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Friday, September 19, 2008

Resurrecting Lilith

John Collier's 'Lilith'.

I didn't wake up particularly crabby this morning, but I have to tell (warn) you that my last, poor, tired nerve has been duly pulled.

It's not his fault, really. Then again, maybe it is.

A clergy colleague of mine retired a few years ago to climes that are warmed than New Jersey. I fear, sometimes, that all that sunshine - or, perhaps, it's the humidity - can destroy gray cerebral matter. Then again, I was born in New England so I suppose I have a bias. Or, jealous of the sunshine (but not the humidity!)

Anyway, he wrote with unmistakable glee that I should google the words "Hillary in Biden Out" and I would find hope for the Democratic ticket.

Okay, so I was hooked. I did it.

I found that there has been some wild speculation on both sides of the fence that Palin's nomination has aroused Obama from his slumber (never mind that he doesn't look like he's been sleeping to me) and that he will ask Biden to step down and Clinton (that would be Hillary, of course) to take the VEEP nomination.

There are so many things wrong with this it made me tired to try and enumerate them, so I stopped midway through reading the third blog and did the only thing a self-respecting woman could do.

I looked at the screen on my laptop and shouted, "ARRRGGGGHHH!"

No one was hurt.

When I wrote my friend to ask that surely he didn't believe any of this insanity, he wrote back: "I know. It's just my bizarre sense of humor." (Gee, ya think, pal?)

Then, he wrote THIS - and I quote verbatim: "Obama has been too much of a gentleman. We need a Steel Magnolia to beat the Alaskan Iceberg."

Now, my friend has always been on the side of the angels in every issue of social justice, so I had to read that sentence again:

"Obama has been too much of a gentleman. We need a Steel Magnolia to beat the Alaskan Iceberg."

If you don't see anything wrong with that sentence, you might want to stop reading because you are not going to like the rest of this.

But, before I do, can I just say? "ARRRRGGGGHHHH!"

Okay, I'm back.

I guess I overdosed on uber-orthodox Anglican blogs last night, reading their take on Bob Duncan's deposition. After a while what became painfully obvious is the need for some of the sisters and brothers, to "put the blame on Mame, boys."

The Deposition of Robert Duncan is nothing of his doing, you see. It's the entire fault of our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She is, "mean-spirited." She has "ice in her veins." They call her "The Presiding Squid." (because she has her doctorate in oceanography), and "The Chief Kaitiff" (a not-so-clever play on her name and the word caitiff, which means coward or derelict.)

And, that's just the stuff I can re-print here, this being a family-friendly blog and all. Bottom line: Duncan is the 'poor victim'. The House of Bishops is filled with dumb sheep of either gender in purple shirts (except, of course, for the uber-orthodox, read: male, bishops who, as of this writing, still have their Episcopal miters in place).

It's all ++Katharine's fault.

Are you following where this is going? Good, then follow me back to the Garden of Eden where I will introduce you to Lilith, if you haven't already met.

Lilith is a highly controversial figure in Jewish folklore, mythology and midrash who has been hotly debated among Jewish scholars for centuries. The controversy continues with Jewish feminist theologians and scholars.

According to some stories, Lilith was the first being God created as a wife for Adam so they might live happily ever after in The Garden. Except, God, apparently, made a wee bit of a mistake. God gave her brains. Well, maybe that was not so much of the problem. The problem is that she used them. And that's when there was Trouble (with a capitol "T") in Paradise.

More accurately, the problems began when Adam tried to exercise dominance over Lilith. One story tells that Lilith refused to lay beneath Adam during sex. (Imagine!)

See, she believed they were created equal, both from the dust of the earth, thus she should not have to lay beneath him. After Adam disagreed, Lilith fled the Garden of Eden to gain her independence.

Oh, but wait! There's more: Adam told God that Lilith had left and God sent three angels to retrieve her (I can't remember their names this very red hot second, but together they sound like a Jewish accounting firm). The three angels found Lilith in a cave bearing children (I don't know. It's a story. Pay attention.) but Lilith refused to come back to the garden.

The angels told her they would kill 100 of her children every day for her disobedience. In revenge, she is said to rob children of life and is responsible for the deaths of still-born infants and crib deaths (SIDS).

Male children are at risk of Lilith's wrath for 8 days after birth (until circumcision) and girls are at risk for 20 days. Although Lilith stole children's lives in the night, she agreed not to kill the children who had amulets of either of the three angels.

After the angels' departure, Lilith tried to return to the garden but upon her arrival she discovered that Adam already had another mate (no, not Steve), Eve. Out of revenge, Lilith had sex with Adam while he was sleeping and "stole his seed." (Dr. Freud! Calling Dr Freud!)

With his seed she bears 'lilium,' earth-bound demons to replace her children killed by the angels. Lilith is also said to be responsible for males' erotic dreams and night emissions. Another theory says that Lilith is impregnated, thus creating more demons by masturbation and erotic dreams.

You see, Freud couldn't help it. He was only borrowing on centuries of mythology concerning Penis Envy. No wonder the poor man couldn't understand 'what women want'.

For many Jewish and Christian feminist theologians, Lilith is a symbol of independence, representing the power of the divine feminine. She is an independent woman who challenges the oppressive system in which she is placed.

Stealing the lives of children represents a certain madness that accompanies her solitude and exclusion. It is no coincidence that the legal consequence for lesbian mothers in many states continues to be the loss of custody of her children. Before she steals YOUR children away to a life of sin and perdition, let's steal hers.

Despite Lilith's downfalls, she still remains a symbol of power simply by her survival and mysteriousness.

She is open for interpretation and therefore allows women to reinterpret her symbolism and power within their religious traditions. Judith Crist wrote her own feminist midrash of this story, but I can't seem to find the book on my library shelf. (If I lent it to you, would you be so kind as to return it? Thanks.)

I'm thinking that we need to resurrect the spirit of Lilith - both in this political campaign as well as in the World Wide Anglican Communion.

I don't know about you, but I've had just about enough sexism. No, actually, make that more than enough, thank you very much.

Between the Hillary "Nut Cracker" and the Katharine "Chief Kaitiff," I'm about to kick some serious sexist butt and take names later.

When brothers of good spirit and intent write me something which portrays the male as "too much a gentleman" and two powerful, albeit very different, women in terms which began in The Garden well, I think it's high time for us to call upon the spirit of Sister Lilith for some strength and guidance.

Yes, yes. I understand these are difficult, painful times of change and re-formation. No, I do not take any joy in The Deposition of Robert Duncan - or John-David Schofield. Or, in fact, that of Jack Leo Iker or Keith Akerman, when they happen (and, if they remain on their chosen path of walking South and trying to take church property with them, they most surely will).

Yes, yes. I understand that we are witnessing the dismantling of patriarchy and the fear, like Adam's, is that women will be "on top." Well, yeah. Sometimes. I mean, it's been a long time, thanks be to God, but the goal is still for mutual pleasure, right? (Okay, okay, go ahead and giggle. I'll wait.)

All forms of oppression are, obviously, evil, and I think the time has come and now is for us to name this evil which began in The Garden. It's time for women and men of good faith to name the Original Sin of Sexism so that we might stop the free-Fall into other oppressions.

I think Lilith may well be the key to opening a discussion and heightening awareness of the interlocking nature of oppression, which includes prejudice based on race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, as well as the physical, emotional, financial and intellectual status.

Or, as my friend, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale says, "You can't dismantle heterosexism by fighting against homophobia. You first have to dismantle sexism."

I want to suggest that this is true of all oppressive systems. Dismantle sexism first and you've got a fighting chance of working on the liberation of the human spirit.

If anyone can lead us closer to re-claiming Eden, it's Lilith.

Or, as my friend, Mary H. Miller says, "Onward to Zion!" where our aimless wandering will end and we will be home at last.


Eileen said...

Raises my hands toward the heavens...closes my eyes...Amen, Elizabeth. AMEN.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I too can add nothing but "Amen!" to this Elizabeth.

Well, that and a whap upside the head of your friend with the Cluestick. Sheesh.


FranIAm said...


You are brilliant. Thank you.

Sorry for the attack of crankiness that you had to suffer, but your words had to be born, did they not?

Bill said...

I have to ask this, was someone in your parking spot this morning? :)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Excellent, Elizabeth. I believe you are correct that dismantling patriarchy comes first. The viciousness of the attacks on and labels of the PB astound me on the very few occasions that I visit certain blogs.

Anonymous said...

Oh Lord, did that need saying. Thank you again and again. Amen Amen Sista!

klady said...

Wow! Before you even got going, I was literally stunned by the notion of the Hillary - Sarah match-up (sounds like some male t.v. producer's dream come true - two women, mud-wrestling, what a show!). Yes, bring Lilith on.

A few years back I was somewhat skeptical about the notion that sexism had anything to do with homophobia. It's slowly sunk in that it has everything to do with it -- and a lot more.

Women are only supposed to be strong if they are odd exceptions to the rule, not runaways or castoffs from Eden, but those whom the men allow to lead in times of need, when some kind of superhuman toughness is needed (recalling Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady), one who has nerves of steel, iron, veins with ice water, whatever -- such as Lady Macbeth or the Ice Queen, the woman who is unsexed, who is neither man nor woman but exudes unbridled (pun intended) ambition, power, and malevolence. So, the only way to combat one is to get another in the ring. Geez.

Rant on, please. It's gotta be said.

Cheryl said...

This post brought tears to my eyes - some of laughter, some of frustration that it continues to happen and so many continue to NOT UNDERSTAND IT!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's interesting to me that Bill is, so far, the only male to respond to this piece. What's up with that? Thanks to everyone who has responded. Apparently, a lot of people have a last, poor, tired nerve - and it has nothing to do with having anyone park in your parking spot. Or, even wearing Crocs to work.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

It's interesting to me that Bill is, so far, the only male to respond to this piece.

And that he accused you of writing this excellent rant because you were annoyed by something as trivial as losing your parking spot!

Bill---I have to say...I read your post and thought, "Did he really want to ask her if she was PMSing?"!

Sexism is serious business, and Elizabeth was right to be annoyed. I'm surprised that you, of all people, would trivialize her concerns that way.


Bill said...

That's easy Elizabeth. It was obvious that someone had plucked your last good nerve. It's sort of like deciding when it's safe to run into a burning building. Most of the guys will either pass on commenting or wait until the fire goes out.

This all reflects something that came up months ago when Hillary was still running. I forget when exactly but someone compiled a long list of sound-bites from many newscasters and commentators which were sexist in content. Half of them didn't even realize their words were offensive.

the Reverend boy said...

well, THIS particular male has not been able to comment because he's been dealing with the turbulence in the financial world AND had the misfortune of having that whole homosexual = rapist or child molester thing directed at me personally for the first time in my life so that threw me for a loop.


Thank you for sharing the story of Lilith. I hadn't heard it in its entirety before. One gift you've given me is that my own awareness of sexism in society has increased quite a bit since i've been reading your posts.

The amount of venom that we've seen people project onto women in authority (whether it's our PB or Hillary) can get sick at times. I just want to shake some people up and say come on, folks, really listen to what you're saying here!

I wonder sometimes if one of the roots of homophobia is sexism....

JCF said...

I was literally stunned by the notion of the Hillary - Sarah match-up (sounds like some male t.v. producer's dream come true - two women, mud-wrestling, what a show!

...and don't forget the scene concluding w/ them MAKING OUT, to bring the boys' wankathons to, um, fruition. [So glad SNL didn't go that route. But there's 5 more weeks to the election, and isn't a man still producer of the show? :-0]

As far as "Obama is too much a gentleman": anyone wanna bet that if he were half as tempermental as McCain, the references would be to him as a gang-banger and Angry (N-Word)?

Jim said...

Rev. Elizabeth,

Yes, I had not responded earlier -- I plead business. I just now, 4:17PM Chicago time, read your piece. It has been and promises to continue to be a really ugly day for me.

Let me offer one male's Amen.

If anything, you may have understated the incredible pervasive nature of sexism (and lest forget its cousin: racism) in our world.

I forget (sorry!) who said that sexism begins when the midwife / doctor says, "Its a girl" but she was right. Homophobia is about people worried that the neat box they have consigned women to is not so exclusively female as much as it is about anything. It makes me crazy that some of the homophobes are women. I guess we can prove that the "hostage effect" is real.

I only wish you had a wider audience. Yes, we your faithful readers get it. The critics get it and are silent but they do get it. I wish this post could be required reading for the HoB, and most especially the ABC.

(who sincerely does not care who is on top of whom)

Two Auntees said...

Thanks for that!!

I believe the spirit of Lilith has been resurrected in the women who will use their brains when they vote.

Brian R said...

Probably most of us poor males are to frightened to raise our heads above the parapet. :-) However I agree with all you say, never heard of Lilith before, my mind boggles. Do not know how you can read those right blogs, my blood boils when they just comment on the wonderful blogs like yours that I do read.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bless you, guys, for responding. It was good to hear your voices. RevBoy I'm really really sorry for that accusation. Ouch. Bill, without your further explanation, it sure sounded like the 'parking spot' crack was equal to a PMS crack. JimB, sorry for your ugly day. In this economy, I'm sure many people are having ugly days. Anxiety tends to do that. Brian r, hello, noble wolf. Always good to have you stop by.

Thank you Doxy and Two aunties for your comments. I hope that, if you think it will help, you point others to this essay and any others that will raise awareness.

It's really awful to have your last never pulled like this.

rick allen said...

“Bill is, so far, the only male to respond to this piece. What's up with that?”

Well, if you insist…..

“It's time for women and men of good faith to name the Original Sin of Sexism so that we might stop the free-Fall into other oppressions.”

I suppose if Patriarchy is the root of all evil, then sexism must be the original sin, whose uprooting will bring down the celestial city. But I doubt that it is, or even that it correlates historically to negative attitudes to homoeroticism.

I am always struck by the fact that, in classical antiquity, in those times when homoerotic relations were often preferred and elevated above heterosexual ones, the status of women was at its lowest. That attitude is seen in Pausanias’ speech in the Symposium, where he notes that those practicing common love associated with the Popular Aphrodite “love women as well as boys,” whereas the higher love from the Heavenly Aphrodite “partakes not of the female, but only of the male.”

“I'm thinking that we need to resurrect the spirit of Lilith - both in this political campaign as well as in the World Wide Anglican Communion.”

It’s up to you, of course, to choose your own symbols, but it may be a problem when they carry other connotations.

On reading your post I looked up the entry on “Lilith” in my Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and it begins as follows: “a night monster and vampire, probably of Babylonian origin, said to haunt wildernesses in stormy weather and to be specially dangerous to children.” It goes on to note the sole biblical reference to her in Isaiah 34:13, where she is associated with desolation.

Now I know of course that she has been somewhat re-worked and re-habilitated in certain circles. But surely, if adopted as your preferred standard bearer, your opponents would see in her conventional meaning the very confirmation of their evaluation of the aim and results of feminism—not equality (which the biblical accounts pretty much posit prior to the fall), but a contentious quarrelsomeness for its own sake.

“If anyone can lead us closer to re-claiming Eden, it's Lilith.”

Seems to me that Lilith is the perfect patroness for that suggested Clinton/Palin smackdown found so offensive. As one who lives in a state where a common bumper sticker reads “In Gaud we Trust,” I continue to be surprised that the compassion and strength of the Second Eve continue to be thought less apt in the modern world than the qualities associated with Adam’s apocryphal first wife.

johnieb said...


I just got home and had to have a nap.

My first reaction was "Amen! Preach it, Sister!" One of the most disgusting things about campaign coverage is the raw sexism taken as "normal" by arbiters of the public discourse.


The "cluestick" is at least a 2 X 4, right?

Anonymous said...



Have I yet introduced you to Phyllis Chesler (especially her "seminal" book from the mid-70's called "About Men")?

Anonymous said...

Sorry sorry! I forgot the url.

(not that you don't already know her?!)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Rick, I suppose I asked for it. Well, here goes: if you scratch just beneath the surface of homophobia, you will find sexism. +Gene Robinson has been tireless in spreading this message. Why? Because it's true. If you want to read more about it, do read Suzanne Pharr "Homophobia, a Tool of Sexism." Or, the latest interview with +Gene in the Dallas Sun where he makes a statement about the fact that three of the four diocese that have left, or will leave, TEC do no ordain women.

In terms of the image of Lilith in your one book, well, there are other, really wonderful images of Lilith in lots of other sources. Do spend some time getting to know Lilith and how her image has been used as a repository for sexist projection and fear.

Finally, what you say about where you live is precisely why we need to resurrect Lilith. We have to stop taking sexism - or what one of my friends calls, "micro oppression" more seriously.

It's the little things, like the one sentence written by my colleague or the "parking spot" remark that absolutely require and demand it.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you come back again soon.

Jim said...

My blog's top post at the moment is a simple link here with a comment that the reader should click it -- NOW.


Doug said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! It is hard to admid for some of us "enlightened" men that we still harbor stereotypes and sexist ideas we sometimes don't even know exist. Thank you for helping bring them into the light, where they can be disposed of.

Bill said...

Part of the problem is that most of the visitors here are “friendlies”. A few non-friendlies drop in from time to time but most of the regulars are in tune with each other. It doesn’t get the word out to the general public and the general public doesn’t really want to be bothered. If you haven’t been touched by sexism, racism, homophobia or the endless “anti” list, you never feel the pain. I tend to believe that pristine, white, middle America doesn’t have a real clue as to what this is all about. If you haven’t been put down because of the color of your skin, this is all meaningless. If nobody has ever referred to you as a “fag” or a “dyke” you don’t feel the pain in your stomach. We’ve all heard that it’s a good thing when a man is forceful but not so good when a woman is pushy. Without that personal involvement, “having skin in the game”, most people can’t figure out what the hell we’re always complaining about. And believe me friends, it doesn’t matter what you are complaining about. People just get tired of hearing complaints and tune you out. I mean, we have it good here in America, don’t we? They’ve never been passed over for employment because their white. They’ve never been denied a marriage certificate because they’re heterosexual. The litany of hurts is endless but they haven’t experienced our hurts. Now if you want to talk about plant closings or late commuter trains, that’s ok. If you want to talk about tax cuts, you’ll have their undivided attention. It’s just the way it is with people and I really don’t have an answer. We talk here but we’re talking to each other, to people sharing similar goals and aspirations. And there are people talking on the other side. And they are talking to their friends and they have their own agenda. It’s the folks in the middle we need to educate.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hasten to add that women need to hear this, too. To wit: Sarah Palin (and all those women who will vote for her because they think she represents the "new feminist".)