Lilith is one of George MacDonald’s more popular stories. I knew that; I did not know the backstory behind the name.
I found it curious that, a few days after watching a history of feminism, I should find this dialogue in Lilith:
“He brought me an angelic splendour to be my wife.. her first thought was power, she counted it slavery to be one with me, and bear children for Him who gave her being. One child, indeed, she bore, then, puffed up with the fancy that she had created her, would have me fall down and worship her! Finding, however, that I would but love and honour, never obey and worship her, she poured out her blood to escape me, fled to the army of the aliens, and soon had so ensnared the heart of the great Shadow, that he became her slave, wrought her will, and made her queen of Hell…The one child of her body she fears and hates, and would kill, asserting a right, which is a lie, over what God sent through her into His new world…Vilest of God’s creatures, she lives by the blood and lives and souls of men. She consumes and slays, but is powerless to destroy as to create.”
What was that? I wondered.
But Lilith has enough in it to capture the imagination, intellect, and heart of its reader again and again. Not knowing the identities of the main characters didn’t seem a loss to me; there was so much else to explore. Ironically, one of Mr. Vane’s quest throughout the book is to learn his name: and here I was, blissfully remaining ignorant of the name of the librarian, his wife, and the princess!
By the end of the book I was ready to recommend to you another mystifying, enlightening MacDonald read…and in doing some background research, I found shocking information.
MacDonald did not come up with the name ‘Lilith’. It is a Hebrew name, origin explained in many places, but perhaps nowhere as succintly as Wikipedia:
“In Jewish folklore, from Alphabet of Ben Sira onwards, Lilith becomes Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time and from the same earth as Adam. This contrasts with Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs. The legend was greatly developed during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism. For example, in the 13th century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she coupled with the archangel Samael. The resulting Lilith legend is still commonly used as source material in modern Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror.”
This makes SO much more sense!! Suddenly, Lilith is a thousand times more intriguing.
Mythical Lilith is passionately opposed to motherhood. And MacDonald’s Lilith sucks the blood of babies. Her child, who she so wants to kill, has been prophesied to be the means of her redemption. Lilith wants to do everything she can to prevent that from happening.
When Lilith is mentioned on the web, she is triumphed as the first feminist.
A few weeks ago I saw a woman wearing an exercise shirt declaring in large words: CLOTHES OVER KIDS. Lilith, anyone?
Remember that Lilith did not accept her husband or motherhood? Betty Friedan echoes that, in the last sentence of the first chapter of her influential book, The Feminine Mystique: “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.””
Lilith.org, an online magazine is “independent, Jewish, and frankly feminist”.
A college teacher writes enthusiastically, “Lilith’s peregrinations continue today…for she is reborn each time her character is reinterpreted. The retellings of the myth of Lilith reflect each generation’s views of the feminine role. As we grow and change with the millennia, Lilith survives because she is the archetype for the changing role of woman.”
I cringe a little inside.
A few weeks ago, I was wondering if feminism could be as antithetical to the gospel as people claimed it was. Now, I have my answer.
I don’t believe MacDonald wrote his book against feminism: but he wrote it for the sake of truth. Truth is the same today. Lilith is still around.
In MacDonald’s tale Mara, child of Adam and Eve, is Mother of Sorrow. Lilith asks Mara to compel her to do whatever her redemption will take. Mara gently replies,
“Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another’s – not the Shadow’s. Into the created can pour itself the creating will, and so redeem it!”
“That light shall not enter me: I hate it! – Begone, slave!”
“I am no slave, for I love that light, and will with the deeper will which created mine. There is no slave but the creature that wills against its creator. Who is a slave but her who cries, ‘I am free,’ yet cannot cease to exist!”
“You speak foolishness from a cowering heart! You imagine me given over to you: I defy you! I hold myself against you! What I choose to be, you cannot change. I will not be what you think me – what you say I am!”
“I am sorry: you must suffer!”
“But be free!”
“She alone is free who would make free, she loves not freedom who would enslave: she is herself a slave. Every life, every will, every heart that came within your ken, you have sought to subdue: you are the slave of every slave you have made – such a slave that you do not know it! – See your own self!”
What a dialogue! For a young woman who longs for freedom, it gives hope that freedom is found outside of Lilith.
MacDonald invites us to the mirror. “See your own self!” Lilith sees: both who God intended her to be, and who she had made herself to be.
“She had usurped beyond her share in self-creation, and her part had undone His! She saw now what she had made, and behold, it was not good! She was as a conscious corpse, whose coffin would never come to pieces, never set her free!…Her right hand also was now clenched – upon existent Nothing – her inheritance!
But with God all things are possible. He can save even the rich!”
The beauty of MacDonald’s book is that it is a tale of redemption. Mr. Vane, Eve (in the past), and even Lilith, especially Lilith are mercifully brought to their Father through suffering, humbling, and death.
It is a curious tale. I encourage you to read more about the mythical Lilith online, then find MacDonald’s book. Get a large mug of tea, settle down, and enter a new world with the teachableness of a child.
And meet Lilith.