Very early on in life, I abandoned a religion that I felt had abandoned me as a woman. A few stories in particular illustrate my reasons for doing so: those of Lilith, Eve, and Mary Magdalene. They showed what I found to be a very warped, incredibly negative view of women and when I saw through the intent to control that seemed to have motivated their telling, that was reason enough for me to quit my religion. For the longest time after I did, I had no viable replacement, but that’s for a later post. For now, suffice it to say that I had to lose my religion in order to find my faith and that my faith holds a very different and much more positive and richer view of my sex. Now, on to the stories that caused that to happen.
I discovered the story of Lilith back in college. For those unfamiliar with her story, Lilith is Adam’s first wife according to the Babylonian Talmud. She and Adam are created simultaneously and for this reason, she views herself as Adam’s equal. Neither partner agrees to submit to the other, but for some strange reason God doesn’t like this and what happens to Lilith and Adam because of their behavior is very different. Lilith refuses to “lie beneath” Adam, which can be read both literally and figuratively. The literal interpretation just made me laugh and think “Really? Really?” Lilith is actually referred to as “wanton” because she likes being on top and apparently we are to take from this story that her preference of sexual position is somehow bad (read: only “dirty” girls like to do things like that). Interpreted more broadly, Lilith told Adam to shove it when he tried to boss her around. Though that’s something most of us would give a loud cheer for these days, in the story, it’s the reason why Lilith is kicked out of Eden. Yep, either way you read that story, the outcome is the same: the Almighty banishes Lilith because of her so-called wicked ways. As if that isn’t bad enough, once she’s gone from Paradise, Lilith actually becomes a demon (the name literally means something close to “night terror”); she’s known as an evil hag, a sort of vampire that goes around stealing babies at night and drinking their blood. So to recap, Lilith refuses to submit to her husband and because of that, she is demonized. But does Adam get punished for wanting to be on top? Quite the opposite. Once the evil Lilith is gone, lonely Adam is given a new woman who’s supposedly OK with being dominated. He’s rewarded by God for his behavior, sending the message to men that this is how they’re supposed to behave, that being controlling is something to model. Sorry, but no. Well, Adam’s woman troubles don’t end with his first partner. The supposedly submissive Eve doesn’t seem to want to do as she’s told either. Imagine that. Eve craves knowledge, which is forbidden by God, and because she seeks it and, moreover, encourages her partner Adam to do the same, she is blamed for the sin of the entire human race. Are you kidding me? Eve is a terrible person because she wants to better herself and is trying to help her husband become something more too? Why is wanting to be enlightened presented as a “bad” thing? Because we’re supposed to want to remain in the dark? The message that sends to and about women is crystal clear and downright awful: women are at best sinful creatures who will trick men into doing rotten things and at worst horrible monsters for standing up for themselves. It also tries to sell us a very negative view of men in my opinion and of relationships. Well, I wasn’t buying any of it. Lilith was no demon in my mind. She was a wild woman—like me. So was Eve, I think. They were part of a sisterhood that included Mary Magdalene.
For a while I toyed with writing the “real” story of Lilith, where she wasn’t some harpy but a woman wronged, a woman who didn’t get thrown out of Eden, but rather chose to leave, knowing that she deserved better. I’m sure she went on to find herself some other(s) who was(were) quite different from Adam. Maybe they even had a relationship like Jesus and Mary Magdalene had.
Mary’s was another story that struck me. I think the Bible cheated us there too in a different but no less cruel way when Mary’s gospel was omitted. You know that Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code which basically centers around the not-so-secret idea that Mary Magdalene was actually the mother of Jesus’s children, that she and/or those offspring were the real “holy grail” that was taken out of the Holy Land? Well, he got it from the gospel of Mary Magdalene. I know some of you are going “What? There’s no gospel of Mary,” but there is and I linked to it in that last sentence. It’s just one of the non-canonical ones. In her book The Path of the Priestess, Sharron Rose writes that the gnostic Christians believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene had what was essentially a tantric marriage. Oh, how I loved that story—Mary as Jesus’s partner, a spiritual woman who embodied the divine feminine! It was what Lilith was not permitted to be. But instead of that beautiful tale of spiritual awakening happening through a partnership between the man and woman where Mary helped Jesus in his ministry, the official story that the Bible gave us was that Mary Magdalene was just some prostitute and Jesus was kind to her because she did things like wash his feet. Why was that the preferable tale? I couldn’t help seeing this in the same light as Lilith’s story; it seemed designed to project a very particular view of women, one as servants rather than partners and to me, that seemed wrong. I think not just men and women but people in general are meant to help one another. I wanted that other story, the one where Mary Magdalene was something more, where she had a much richer story of her own to tell. That story came from a very old tradition that predated the religion I’d grown up with, one that has its parallels in cultures across the entire globe and that is known collectively as the sacred feminine. It projected not only a spirituality that resonated with me but also a view of relationships that seemed ideal to me as well. I read the gnostic story of Mary Magdalene as not only a deep spiritual truth but also a redemption of Lilith, and of Eve, and of all of us wild women out there who rebelled against the false constructs pushed on us and instead heeded the call back to our true selves.