Thursday, October 31, 2019

Will the Real Eve Please Stand Up? by Luisah Teish

Painting by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

“The man named his wife Eve, because she was the Mother of all the living.''  (Genesis 3:20)

Eve was named by Adam according to biblical myth. The very fact that he is in a position to name her implies that he was first and superior.

The power to name is vested in the “owner” of things. Parents have the right to name their children because they gave birth to them and presumably will be the ones to care for them. This is a benevolent use of that power. When a woman marries, she takes on the last names of her husband. This implies that she is property which is passed on to her husband from her father. Presumably this is a willing change, or the woman may retain or create her own name.

But dominators usually reserve this right for themselves. As a child I was very aware that Slave Traders named their captives long enough to take them to the auction block; then the Slave Buyer changed the name again to identify his property. This was done with a branding iron and a whip, with no concern for the person’s sense of identity.

Explorers travel around the globe, move onto other people’s land, sink their flags in the soil and claim to have “discovered” continents full of people with ancient civilizations. The theft of the Americas from Native Peoples and the European colonization of Africa are clear examples. Today we are extending this practice to other planets.

The act of naming is usually followed by the more violent acts of exploitation, rape, and murder. Historically, women and gold are the booty of war.

So, Adam’s power to name Eve implies that he came first, as her master. But the biblical myth contradicts itself.

In Genesis I: 26-28 (all italics mine), we are told that God created them “male and female” at the same time—as twins and therefore equal.

“And God said ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all creeping things that creep on earth.’ And God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”

In my mid 20th century childhood this directive was interpreted to mean that Black people were pre-destined to work in the fields, and that enslavement was holy and endorsed by God. By declaring certain people as subhuman (the “primitives” in Africa or the Jews in Germany), this directive has been extended to justify genocide.

This directive has been misinterpreted as a license to exploit our natural resources, to drive the plants and animals into extinction, to destroy the water, the air, and the rain forests.

However, in cultures such as the Native Americans and the Indigenous Africans, a different myth guides the beliefs and actions of the people. In these cultures, the Earth is seen as a Great Mother who provides for us, who cannot be owned, and who is revered and cared for.

The story continues:

In Genesis 2, we are told that a woman is created from Adam’s rib. This is the direct opposite of natural reality wherein man is born from the body of woman.

What is the meaning of this contradiction? It means the editors of the bible rewrote the myth and obscured the symbols in the story. They left somebody out! Ministers and priests can be very selective when choosing verses from the bible to perform their Sunday sermons. The “woman made from man” myth is their story of choice. As a child, I read the verses for myself and wondered about all that “old stuff,” but it was taboo to question the bible, and there was no opportunity to explore the myths of other cultures.

As an adult, I was amazed to find out that there are really two women in the Genesis myth. There is the ever-popular Eve and another sister who appears unnamed. In Genesis 1, she was created as Adam’s twin and was equal to him. Her name is Lilith.

“Lilith is the female of Adam, or Adamah, the Hebrew feminine word for earth or soil. Both man and woman originate from mother earth, given form by God.” (The Book of Lilith, Barbara Black Koltuv, pg. 10)

A little more investigation made it clear why the preachers chose not to highlight Lilith in their sermons.

“In Talmudic lore Lilith was the wife of Adam before Eve. Like Adam, Lilith was created from the dust (Adamah) of the earth. She had been one of the wives of Samuel (or Satan), but being wild and passionate, she left her spouse and joined Adam in Eden. Lilith, however, rejected the subordinate role of women and refused to be subservient and submissive to Adam on the ground that since both had issued from the dust they were equal.” (Myth and Sexuality by Jamake Highwater pg. 22.)

Adam tried to have sex with her, and he insisted that she lie flat on her back. When she refused to take the submissive position, Adam tried to force himself upon her.

The culture of my childhood held the belief that a man had the right to sex from his wife anytime, under any circumstances. A woman who refused sex could be beaten and the man could even call upon the police to reinforce his right to sex. I often heard the men in my community brag among themselves about their power to “keep her flat on her back.”

This is myth as social charter at work in the home and supported by law.

But Lilith had a power greater than Eve’s. She pronounced the divine names of God, wrestled free and took off.

According to the Old Testament, a mob of Angels were sent to fetch Lilith, but she cursed them and fled to the Red Sea. That is where she settled. There she slept with whomever she pleased and had many children.

Lilith’s refusal to submit may indicate that she belonged to an earlier civilization, one which worshiped a Great Goddess, a wild woman known by many names—Belili in the Sumero-Babylonian pantheon; Lillake, the Divine Lady; and Lillitu, the Canaanite Wind Spirit. This earlier goddess was regarded as being powerful, creative and sexually free. She took lovers as she pleased, and the result of her lovemaking was increased fertility to the land in the form of a great harvest and increased fertility for humans in the form of children.

Because Lilith was not present in the Garden of Eden when the infamous apple was eaten, I speculate that she did not experience the “Fall” and its penalties. It would seem logical that she (like the Virgin Mary) is immune to the “curse of Eve” (menstruation), the labor of childbirth and eventual death.

But the preacher’s logic does not allow such a possibility, for this would be an incentive for women to embrace and embody Lilith. Instead we are told that when Lilith refused to return to Eden, a curse was hailed upon her by God who decreed that “one hundred of her offspring would die each day.” (Highwater, pg. 22)

Mythology tells us that she lives forever as a demonic, highly erotic night spirit who snatches newborn children (particularly males) and assaults the bodies and senses of men who sleep alone (presumably as an explanation for erotic dreams). (Eve: The History of An Idea, Phillips, pg. 39) Lilith, the Wild Woman of the Winds, blows the scene in the garden. So, another woman, Eve, replaces her.

The Genesis myth is a myth in a world of myths. It is not the myth of the world. More likely, it is the story of a culture imposing itself upon another with dire consequences for Woman, her self-image and her place in the culture. (For the full history of the patriarchal invasions please read When God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone).

My adolescent mind couldn’t analyze the symbolism in that myth, so I tried to dismiss the story as so much rigmarole and go on about my business.

All I knew at the time was that my woman’s body was supposed to be the downfall of all of creation. It was my fault that men had to be born, to suffer, and to die.

As we all know, Adam and Eve are given a warning by God about a specific tree. Eve wanders around the garden and encounters the snake. The snake (Lillitu?) tells Eve that the tree in the center of the garden has the power of knowledge.

When Adam and Eve eat its fruit, they experience a shift in consciousness and are able to comprehend spirit and matter, innocence and knowledge, their humanity and their divinity through the power of sexuality. Then God curses them to birth, labor and death.

But Adam and Eve did not die. According to the myth, they lived on. And the relationship between the formerly all-powerful landLord and the tenants in the garden is altered forever.

Some legends say that the snake was the first lover of a Great Goddess and that the first man was created from their mating.

In spite of her “sin” of independent thinking, Eve is named “Mother of All the Living.” Mother? This is strangely impressive because at this point in the myth Eve has not given birth to anybody. But “Mother of All the Living” implies that a Great Goddess from an earlier civilization has been reduced into the submissive wife of a patriarchal regime.

Was the real Eve Adam’s mother who then became his lover?

Once the myth is changed, the Great Mother Goddess becomes a childbearing slave to her son-husband; her husband becomes a wanderer in the wilderness, and family life is cursed. Eve gives birth to boy-children who work, fight and kill each other. I will deal with the story of Cain and Abel as the roots of racism in another article.

As it stands, the legend of Lilith teaches us that a sexually powerful woman can only become the mother of demons. The legend of Eve teaches us that a creative woman can only become the mother of murderers.

Because myth is “social charter” we have the power to change it. We must reclaim the images of pre-patriarchal Goddesses; study the lives of famous women and embrace worldviews from many cultures. This will give us the guidance and energy we need to rescript the story, to bring about shifts in Consciousness, and to change laws and behaviors.

I want the little Black girls to know that they can utter the names of Goddess and escape enslavement of any kind. This is the gift of Lilith.


An excerpt of a longer paper entitled, ''Lilith and Eve'' from the Girl God Anthology, Original Resistance: Reclaiming Lilith, Reclaiming Ourselves.

Luisah Teish is a storyteller-writer, an artist-activist and spiritual guidance counselor. She is an initiated elder (Iyanifa) in the Ifa/Orisha tradition of the West African Diaspora.

She is the author of Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals, and she co-authored On Holy Ground: Commitment and Devotion to Sacred Land with Kahuna Leilani Birely. 

Her most recent work is Spirit Revealing, Color Healing, a book of Zen Doodles. She has contributed to 35 anthologies, notably Spiritual Guidance Across Religions: A Sourcebook for Spiritual Directors and Other Professionals Providing Counsel... by Rev. John R. Mabry Ph.D., Dan Mendelsohn Aviv Ph.D., Måns Broo Ph.D. and Rev. Cathleen Cox MAT MDiv (Apr 1, 2014) And magazines such as Ms., Essence, SageWoman, and the Yoga Journal.

She has articles and artwork in Coreopsis: Journal of Myth and Theater, and the Cascadia Subduction Zone Journal of Speculative fiction. Her performance credits include: Concert for All Beings, Marin Civic Center (2014) Resonant Streams: An Ancient Call. St. John the Divine Cathedral New York (2011) The Praises for the World Concert, directed by Jennifer Berezan, Edge of Wonder Music. (2005) She has performed in Europe, Venezuela, New Zealand and the United States. She teaches online courses, provides editorial assistance, facilitates conferences and weekend workshops, and performs in theaters worldwide. 

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic ideas... Really resonated with me... Thank you. Be blessed my sister!