abrahamic religions is as Adam’s first female counterpart, but upon refusing to be subservient to him (and to man in general) she is cast out and villainized as a child-devouring demon. She has since embraced the role of demon and currently lives on the dark side of the moon, and in 2020 she finally got a smartphone. In Ettun’s ongoing project Lilit The Empathic Demon, you can text “SUMMON” to 833-575-1049 to receive her ancient advice and astrological forecasts. As a book, Texts from Lilit is a tin box that contains thirty-one cards and an explanatory zine. The cards resemble a tarot deck and function as a game of omen-cum-advice, each featuring artwork by Ettun that she describes as “demon drawings and somatic exercises, which correspond to the movement of planets and astrological archetypes.” The reverse of the card resembles the screen of a smartphone with text conversations between Lilit and an unidentified person. Recto and verso are interchangeable; cosmic and personal narrative is communicated equally via text and image.
Card 13 contains a script reminiscent of the petroglyphs of cave art from 20,000 years ago in a style similar to that executed by a child with crayon on paper. Blue lines are curved and angular, a yellow circle here and red triangle there. The text exchange on the reverse side reads, “In 2-6 CE Mesopotamia (now Iran and Iraq), people used to draw a picture of me on a bowl, and write a spell around it, in a spiral. When the bowl was complete, they turned it upside-down at the entrance of their homes to trap me.” Ettun’s project reenacts this exact ritual, incorporating figures that appear to be metamorphosing and glyphs and sigils that could be summoning, protecting, portending. Writer, curator, and editor of Texts from Lilit Meghana Karnik writes in the zine (like a pamphlet explaining the rules of a game), “Ettun began re-drawing the shapes and symbols created by artist-healers [who made these incantation bowls], learning from their hands until the style became familiar. Eventually, the artist made drawings of her own demons, choosing to depict them as free and without the traditional imagery of being bound with chains or ropes.” One figure’s arm curves in an “S” shape, leaves growing from an outstretched arm as in Ovid’s transformation of Daphne; a set of hands divided and numbered recall the style of artists Betye Saar and Basquiat; a large blue head with what appears to be a yellow goose emerging from its third eye is reminiscent of the work of Odilon Redon and the Symbolists. The cards form a visual textile woven with many mythologies, public and private, known and unknown.
Texts from Lilit is a play of communication—with each other, through veils of mysticism, and across space and time. Lilith has been associated with the Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war, known as Inanna to the Sumerians and Ishtar to the Akkadians. Lilit asks us to interact with the foundational stories of goddesses through written language itself from the rectangular clay tablets of cuneiform (the oldest known writing system) to the rectangular devices of copper, silver, cobalt, and gold that transfigure our words in an alchemical process through the electromagnetic waves of cellular towers and light signals of fiber optic cables. This fluid process resists the linear reading of a bound book; the cards can be ordered and shuffled into whatever dialogue the user wishes.
Ultimately, Ettun’s art book aims to be a healing tool. The subconscious sources of your pain, the parts of yourself that you are afraid of or would rather discard, these all point to what in Jungian psychology is called the shadow self. Lilit wants you to face this repressed part of yourself—your demons. She names demons to watch out for: “The imposter syndrome demon, the demon of ambivalence, the demon of shaming, the demon of rejection, the demon of unfulfilled fantasies, the demon of void, the demon of isolation, the demon of self-doubt.” It seems these twenty-first century demons are quite ancient. Lilit directs our attention, “Look for me in the middle of the night, under your bed, inside your pillow, in the holes of your sleeves, inside your pudding.”