Lilith: Serpent and Symbol of Transformation
Meister Eckhart : The ground of the soul is dark
A reminder that I treat the myth of Lilith as just that, a myth, a powerful one that resonates today because of its psychological dynamic. Any ongoing dialogue with myths, dreams, stories, fairytales inter alia puts us back in touch with the deeper layers of the psyche, those inner forces that play themselves out on the world stage.
In the previous post we left Lilith brooding in the depths of the Red Sea. She felt her inner strength returning after what seemed an eternity, cleansed by her tears and the salt of the sea she now felt as salve; and her forging in the flames. It was time to end her isolation and return to the Garden of Eden to effect a change on the status quo.
In the most mysterious of ways she returns, disguised, as serpent, to beguile Eve to accept the apple and thereby disobey God’s admonition to not eat the fruits of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil on pain of death and other dreadful punishments.
We know from the Creation story that Eve and Adam were expelled from Paradise and that women have been blamed ever after for this sinful act of accepting the fruit – the repercussions still felt today, even if unconsciously. I’ll write a later post about Eve and the temptation that was presented to her. But for the moment I want to negate that age-old myth of woman’s ‘sinfulness’ and say that Eve was the awakener for Adam, Lilith the awakener for Eve. To paraphrase Paul Tillich (Western theologian), the Fall represented ‘…a fall from the state of dreaming innocence…’ and awakening from potentiality into actuality; and that the ‘fall’ was necessary for the development of humankind, a symbol for the human situation, not a story of an event that happened ‘once upon a time’.
Can Lilith as serpent be a viewed as a harbinger of change and as symbol for transformation?
Our first reaction to the temptress may be one where we instinctively recoil in distrust and fear. We have an archetypal disposition to fear this highly dangerous creature with forked flicking fangs. Historically, the symbolism of the serpent has the association of sexual temptation, of being against God, subversive and evil.
Lilith shed various skins in the depths of the Red Sea, shedding her anger, shedding her pain and sadness, feeling the lessening of the bonds, becoming tighter, and emerged to offer Eve choice and voice. Lilith knew that Eve was restricted in the Garden. She knew that Adam and Eve were entirely dependent on G.d the Father and that they were naive and obedient children with no real freedom for growth within those boundaries.
Lilith can be seen as a trailblazer in that she refused to remain repressed in the depths of the Red Sea. The brutal injury to her psyche from being expelled from the Garden for expressing herself almost broke her. The dark had served her well and for long and she knew her time had come. She was in touch with her anger and pain and stepped out from that place of extremity in her urge for healing and wholeness, never wholly achieved perhaps; but each little bit of understanding of the dark feminine within each of us, man and woman, brings us closer to wholeness and healing, individually and collectively. She challenged the patriarchal view that women were to be ‘obedient’. She donned the guise of serpent. The older paradigm of being in bondage in the depths of the Red Sea was a skin to be shed – it was too constricting, restricting; and its origins were blatantly unjust. There was no more symbolic way than to put on a new skin and arrive as serpent, the wisest of the creatures. She would live life in abandon but not in abandonment.
We too face trials and tribulations and long to be bathed in the light, to be comforted and mothered in loving arms. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve felt sick, tired, betrayed, disappointed. We’re vaguely aware of the resentments building up inside us like a pressure cooker, or we feel our hearts hardening or closing down. The mothering that we yearn for a these times – some other to be a container for our sadness – may be unavailable. We need to look deep inside ourselves to find a way to acknowledge those dark energy bearing feelings of hopelessness and despair, rage, anger and woundedness. Our feelings and emotions are not to be dumbed down.
Many times our energy is not a polite one. It is the sort of energy used by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama who refused to give up her seat on a bus for white men in 1955, a forerunner in challenging the legality of segregation. The Black Sash here in South Africa comprised of women started this movement in 1955 to protest against coloured people (inter alia) not being allowed to vote. Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban edict of banning girls from receiving an education and took a bullet to her head.
We hiss loudly when we see gender discrimination, littering, undue use of plastic bottles, rape and mutilation of not only women and children, but of our land and sea. We hiss at those in the corridors of power who have only their profit line as goal. We’re doing a great deal of hissing and spitting at what goes on on our country under the leadership of our president and his sychophants – corruption is rampant and the use of tax payers money is used for the most nefarious purposes …
The feminine principle stands for all that is life-giving as well as life destroying, paradoxical though that is. It stands for chaos from which order emerges in a new transformative form. It is both joyful and grieving. It is dark and fecund, like the soil of the earth. It embraces ALL in life and in death. Pain and suffering, sorrow, grief, anger, destruction, wildness, non- conformity, death and darkness are all embraced by Lilith. She also embraces compassion, joy, creativity, light, playfulness, mothering, nurturing, birthing, ugliness and beauty. She devours and she transforms. Nothing is meaningless to her. She knows that ALL is part of the whole of life and death. Wanting only the good and light and the heights is an awful denial of the depths.
There is much in the literature where the serpent is revered: for example –
Aesculapius, the ancient Roman god of healing, is symbolised by two serpents representing the principles of sickness and healing, entwined around his staff. Serpents were renowned for their ability to seek out healing herbs and plants for treatment off illness in the population.
Hippocrates (460 BC) the father of western medicine, is represented to this day as a healer carrying a staff, around which is wound the serpent. My husband wears such a tie on which this emblem is.
The story of the Buddha tells how, after his many and various terrifying trials and tribulations brought on by Mara, he met his greatest trial while sitting under the Bo tree. Mara and her Furies sent a thunderbolt down from the sky to strike him down dead. But, at the ultimate moment the cobra, the King of Serpents, emerged from the shadow/darkness to offer the Buddha its hood for protection – which he accepted.
That which can kill can also cure. By bringing Lilith out of the shadows and acknowledging all sides of her, is a step towards healing and wholeness.
rose with thorns – like Lilith
with thanks to google images
next post: Eve