The figure of Lilith has been the object of an (almost) constant and (undoubtedly) necessary revisiting for several decades, but her name has been amplified with special tenacity in the course of the last five years. This, far from being a casual phenomenon, stands as one of the most rational: a large part of the feminist efforts of the last decades have focused on recovering female referents that were well invisible, well censored by the dominant discourses. This invisibility and censorship tactic, in turn, ranks as one of the most effective: depriving women of referents is an effective mechanism to limit their aspirations. It is difficult for us to be what we do not know exists, and rarely can we aspire to be what we have never been told about.
If we add all these ingredients, it seems understandable that the figure of Lilith stands today as a feminist banner, insofar as she was the first woman to populate the earth and who put her drives before the impositions of male authority. If this sounds far away or you find it difficult to fit it into the story, don't worry, that's what we're here for:
Once upon a time, according to the Judeo-Christian culture, there was a deity who decided to create the human species in his image and likeness. From dust, mud or ashes (depending on which translation you consult, the elements vary) he created man, and also from dust, mud or ashes he created woman. He called him Adam, and she called Lilith. As a joint mission, he bequeathed them to perpetuate the species as husband and wife, but our dear Lilith, not moved by the idea of marriage, nor by the idea of obedience to God, decided to escape from Eden. Since then it is said that she married the Devil, and with him engendered the demons, being known since then as the mother of all of them.
Despite the fact that Judaism and Christianity share the Old Testament in their reference scriptures (the Toraah and the Tanach for the former, and the Bible for the latter), Christianity eliminated the presence of Lilith and exchanged it for that of Eve, who was subject to both God and man, because she was born from Adam's rib, and not from the earth, although the vital development of both has a point in common: betrayal understood as disobedience and sin as a demonizing instrument of his conduct.
The student of female iconography Erika Bornay traces the origins of this figure to place them in the diaspora of the Jewish people, stating that, during their exodus, they came into contact with other cultures, such as Mesopotamia, from which they may have taken the myth of Lillake, a woman of enormous beauty who, among other things, was represented in the company of a nest of snakes, to conform to her Hebrew Lilith. In this way, we can establish one of the common elements between these religions and cults: the snake is a symbol of evil, and evil is associated with women and their sins.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the figure of Eva and the figure of Lilith have been treated in similar ways throughout the history of art, often getting confused by sharing attributes, such as long hair, often blonde or redhead. , nudity and its relationship with snakes.
Nor is it surprising, in this sense, that throughout the 19th century, coinciding with the women's liberation movements that fought for suffrage and equal rights (since we already had equal duties) in Europe, this old figure for so long abandoned but that, at that moment, very pertinently made the emancipated woman the focus of all the misfortunes of humanity. If we add to this situation that the right to contraception was also being put on the table at that time and that Lilith, according to the Hebrew tradition, was also known as the strangler of
children, we better understand why the New Woman (this is what the women who demanded rights and freedoms in the 19th and 20th centuries were called) was assimilated as a 19th-century revival of Lilith.
As Erika Bornay rightly points out: "The myth of the fatal woman, who in collusion with the devil leads man to his perdition, was not new either in literature or in art" but it did find a new field of cultivation from 1850 to 1900, when the femme fatale archetype had not only come back to life, it was also legitimized as a prototype of a real woman and not as a masculine chimera faced with the possibility of loss of privileges. In this way, in the same way that the responsibility for original sin fell on the shoulders of Eve and infant mortality on the shoulders of Lilith, the so-called "great depression" that England went through in the 19th century was, in the eyes of an elite absolutely masculinized intellectual and artistic, also the responsibility of that new woman, that
the new Lilith, who, pretending to join salaried work, stole jobs from men, neglected her children in their homes, and neglected marital needs by renouncing her continuous availability at home.
Lilith had left Eden, understood as the domestic space, to procreate with the Devil, understood as the fight for women's rights, and generate offspring at the service of evil, understood as the desire for female emancipation.
Although they were not the only ones, those known as the Pre-Raphaelites (a deeply religious brotherhood of English artists that remained together for barely five years) were largely responsible for the spread of this new model of women in 19th and early 20th century painting. . Recovering mythological scenes, religious figures and imbuing everything with great romanticism, they truly managed to turn women, once again, into subjects of evil.
Using their beauty as a bait, many of the protagonists of Pre-Raphaelite paintings (such as those by Waterhouse, Millais or Rossetti) are, in reality, perverse women who seek to "fool" men and reduce them using their "charms" to lead them to continuation to its downfall, as reflected in this scene from J. W. Waterhouse's Lamia.
Taking up a mythological model seasoned with medieval elements (such as the figure of the knight that appears in this painting, something very common in the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood), this work also illustrates a poem by John Keats published around 1820. In it, a young A knight falls in love at first sight with a beautiful maiden, Lamia. This, after seducing him, turns into a snake and ends his life. The less dramatic, go. To illustrate this similarity between woman and snake, Waterhouse plays with the patterns of the fabrics and the medium, thus pretending that the woman's cloak imitates the skin of this reptile. In this way they begin to assimilate the codes of seduction/fatality, woman/evil and serpent/sin.
Therefore, we can conclude that the figure of Lilith, in addition to being one of the earliest examples of female emancipation in the European sphere of cultural and religious influence, was also one of the figures most instrumentalized by the misogynist imaginary of the 19th century.
XIX and XX century. Lilith, therefore, was not and is not solely a woman of the Hebrew tradition, nor the ancestor of Eve (of whom we have already verified that she drinks enormously iconographically speaking), nor the face of the invention of the fatal woman. Lilith is also the symbol of resistance, manipulation and what is the price that women had to pay for saying "ENOUGH!" being for this reason, once again, accused of both sin and heresy.
Selected works in order of appearance:
1. The Sin of Franz von Stuck (1893)
2. Lilith by John Collier (1887-1889)
3. Lamia by John William Waterhouse (c. 1849)
The Old Testament figure of Lilith (that is, belonging to the Old Testament) dates back to the times of the Jewish diaspora. The Hebrew tradition considers her the first woman to populate the earth, created on equal terms with Adam (that is, from dust) and, therefore, not subject to his power. Currently, she is recognized and claimed as a primitive symbol of female emancipation in Judeo-Christian culture: she left Paradise, refusing to obey the orders of both God and Adam, to meet Satan, which is why she is also known as "Mother of Demons".
In the 19th century, moreover, Lilith was used as the archetype of the femme fatale as a response to the women's liberation movements that were taking place simultaneously throughout Europe: a woman who follows her instincts, who does not kneel before any man. , who lives his sexuality with freedom and pride and who usually appears related to snakes and, therefore, also sin.
Welcome to the world we were denied
You can see the entire MOON OF LILITH by Eugenia Tenenbaum collection at the store