Friday, January 22, 2010

Lilith - Our Spirit in Exhile

Lilith entered my mind unbidden this afternoon. Legend depicts her as a gnarled old crone with leathery wings and red eyes. She is sometimes associated with screech owls and in a few cases she has the torso of a human female and the body of a goat. But, for me she is always a radiant woman. Her beauty is painful to behold and her touch thrills me and sets me free. She is not a goddess per se, but in my heart she is divinity reborn. I love her.

How she came to be associated with the Jewish creation myth is not entirely certain. Scholars love to debate such things and they treat their pet theories like abusive husbands treat their wives. The legend currently most popular tells us that Lilith was Adam’s first wife and when she refused to be sexually subservient to him Adam complained and God cursed her and threw her out of Eden.

Lilith was cursed for embracing her femininity and for the crime of asking her husband to respect and cherish her. She didn’t want to lie beneath him or have him rut behind her on all fours as if she were a simple animal. She was Adam’s equal even though he was to dim to understand this. Lilith saw her sexuality as a path toward union. Adam wanted to simply copulate and follow his baser instincts. It’s the age old struggle between the flesh and the spirit. Lilith knew that sex didn’t have to be mere animal fornication to perpetuate the species. It could unite us both in flesh and spirit.

Adam was a rapist. God for his part was complicit and punished the victim for her violation. Medieval legends of the succubus are thought to have originated with Lilith who was cursed to deliver all her children still born into the world. At night she would visit hapless men in their sleep and mount them stealing their seed. She especially loved to torment holy men and priests. But, each child would be born hideous and deformed and its body lifeless and limp moments after being pushed from their mother’s womb.

At the sight of these abortions Lilith would take to the night skies screeching in despair and rage. The villagers feared her call and believed that she stole away their children in the night and devoured them. Her lair was thought to be a dank cave cluttered with the bones of the children she had eaten. Clearly it was men who created this legend out of their fear of she “who bleeds but doesn’t die.”

I know this not to be true. Lilith – my Lilith is a gentle and powerful soul. I have been told by my neo-pagan friends that in ancient Sumer, Lilith was the earth. Wikipedia states that she was a Mesopotamian storm goddess or daemon. We know how you Christians love daemons. You’re like the football meatheads who dated the cheerleaders for status, but you really wanted to be with the Goth chicks or the nerd girls. You just couldn’t tell anyone about it.

Lilith’s migration to the Jewish creation myth is not well documented, but given that there is no such thing as exclusivity in religion it is easy to imagine how it got picked up along the way. Even Yahweh (The Goya transliteration of YHWH) is thought to have originally been a Sumerian storm god.

Dr. David Eller, writing in his book Atheism Advanced, says,

As complex as the religious picture appears so far, it is actually much more complex in reality. This is because any actual practiced religion tends to be a hybrid of various types of religion, as well a hybrid of various religions and even non-religions. It might be more accurate to say that these types of religions are bits or building blocks out of which an actual religion can be constructed, rather than being closed, mutually exclusive religions. The building blocks of religion can be combined in various ways, and they can be combined with bits from sources other than religion as well. (Eller, P20)

This is why the debunkers of Christianity can find elements of other god-man myths in nearby ancient Palestine and claim that Paul and the early Christians “stole” them, although, that may be unduly harsh as it would seem that our collective religious imagination appears to operate this way. In other words, all religions are made up, as my friend Jill will argue. We create religion to fill in the gaps that our knowledge has not provided. In the ancient world it seems understandable. Today it seems sad that we still do this.

Eve didn’t fair much better. She too was raped. The depiction of her encounter with the serpent in the garden reads more like a seduction followed by rape. Adam failed to protect her and defend her. When the cranky Yahweh came tromping through the garden Adam pointed his finger and blamed his wife. Adam may have been excommunicated from paradise, but Eve was cursed and disgraced. Eve is true intelligence. She gained the knowledge of life, Adam suckled from her like an infant at its mother’s breast. But, he did nothing to receive it. He drank from the well another dug.

The Genesis account states that God removed Eve from Adam. Adam was put into a deep sleep and created Eve from the flesh of the man. Adam was flesh and Eve his sparkling virgin bride was his spirit. She was the animating force that gave him life. She is the power or breath of the divine within each of us today. But, Adam committed the only true blasphemy – he disfigured the soul of humanity.

The Christian authority of the Middle Ages despised and feared feminine knowledge. The cunning women (from where we get the derogatory term ‘cunt’) or wise woman” were tortured and murdered with impunity. Only in the twisted mind of male authority could the skills of healing and hearth be considered to be satanically inspired.

Poor sweet, beautiful and tormented Lilith…

How many of these wise sisters and daughters did you welcome into your dark exile?

How much of your daughter’s blood did the earth soak up?

The divine feminine has a dark side too. She is every bit as bloody and dark as the divine masculine. I don’t subscribe to the saccharin traditions of post modern paganism that seeks to whitewash spirituality because of its weariness over the oppression of monotheism. As Jung points out, we do not become enlightened by imagining beings of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

We must bring the darkness within us out into the open light. That is perhaps the biggest difference between the darkness of divine masculine vs. the divine feminine. One is a bloodlust of destruction and the other seeks to transform.

Lilith is our spirit in exile. Until we become her lover cherishing her and making her our equal enlightenment will elude us. Lilith holds the torch of sacred illumination and we must enter her cave to receive it.

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