Lilith, Eve and Mebuyan: Creating New Edens
The Sacred and the Profane
Moral Theology is about God and divine things. In making sense of what we believe about these in our course, we discussed creation and revelation, sin and evil, and body and soul. From our discussion, my perceptions about how text defines life was validated. The sacred text, the Bible, is still the primary source of God’s revelations and our “spoken” texts today exhibit God’s so-called “revelations” embedded in our collective history and consciousness. Some of these are patriarchal and misogynist perspectives which are evident in our most profane invectives. Words which refer to women’s genitalia or sexuality. This is not just true for Filipinos but across cultures. A critique of our sacred texts is necessary to be able to transform life: to rediscover what we believe to be profane as sacred, and to exorcise the sacred of its profanity.
In the movie, “The Book of Eli,” the power of the written word was evident. A Bible, a copy of the sacred text, was in the hands of an end times prophet, Eli, played by Denzel Washington. When he recited Psalm 23 from memory, the young woman who heard it said that it was beautiful and asked if he created it. It was simple, yet beautiful and inspiring. The sacred book was a source of hope. If taken by the sinister ruler of a small community of survivors, played by Gary Oldman, it would be a source of absolute and oppressive power. The struggle to protect and possess it determined the character of the two men. More importantly, the struggle to protect and possess it exhibits every human being’s internal struggle to serve self or serve others.
Most people cannot separate history from myth, reason from faith, reality from construction. This paper is intended to propose new readings and perspectives towards promoting life and dignity.
Creation and Construction
Adam and Eve is a creation myth. More than that, it is considered to be a sacred story. A myth is created to explain or create order. A sacred story is written to define life and relationships. When a myth is perceived as sacred by a community, it becomes truth. The Truth.
Lilith, in Jewish myth, was the first wife of Adam. She, according to the Midrash, was created in the Genesis 1 narrative where males and females were created together. Lilith believed that she and Adam were created equal. One day, Adam, to assert his power over her, insisted that she be beneath Adam during sexual intercourse. She resisted, because she believed they were equal, and escaped from him. Adam, both angry and lonely, asked God to send out three angels to bring her back. They found her in the Red Sea but she did not want to go back to Adam. In response, the angels threatened her that hundreds of her children will die every day. The myth ends with how Lilith is the spirit that causes infants to die every day.
Mebuyan is a Manobo-Bagobo mythical goddess of the underworld. In the myth, she is ordered to follow her brother in a realm which was his domain. Mebuyan refused to follow him and instead created an underworld where she did not have to submit to the power of her brother. She wanted to create an alternative world all her own. If I remember correctly, in the myth, she declares that every time a grain falls before it is ripe, an infant dies. And when they die, she will take them to her underworld and nurture them with her own breasts. Mebuyan is not depicted as a woman with two breasts. She has many. And she will feed infants who need her milk even if they are not her own. She, like Lilith, is said to be the reason why infants and children die young.
The Other Woman
If according to the Jewish myth on Lilith, she is the first spouse of Adam, then Eve is the other woman. But then again, if Eve was taken or birthed from Adam’s body and she became the mother of Adam’s sons, that would be incest. The Christian interpretation of Adam and Eve as male and female and as the model for marriage and partnership is problematic. It has also been used to argue against and condemn homosexuality. But for the purposes of this paper, I will focus on how Eve, as a female, is depicted as the source of sin and the cause of the fall of humanity. There is a need to critique the narrative that has been the primary text in the subjugation of Christian women for centuries.
In Genesis Chapter 2, the narrative gives an account of how Eve is created so that Adam, the man, “should not be alone.”(v18) Then, not only is her creation a response to another being’s need but she is a derivative. The origin and host is the male. (v22-23) Finally, the text reads “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (v24) The man, of his own free will, leaves his parents and becomes a separate entity, while the woman is subsumed and loses her self-identity and self-determination. In the creation myth in Chapter 1, the narrative states that humankind was created in God’s image and God created both male and female. (v26-27) Then, both are blessed and given stewardship of creation. (v28-30) In the creation of humankind in Chapter 1, there is no essential difference that separates the male from the female. This a sharp contrast to the Adam and Eve narrative where Eve is created second only to Adam, is a product of Adam’s body, and is then made one-flesh with Adam. In this creation story, there would be no Eve if there was no Adam. But it does not end there. It is not enough to interpret Eve as a creature somewhat lower than Adam.
The succeeding chapter is often told and familiar. It is entitled “The Fall of Humanity” in many versions of the Bible. The lessons Christian communities draw from the narrative are about temptation, disobedience, greed, and punishment. In the whole of the preceding verses, God does not speak to Eve. Only to Adam. It is only after Adam blames Eve that God addresses Eve. God asked, “What is this you have done?” (Chapter 3, v13) Then, God pronounces judgment against the serpent, Eve and Adam. The serpent will crawl on its belly and will be hated, and Adam will labor before he can enjoy the fruits of the land and will return to the ground at his death. Both punishments are connected to the ground. Eve’s is different. Her punishment is connected to her body. She will have pain in childbirth and desire her husband despite the pain it will bring. Furthermore, she will be under his control.
Woman on Top and Woman Below
There are several similarities in the myths of Lilith, Mebuyan and Eve. All are female. All have powerful male counterparts who wish to dominate over them. All their stories are explicit about their bodies and sexuality: how Lilith did not want to be beneath Adam during sexual intercourse; how Mebuyan had many breasts to feed the infants who came to her in her underworld; how Eve will be in pain at childbirth and how she will desire her husband who will rule over her. All resist and escape. All were given judgment at the end of the narratives.
Christian texts and interpretations for centuries have identified women as the source of sin. Women’s bodies are central in their being in ways that men are not. When a woman is beautiful, she is a source of temptation to men. When a woman is barren, she is cursed by God. When she is no longer a virgin and unmarried, she dishonors God and must be punished with death. Men’s bodies do not define them. This sexual dualism defines women as the source of evil or evil itself. It has cultivated misogyny, the hatred of women, and erotophobia, the fear of sexuality itself. Consequently, these alienate women from their own bodies and promote envy among females, while perpetrating both women and men’s fear of their own sexuality.
Lilith, Mebuyan and Eve have been interpreted as sources of sin and evil. More importantly, it is when they resist the structures and systems created by men that they are considered sinful. It is when women want to be on top, refusing to be dominated, that they are placed by the storyteller in realms below. As if that is the only place for women.
Escaping and Creating Edens
Eden is a construct. It has been interpreted as a source of truth for centuries even when there are un-truths in it. Feminist theologians have pointed out how Eve being created from Adam’s rib is a direct inversion of reality. Every day women give birth to bring forth new life. Men do not. In the narrative, God says that anyone who eats of the fruit from the tree of life will die. Adam and Eve eat but do not die. That was not true.
Riane Eisler, in her book ‘the Chalice and the Blade,’ tells of a time when religious plurality was the norm and goddess worship was celebrated. Their rituals included the serpent and the tree. The serpent is a symbol of wisdom and healing and in the images of the goddess, it was often placed beside the goddess as she was considered to be the source of the same. The tree is their altar where they present their offerings. Eisler further argues that the Creation account of Adam and Eve was constructed to demonize the goddess, the serpent and the tree of life.
Sin can also be a construct. If God created humanity for love, intimacy and companionship, why is it that in the creation account of Adam and Eve, God denies them both the most tempting fruit from the tree of life, wisdom and eternal life. Should humanity choose obedience over wisdom, sacrifice over wholeneness, hunger over fullness? Why is God depicted as one who gives life but also denies it; creates abundance but deprives others of experiencing it? At the end of the narrative, Adam and Eve were sent out of Eden.
The myths about Lilith, Mebuyan and Eve have been constructed and interpreted so that women embody sin and disobedience. Eve, likewise, bears the blame of the ‘fall of humanity.’ However, feminist readings have argued that all three women embody resistance from domination, the power to transform their situation and the gift of creating new creations or Edens to experience life. The Garden of Eden was a place where Adam and Eve encountered and experienced God. God created Eden for them and other creatures. But there is life beyond Eden. The beauty of the story is, God did not remain in Eden, as well. God journeyed with humanity beyond Eden.
Perhaps, then, sin cannot separate us from the love of God. Perhaps it is time for us to create new myths about Lilith, Mebuyan, Eve, and, yes, Eden.
Perhaps the myths we weave together would be something like this:
If we were to raise daughters, how would we raise them to be?
To be like Lilith, so independent and free?
Or to be like Eve, cherishing marriage and family?
I would want our daughters to be both.
Struggling for and not just submitting to LIFE.
Embodying our visions of tomorrow’s children.
Lilith Eve is the child of our tomorrows and eons past,
The daughter of Eden and earths beyond it.
She is the fruit of souls touching, of sacred pleasuring,
and of dreams of an unlimited universe.
She will be warmed by her mother’s fire
and lulled in the waves of her father’s song.
She will burn with passion for those whose only hope is the Divine
and slowly erode the oppressive lies and structures with both
gentleness and fierceness.
She will dance like a flame and enchant like her mother.
And inspire people of different ages like her father.
She will play with goddesses and mortals
and welcome them in the sanctuary of her universe.
Lilith Eve is the child of the universe.
She whispers to the stars, kisses the flowers,
touches the tenderest creatures,
and charms the strong and the wild.
She will run to the mountains and explore the deepest seas,
sleep under the moon and swing on the boughs of trees.
At times she will be restless and want to be alone and free.
But there will be many moments when she comes to lay between you and me.