I’ve had the notion for some time of having prophecy play a role in my book… Of perhaps writing scripture for the novel itself, or at least small lines or cryptic riddles. My protagonist’s culture is somewhat Hebrew-esque, and I’ve always loved reading the book of Isaiah. It’s really epic — fire, brimstone, spirits — but also natural. It mentions oaks, cypress trees, vines and thistle; it’s very fantastic, and has always inspired my imagination and curiosity with its beauty and mysteriousness. Hebrew, from the limited exposure I’ve had to it via scripture interpretation when I was religious — seems to lend itself to prophecy with its dual meanings and paradoxical words.
So, I’ve been going through Isaiah and underlining cool images, striking phrases… It’s kind of like those few months I spent reading Lovecraft and Poe and writing down rarely-used, decadent words. It’s to create a kind of pool of raw material from which to draw, so when it comes time to spin tales out the ether, I’ll have more ideas brewing closer to the surface of consciousness. I’m trying to find ways of making my 1,000 words a day become less like pulling teeth.
Anyways, I came to Isaiah 34:14 which reads in my ESV: “And wild animals shall meet with hyenas; the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; indeed, there the night bird settles and finds for herself a resting place.” After ‘night bird’ there was a superscript indicating a footnote which read “identity uncertain.”
This intrigued me. An animal that has been figuring strongly in my story is what I refer to as a “bramblecrow.” It’s crow-like, but a bird of prey — more like an eagle or a hawk in its physique, though it’s black. It is only hunted occasionally, to be sacrificed in a ritual: and unlike the fowl hunted for food, it commands a type of respect. My huntress character, for which the hunting of the bramblecrow presents the greatest challenge and thrill — identifies with it herself. It’s like she’s hunting a sibling:
“Before the end came, before the crow was felled in an explosion of black feathers and misted blood — she saw its eye, briefly, as it was peeping out from behind a leaf. You are beautiful, it said to her. Kindred, and I come gladly to you.”
…Anyways. My point is, coming across a reference in Isaiah to an unidentified “night bird” (especially ascribed with a female gender) made me really excited. I wanted to know what the word was, and why it was so hard to translate. I had a sense that it was more than a mere animal.
Google led me to the bible.cc entry, which gave me all the different versions of the verse, where “night bird” was translated as “night monster,” “screech owl,” “lamia,” and “Lilith.” I had stumbled upon a sweet, monstery-feminist-bird thing! I got goosebumps. Apparently:
“The word לילית lı̂ylı̂yt (from ליל layil, night) properly denotes a night-spectre – a creature of Jewish superstition. The rabbis describe it in the form of a female elegantly dressed that lay in wait for children at night – either to carry them off, or to murder them. The Greeks had a similar idea respecting the female ἔμπουτα empouta, and this idea corresponds to the Roman fables respecting the Lamice, and Striges, and to the Arabic notions of the Ghules, whom they described as female monsters that dwell in deserts, and tear men to pieces… The margin in our version expresses the correct idea. All this is descriptive of utter and perpetual desolation – of a land that should be full of old ruins, and inhabited by the animals that usually make such ruins their abode.”
It feels like… Rather than having invented my monster… I discovered it independently, and then found evidence for it elsewhere, in an ancient text. Maybe being exposed to so much scripture left me with a subconscious imprint.
In any case, I plan to use this word as a name for either the bramblecrow or the monsters in my story… Which are connected to the hunters and bramblecrows anyway, it’s all an interconnected tapestry.