The Mythological Woman: Archetypes from Yesterday to Today – Lilith

in Arts & Culture/Fashion/Noteworthy/Visual Art by

Ever wonder how you stack up to mythological archetypes?

Ever Dreamed of Transforming Yourself?

If you haven’t, maybe, just maybe, you should.

Characters in folkloric traditions and myths were not created in a vacuum. Rather, they often have manifestations and correlations in everyday life, (even though through the passing of time we often forget why such tall-tales and traditions get built-up and promoted in the first place).

Folk traditions and mythology carry with them instructions and lessons on life. They inform us about our own processes of growth, our personalities, and, in the end serve as reflections of ourselves.

In our new trademark series, The Mythological Woman: Archetypes from Yesterday to Today, Falchion will be exploring folkloric and historical figures in order to illuminate how mythic personas manifest in today’s modern woman. Along the way we will take you into the fascinating world of femininity and mythos. Yeah, you heard me – Femininity and mythos. That’s femininity with a capital “F” people!

No stone is to be left unturned as we will lift the veil off some of the most fascinating legends surrounding noteworthy femme fatales across the breadth of time and world mythology, folklore, and culture!

Okay, buckle up, get ready, and don’t turn that dial! In just a short while we will show you how important a role mythic archetypes play in the formation of your psyche, and how certain predilections inform on how you go about living your everyday life and build and maintain relationships (both sexual and platonic) with others, and ultimately how well you know and understand yourself. And not just that!  You will learn which character you can access when you need them.

In doing so we aim to offer appealing and engaging new models for individuals to learn something of value about themselves, enable them to gain insights into the hidden layers of their personalities, and to help them explore exciting new possibilities.

This series is dedicated to awesome females and personas of all backgrounds and colors in every stage of becoming. It is a collaborative effort between some of Falchion’s best to produce some amazing, one-of-a-kind material, taking you on a journey through culture, folklore, and your own inner self to reveal WHAT MAKES YOU MYTHIC.

After venturing across South Slavic lands and exploring the mysterious folklore of the intoxicating shape-shifter that is the Samodiva (Wildalone), it is time to honor demons and underground spirits as we turn our eyes to Jewish mythology and the ultimate she-demon of them all.

Lilith: the Rebellious Female -Vamp

  
Photography: Ivailo Sakelariev
Styling: Irena Ivanova
Featured: Mila Belcheva as Lilith  

PART I

The Myth, the Legend…

Of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake’s, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.
The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! as that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce to you lady Lilith – the beautiful (and beautifully frightening) archetypal female-vamp who, as Dante Gabriel Rossetti splendidly versified in 1886, possesses the power to dominate man’s body and heart.

Ah yes, and his life as well.

For centuries now the complex image of Lilith has been a fascination for poets, writers, artists, painters, folklorists, as well as Biblical and historical scholars in an attempt to resolve—or simply celebrate—the  mystery surrounding her enigmatic presence in Jewish and world mythology. 

Origins

One of the first mentions of Lilith comes from an ancient Babylonian script, where she is depicted as a winged female demon who harbors a particularly vicious animus towards pregnant women and little children. From there, the tale of Lilith the evil she-spirit spreads to ancient Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Greece, after which it would covertly land on the pages of the Old Testament, and more precisely in Isaiah 34:14: “there shall the beasts of the desert meet with the jackals, and the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; the Lilith also shall settle there, and find for herself a place of rest.” Later, The Alpha Betha of Ben Sira, the anonymous compilation of Aramic and Hebrew proverbs (written circa 11th century AD ) and the Kabballah (13th century) would secure Lilith’s mythological position as the first rightful (and rebellious) wife of Adam.

Who is Lilith? 


Without delving too much into the old texts:

God created Adam and his wife Lilith simultaneously and from the same substance (that is, earth). Adam, however, believed genuinely that his wife should submit to him, particularly with regards to sexual intercourse, declaring: “I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one” (The Alpha Betha of Ben Sira). Lilith, on the other hand, would have none of it, insisting on their equality. The two of them quarreled (ah, the ultimate archetypal battle of the sexes!), until finally Lilith grew tired of having to constantly put up with Adam’s authority. So, she did what any gal with a healthy sense of self would – she revolted, leaving her husband and the Garden of Eden for good. In doing so, however, Lilith violated two sacred laws: 1) she pronounced the Ineffable Name of God, and 2) she chose to fly off (a power she suddenly obtained after saying God’s divine name) for the shores of the Red Sea – a territory populated with lustful demons.

However angry with her scandalous, insolent behavior, Adam missed his wife (for they were, after all, made from the same stuff). He complained to God and the latter sent three angels to bring Lilith back at once. They did try hard to persuade her, yet she proved immovable, insisting on remaining ensconced at the Red Sea shores.

The story then takes an interesting turn as the angels worn her that should she not return to Eden, a hundred of her demonic children will die daily. Lilith explains to the angels that in this case she will avenge her murdered children by harming children, causing them to fall ill (which just goes to show you, you should never argue with a woman, especially an angry one). But then, in a more capitulating tone, Lilith graciously promises to spare any child who wears an amulet inscribed with the names of the three angels – Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof.

How did it come to this, you may ask? How did Lilith go from being angry with Adam to all of a sudden mothering demonic children and hurting the children of others? The answer, in my view, is fairly simple – her image had to be purposefully demonized to provide a rational explanation to female disobedience (for no decent woman in her senses could ever presume to rebel against her husband’s will and if so, she has clearly been possessed by demonic forces, no?).  Let’s not forget, too, that since the down of mankind, people tend to explain anything they cannot comprehend logically with the presence of  a supernatural power (either good or evil) existing “somewhere out there” beyond human control. The important thing to remember when it comes to mythology is that myths communicate to us methaphorically and symbolically. Therefore, one must read them as such and then go about one’s daily business. 

If we are to sift through Lilith’s most prominent attributes for purely archetypal purposes, this is what we distill:

Rebellious and Strong-Willed

When things between the husband and wife did not go according to her wishes, Lilith decided she would rather leave the Garden of Eden (along with all the perks and generous benefits package) than be mistreated and insulted by her man.

We at Falchion celebrate rebels with a cause, so let’s hear it for Lilith! 

Dangerously Sexual 

Lilith and Adam had major disagreements. Initially, it was all about who would be on top and who on bottom during that most sacred of sacred acts – coitus. The problem, you see, is that Lilith felt she was equal to Adam, and that she had the right to sexually dominate during intercourse.  Such a frivolous demonstration of sexual lust (yeah right) gave her a bad name, and led to her representation as the ultimate embodiment of female depravity. As evident from Lilith’s myth, female sexuality must always be kept on a tight leash, otherwise it becomes problematic and quite damaging. For a woman, as we are well aware, must never openly demonstrate sexual freedom and desire, to mention nothing of sexual dominance or challenging any divine orders created by… well, man. Historically, one acquiesced, or risked having to deal with no one less than the Septa Unellas of the world (and we all know what that entails). 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Demonic 

As discussed earlier, Lilith’s controversial ideas regarding spousal equality and a woman’s right to be on top, as well as the very fact that she managed to evade man’s control, resulted in her demonization.  She now permeates not only Jewish folklore, but also world mythology and pop culture as that evil chick who seduces poor men in their sleep (often resulting in “wet dream” episodes), terrorizes pregnant women (Lilith is blamed for all miscarriages out there), and harms infants (and is responsible for all illnesses in children).

"Lilith: The First Demonic Temptress" (photo: Ivailo Sakelariev; Styling: Irena Ivanova)
“Lilith – The First Demonic Temptress” (photo: Ivailo Sakelariev; Styling: Irena Ivanova)

Keeps Track of Old Scores

Harming children is evidently not her sole avenging method. It is widely believed that Lilith, deeply hurt by Adam’s betrayal, returned to Eden disguised as a serpent. Yes, you guessed, it is the very same one who convinced Eve to munch on forbidden fruit (this tidbit is why Lilith is often portrayed with a snake wrapped around her beautiful body). If you would recall, this transgression ultimately caused the Fall of Man.  To which I say… bravo Lilith, for proving that Eve, however praised and glorified, is in fact just as imperfect, if not more so (an attempt every self-respected ex would naturally undertake).  

“Lilith” by John Collier (1892)

And, Perhaps, Ultimatelly Represents Female Evolution

Given Lilith various mentions and appearances throughout the ages, we can argue that she is, in fact, the very epitome of female progression over the centuries. Damned in ancient times and reinstated in the medieval period (only to be damned again), Lilith now is largely celebrated by feminists worldwide for having the courage to withstand her independence (remember: mythology serves us metaphorically). As Janet Howe Gains, a scholar of the Bible as literature in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico, postulates in her 2001 research

This winged night creature is, in effect, the only “surviving” she-demon from the Babylonian empire, for she is reborn each time her character is reinterpreted. The retellings of the myth of Lilith reflect each generation’s views of the feminine role. As we grow and change with the millennia, Lilith survives because she is the archetype for the changing role of woman.

Food for Thought: Man’s Eternal Dilemma – Lilith or Eve?

The photographer of this production, Ivaylo Sakelariev—an avid reader and an aspiring philosopher— shared that in preparation for the shooting of this piece, he could not help but ponder on Lilith’s true nature and how much of her story was distorted for religious and other power-serving purposes. He, too, found himself meditating (over a few ales and in the company of a few like-minded buddies, of course) on the two archetypal ladies. More specifically, about  which archetype men generally prefer in their spousal bed. Several beers later, they all agreed that one takes Lilith as the lover, and Eve as the wife; that is, if one desires a comforting family nest with a reliable (read here agreeable) partner.

And yet… 

Adam lets Lilith go because she is too hard to control, which ultimately gets in the way of his desire to command. But Adam’s ego and need to be in control is also his doom. He will long for his wife and beg God to bring her back, to no avail. The Bible would pick up the rest of the story as we know it: to spare Adam an agonizing loneliness God provides him with [another] woman, creating Eve out of Adam’s rib (thus the Biblical Eve will forever personify female submission in a male-centric patriarchy). 

Adam settles with Eve. She is similar to Lilith in outward beauty, but unlike his strong-willed ex, does not question his vocations or pursuits. And yet, on a deeper, subconscious level Adam would recall his former paramour and long for the aloof, strong, sexy, independent woman who was his equal in every respect.

And therein lies man’s eternal archetypal dilemma: on the surface Eve is the perfect wife. And yet, however perfect, she all too often proves rather plain and uninspiring. Lilith, on the other hand, awakens his senses and stokes the deep and passionate flames residing within, but on the same token is too demanding and strong-headed for his taste. 

Some scholars assert that Lilith and Eve, in fact, embody the two polarities of female nature, contradictory and mutually exclusive: Lilith personifies the woman who knows who she is and where she stands and therefore is unwilling to compromise her own well-being for that of her husband’s. Eve, on the other hand, is the perfect trophy – pretty, domestic, and affable. The apocryphal and sacred texts would curse the one and glorify the other. And so, for the most part, humanity will go on prejudicially rejecting the offspring of Lilith, that is  – women who desire more in life that merely being someone else’s life companion…

This fascination with the Lilith-Eve dichotomy is perhaps also why world-renown writers, poets, and artists, unshaken by the mythical and Biblical interpretation of Lilith, wonder if Adam made a big mistake, letting his first and true love leave for the sole purpose of maintaining control. Take, for instance, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, in which Lilith accuses Adam of betraying his heart by choosing a woman he has never truly loved.

The Oldest Song

For before Eve was Lilith. — Old Tale

“These were never your true love’s eyes.
 Why do you feign that you love them?
You that broke from their constancies,
 And the wide calm brows above them!

 This was never your true love’s speech.
 Why do you thrill when you hear it?
You that have ridden out of its reach
The width of the world or near it!

 This was never your true love’s hair, —
You that chafed when it bound you
Screened from knowledge or shame or care, 
In the night that it made around you!”

 “All these things I know, I know.
 And that’s why my heart is breaking!”
“Then what do you gain by pretending so?”
“The joy of an old wound waking”

“The Sorrow of Lilith”  (Photo: Ivailo Sakelariev; Styling: Irena Ivanova)

The Ultimate Love Triangle

My conversation with our photographer got me meditating about the archetypal Adam-Eve-Lilith triangle; a triangle in which Adam would secretly long for Lilith, all the while societal or personal limitations kept him with the more conventional Eve. It brought to my mind the The Age of Innocence — Edith Wharton’s 1921 Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. The novel features Newland Archer, a young lawyer who finds himself trapped in the stagnant, prejudicial norms of 1870 New York society. Archer is to marry the beautiful May Wellend, a product par excellence of her time: well-mannered and well-edicated, proper, sweet, and… quite naïve. It is a storybook match. That is, until Archer meets May’s estranged cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who is newly arrived from Europe after scandalously separating from her husband (a manipulative Polish Count).

Countess Olenska’s exotic beauty and unorthodox for the time intelligence ignites a real fire in Newland’s heart. The two dive into a passionate, secret love affair nurtured by a deep affection for one another and a sense of belonging in a society where one belongs to no one, for one is not allowed to reveal one’s true nature. Their affair, however genuine, because of societal constraints and each of the characters’ internal sense of morality and duty, is doomed from the beginning.  

The profound sadness and sense of loss covertly present in the novel are perhaps much better rendered in Martin Scorsese’s wonderful 1993 adaptation of the book, featuring Danie Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder in the three principle roles. (Who said that film adaptation is always subordinate to its original source?! Acclaimed French literary theorist, critic, and philosopher Roland Barthes, for instance, pinned film adaptation a form of literary criticism in its own right or another “reading” approach of a novel. We at Falchion concur. )

For how can we remain untouched by the final scene, in which a widowed, aged Newland Archer finds himself glancing at Countess Olenska’s window in front of her Parisian apartment. Although invited, he is reluctant to enter Ellen’s domain after all these years. Instead, he decides to take a sit on a nearby park bench.  It is in Archer’s gaze at Olenska’s window (perhaps, in a secret hope to catch a glimpse of her) that we realize Newland has spent his life loving her. But even more, we apprehend how complex love actually is, especially when taking into consideration everyone who our actions may affect…  (Watch video)

 

These forgotten treasures, Wharton’s book and Scorseze’s cinematic interpretation, brilliantly encapsulate the very essence of the Adam-Eve-Lilith triangle; a relationship as dimensional and perplexing as it is haunting and bittersweet. 

For Adam, who secretly longed for his apocryphal, controversial equal (but could not ultimately bring himself to part with his God-chosen spouse), there could only be one consolation; a consolation beautifully penned by Bulgarian poetess Stanka Pencheva (translation from Bulgarian provided by the author):

And yet I was Lilith – 
the first woman,
created before Adam,
the apocryphal one,
unblessed by God.
I was the closest
to your soul,
and thus to your flesh as well
(although it took the back road
to me).
We were fit for each other-
like the knife inside the sheath,
like a spark and an explosion,
and the two poles of the magnet…
Go ahead and eat as many apples as you like
(or, whatever that was) with the Eves.
Lilith, the underground one, assuming a shadow
crawls after you, towards you
and the lower the sun gets –
the longer she becomes…
Do not be afraid! The final embrace
will be with me again:
so slow, slow,
as only gods can do it,
so gentle, gentle,
that we won’t feel anything
while becoming dust and light.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Now that we covered Lilith’s attributes in the mythical sense, it is time to unveil how, in what shape and form, and under which circumstances does the Lilith archetype manifest in today’s modern women.

COMING SOON: The Archetype of Lilith Today!

Julieta Kaludova is the Creative Director and a contributing author at Falchion Publications, an award-winning essayist, a gatherer of uniqueness, and a collector of the exotic. In her writing Julieta often draws from the exciting experiences she has had over the years, including being a radio journalist, media and PR liaison, university instructor, translator, director of a political press centre, and stage performer. Her greatest source of inspiration, however, remains her curious little daughter.