Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Vengeful Brood of Lilith by R. P. Dow 1917


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There are certain discrepancies in Genesis, more apparent than real, which have puzzled commentators in all ages, and of which early explanations differ radically from present ones adopted since it has become generally understood that Genesis is a compilation of earlier narratives, notably the Elohistic and Jahvistic. Dr. Briggs, of the Union Theological Seminary, has pointed out, too, that the form of Genesis is wholly poetical. This leads to a reasonable inference that if the text be regarded as dipping into allegory, one may arrive much more nearly at the truth. A stumbling block which has puzzled almost every child at Sunday School, as well as adults, is that Adam, the first man, and Eve; the first woman, had two children grown to maturity and both these sons had no difficulty whatever in finding human wives. Whom and whence?“ In the efforts to explain one encounters an earlier apparent discrepancy“ In Genesis I it is stated that after the earth, sea and sky had been separated, after the stars were set, after grass and herbs were grown, after whales, fowl, cattle and creeping things, “God created man in his own image—male and female created he them. God said unto them, be fruitful and multiply.” After this a Garden of Eden was created. Trees grew up to fruitfulness, “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” In ordinary nature this process would take some years, as a minimum. Still later (perhaps many centuries), Adam, described as created out of dust, “gave names to all cattle, fowls, beasts, but for Adam was not found an help-meet for him.” So God took one of his ribs, made a woman. This was Eve. To account for a population from which Cain and Seth got wives, later commentators claim that early commentators seized upon an Assyrian divinity and made her Adam’s first wife. This was Lilith, who subsequently appears as mothering a brood of zebub, or flies. A second brood of children attributed to her were Succubae, or devils which normally assume the female human form.

All mythology begins from a basis of fact. All myths, all demi-gods, all gods (except alone the Monotheos, amorphous, infinite) are the imperfect recollections, distorted by ages of tradition, of living humans. Zeus and Hera upon Olympus, Thor and Baldur, Beelzebub and Lilith were human as ourselves.

Whence came Lilith is only partially recorded. There is authority for regarding her as blonde, or, as Dante Gabriel Rossetti paraphrases, “with hair of ropes of gold.” If so, she would be Aryan, a predecessor of races of which the best known at present are the blue-eyed Scandinavians. The earliest extant account of Lilith is that in the Apocryphal Book, the alphabet of Ben Sira, dating perhaps from the tenth century A. D. Of course, this is no criterion of antiquity. It may be observed, parenthetically, that there was a great cult in southern Europe in the seventh century of Lilith worshippers, just as demon worship has spasmodically broken out in almost every century in some quarter. It may be observed, parenthetically, too, that the oldest existing manuscript of the Old Testament dates from the twelfth century A. D., although it is known from allusions long before Christ. One cannot judge from manuscript the age of any of the great books of Hebrew literature. Ben Sira states that Lilith was beautiful, with wavy long black hair. At all events this woman was so beautiful, so towering in intellectual gifts that she was known everywhere around the place where Babylon later was, and came to be worshipped as a goddess. There is Rabbinical authority that Adam was as the Arab or Jewish races now are, brown-eyed; and that he was created (or born) with a brown beard hanging to his waist. Perhaps, after humans multiplied, as told in Genesis I, Adam, first man, was prototype to head a great race, to become the child of destiny.

Life with Adam was not satisfactory. He claimed obedience, either of woman to man, or impersonally to the chosen of destiny. Lilith claimed equal rights, having been created out of the same clay, and at the same time. When she realized how hopelessly obstinate Adam was in his reactionary views, she reached a decision not unlike that of the end—of-the-nineteenth century Nora in Ibsen’s “Doll’s House.” She flew out of Eden and away from Adam, who in her stead got Eve for his second wife, taken from his thirteenth rib on the right side.

Note that in all tradition Lilith is able to fly, and so was more easily able to bear a brood of winged children. Note, too, that in their endeavor to reconcile the conflicting Biblical stories, the ancient Oriental adepts created legendary prototypes of suffragists and “antis.” Note, also, that Eve was quite the opposite in disposition, the type of absence of self will. She was dark, probably Ethiopian, like the later Queen of Sheba, who, marvelously beautiful, was probably negro. Eve served Adam with such fidelity and submissiveness that the poet declares she was a rib of his own body. Imagery can go no farther than this.

Lilith, having flown southward, met a certain Ba—al, married him, and settled in the valley of Jehannum.

Naturally, then, the loyal descendants of Adam could not speak too illy of this woman who abandoned Adam, and apparently originated divorce. Even Jehannum became accursed and the children of Israel were warned not to intermarry with this outcast posterity. The place developes into an abode of darkness, and further until, in the attempts to localize a Hell, it becomes one of the planes, Gehenna differing from Tophet. Similarly tradition has localized heaven in planes, the “seventh heaven” remaining as the highest attainable bliss. In the Mohammedan conception of Hell, Jehannum remains particularly the abode of reputationless women. Thus Lilith was consigned by tradition to consort only with devils.

The Phoenician whom Lilith married, and who shares her obloquy, is still recalled by name, Samael. The term Ba-al is Phoenician. In the time of Lilith the Phoenicians may or may not have completed their migration overland from the lower Red Sea district to the coast of Palestine. At all events they presumably maintained trade routes by sea or caravan along the coast. A Ba-al is merely a leading man, a captain, governor, anybody above the rank and file. This particular Ba-al, Samael, is beyond much doubt the man who appears in the Old Testament as Baalzebub, and in the New Testament as Beelzebul. The word zebul is Phoenician adopted into Hebrew. It means radically any elevation of ground, big or small. In Phoenicia this man was presumably lord of a mountain. In Hebrew, where he was to be spoken of only with contempt, he becomes master of a dunghill. Commentators of all ages have not overlooked that a manure pile is the breeding place of flies. In the New Testament only Beelzebul appears as a devil, not easily differentiated from Satan. The word zebub is also Phoenician, but it is also Hebrew from Exodus downward. It is most frequently translated “flies,” but quite probably includes all pestiferous insects. It occurs in four connections in the Old Testament, invariably as flies or the equivalent in other languages. There are the dead flies which cause the ointment to stink (Ecclesiastes); in Isaiah, “the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt.” For the references from Exodus one must await the paper on the Plague of Arab. Schindler’s “Biblische Lexicon” defines zebub as winged insects including Culex, Vespa, OEstrum, and Crabro. Others define it more broadly to include terrible things such as lions, tigers and scorpions.

The earliest Biblical allusion to Beelzebub is in 2 Kings. Here he is the false god of Ekron, whom children of Israel ran to invoke, just as they frequently worshipped a golden calf or other false divinity, meriting the rebuke of the orthodox. Inasmuch as Beelzebub is to appear as a devil, with home in Hell, and, as in Greek mythology Acheron is the river flowing around the boundaries of Hades, one naturally wonders whether the resemblance between the two words is accidental, or whether the origin of the myths is not similar. There is a passage in Pliny, the Roman bibliographer of natural history, first century A.D., mentioning the Cyreneans (a Greek colony on Phoenician soil) invoking the god Achorem to kill the flies which were producing a pestilence. This certainly suggests a triple etymological connection—Ekron, Acheron, Achorem. For eighteen centuries, however, commentators have been in error on this passage, pointing out Zeus Apomuios and Hercules with similar epithet. True, one of the attributes of Zeus and Jupiter is as a successful driver away of flies. The monstrous Hercules had similar great power over insects. When he finally settled down to live in Sicily, the Cicadas disturbing his noon naps, he struck them all perpetually dumb for fifty miles around. Both gods were fly killers. Beelzebub was their natural father and protector. With their annoyance he hit back at his Hebrew detractors.

Two or more broods of children were born to Samael and Lilith. Tradition makes plenty of mention of the second, the female devils, which made Lilith a mediaeval by-word, terror of women in childbirth, to be fought with amulets—an easier way than by righteous living. For the first brood there is more slender authority. Perhaps it was taken for granted that, as Beelzebub was father of flies, his wife Lilith must have been their mother. Per contra, if Lilith bore this brood of flies, Samael must have been the father, and hence his epithet. In very early Sanscrit authority a day each year was set apart for a festival for flies. They were fed and cajoled, not for themselves, but to placate the evil demon who fathered their existence. Compare also the Avestic account. Almost from the beginning the evil author of a half of existence brought into the world insects (translated as “wasps”) “which are very death to the cattle and the fields.” In all Egypt the wasp typified power of death over humanity (cf. BULL., April, 1916, testimony of the Tombs, p. 1 et seq). It may be noticed that in Hebrew literature the wasp is just as deadly. Its name here is tzir. In Exodus, “I will send hornets before thee, which will drive out the Hivite.” In Deuteronomy, “Moreover the Lord thy God will send the hornet among them, until they that are left and hide themselves from thee shall be destroyed.” In Joshua, “And I send the hornet before you, which drave out from before you, even the two Kings of the Amorites.” Even kings could not withstand the hornet of the Hebrews.

There should be noted, also, the similar Biblical conception of the bee. The word Deborah is often chosen as a Christian name with the idea that it typifies industry, frugality and beneficence. The Hebrews were well acquainted with honey, for one of the early promises was to lead them to “a land flowing with milk and honey”; but all mentions of the bee dwell upon its stinging end. In Deuteronomy, “The Amorites chased you as bees do.” In Psalm CXVIII, “They (mine enemies) compassed me like bees.” In Isaiah, predicting disaster to Judah, “And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall hiss for the bee that is in the land of Assyria [home of Lilith?]. And they shall come and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and in all bushes.” Thus it will be seen that Deborah signifies a vengeful beast whose sting is destruction.

In interpretation of the deborah of the riddle of Samson about the bees in the carcass of the lion there is no more renowned paper in entomology than that of the late Baron Osten Sacken on the Bugonia Myth, identifying this particular deborah with countless others as the once Palaearctic, now cosmopolitanly common Syrphid, Eristalis tenax.

The word Lilith is next to be consulted. The root lilatu, night or darkness, is not Hebrew, but is Assyrian. The Assyrian spelling for the woman is Lilit or Lilu. It is not necessarily a duplicated root, but probably is, the root being originally the monosyllable li. This seems to mean night, and the idea of night is from the darkened blueness of the sky. In Demonology Lilith always operates at night. Moreover throughout the East indigo and its dark color have etymologically gone hand in hand. Lilang or lilak are present Persian adjectives meaning dark blue. The Persian for indigo is nil, adjective nilak. The Sanscrit for dark blue is nila, and its noun, nili, is indigo. While there is no direct connection between Lilith and our familiar shrub, the lilac, no evidence that the flower was regarded sacred to that divinity, yet the root is the same. This flower is native to Assyria and thereabouts. In Persian it is variously called lilaj, lilang, or lilanj. In Ottoman Turkish it is leilag (authority W. W. Skeats), or as spelled at present, leilaq. The flower was brought to Europe before the crusades, probably by the Venetians. In Spain it remains lilac or is Hispanized as lila. Skeats, Etymological Dictionary, gives Anglo-Saxon lilie, not the lily, but the lilac; but gives no context on which his statement is supported. An English book of 1715 gives lilach.

One would imagine the same root for the Latin lilium, originally the night flower. Thus it dates back before the Greek LERION, the phonetic change from l to r being wholly in accord with law.

The word lilith occurs once in the Old Testament, the famous passage, Isaiah 34, 14: “The wild beast of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and_ the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl (lilith) also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” Whether or not we accept the translation of the King James version, the horns of a dilemma remain—did the woman give the name to the bird, or did the bird, always of ill omen, furnish the name for the despised woman? Apparently the former. The translation as screech owl has been bitterly assailed, although it has the support of the Septuagint. The King James translators found themselves in a quandary for words to account for several owls and other birds. There was a cos of Leviticus, for which big owl seemed a feasible rendering. The other owls appear, one in this very passage of Isaiah. There are tinshemeth and yamshuph, for one horned owl being suggested (with marginal note of swan). The names of animals in the whole passage must be dubious in any translation, for they include unicorns, bullocks, cormorants (margin—pelican), bittern, owls, ravens, dragons, satyrs, great owls, and vultures. St. Jerome, following Symmachus, departed from precedent and took the word lamia, a name applied to a bird only in this place. The familiar Latin name for owl is noctua, which LinnĂ© appropriated for the owl moths, insects whose luminous eyes and heavy color render them excellent miniatures of the bird. In Horace, Appuleius and Tertullian Lamia is a witch delighting in sucking children’s blood, and so is not unlike the whole conception of Lilith. In the margin of the King James version the words “night monster” are suggested instead of screech owl, and this change was adopted in the Revised version. It was supported and probably originally suggested by several of the more scholarly mediaeval Rabbis. This is quite in keeping with Lilith, also, coming from men best acquainted with the Lilith tradition and at a time when it held strongest sway over men’s minds.

In Mohammedan countries where story telling is highly developed the Lilith myth has assumed many forms. Not the least interesting is one which Fitz Nigle quotes in the N. Y. Tribune as having obtained from his Egyptian guide.

“It was said she was formed in beauty’s mould with clay let down from heaven and to Adam joined on the side by a ligament like the Siamese twins, but that they quarrelled, so that the Lord cut them in twain with a flaming sword, and Lilith with her daughter, the fair Zelinda, wandered off to the land of Nod, where later on she became a witch-cat, while in the meantime Cain, as is mentioned in the Scriptures, went out into the land of Nod and took a wife—namely, Lilith’s daughter.

“In regard to Eve, Adam’s second wife, the legend states that a short time thereafter a pimple grew on Adam’s leg, which attained a very great size, and one day, when he scratched it, out popped Eve, who quickly grew to womanhood and was married to Adam. In the meantime the devil was watching proceedings, and asked Eve if she knew that Adam had had another wife, and she replied that she suspected that her husband had not told her about his past life. Then the devil asked her if she would like to get even with him and she replied in the affirmative. Then he told her to go into the garden and pick some of the grain which the Lord told them they should not eat and give it to Adam, which she did, and when they, as the Bible states, fell from their high estate and were banished from the garden the Lord gave Eve a couple of cats to comfort her in her affliction.

“Later on it is said that these cats were the ones which Noah intended to take in the ark, but his wife, the unbelieving Norida, who hated cats, protested against it. However, he insisted, and as they were walking up the gang-plank his wife suddenly pulled it in and threw them down into the water, which was boiling hot, and the cats were thus destroyed. But after the ark had been at sea a few weeks the rats and mice began to eat the grain, and Noah prayed for help, when the Lord caused the lion, which lay sick with a fever, to sneeze from out its nostrils a pair of cats, which soon destroyed the rodents, thus making them the most popular animals aboard the ship.

“Furthermore, when they landed on Mount Ararat and started with the other animals to travel to the Plains of Shinar the cats were given the head of the procession, and when they arrived there, and the people were building the Tower of Babel and the Lord confused their tongues, the voice of the cat, which heretofore had been sweet and melodious, was changed into its present raucous caterwauling.”

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