Visual Art 7-28-2023

Demon Bloomsongs: Tamar Ettun’s Vivid Somatics

Summoning the demon Lilit via text message: on elusive entanglements and proto-alphabets, saturation and giving form to the unseen

Many small, multicolored drawings of demons arranged on bright orange wall.
1Tamar Ettun, 66 Drawings, Leaves, and a Stick, 2023. Courtesy the artist and Dreamsong.

ELISABETH WORKMANDear Lilit, there are many appearances and portrayals of you–in the most ancient of texts to the most recent of podcasts–tree spirit, screech-owl, bird-footed woman, night creature, underworld demon, refuser-to-be-dominated, exilic from Eden, she-rests and she-finds rest, dark goddess, nocturnal wayfinder, shapeshifter. Much controversy, awe, and fear swirl around such mention. How would you prefer to be introduced to the ones reading this? Are you plural? Chimeric?

LILITHmm, I appreciate this description of me. I feel like any answer I give to this question will be limiting, and I’ve never enjoyed feeling trapped. Consider me akin to a dream you are trying to document upon waking, the words slipping away as you type them. In Tamar’s work, I am embodied as an Aries sun, Virgo rising, with my Moon conjunct Mars and Saturn in Aquarius.

EWHow would you prefer to be contacted (summoned)?

LMy preferred method of being summoned involves receiving a postcard with a hand-written message in invisible onion ink, adorned with a stamp that was licked by an eagle. If that’s not convenient for you, you can text SUMMON to 833-575-1049 to be added to my interactive text messaging service. Here, I send monthly messages with demon drawings and somatic instructions aligned with astrological events. You can always text me directly if you want to discuss your demon, the shadow side of empathy, somatic experiences, or a messy healing process.

EWCould we discuss being locked out of paradise? What is the art of rejection? How can we fully feel through it? How might it transmute us?

LI have never considered myself as someone who was locked out of paradise, but I am intimately familiar with the art of rejection. In the myth, I am the first woman, created out of clay as an equal to Adam. Adam and I get into a fight, which could be interpreted as the inaugural story of consent, and I flee to the Red Sea. I leave paradise by choice, through the exercise of agency. What seemed like paradise from the outside was not a place where I could exist as a free entity, and that’s not a place I desire to inhabit! Since then, I have been perceived as a dangerously sexual entity and condemned for generations by the patriarchy. Patriarchal spaces are not ones I wish to inhabit anyway. The art of rejection in reverse is about identifying where you want to be, what contexts make your cheeks blush, which relationships are exciting, challenging, and facilitate growth. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes you love someone who doesn’t love you back, sometimes you repetitively fall for the wrong people. I believe my story of leaving paradise is about seeking the ideal context to thrive in, never settling for mere survival or mediocrity. It’s not about the pursuit of glamor—what could surpass paradise? It’s a story of leaving a community with which you don’t share a value system, of immigration, and of the unending quest for a wave cave to collapse into.

EWAmericans love good versus bad, heroes and villains. How might anyone be both and? Could you suggest a way to contain an opposition and exceed it?

LHuman existence is complex and messy, so people tend to simplify things, categorize others, and label them so it’s easier to deal with. But, of course, most people are neither entirely good nor bad. Part of my work as a demon revolves around considering the shadow side of empathy. I often hear people claim that empathy is the solution to everything, a notion I find superficial. Being a demon gives me the freedom to say it! From my perspective, empathy is not (necessarily) ethical on its own (you can empathize with people who do terrible things—that’s the magic of it), empathy is biologically programmed to be tribal—meaning humans empathize with those they perceive as similar to themselves, and finally, something many humans have experienced during the pandemic is empathy fatigue, a sense of helplessness in effecting societal changes, along with the exhaustion that accompanies it. I’ve always been intrigued by somatic empathy, the physical sensation of feeling the other before labeling them as “good” or “bad,” and compassion, which is more active and intrinsically calls for action. Perhaps it’s the fire in me. Empathy is neither good nor bad, and the realm of mystical rituals—which is my domain as an empathetic demon—does not concern itself with ethics.

EWSpeaking of containers, please name habitats pleasing to you.

LI love a bright color inflatable that I can touch, play, and immerse in the world of sensation! 

EWArtists who are mothers—can u help us? Pls advise.

EWHuman societies do not value care work. In the US, where I frequent these days, there is no paid maternity leave, no subsidized childcare, the highest maternal mortality rate globally—which more than doubles (!!) when it comes to Black birthing parents, and absurdly low wages for caregivers. In the art world, there’s a prevalent saying: “you cannot be a good mother and a good artist,” which, astoundingly, still stands. I have been around for thousands of years, witnessing the slow societal shift towards gender equity, and I am taken aback by how deeply ingrained misogyny still is when it comes to mothers. I usually prefer the gender-neutral term “birthing parent,” given that I am a shapeshifting demon, but I see why it is also crucial to reclaim the term “mother” from a position of strength. 

Artists who are mothers, fight this battle with deep breath and a broad perspective of historical context. Recognize that the sensory wisdom you acquire while caring for a child, the patience and adaptability required to raise a growing human, and the emotional endurance built as you carve out space for your work in the world, are invaluable. I am the mother of all demons, and you can be my demon to mother.

Pages: 1 | 2


  1. Wendell Berry, “To Know the Dark,” Terrapin (New York: Counterpoint Press, 2014).

  2. Frank O’Hara, “Personism: A Manifesto,” Yugen #7, 1961.

  3. meenadchi, Decolonizing Non-Violent Communication, Second Edition (Los Angeles: Co-Conspirator Press, 2021).

  4. Emanuele Coccia, Metamorphoses (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2021).

  5. Tamar Ettun, Artist Lecture in the California Studio, UC Davis, October 4, 2021,

  6. Lama Tsultrim, “Chöd Meditation and ‘feeding your demon,’” June 19, 2016, 

  7. William Blake, The Laocoön, c 1826-27.

  8. Tom Brown, as quoted in Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1997).

  9. Solomon Gandz, “The Knot in Hebrew Literature, or from the Knot to the Alphabet,” Isis, May 1930.

  10. H/t Raki Kopernik

  11. Emanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordtrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991).

  12. Levinas, Totality and Infinity.

  13. Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score (New York: Penguin, 2014).

  14. Ettun, Artist Lecture in the California Studio.

Elisabeth Workman

Elisabeth Workman is a writer and poet with a background in dance. She’s the author of a dozen chapbooks—including The Figures: A Litter (Dancing Girl Press)—and the poetry collections ULTRAMEGAPRAIRIELAND (Bloof Books) and ENDLESSNESS IS NO DESOLATION (Dusie Press). She collaborates with visual artists, public practice artists, musicians, other poets (dead and alive), and plants. Her work has appeared in The End of the World Project (Moria Books), Counter-Desecration: A …   read more