The Myth of Lilith
I find it very interesting that Lilith evokes so much emotional response in people. In my experience when something evokes an emotional response in me, it touches an area within myself that needs to come to my awareness. If I have a negative emotional response to something then it means for me that a sore point in myself have been touched, an area in my shadow has been activated. It touches an area of boundary within ourselves.
Until recently I have been unaware that Lilith played such an important role in the Feminist movement, myself looking at Archetypes rather from a Jungian point of view, or from the perspective of the Mythogem as Stephen Larsen calls it in his book “The Mythic Imagination”.
“Mythogems – the ‘bricks’ of which mythologies are built. These elements, being of the stuff of psyche, are far from inert building materials, rather, like RNA and DNA, they structure the living processes in which they participate. And herein lies the urgency to our conscious rapprochement with the mythic world. If they are not monitored, myths can seize on behavior, as well as consciousness itself, in inadvertentent or compulsive ways. If we wish to avoid ‘being made fools of by our illusions,’ there is no substitute for becoming conscious of them …Stereotypes may well grow out of archetypes. We all have an intuitive idea of how stereotypes work: a fixed set of unexamined inner images and values substitutes for an ongoing open-ended experience of reality.”
In looking at myth we are looking at the shadow history of mankind. The undercurrent that really shaped our history. When looking at history from a logical perspective how often did the facts really motivate the initiation of a war? What really inspired Alexander the Great on his conquests against all odds? Most recently we have an only too clear example of the Iraq war. My father very wisely said to me that there are two things one should never get into an argument with others; politics and religion. Often when you come up against minds that are so set that not even the best logical reasoning will change there minds, you know myths are at work. It does not matter whether you are an Atheist, religious or spiritual, we all have myths we base our lives on. Myths do not rely on logical facts for their existence, nor does it limit their sphere of influence in our lives. It is only when we acknowledge their existence and bring them from the shadow lands of our unconsciousness into the light of our consciousness that we can see the real meaning of their existence.
Look at the story of the Holy Grail. If you track its history you will see it suddenly appeared in our Mythic Imagination during the time period of the individual awakening. (See my post on Evolution of Romantic Love.)
Whether the myriad of stories about the Grail are true or not does not matter, if you go to the core of the stories what remains? The image of The Grail itself. Why has the image of the grail so suddenly appeared to have gripped the imagination of millions. It is not the controversy, though the controversy is the mechanism that aids the spread of awareness of the image. What concept awakens in our consciousness when we see the grail cup? First layer – Intrigue, Hidden Mysteries, Power. What intrigue? What lies hidden? What are the secret plots, the hidden mysteries, the secret powers, but a reflection of the inner search for the Holy Grail of who we really are. Hidden amongst the intrigues are our highest potential. As many says the search for the self is like finding you way through a maze. Unraveling the intrigues of our conditioning. Says Joseph Campbell – The Power of Myth ;
“The theme of the Grail Romance is that the land, the country, the whole territory of concern has been laid waste. It is called a wasteland. And what is the nature of the wasteland? It is a land where everybody is living an inauthentic life, doing as other people do, doing as you’re told, with no courage for your own life. That is the wasteland … The Grail becomes the – what can we call it? – That which is attained and realized by people who have lived their own lives. The Grail represents the fulfillment of the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness.”
Perhaps we should say that when the student is ready the Myth will be there, ready to yield its secrets. In looking at the history of a particular myth, it is as if looking at the channels in subconsciousness being prepared for a conscious awakening, for another step in our evolution of consciousness.
Looking at the history of Lilith, it appears to be just as controversial as the emotions her Archetypal Image evokes. Some believing that she is a feminist invention.
“Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a professor at South Florida State University. If you actually go and read all of the literature on Lilith in all Jewish literature, you still won’t get the Lilith story that feminists espouse. When questioned on the myth of Lilith being the first feminist, he remarks, “That’s no myth. That’s just a story somebody made up yesterday.”
“Lilith was just a classic example of what happens when imaginative bias creeps into the historical method and composes itself into a curious form of exegetic mythopoesis that defies all laws of common sense and history.”
The Real Story Behind Lilith
1. Of or relating to the making of myths.
2. Serving to create or engender myths; productive in mythmaking
From Greek mthopoios, composer of fiction, from mthopoiein, to relate a story : mthos, story + poiein, to make; see kwei-2 in Indo-European
So I smile to myself, but is that not exactly what any myth is? Is one myth more worthy to be a myth than another? Are the classical myths with a scholarly approved record not a story someone made up yesterday, are not all myths mythopoesis? If you track the record of all well known myths they are composites of earlier myths, adapted through changing cultures. Where did the original myth, the uber/primal myth from which all others were derived spring from?
Alexander Marshack, a professor of Paleolithic Archaeology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum, writes in his book “The Roots of Civilization”
“The discussions is intended, instead, to show how one usually ‘sees’ what one is prepared to ‘see’, either by experience or training or by current concepts in the culture of the time. This problem of how one ‘sees’ in a cultural context is, in fact, one that research in ‘artificial intelligence’ has not yet been able to adequately address. There is no better instance of the problem of how one sees than the persistent and changing efforts by an army of authors to interpret the complex and variable iconography and imagery of the Ice Age, the images that authors have for so long presumed to be the primitive ‘beginnings’ of human art. Since we do not have the accompanying mythology or the antecedents of these traditions we are endlessly free to create mythologies and ‘origins’ of our own…
World mythology, in fact, offers a voluminous documentation of incessant and miraculous transformations that occur as part of the narrative equations that are integral to that form of story-telling. Folk tales are often structured with a persistent use of the concepts of change and transformation. Levi-Strauss spent a large portion of his life documenting the diverse ways in which myths and the characters in myths transform, not on the basis of transformations seen in trance, but on the basis of the transformations that are inherent and possible in the equationing, narrative, and mythic ‘story’ mode. Transformations, in fact, are documented in the mythic literature of all the world’s religions. These transformations are not derived from trance, but from the creative and mythic process itself. One reason, of course, is that periodicity, change, transformation, and the unexpected, are universally recognized aspects of both nature and culture, and changes even occur in individual personality. As a result they are processes that are endlessly elaborated, explained and altered in myth. These mythic modes are as variable and creative as any of the transformations or narratives that are seen or lived through in trance.
It may be of interest that, as an aspect of the human, these mythic modes occur as well in the theories and models created by ethnographers and anthropologists. There is another aspect of the problem. The person in trance usually ‘sees’ the mythic images of his own culture, not of someone else’s culture, and while in trance the person will make the mythic voyage prescribed by the culture, not the mythic voyage offered by someone else’s culture. The trancer will often also transcribe or translate the visions seen in trance into words, idioms, and images that are part of the the traditional imagery and mythology of that culture.
How and why did the manufacture of image and symbol begin? It began, it now seems, like language itself began, to mark and refer to the relevant, the meaningful and the recognized – and often also to the unexplained and unexplainable – to those processes, objects and relations that were recognized in the increasingly complex phenomenological and cultural realms of human observation. This thought and insight, acquired early in the research, began a second inquiry – into the evolution and function of the human brain, and into the role of vision and imaging in the referencing capacity of language, since language, after all, is merely a mode of refering to the categories and processes or equations of the visible or envisionable world. And it began, as well, an inquiry into the different and changing worlds of ‘realities’ that eye and brain ‘see’ and the different and changing worlds that the brain can create and has created. … Again, and repeatedly, one ‘sees’ and does not ‘see’ what one is prepared both to ‘see’ and to not ‘see’.”
Myth, symbol and ritual are intimately linked and is an essential part of being human. Ritual is an enactment of the myth and symbol contains the essence of the myth. It is really not possible for us to interpret ancient myth in a “correct way” unless we can actually place ourselves in the the mindset of those particular people, at that time and place, We can but imagine how it felt, how other people think, but we cannot know the totality for we do not know the shadow at work at that particular time. Yet in essence the human nature seems to have changed little over time. There were always individuals who were far in at advance in consciousness to there contemporaries – in ancient past the shamans, and those who lived simply an exoteric life. The more advanced human being is not the more “civilized” being but the more aware being. One who does not just live a reactionary life but consciously strives to dispel unconscious myths in their, but rather engage in a the creative process of mythmaking fully aware where they originate, for it seems as if we cannot live without myth, it is part of our emotional well-being, or perhaps not yet. There are some that say that it will be like looking the Medusa straight in the eye. “Frontal Medusa experience as expounded on by Trees Depoorter in his work “ Madam Morte.”
“The first Medusa experience I will discuss is the frontal one, experienced by all creatures who have tried to catch a direct glimpse of ‘Medusa’ – resulting in actual ‘Medusation’. A Medusa experience in fact always implies a confrontation. It means that one affronts oneself with something dreadful, something of which the sight/gaze is extremely threatening. The starting point is anxiety. (Ultimately, it does not make any difference whether or not this is actually a kind of “castration anxiety”, as Freud has explicitly claimed – what matters here is the sequence inaugurated by this dread.) In a frontal confrontation with Medusa, or more generally, with radical otherness, i.e., the completely unexpected, unknown, unwanted or incomprehensible, the “terror” of that moment can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, it can be content-related, as the instant of seeing something frightening, of witnessing horror; on the other hand, in a formal way, there is an experience of fright, the act of being frightened (being “scared to death”). A sudden “halt” occurs, a standstill, a paralysis of the self (petrifaction), a punctuation of temporal experience (or at least a sharpening of the victim’s awareness of the now). This overwhelming oppression causes an immediate modification (the condition before the confrontation can in no way be compared to the state following it). A frontal Medusa experience is, in fact, a metaphor for dis-continuity and as such, it fits with Jean Clair’s transhistorical paradigm of representations of Medusa in times of malaise and restlessness, times in which – as we have seen – the aspect of Medusa’s terribleness is emphasised.
Frontality is fatal. It puts an end to the continuous steady flow of life – hero or no hero. Frontality means a breaking point, a caesura, an exceptional condition in which normal rules and regularities no longer hold (as in: one does not “normally” turn into stone in the twinkling of an eye, just like that). What ensues this critical instant of fright(ening), is a return to a normalised predicament (i.e. a state of being/staying petrified), although this “normal condition” is totally incomparable with the “normality” preceding the Medusa moment. From a formal perspective, the frontal Medusa experience can be characterised by “suddenness”. If something is abrupt or sudden, it means it can not be fitted into the usual schemes, into our Lebenswelt or expectations (even in spite of the preceding fear, for a Medusian sight/gaze is so horrible that it exceeds any fearful representation). Suddenness is an indication of the/an other, a sign of that which hinders integration – much like a literal medusation would affect your integrity (that is, the integrity of your bodily ‘normalcy’, of your living and moving self).
In a collection of essays (Plötzlichkeit), Karl Heinz Bohrer uses the notion of “suddenness” as a heuristic device. In discussing a number of “Plötzlichkeit-Denker” like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Scheler, Schmitt, Benjamin, Bohrer tries to relate the category (of experience) and (temporal) modality of suddenness to the aesthetic. Since suddenness does not presume a metaphysical notion of substance, but should rather be understood as a transcendental category of perception, and since the aesthetic is linked to suddenness, beauty – according to Bohrer – no longer has to yield under the pressure of legitimacy. In some ways reminiscent of Clair’s observations about different attitudes towards the theme of Medusa, Bohrer states that in the course of history different stances towards ‘the sudden’ can be identified. For example, where Clair recognises a growing attention for Medusa bound up with the theme of Narcissus and a general malaise and disorientation of the self, at the turn of the twentieth century, Bohrer too spots a “Krise des Kontinuitätsgedankens und der nicht mehr als sebstverständlich genommenen Realität.” as well as a dramatising of ‘suddenness’. Very briefly, I would like to go into Bohrer’s discussion of Kierkegaard’s observations on this subject. Within the theological context of Kierkegaard’s thought, suddenness becomes demonised. In Der Begriff Angst, Kierkegaard writes “das Dämonische ist das Plötzliche”. Suddenness, for him, is essentially a characteristic of the appearance of Satan, of Mephistopheles. Therefore, the experience of the sudden/satanic can most successfully be conveyed to a spectator in mimic rather than a verbal way. Nothing can be as “grauenvoll” (dreadful) as silence. The mimic act can express suddenness, but that doesn’t imply that the mimic is to be identified with the sudden as such:
In dieser Hinsicht hat Ballettmeister Bournonville grosses Verdienst durch die Darstellung, die er selbst von Mephistopheles gibt. Der Horror, der einen ergreift, wie Mephistopheles durchs Fenster hineinspringt und in der Stellung des Sprunges stehen bleibt! (Kierkegaard in Bohrer: 48)
For Kierkegaard, the characteristic effect of being “struck” by a “sudden fright” is dumbfoundedness, which is in fact nothing else than another version of “saisissement”, the paralysis or petrifaction mentioned above in the context of a frontal Medusa experience.
In the third chapter of Méduse, Jean Clair has interpreted the heroic tale of Perseus’ triumph over Medusa as follows: one should never attack ‘the Other’, chaos, … in a frontal way. He calls this “the lesson of culture”. Medusa’s decapitation by Perseus is seen as an image of the structuring of knowledge and of a process of identification: in taking away the head of the Other, we gain our own reason. The detour of the “figurative” enables us to make “the dreadful and frightening” more concrete and to detach ourselves from it. As for Clair, this is the ultimate goal of every education: “Se rendre invisible à l’autre pour en supporter la présence en nous, ce serait là la finalité de toute éducation.” Those who are most adept at this activity of ‘exorcising’ are called “heroes”, or – more contemporary – “artists”. In other words, culture consists of becoming a “master of fear”, just like Perseus used to be. According to Clair, triumph over Medusa entails the founding of a new order, a new regularity. He stresses the remarkable fact that Athena finally appropriates the symbol of Medusa, as well as the fact that she, the incarnation of the most “typical” aspects of human nature (thought and struggle) hides herself behind the face of otherness, behind that which petrifies, blinds or maddens….
Probably there are no such things as purely unmediated/immediate experiences, just as much as representations can never be completely indirect, for every reflection in a mirror / representation / mediation is “experienced” as well. (there is absolutely no convincing argument to hold the ‘original’ object of reflection as ontologically superior to the image itself, quite the contrary). Nevertheless, the two Medusa experiences discussed in this paper can be meaningful or interesting – as limit cases: “ideal” without a doubt, but enlightening and instructive too, since this mythical ‘thought experiment’ indeed enables us to make some distinctions. Thanks to the metaphorical strength of the Medusa story we are allowed to sketch a meaningful duality, without being forced to conclude to a radical dualism.
So, one could roughly state that in an indirect Medusa confrontation, the other is never really seen or experienced (either out of a healthy distrust or out of a sensible caution – always beforehand), although it always really ‘is’ present ‘as’ representation. That way, one can never be ‘seized’ or ‘struck’ unexpectedly by paralysing experiences. Moreover, the very possibility of an experience of the uncanny is undermined, since no disturbing confusions of the familiar and the unfamiliar are likely to occur (inasmuch as the unknown is caught in mirror projections or bags). Not a being seized by, but a seizing of Medusa. Reasoning, very much like ‘suspicion’, seems to bring along the same neutralising effect concerning the experience of the uncanny.
“Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich” – Rilkes assertion indeed seems to hold within the reckless realm of immediate experiences, yet in the looking glass world of mediating and mediated representations, in an important way, it does not. “
To experience the “other” we still need an intermediatory means, for full or total experience might very well cause madness or death in us. This is also reflected in the old Tibetan story of the frog who lived all his life in a dark deep well. One day the frog decided to go and see what is outside the well … and his brain exploded. We need prepared channels of preparation in understanding the other. Our myth prepares us if we do not just unconsciously enact the ritual.
The importance of a myth is not in how it arrived but that it did arrive. Myths reflects the unconscious transformational processes in our culture and the evolution of our consciousness. However the world we find ourselves in at present is no longer influenced by a linear line of culture only. Most of us comes from a very mixed bloodline, as have been found in recent genetic analysis. So it is not surprising that our myths should also become hybridized. Then again all myth are hybridized versions of even more ancient myth. If you look at the myths of ancient Egypt you will find many versions of the same myth. Take Anubis. Many say that he is even more ancient than Osiris, but in later myths he becomes the son of Osiris, the shadow brother of Horus. Myth are closely linked to our dream process where logic have no meaning, yet it reflects our present state of being. How you interpret dreams is a very personal relationship with the symbols that appears in your dreams, it is a creative transformative process in itself. The symbol evokes an emotional response in you. It is said that in the Eleusinian Mysteries, after long preparations in the final ceremony a single ear of corn was held up and the sight of that symbol had a profound affect on the initiates, a sudden breakthrough in understanding, bringing a paradigm shift.
Current myth reflects current psyche. Myth arises spontaneously from our psyche and it seems to have done so since our beginnings.
“Opposing to the autonomic, fatherly and fighting God, an image has been dreamt of a most beautiful woman, goddess of lust and magic, and possessor of power words which submit and force the very power of God. Amongst the many exiles from Heaven (their name is legio), she’s the one which, most persistently, has passed through the darkness, getting near to human ear (and bed); and, though hidden or censored, her memory remains in our mythical heritage.” – Alejandro Arturo González Terriza
Using my mythical imagination, I do not have to stretch it far to say that with the global process of individuation well underway, it is not just feminist that feels rebellious against the “autonomic, fatherly and fighting Gods” of this world. There is a restless rebellious feeling awakening in most of the humanity that wants to think for themselves, decide for themselves, make their own mistakes, rather than be subjected to the mistakes of the “fatherly , fighting gods”. ( Look at the recent elections in America and “say no more …” ) We yearn for renewal of the land, and feel that the old institutions have grown old and stagnant. Drained of vital energy.
Lilith is for me just one of the aspects of the Dark Goddess. There is another aspect that strikes me. Just like humanity has become scattered and separate and speaks with different tongue, as in the story of the Tower of Babel so have we come to see aspects of the gods as separate. Not only are gods and godesses seen as separate (masculine/feminine) but also aspects of the goddess as separate. The 3 aspects of the goddess; virgin, mother, and hag/temptress are viewed separately. You can embody one but not the other. I will of course say the same will apply to the masculine equivalent.
I think the reason why Lilith was so embraced by the Feminist movement was because the myth represent a missing aspect of our womanhood. A part of us that had been exiled to the wastelands of our shadow. A part of us that was considered bad and evil. The angry vengeful Lilith comes to wreak havoc in our lives, not because she is evil but because she who had once been part of us are cast out in exile. As long as we believe that a part of us is bad we will be filled with guilty feelings, think of ourselves as lesser in some way, and we will act defensively in case we are found out. Evil is not perpetrated by self-confident, psychologically whole people, but by wounded, insecure people. Lilith in her wrathful aspect represents that exiled part of us that threatens to expose us as bad, or overwhelm us with “the devil made me do it “feelings”.
There is a very interesting British TV series called “Dr Who”. I heard some teenagers discussing which of the series they found the most scary, most declared it was “Impossible World” where the Devil was found chained in a black hole. Some of the kids said their parents would not let them watch it. This I find interesting. That which we simply cannot comprehend scares us most, the other, chaos. For evil is seen as chaos, beyond our control because we cannot comprehend it.
If I have to look for an Archetype in common perception that most represents what the whole woman would be like, I will look to Isis. Isis seems to represent what women were meant to be, before the separation occurred for whatever reason.