May 15, 2016

The God Stories: Lilith

The Woman had long hair that hung loose, and it waved like the serpentine sea. And as they lay in love together, it smelled to the Man of cinnamon. And to the Woman, the hollow under his arm smelled like apples warming in the sun. And they were as close as any two can be.

Then the Man said, “Get below me!” The Woman smiled, for she thought he was jesting. But he said again, “Get below me!”

And the Woman did not smile so much and she said, “We were made equally and together of the same dust from all the four corners of the earth.”

But he said again, “Lie below me!”

And she said, “We were one body and one being, for we were made he and she together in God’s own image, and we cried equally to God out of our loneliness. And that is the only reason God made us two.”

But the Man said only, “Below me!”

Then the Woman said – and now she spoke more loudly and faster – “Together we named every animal that prowls the earth, every bird that wings the sky, every fish that cleaves the waters.

And the angels so envied the glory and the vastness that was equally ours when we were undivided, that they cried to God, ‘What is this creature that you are so mindful of it?’ And yet you say to me ‘Get below me!'”

And in anger she cried out the ineffable name of God. And the power of the name was so great it lifted her into the air, and she hovered above the Man. And he stood up and called, demanding, after her. Then she was gone, and he saw her no more.

And, bereft, he cried to God, “The woman you gave me has deserted me!”

So, hearing the Man, God sent three angels – Senoi, Sansenoi and Sammangelof – to find the one with the long loose hair that waved like the serpentine sea. And after many days they found her rocking on the mighty waves of the Red Sea that already murmured unceasingly of the ghosts of the Egyptians yet to come. And she now had myriads of children, fathered by the demons who lived on the seashore, and they were half-magical and grew more each day. And in anger the angels commanded her to return. But the Woman said, with scorn, “Shall I who have rocked on the waves of the murmuring sea, and heard many different voices, and had many arms round me, shall I return to the Man who says ‘Get below me!’ and live like a housewife?”

And the angels cried, “Do as we say!” And they cast around for a way to force her to return. And they cried, “We will kill your myriads of children!”

And the Woman of the long hair cried back, “Take care! Take care! What you do to me, I will do to others!”

“If you do,” cried the angels, “we will drown you in the waters of the sea!”

“Only try!” she taunted them.

And they tried to grasp her, but over and over again she slipped mockingly through their fingers and her long hair spread through the waters like seaweed. But at last one caught her by her sun-gold arm, and another by her rosy heel, and the third by her glistening rippling hair, and they held her under the waves till she cried, “Let me go!”

But they only cried back, “Will you still kill the children of humans?”

And she struggled for air, and said, “I will spare any child who has your names above the cradle.”

So, flattered, they released her. But as she swam away, she cried over her shoulder, “But I will never return to the Man. I have made a bargain and I will keep to it, for I am more trustworthy than he is. But I will never return to him, for we were made equal and he would not have it so!”
And so it has been ever since. The angels killed her children daily because she remembered how she and the Man had been made all in one and equal to each other. And because they did so, she killed the children of humans (for her own are half-magical). But she kept her bargain, and spared the children who had the angels’ names above the cradle – Senoi, Sansenoi and Sammangelof.

And even today there are old women who still remember. And they hang over the cradle the names of the three angels, for the whole of eight days if it is a boy child, for the whole of twenty if it is a girl; for after that time, they say Lilith has no power over them. And if a baby laughs in her sleep, they say Lilith is playing with her and beguiling her, and they wake her roughly and snatch her up. But sometimes they forget to watch, or they forget to hang up the names, or they forget the names – Senoi, Sansenoi and Sammangelof. And when they come back the child is dead, and on the coverlet a long golden hair.