Lilith - First Feminist or First Fiend?
First it was Teletubbies. Now it's the Lilith fair. Suddenly, providing information has become a sign that someone is afraid of, or intimidated by a certain group of people.
By Carolyn Gargaro
July 1, 1999
Let's go back a few months. In February, Falwell's publication, The National Liberty Journal, reported that the Teletubby, Tinky Winky was, or might be, gay. Falwell was immediately pegged as homophobic, and for the next week or so, Teletubbies were in the news. Ignored was the fact that various other news media had been reporting the same thing for quite a while, and the Liberty Journal was merely re-reporting what had been mentioned elsewhere, including on CNN and in the Village Voice. A full explanation of this can be found in my article on this topic.
Now, people are up in arms because the June issue of the The National Liberty Journal contained an article headlined, "Secrets of the Lilith Fair" which described the legend of Lilith, whom the popular Lilith Fair concert series was named after. Numerous groups have been publicly blasting Falwell for reporting on the legend of Lilith; or, more specifically, because he reported parts of the myth that are often conveniently left out when referencing the myth.
The Lilith Fair concert series, launched in 1997 by singer Sarah McLachlan, features numerous, talented, female musicians. The very succesful concert has become an annual event. The fair was named after the mythical woman "Lilith." The information that follows is a basic overview of a complex legend and it's origins.
Recent overviews of the legend in the mainstream media paint Lilith in a very flattering light. For instance, according to a press release from the People for the American Way,
"Lilith is a figure from ancient Hebrew mythology who takes on a variety of forms. According to various mythologies, she has been called Adam's first wife, a fiery, female spirit and a wild-haired, winged seductress who tempts men in their sleep. Some see her as the first feminist because of her independent ways" (People for the American Way press release, June 16, 1999)
An independent woman, fiery and wild, possibly the first feminist - such descriptive terms seem to fit in well with the theme of the Lilith Fair, don't they? What is left out, however, is the "little" detail about Lilith killing children.
In Jewish mythology, Lilith was indeed the first wife of Adam, created from the dirt and dust, as he was. According to the legend, Adam and Lilith ended up arguing about who would be dominant - Lilith refused to submit; so did Adam. As a result, Lilith left Adam and the Garden of Eden. Yes, since Lilith refused to submit, one could see her as independent, just as one could see Adam as independent for not submitting to Lilith. And yes, Lilith was known for tempting men in their sleep. However, this wondrous view of Lilith, the "independent free spirit" leaves out some critical details.
After leaving the Garden of Eden, Lilith supposedly became a she-demon, impregnated herself with the semen produced by masturbation and nocturnal emissions of many men, and waited for babies to be born so she can suck out their souls. She supposedly killed babies in their cribs (this was supposedly the folk explanation of SIDS), but only in the first days of their life. In the legend, her greatest opportunity is with infant boys before their circumcision on the eighth day. Traditionally, Jewish women in Eastern Europe keep special talismans near the birthing bed to ward her off.
Falwell reported this part of the legend, and immediately people jumped on the "Fawell hates/is scared of/is threatened by independent women" bandwagon. I guess I must also be "afraid" of independent women too, since I am reporting the very same facts. Though, following that logic, I would then be afraid of myself, since I am a single, independent woman, who also happens to be a musician.
The publishers of the Liberty Journal didn't run the article on the legend of Lilith because Falwell is "intimidated" by independent women - they ran the article because they believe that people, especially parents, have a right to know about the entire legend, not just the "nice parts." Why is it necessary to blast Falwell because The Liberty Journal pointed out the parts of the Jewish legend that others often conveniently forget to include in their glowing descriptions of Lilith? People say that Falwell is afraid of independent women - well, perhaps it is they who are afraid that people may wonder why the Lilith Fair founders are honoring the legend of a woman who kills newborn children and causes miscarriages. In fact, a Jewish friend of mine said that to this day, many Jewish women would not consider naming their children Lilith, because of the legend!
To take attention off the part of the legend they choose to ignore, those who are, let's just say, not enthused with Falwell, instead try and turn the tables and accuse Falwell of being anti-woman. Anti-woman because he reports on the entire legend, not just the a select portion of it? Anti-woman because he wonders, as I do, why people would name a concert after a legend of a woman who causes the death of children?
There have been plenty of strong, independent women throughout history. I have to wonder why people would choose to name a concert series after a legend of a woman whose "independence" also includes killing infants, or why those who choose to report on the entire legend are seen as being "afraid" of independent women.
- The Lilith Fair, The Original "Other Woman"
- Feminists Have Some Strange Role Models...
- Lilit, Malkah ha-Shadim
This article copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Gargaro and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.