Susanna J. Sturgis    


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Lilith and Her Children

for Sue Burton, who introduced me to Lilith

A woman is weak for warfare,
she must use cunning.

Euripides, Medea (Jeffers translation)

     In the oldest stories the Great Mother chose her consort and lay down with her eyes open. She lay down upon him; he had no existence apart from her, unless she lay down with him. Until she lay down with him, he was unreal.

* * *

     Lilith, the first woman, refuses to let Adam, the first man, lie down upon her. Never having considered such a prospect before, he is bewildered by her refusal. He consults with his father, God, who says, "Yes, it is her pleasure and purpose to let you lie down upon her." Adam tries again, and Lilith knees him in the groin. Understanding that the situation is unlikely to change or be different elsewhere, she leaves and goes down to her own land by the Red Sea, where she sets herself to hatching demons.

     Freed from the kvetching of Lilith, his father finds Adam a more docile mate and gives them dominion over the Earth and its creatures. This they claim by naming the creatures and driving stakes in the earth, calling it their own. This, they say, they do for the future security of their children.

     In her arid exile, Lilith grows strong and wily. She plots eternal mischief; she hatches demons. Keen to the vulnerabilities of her adversary, Lilith hovers at the birthing places to snatch unguarded human infants and replace them with her demon children. Women in labor and midwives wear charms to ward off Lilith, whose powers are augmented in the presence of pregnancy. Her only intercourse with the world is the exchange of children.

     Lilith's children are prisoners of war. War is their status quo; they know no peace.

* * *

     In the tale of the Immaculate Conception, God descends upon a young woman named Mary and gets her with child. Mary spends the usual number of years waking in the night, offering the breast, changing swaddling clothes, and answering interminable questions, then at the usual time God returns to claim his son and teach him what a man needs to know.

     Among many peoples is told the story of Beauty, who falls asleep when pricked by a spindle or other sharp object provided by a wicked female. She sleeps for a variously specified but always long period of time, until she is awakened by the kiss of a prince. When pricked by a prince, she wakes and lives happily ever after. What is often forgotten at the end of the story is that these events were brought about by the attempt to avoid them.

     Beauty says that the prince who wooed her is not the prince she married. Once awakened, still she waits for a magic kiss, but she suspects that no prince will arrive if he knows she's awake, so she forces herself to sleep.

Narcotic comes from a Greek word meaning "to make numb."

* * *

The American Heritage Dictionary defines incubus as "an evil spirit believed to descend upon and have sexual intercourse with sleeping women." The gender of the incubus is not specified. The words incubus and incubate come from incubare, a Latin verb that means both to lie down upon and to hatch.

Whatever its gender
the incubus sleeps on top.

     Demons are shaped in the minds of their beholders; the minds of the beholders change over time.

     Neither God nor the prince is generally referred to as an incubus. An incubus makes unauthorized entrances. Husbands and fathers come in through the front door.

* * *

     Adam's sons and grandsons honor their wives but fantasize Lilith, whose portrait was borne to the attic and turned to the wall. In their dreams she invades their territory, silent and invisible. The aberrations of their women they blame on Lilith, and the disobedience of their children.

     Women who would not change their lives by day yet welcome the nocturnal visits of demons.

     Adam's children are prisoners of war. War is their status quo; they know no peace.

* * *

     Demons are shaped in the minds of their beholders; the minds of the beholders change over time. Consider now the succubus.

Succubus comes from succubare, to lie under. A succubus is "a female demon supposed to descend upon and have sexual intercourse with a man while he sleeps." The succubus gets her way by lying under the man. The behavior of a succubus is hard to distinguish from that of a God-fearing woman.

Listen to the fathers of the witch trials:

In through the window she slipped
and stole my member, which then
she kept in a box and showed
to her friends, who cackled at it.

While I slept, she got on me
demon children, whose fathering
I don't remember.

A woman who refuses to lie under a man
a woman who refuses to lie
hatches rebellion.

So much depends on the God-fearing woman.

* * *

     Demons are shaped in the minds of their beholders; the minds of the beholders change over time.

Moving back through time, the semantic ancestors of demon are words that meant, in Late Latin, "evil spirit"; in Latin, "spirit"; in Greek "fate, divine power, god."

* * *

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word succubus derives from the Late Latin succuba, one who lies under: a prostitute. A prostitute solicits and accepts payment for sexual intercourse. This action is referred to as "turning a trick," or "tricking." The word prostitute has developed a metaphoric dimension, meaning "one who sells his [sic] abilities or name to an unworthy cause."

     The john is a man who gets tricked. A man who gets tricked is an unworthy cause. St. John the Baptist was appointed by God to be his son's advance man. St. John wound up with his head on a platter.

     To avoid the taint of prostitution, a man avoids unworthy causes and a woman does it for free.

* * *

     Raised to maturity by human parents, Lilith's demon children turn their eyes toward their mother's land. They decide to surprise their mother by paying her a visit. Won't she be pleased? At first Lilith is fascinated by her merry offspring, then in their numbers and the sheer noise of their games, they begin to disturb her peace. They lie above, they lie below, they take the land unwitting, willing or not.

     Lilith's human foster children dress alike, do what they are told, sulk, and make sarcastic remarks about Lilith to her face. Out of boredom, spite, or lack of imagination, they sit by while the demons play tricks on the land.

* * *

     The island lies under the men in the plane. The men in the plane have a map.

* * *

     Four persons of unspecified gender take their places on the four sides of a square table. Once they sit down at the table, they receive the names of the cardinal compass points: North, South, East, West. One deals, thirteen cards to a hand. They bid for a contract to take a certain number of tricks. The partner of the highest bidder is called the Dummy. The Dummy fixes snacks while her partner takes tricks with her hand.

     Only the Dummy lets another play her hand.

* * *

     The real estate men go into the world and tell the people of a marvelous land across the water where the beaches are beautiful, the pace of life old and slow, the natives willing to please. The people come to see for themselves and some of them stay, many of them come again.

     Set apart from the crowded and confusing urban world, the people of the island prize their isolation, the clarity of their air. But nature abhors a vacuum. Under pressure, people flow into the empty places, and money flows into the places where money was not. The people of the island make friends with the visitors; show them the roads and the ancient ways; sell them fish, produce, and milk; build their houses and then look after them in the cold season, when the visitors go away.

     The real estate men take tricks with their deeds. The right deed in the hand can trump another.

* * *

     St. Brendan, Leif Eriksson, and Christopher Columbus: each has his partisans, who contend that their hero discovered America.

* * *

     A woman is valued by men for her virginity, yet the inevitable act of the man who obtains a virgin is to marry and fuck her, whereupon her value in the marketplace is considerably diminished, whereupon she is bound to him. In marrying her off, her father gets only one roll of the dice.

From the word virgin, ”a chaste or unmarried woman," derives a wealth of metaphoric adjectives: "in a pure or natural state; untouched; unsullied; unused, uncultivated, or unexplored; existing in raw or native form; not processed or refined." Among the states indicated by the prefix un- is "deprivation." A virgin is a woman unexplored by men; a virgin land is unfurrowed.

     Land is called "underutilized" until the men in the plane come with their maps and their plans to wake it, develop it, use it, sell it to other men.

* * *

     Date rape is difficult to prove. Come visit, you said, come eat, come sleep, come take what you want.

     You asked for it.

* * *

A pimp is a man
who sells sex
with a woman.

A pimp is a man
who sells sex
to men.

 A pimp is a man
who sells sex
(with a woman)
to men.

* * *

     In the oldest stories the Great Mother chose her consort and lay down with her eyes open. She lay down upon him; he had no existence apart from her, unless she lay down with him. Until she lay down with him, he was unreal. Then these stories were forgotten and she was nothing until the Lord made her visible again, till he lay down upon her and magnified her, till she magnified him.

* * *

Incubus is another name for nightmare.


Published in Calyx, volume 12, no. 1 (Summer 1989).

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