Meditations on The Great Work
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This piece was originally written in 2010 as part of my thealogical studies.
If anyone has heard, even glancingly of Lilith, it would be in this context: that the Book of Genesis states that God made a man and woman out of earth. (Genesis I:27 “So God created man in His own image, male and female He created them.”) Not a woman created from Adam’s rib, but both created at the same time. Later in Genesis, Eve makes her appearance (Genesis II: 18 “And Yahweh said, ‘It is not good for Adam to be alone. I will make a fitting helper for him”, Genesis II: 22 “And Yahweh fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman and He brought her to the man.”)
Around 500 - 600 C.E., the rabbinical scholars who sought to see the Holy Word as the Truth without contradiction or loopholes, began to have difficulty with these passages. Engaged in a learned pursuit called “Midrash” (meaning “to root out or investigate”), they attempted to resolve the discrepancy in Genesis by trying to fill in gaps. Even looking to similarities of words to find connections with other stories that may make the passages resolve. It seemed clear that Genesis was talking about 2 different women and so the rabbis of the time looked back through past biblical writings, settling on the Book of Isaiah which had a story of a woman who seemed to fit: Lilith.
The Book of Isaiah is a book of prophecy written about 742 - 701 B.C.E. by the Prophet Isaiah. Much of the Book of Isaiah is involved with encouraging God’s people to avoid those who worship other deities and to express God’s anger at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. by those aforementioned foreigners. It is in describing the resulting desolation of the land that Lilith appears. (Isaiah 34: 14 “The land shall become burning pitch. Thorns shall grow over its strongholds. It shall be the haunt of jackals. There too the lilith shall repose and find herself a resting place.”)
It was known that the Book of Isaiah was referring to a Sumero-Babylonian female figure. It is suspected that the figure in question was so familiar in those times as to not need further elaboration. The “lilith” in question appears to be the Sumerian wind demon. There is a reference to a lilith in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. There are many versions of this epic story of a possible ancient king, found written on clay tablets dating between 2150 - 1000 B.C.E. Interestingly (in light of the biblical explanation that was to evolve), the part that seems to concern Lilith has to do with a demanding sexual partner, but it is the Goddess Inanna rather than Lilith who is making the demands. The story goes that Gilgamesh (the great Babylonian king) wanted to have sex with Inanna but she refused. In some versions she out and out refuses. In others she promises to have sex with Gilgamesh if he can complete a task. Regardless, at some point a sacred tree is cut down which has 3 beings in it: a bird, a snake and Lilith, the handmaiden of Inanna, in the centre in a house which she built. When the tree is cut down these beings have to flee. Lilith is said to have fled to the desert.
The scholarly rabbis from the 7th century C.E. seem to have grasped this image of Lilith, combining the 3 beings into 1: a being with long flowing hair, wings and talons like a bird (as pictured in the fresco) and even (later in history) being imaged with a snake’s body.
It is from this time that Lilith transforms from being the wind demon of the past into the terrible sexually threatening being that held mythic imagination up until the 20th century. In a book known as The Alphabet of Ben Sira containing 22 episodes (to correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet) the story of Adam and Lilith became fleshed out.
God made Adam and Lilith at the same time from earth. But in the sexual politics of the time, Adam wanted to take the male superior position during sexual activity and Lilith wanted nothing to do with it. Her attitude was basically that, as they were created at the same time, there was no need for her to take an inferior position. She did not want Adam on top of her, sexually, metaphorically or symbolically. As there was no working through this first of all relationship conflicts, Lilith decided to leave. She took off for the Red Sea (rather than the desert) and had sex with whomever she wanted, giving birth to a number of children (called “lilim”). Adam was not happy about this and appealed to God who sent 3 angels (Sanvi, Sansanvi and Semangelaf) after Lilith to get her back. But when she found out that it meant she’d have to accept the male superior sexual position, she declined. The angels punished her by exterminating almost all her sons and dooming her to lose 100 children a day. Lilith swore revenge on all sons of man. However, to prevent being drowned in the sea by the angels, Lilith agreed that she would not harm any child who wore an amulet bearing her name.
That ended the relationship between Adam and Lilith. And Adam had to make do with having sex with animals until he got tired of that and asked God for another wife, saying that all the other animals had mates of kind and so he should have as well. But God wasn’t going to make the same mistake of having the potential ‘equal rights’ argument come up again so this time he fashioned a wife out of one of Adam’s rib. The question of being made of equal stuff was now a non-issue. And things went along fairly well until the whole snake incident. Interestingly (as pictured below in Michaelangelo’s version of “The Fall of Man”), there are some ties back to Lilith in this. That the snake was another version of Lilith trying to muck things up for Adam. Or, taken a different way, the snake was another version of Lilith trying to help Eve to gain some empowerment of her own. (Clearly I have taken a few liberties in the language of the retelling but the facts hold as related in versions of The Talmud and The Alphabet of Ben Sira)
From this point on, Lilith truly gained ground as being a terrible beast who kills children in their cribs, has poison instead of milk in her breasts and will steal the seed of men while they sleep (i.e. the succubae of ancient times or the wet dreams of modern times). Several hundred years after The Alphabet of Ben Sira, the book that forms the basis of kabbalistic inquiry known as the Zohar, took her evilness to a new low. Though it expanded somewhat on the previous notion (added a further atrocity that Lilith actually uttered the name of God, Yod He Vau He in order to leave for the Red Sea which harkens to the story of Isis learning and using the name of Ra to gain power over him), the main addition to the Lilith story was to partner her with the male personification of evil named as either Samuel or Asmodeus. This resulted in the somewhat confusing explanation that there were actually 2 Liliths. The great Lilith, spouse of Samuel and the little Lilith, spouse of Asmodeus. Regardless of whether there were one or two, Lilith coupled with the male personification of evil made for a truly nasty piece of work.
Lilith’s myth grew through the centuries to create the image of a creature who was outside the realm of Divine grace, who actively defied and insulted God and worked viciously to destroy the children of man who were God’s people. But, was it all a mistake of translation? It is from the Sumero-Babylonian stories of Lilith that some hint of what she became mythologically is derived. About 4000 B.C.E. there were references to “lilitu” in Sumer, referring to wind or storm demons. This follows through with the Sumerian word “lil” meaning “air”. There was a well-known (for the times) Goddess of Sumer named “Ninlil” which literally translated as “Lady Air”. But the proto-Semitic language (or ancient Hebrew) had the word “lyl” which translated as “night”. There were also, in ancient Babylonia, the “lilitu” who appeared to men in erotic dreams. Interestingly, they were balanced by the stories of the Babylonian Gilgamesh’s father, named “Lillu” who was said to disturb the sleep of women. It is not a stretch to see how the meanings such as “night” and “air” coupled with stories of creatures who interrupted the sleep through sexual visions could end up, over time, coalescing into the myth of a night demon who preys on men and children. Particularly if this comes at a time when sexuality is beginning to be quite regulated and rule-oriented and fears over child mortality rates are fairly high.
It has been a long time coming, but in recent years Lilith has been going through a change in mythological persona. Largely in response to the revisiting and reclaiming that has been the result of the 20th century Jungian analytical psychology movement and the women’s movement, the more demonic aspects of Lilith have been left by the wayside. Rather than be seen as a monster, she is seen as our Shadow side, everything that our society frowns upon, but that needs to be acknowledged, embraced and accepted in a healthy way in order to avoid causing chaos and destruction in our lives. She is seen as the voice of strong and wronged women everywhere, those whom others have attempted to silence but who have refused to go down without a fight.
Considering the Jungian perspective of Lilith as Shadow, one very interesting example of her appearance is the astrological: in the form of the Black Moon. According to the website, www.astro.com , the Black Moon occurs because an ellipse has 2 focal points (whereas as true circle has just one). In the passage along the Moon’s ellipse, it is the Earth that occupies one focal point. The other focal point is named the Black Moon or Lilith. It occupies the place around which the Moon is the farthest point from Earth, reaching out towards the Sun.
If taken into consideration in a chart, the Black Moon Lilith represents the furthest reaches of our Unconscious selves. The Moon itself represents the Unconscious so the Black Moon must represent that which is truly buried deep. Interestingly, there is a sense that it from this place, if explored and embraced, that we can move towards our greatest alignment with Spirit. This is reflected astrologically in that it is when the Moon is traveling in the domain of the Black Moon focal point that it is indeed closest to the Sun, the symbol of enlightenment, empowerment, vitality and true expression of Self.
One of the most beautiful contemporary illustrations of the positive reclaiming of Lilith’s empowering energy comes in the form of the Lilith Fair Concert Tours of the late 1990's. Started by Sarah MacLachlan in response to frustration over concert promoters’ belief that having 2 female acts in a row at an event spelt death to ticket sales, the 3 Lilith Fairs (that consisted solely of female music acts) raised over $10 million for women’s charities and in 1997 was the top grossing summer concert tour of the year. There is word that the Lilith Fair will return in 2010 with concert dates in Europe.
As we started with Genesis, it seems only fitting to end with Genesis as well. However, continuing along with Lilith’s expression in the musical world... In what is (in my opinion) one of the greatest albums ever, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”(1974), there is a song tribute to Lilith, seemingly referring back to her days as handmaiden of Inanna, as she guides the hero of the song-cycle through darkness into light.
The chamber was in confusion - all the voices shouting loud
I could only just hear a voice quite near say
“Please help me through the crowd”
‘Said if I helped her through she could help me too
But I could see that she was wholly blind
But from her pale face and her pale skin
A moonlight shined.
She’s gonna take you through the tunnel of night
She’s gonna lead you right.
When I led her through the people, the angry noise began to grow
She said “Let me feel the way the breezes blow
And I’ll show you where to go”
So I followed her into a big round cave, she said,
“They’re coming for you, now don’t be afraid”
Then she sat me down on a cold stone throne, carved in jade.
She’s gonna take you through the tunnel of night
She’s gonna lead you right.
She leaves me in the darkness,
I have to face my fear,
And the darkness closes in on me
I can hear a whirring sound growing near.
I can see a corner of the tunnel
Lit up by whatever’s coming here.
Two golden globes float into the room
And a blaze of white light fills the air...
Lilith has truly spent many thousands of years traveling the dark path of rejection and castigation, being hated, feared and maligned. Through all the stories, she has held a power to tell the truth as she sees it, to embrace sexuality in a form that appeals to her and to refuse to bow to an authority that tries to rule her. And yet, she has wings and is described as beautiful.
Lilith with a Snake (1886) by John Collier
Lilith can certainly be feared. As the one who has the ability to lead us to see that which is buried deep in our Unconscious - our animal natures, our unbridled sexuality and passion, our rejected selves - the path she leads us on can be truly unnerving. And yet, like the snake she embraces (or embodies), she can lead us to the cave that will act as the womb to our transformation. My favorite vision of Lilith is the story in which she goes back to the Garden of Eden and holds her hand out to Eve. In my mind she is saying, “Come on, Sister. Let’s get out of this place. It’s got you a bit brain-washed and you have so much more to offer.”
“Banned from the Bible” documentary on History Channel
Stone, Merlin, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood (Beacon Press, 1979)
Walker, Barbara G., The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (Harper Collins 1983)
Some books I have not read but found recommended on the “abroadplanet” website and which look really interesting:
Kotluv, Barbara Black, The Book of Lilith (Samuel Weiser, 1986)
Jungian feminist interpretation of Lilith legends
Patai, Raphael, The Hebrew Goddess (Wayne State University Press, 1990)
Delves into not only Lilith but Asherah, Astarte and others
Schwartz, Howard, Lilith’s Cave (Harper & Row, 1990)
Collection of Jewish folk tales centering not only on Lilith but other related figures like the Queen of Sheba
A novel I have read and highly recommend:
Cunningham, Elizabeth. The Wild Mother (Station Hill Press, 1993)
The story of Lilith, one of the descendants of the original Lilith who lives in the “Empty Land”, but is seduced by and seduces the alchemical professor, Adam Underwood who lives in the nearby walled mansion. As Adam uses the daughter that results from their union to try to recapture her, Lilith begins to die and fights to regain her freedom and her daughter.
For the past 6 months or so, I have been hosting a weekly Goddess Meditation at my healing centre. Using the beautiful and insightful Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky (gorgeous artwork by Hrana Janto) has quickly become a touchstone in the week for many of us who gather on a Wednesday afternoon to see which Goddess will present Herself to us and listen to what She has to say of where we are or what we may need address at this particular time in our lives. It has been an interesting process to observe which Goddesses appear and to see a pattern emerge. There have been times when we have had a slew of challenging Crone Goddesses and the past couple of weeks seen such a trend. But this is not a surprise. These are challenging times for many of us and, though these Goddesses can be a bit unnerving, they reflect a connection to the inner resolve and inner strength that can help see us through.
Recently, Baba Yaga (Russian/Slavic) came to join us in the meditation circle. Baba Yaga, who rides in a mortar and lives in a cottage that runs through the forest on chicken legs, is certainly one of those Goddesses to make you sit up and take notice. Perhaps the best known of Her tales is the story of Vasilisa, a Cinderella-type tale.
For the full article on Pagan Square, please click the image of Baba Yaga's chicken-footed hut above
In the line of work that I do, I have many opportunities to attend trade shows and fairs, setting up my business information and a small array of books and such for purchase. Many times, given the titles of books on display and perhaps my brochure outlining services and modalities I provide, I have found myself facing the question “Are you New Age?” Though some of what I do and what I offer does touch on aspects that are considered New Age, it is not a tag I have felt resonated with either my personal path or work. But the question has often caused me pause. Stymied on how to respond, I have pondered: What is New Age exactly? What constitutes New Age practices? What is different about what I do? And, if not New Age, then what am I?
What defines the New Age Movement?
There are so many elements that contribute to the thinking, philosophy, and practices of the New Age, it is a challenge to pin down. Rooted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophies of New Thought and Theosophy, the New Age Movement gained new form through the social consciousness and activism of the 1960’s, becoming increasingly popular and cemented with new nomenclature as a ‘movement’ in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The New Age Movement tends to constellate around principles of ‘love and light’ and, in its strictest form, hearkens the arrival of Maitreya, the Buddhist bodhisattva who will teach the law of dharma to alleviate human suffering. Its name is a nod to the concept of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, although astrologers do not agree on when this New Age will actually occur. Some calculations have it arriving several hundred years from now. Regardless, the New Age movement overall tends to subscribe to the belief that we are moving into a new age of consciousness, bringing peace, acceptance and love to all beings on a global scale, prompted by individual consciousness-raising. To facilitate this process, certain practices became associated with the Movement.
For the full article on The Healing Wheel blog at PaganSquare, click the picture above.
One of the decks that I have just started to play with in more depth is The Mayan Oracle. It actually found its way to me just before the Fanning Your Spark into Flame Retreat to Mexico last October. Seeing it as a serendipitous sign, I tossed it in my suitcase at the last minute, thinking how appropriate an Oracle deck based on the Mayan Tzolk'in calendar would be for a Retreat focused on aligning with the energies in the aftermath of 2012. I appreciated the beautiful simplicity of the deck, but also loved the opportunity to become more familiar with a very complex calendar system, and perhaps gain a bit of insight into the ancient Mayan culture in the process.
To me, these three aspects relate to:
1. Reflecting where I am at in my journey or what lessons I am currently working through (Star Glyph)
2. The best approach or method to take in meeting this part of my journey (numbers)
3. What to keep in mind about how this experience fits in with my Higher Purpose or the Grand Design in my life (lenses)
Over the course of our Retreat in Mexico, I had participants pull one card from each section. As happens so often, it was remarkable and astounding how perfect the cards were that showed up for each person. How the cards spoke to where they were at and what they were seeking within themselves, as had come to light in the previous days' work. What they could draw upon as their strength or what would ease and facilitate the learning at this point in their experience. What of their core Soul and Nature was important for them to grasp hold of and never forget. Granted, we had spent days building up powerful energy through teachings, dialogue, and meditation. But what showed up for each person rocked even me back on my heels! And I am not unfamiliar with the wonder of working with Divine energies!
Sometimes you find an Oracle that seems to have found a laser straight communication line with the Divine with messages that are always completely and powerfully on point. To me, this is one of those decks. Some may find its language a bit heavy on the "New Age lingo". There is a lot of focus on "galactic", "light body", "harmonic" and words to that effect. The sub-title of the deck says it all: A Galactic Language of Light. It is not a language I tend to use a lot, but beyond the words, the concepts are so bang on. The heart of this oracular system is the encouragement to acknowledge and accept one's Shadow in order to transform it into Light, thus allowing one's true nature to shine forth. And it does so by continually referencing the Magical Child within. A great tool for anyone pursing psychospiritual inner work.
This is not a deck I use it all the time. It is a "Truffle deck" - one I use sparingly, particularly when I want to get right to the heart of the matter. When I do, its message rings through loud and clear. And I know what I have to do next...
To play with the Mayan Oracle and see how it speaks to you,
visit The Wonder Room at The Hive and Grove Centre for Holistic Wellness.
Open Mondays - Thursdays and Saturdays, noon - 5
Several days ago, I had a lovely, lovely moment. Sitting in the arch of a big, picture window, I felt the rays of the sun as more than just a heatless hint of things to come. There was, for the first time, a weight to the rays’ touch and I felt the distinctive crack of the cold ice within - that first inkling that the thaw is on its way. Unsurprisingly, the next day brought plummeting temperatures along with re-found gloves and snow brushes for the car. But the tide had turned. Imbolc had reached out its delicate fingers to tickle 2016 for the first time and there is no pulling back from that.
As far as weather goes, it hasn’t been a bad winter. We’ve certainly had worse. The snow shovels, for the most part, have bided their time leaning up against the house and the dogs are sorely disappointed that they have not had the opportunity to carve racing tunnels in the snow with their chases. On other fronts, however, this winter has been the worst yet. We have said goodbye to far too many folks – both personally and globally. So many that, in truth, when the news was announced that Glenn Frey had died last week, my husband, a down-to-earth, practical, self-declared atheist, stopped in his tracks, raised his arms to the Heavens and declared “Enough already!”. The all too frequent heart-stopping announcements were taking their toll. It may not have been too bad outside, but our insides were feeling quite numb.
For the full article on The Healing Wheel blog at PaganSquare, click the picture above.
It is totally silly, I know, but I couldn't help it. It just started to come to me as I was working away in the kitchen and wouldn't go away until I had reached the end. So I am now posting it here for all to enjoy :-D
"My Favourite Things" (which actually also includes deer, as pictured above)
Soft, salty feta and ripe avocados
Badgers and bunnies and shy armadillos
Birds at the feeder, a kettle that sings
These are a few of my favourite things.
Curled on the couch with a blanket and basset
Husband and child who both are fantastic
Peacocky feathers and bumblebee wings
These are a few of my favourite things.
When the car breaks
When the house shakes
When I'm feeling blah
I simply remember my favourite things
And suddenly I'm in awe.
It made me happy to think about some of my favourite things today. There are about a million more that didn't make it into my version of the song. But I thought (though this was not the intention when it came into my head) "What a great thing to spend some time contemplating".
What are the things that bring a smile to your heart in those moments when perhaps like has decided to be a bit more on the challenging side?
So, one of the things I am going to strive to do this Opus is to post far more often than I do. Still working on harnessing those airy Gemini tendencies, I find myself having wonderful conversations with you all in my head. There are so many articles shared and topics explored...again, in my head. Grounding is the name of the game. Embracing the Earth is the plan.
I shared this a couple of months back but the particularities of the article came to me again this morning while I was working on the Personal Reflection for December 22. I was reminded again of how comfortable I am in the dark. Even at home, I tend to like to have rooms in almost complete darkness with just an accent light or two to prevent taking out shins on furniture.
But we can't hang out in the dark forever. Cycles turn. The light returns. And, though we may want to hang out in the protective warmth of the womb, at some point we need to be ousted to start our own journeys. Isn't that what today is all about? So how can we best support ourselves in this movement from dark to light?
In the attached article, I offer some tips for "cracking the cosmic egg", allowing the dawning of our own brilliance. To read the whole article which appeared in Science to Sage magazine, click the image above.
Today I had a lot of conversations about celebrating the Winter Solstice. Most of those conversations were with my son who is steamrolling towards the adult-identifying age of 18 just a short month away. We have celebrated the Winter Solstice his whole life thus far. To a certain degree, he is evaluating its place in his future. In the past few months, books like "Awakening the Buddha Within" have begun to appear in his room. He is exploring his own spirituality and this, by the way, makes me ecstatic. He is a 17, almost 18 year old, trying to sort out how his Spirit speaks to him. Whatever the answer turns out to be, the questioning will stand him in good stead. Unquestionably.
Regardless of whether for the moment he identifies as a Buddhist, the Winter Solstice is welcomed for the Winter Solstice always comes with a special gift.
One of the aspects of the Solstice that I connect with the most is that of "The Birth of the Divine Child" :the newborn Sun shining ever so delicately but with the promise of the strength and heat to come. I can't help but think of holding my own newborn son in my arms, so vulnerable and yet shining his own bright energy and Spirit. One often hears of the wise eyes of the newly born. It is as though we see that presence of Spirit clearly in those few days and weeks of life. It never leaves us, but, as we all know and experience, it does get buried under so many other things over the years. There is a knowingness we have when we come into this world that is always with us, once we can put our hands on the tools to bring it back into our awareness again. There is an experience of Self that becomes our journey to rediscover.
On the Winter Solstice (and I can't imagine that this will ever change), no matter how he towers over me, I celebrate the Wonder Child in my own child. Reflecting to him that Light of Essence that I see, even in times when for him it may feel very far away. In truth, it is something we all need to do for each other and even for ourselves. Our bodies need food and water in order to survive and sustain. Our Spirits need to know ourselves as precious and our lives as meaningful. Spirits can become malnourished as well as bodies. (This, by the way, is called depression.)
Today was a lovely day. A bit of a pre-Solstice celebration with my Wonder Child. My Solstice gift to him a contribution towards something for which he has been working very hard. He positively shone with a sense of accomplishment. Beautiful to see. I also took some time to think about cracking open The Great Work to start a whole new annual Opus. (More than think, I answered the question for December 21 yet again and pondered it on an even deeper level than previous years.) Some of you are starting the Great Work (in this context anyways) for the first time. It warms my heart to think of so many of us meditating over the same questions and possibly entering into a different relationship with our own inner selves, including the Essence of the Wonder Child within.
For those actively engaging in The Great Work, I wish you a fruitful and enlightening journey. And I invite you to share your discoveries or questions along the way on The Great Work Facebook Page. Carpe diem!
As the season turns to the time of expansion and as you feel the warmth of the "newborn sun" on your face (between the raindrops we are promised - the snow will come, the snow will come!) may each and every one of you feel the inner glow of your own wondrous uniqueness, knowing the year to come is another opportunity to allow your Essence to shine forth.
A long-time enthusiast of Alchemy, I have often been awed by its relevance to the path of self-discovery. The Alchemist knows - you are The Great Work, the Opus Magnum. This blog explores the many intersecting paths that lead to embracing the Self and living an empowered, fulfilling life.