Death Goddesses II

Not real, banal, everyday death – not the surface details of what a funeral is like, or the personal mourning process you have probably dealt with in connection with someone you know who died before you –  but the deeper perception of it that every culture has.  The reason they all have to deify it, or at least make an elaborate frame for it.  Quick!  What goes with that?  Sex.  It’s so wrong – the two are so opposite each other, and yet it comes up often enough in mythology and in current imagery, fiction, songs, what-have-you.  It’s not just ingrained in our culture, or any one of several other cultures.  It’s deep enough and firm enough that it must have more grounding than I even know how to approach.  But I want to approach it, and besides, I have more Goddesses to write about.

As with my first entry in this series, I need to start by writing the framework – which Goddess are we talking about this time?

Lilith.  She is a Goddess that has one, or maybe more, origins and then got used and twisted around quite a bit, and lately has shown up in pop culture enough to confuse that already tangled past.  Is she even a Death Goddess?  She’s identified with the night, and sexuality, and at least obliquely with death, so I say yes.  It all fits together for me, so let’s look at it.  As usual, this is all out of my own memory and mind, so an actual ancient history scholar might point out errors.  If you can, go ahead!  And offer me some further reading while you’re commenting!

Lilith was, in Jewish tradition, the first wife of Adam.  She was made from the same earth as him, but when they woke up and figured out they had bodies Adam decided she should submit to him.  Since she was equally strong (being made of the same material), she refused, which sent Adam off whining to G-d about how the one female available wasn’t cooperating with him.  Is the major deity here male of female?  Well, G-d said, “That’s terrible!  I’ll get rid of her and make you a better woman!”  which I think settles that question.  Adam got a rib removed and formed into the perfect mate (and they lived happily ever after, The End.), while Lilith was punished by being sent screaming into some dark tumultuous Land of Exile outside of the garden.  Lucky for her, she found demons there who must have been better at meeting her needs than her ex, since she had plenty of hot sex and ended up giving birth to – depending on which story you’ve heard – a race of monsters, all the succubi and incubi, or just a whole bunch of women who can pass as human until they get sufficiently turned on and then they start getting scary ideas about empowerment and satisfaction.

But wait!  It’s not just a Jewish myth.  Oh, sure, the myth gets even more interesting when you consider that she kills babies, and also causes sexy dreams and the aftermath thereof.  She’s also a Babylonian (or Sumerian?) Goddess who just happened to get written into all that.  Before the whole ex-wife bullshit, she was your average nocturnal sex goddess type.  The one image we always see is of a shapely nude woman with wings and talons.  This may or may not be her original form.  There may or may not have been a reference to her in what later became the Bible or Tanakh that got changed to “screech owl”.  Either my memory is shaky, or the record is shaky.  Neither is important.

What do you do with a deity that has such a patchy backstory?  Is a creature that goes about mating with demons and taking advantage of human men in their sleep a sex goddess?  Is a creature who causes stillbirth and crib death a death goddess?  Why does the same myth have to have both elements, and why do they fit so well together?

It’s all to do with the night, and darkness, and death.  All are mysterious places, where people can be expected to have a sense of unease and to be less sure of things when faced with any one of them, much less all three.  Rolling them together and adding a deep vein of sexuality makes for a potent story – one which doesn’t need details.

Now that the details have run out, story time is over.  Now is the part where Sanguine picks up all the threads and weaves them into a tidy statement telling Why: Why this goddess, and Why does she fit into your mind and life?  This is the part I had no idea how to write until very recently.  Most of the above was in Draft Limbo, and I was ready to pick a different topic and come back later.  I have my brother to thank for pulling it out and making me finish it.  He’s not standing over my shoulder urging me to type faster, he just talked to me until things clicked and then left, so I’d be alone to write.  He doesn’t even know about this particular entry yet.  Here’s what you need to know about this brother of mine:  He’s a younger male version of me.  We can go months without really talking, and then have hours and hours of conversation that show us that we have eerily similar thoughts, though our experiences are worlds apart.  Over the last two days, we discussed sexuality and how it fits into our lives.  Without knowing about all the things I talked about in my last few entries, he brought up some deep problems he has with certain aspects of the kink community.  He explained how different he feels his approach and experience can sometimes be.  This led to a lot of us interrupting each other and saying “Yes!  I know what you mean!  For example . . . ” and so on.   Peppered with jokes and laughter, and outrage, and high-fives, and book recommendations it went on like that.  Today I saw the last piece drop into place as I considered an ill-thought-out comment I’d placed on one of OG’s writings, and I was ready to talk about Lilith.

First, why do we match so well and often feel apart from the very people we should have the most in common with?  Mainly, we’re both highly sexual people for whom sex is not enough.  Well, that doesn’t make a bit of sense!  It doesn’t?  Please don’t bother trying to have any kind of sex with either of us, then.  Mere sex can be boring.  We don’t want it.  There’s something beyond that we need.  That thing is what drives you so far inside yourself and then so far into the other person and then so far beyond any real, visible dimension that comparing it to mere sex is plain silly.

Another major point that came up is that we are both basically selfish.  The only reason to do anything sexual or anything that could be counted as BDSM is that we do it for ourselves.  No wonder you have trouble with partners!  That’s a terrible idea!  No, it isn’t.  He mentioned being turned off by people who get so focused on the outre aspects of their lives that that is the only thing they can talk about.  People who need attention so badly that they use their activities as a tool to gain it rather than a tool to examine and better themselves.  People who are so unsure of what they want that they allow others to control their sexuality and activities, never questioning the purpose of it all.  (He had a good example of this last one.)  “Yes!”  I said.  The alien nature of this all is that whatever these people get up to and no matter how much it may look like things we get up to, it’s a Thing that defines them or gives them an anchor, rather then being such an integral part of all they are that they have no need to consider it as separate or use it any differently from another part, like being good at maths or having a tendency to feel social anxiety.

Trying to recap those points may sound a bit murky.  And snobbish.  That section of the conversation was peppered with, “This is going to sound really elitist if I say it this way . . . ”  then  “Go on!  It’s safe to say it here, and I’m sure I’m just as bad – we’ll be elitist together!”  With us taking turns on both sides.  So let me give a personal example:

I have an entry batting around in my mind about what I recently called my Service Heart.  I’ve had it for as long as I can remember being sexually involved with other people, but only lately have called it that.  It means, in short, that if I feel the right way about someone I am just as happy baking that person a cake as I am giving a blowjob.  I will write more about it at some point, but for now I’ll just explain why it works.  Those are two odd things to compare, and they are different when I’m in the middle of them.  But with the right person, I get such a deep, peaceful satisfaction from anything I can do that I know they will enjoy that it all comes from the same source.  It is selfish – see above – because I enjoy the act of offering something so much that I am full of happiness and feel a need of mine has been met by my actions.  That is different from someone who only cooks and bakes because she’s told (and as I’ve said, if I’m ordered to do so I will rebel.  It has to come from my own desire.)  and it’s different from someone who gives out blowjobs to anyone who will acknowledge her existence and then loudly brags to all and sundry about how good she is at it.

On that note, my brother pointed out something I needed to be told explicitly.  I kept feeling bad, and apologizing for sounding like I was slagging on the BJ Queen type.  I kept saying over and over that that type of person is simply different from me, and why should I be sounding so judgmental when I’m all for whatever consenting adults want to do with each other?  He explained to me that even if some people have a deep need for attention and outside validation, recognizing that is not inherently wrong.  He went on to say that there are plenty of people who get enjoyment and satisfaction from being with those people and meeting their needs.  The example he used, since he is a man and has an angle on all that which I don’t (partly from women trying to play “I’m broken, please fix me!” with him when they really want to continue being broken so they can continue to play) is of someone who does indeed need lots of attention and will use her issues or her body to gain it.  Lots of men enjoy that type of partner because it gives them a chance to feel as if they are fixing or caring for the woman.  And they get the sex in addition to that.  If the woman hopped up one morning and said, “I feel great now!  I’m going to Law School so I can become financially independent!  I’ll see you when I have some free time!”  the dynamic would be destroyed and the man would be at a loss as to what to do with his partner.  Within that dynamic, it works and everyone is getting what they need and is happy with it, so NO, we should not be judgmental and NO we are not saying it’s wrong.  We are simply saying that we are not interested and have different wants and needs.  Sounds so simple, but I never nailed it down until he said it.

And that brings me perfectly to my ill-considered comment.  I now understand what I meant.  I didn’t say it as I was not yet equipped to, and the way I’m saying it here is not something I would confront OG with anyway, since it could never sound right.  Having had the general discussions I have lately, and taking into account all of the above, this is not another criticism.  I can stand back and let our differences wash over me, and I can look at them as they pass as I have a rock to stand on as the tide comes in. It is so hard to discuss the variations in expression when my example is a specific person who has attacked me, but the perspective I have makes me not want to fight, but to look at it and say, “I know what this is and I am stronger and more loving for knowing it.”

The writing had a lot to do with OG’s understanding of herself as being a bright flame that people cannot help but be drawn to.  Because it burns so hot, and so intensely, many of them are burned up in the fiery passion.  It burns on, an eternal flame that will always draw more in.  Now, keep in mind that this was back when I was so sure we would bond, and be friends, and that we would compliment each other beautifully as point/counterpoint.  I was trying to reach out and get to know her, to start a discussion before our next meeting, so I replied.  I said that her writing was interesting, since I am the opposite.  I am cold, and dark, and drive people away.  Not that I was moaning, just that hearing about the other side was fascinating to me. The possible discussion could have been all sorts of interesting, but she never replied.  Why?  Well, who knows, really!  But I understand it now – what I meant and where the real difference is.  Not in temperature, or brightness.

I see now that that flame, that ability to draw people in which I have seen over and over and do not possess is missing in me for a reason.  The burning, drawing, capturing and sometimes searing nature of it is a hunger for the attention.  Once a person is drawn, they are transfixed by it because it continues to burn.  That is the need I mentioned earlier.  People who enjoy feeding it will always have the fire to feed.  And me?  Cold and dark?  Do I drive people away?  Yes.  It’s dark because I have fed all the animals, cleaned up, and have finally turned the light out to rest.  It’s cold because ice is strong and solid and clear.  If you stop by my house on the glacier, I may invite you in if I like you, but I may turn you away because I have no need for a caretaker who will get in the way of my tasks.  Anyone looking for a fire to fuel will be disappointed, and look elsewhere.  As they walk away, seeking warmer climes, I will turn back to my home and settle further in to wait for the next visitor.  If he is a long time coming, I am secure in my castle of ice.

It’s the culmination of the strength I felt after last weekend.  In a larger sense, I can see that the burning flame has an important place, and that my security in the frozen world does as well.  As my brother said, as long as everyone’s happy and gets what they need, leave them to enjoy it and enjoy whatever it is that you need as you seek and find it.

In conclusion, this does illustrate why Lilith is one of mine, and why I needed to include her in this series.  Darkness, and the chill of night, and the scorn of Adam (if you believe that version) all combined to make her what she is.  If she never has a husband, if she loses a husband because he favors another that is his own flesh and bone and not a thing of chill clay breathed into life, she will stand up, strong and gloriously dark, and find demon lovers or the comfort of solitary darkness and thrive there forever.

It’s fitting that she should be such a footnote in mythology, and yet so often used as an example of what happens when a woman of power manifests as a supernatural thing.  It’s hard to see late at night, and the cool air may drive you to your fires.  Lilith does not care, and will creep into your dreams and spill semen but then slip back into another realm.  She is familiar with death, and keeps it in her hands, yet can inspire the fullest cry against mortality – the affirmation of one’s procreative powers.  She is not a maternal goddess, but is attributed with the motherhood of beautiful monsters.  Perhaps because the only ones who could want her were monsters themselves, and perhaps because her children were strange and frightening enough that they could only be called monsters by the people who would rather watch as they are “borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”


One Response to “Death Goddesses II”

  1. Mary Shelley, thank you for my final line. It’s one of my favorites in all of literature.

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