SurLaLune Header Logo

This is an archived string from the
SurLaLune Fairy Tales Discussion Board.

Back to May 2001 Archives Table of Contents

Return to Board Archives Main Page

Visit the Current Discussions on EZBoard

Visit the SurLaLune Fairy Tales Main Page

Page 1 2 3

Author Comment
Unregistered User
(4/26/01 3:26:08 pm)

A Talmudic late-bloomer--what a compelling phrase!

Here’s my knowledge of Lilith, which I hope is not too general, though admittedly, it’s pretty slim. I know entire volumes have been written on her . . . full of information . . . but in any case, according to Hebrew legend as I know it, God created Lilith as a companion for the “first man,” Adam. Both were created from dust so Lilith considered herself equal to Adam. The Bible differentiates between them anatomically, calling the male the one who “pisseth against the wall” if I’m remembering the phrase correctly (and I think I am because I always liked it). As it goes, Lilith objected to lying beneath Adam during intercourse, but he would not change his ways. So she left. Apparently this is so offensive that she ends up in rabbinic tradition depicted as a demon who seduces sleeping men and steals the souls of babies (uh, kills them), but I have never quite grasped that exactly. It is my understanding that this depiction results from her departure from Adam. It's not her 'original' (bad choice of words) persona at all, but a slur on her character by rabbinic tradition. Lilith is mentioned in Isaiah 34:14, and the King James Version refers to her as a “screech-owl.”

So I will turn the question back out to you--I'm curious how you might interpret it.
Is she death's assistant, co-conspirator or Talmudic late-bloomer?

I fear that the rest of my knowledge of Judaism is confined to recipes for kugel,
latkes and knedls!

And I'm so sorry but now I can't remember who asked about Judith Butler's Gender
Trouble--Karen? Yes, I've read it. I took a class with her in college,
actually. I think that's a great book, seminal.

Unregistered User
(4/26/01 8:36:27 pm)
sun and sea

I haven't actually read Gender Trouble, but I was thinking of Bataille's "Eroticism" earlier-
which is the book in which he discusses the assexual reproduction of cells, yes. I was
thinking of it because of his argument that "to despoil is the esscence of eroticism".
"Eroticism... is assenting to life up to the point of death". He quotes the Marquis de Sade:
"There is no better way to know death than to link it with
some licentious image". I thought that might dovetail nicely into our discussion of the angel
of death. Bataille has a passage about poetry which I really like:

"Poetry leads to the sameplace as all forms of eroticism-to the blending and fusion of
separate objects. It leads us to eternity, it leads us to death, and through death to continuity. POetry is eternity; the sun matched with the sea".

Just wanted to toss that into the broth. Is the classical muse an angel of death?

Now, I have a limited knowledge of Lilith too, but I think it's curious that her story is so
similar to the story of La Lorona in many respects. She kills children, she waits at
crossroads and seduces men, etc. I wouldn't call her death's co-conspirator though.
She's allowed to kill all children who have been "sinfully" conceived, but,in return, a
hundred of her own children die everyday- although perhaps that's just an extension of
the birth-death nexus we discussed earlier....


Unregistered User
(4/27/01 5:09:24 am)
Coatilcue State

I have been just reading Gloria Anzaldua's "Borderlands/La Frontera" and she discusses the
Aztec goddess of death and birth, Coatilcue. The goddess has a wonderful complexity;utterly
terrifying and supportive all at the same time. Interestingly enough, the female is represented
in the figure of the snake. Here is a quote from Borderlands:

"Coatilcue depicts the contradictory...[L]ike Medusa, the Gorgon, she is the symbol of the
fusion of opposites: the eagle and the serpent, heaven and the underworld, life and eath,
mobility and immobility, beauty and horror. When pain and suffering and the advent of
death become intolerable, there is Tlazoltealt hovering at the crossroads of life to lure a
person away from his or her seemingly appointed destination and we are held embrujadas,
kept from our destiny, our soul arrested. We are not living up to our potential and thereby
impeding the evolution of the soul. Coatilcue, the Earth, opens and plunges us into its maw,
devours us. By keeping the conscious mind occupied or immobile, the germination work takes
place in the deep, dark earth of the unconscious."(69)

What I thought was really interesting was this female figure of birth/death is not only about the
body but the intellectual mind and the spirit. That not to be on ones right path is a form of death
that only a trip to the underworld can correct. The underworld (perhaps much like Hades) is
less a place of unremitting darkness, but like fertile mud where the self germinates and then is
reborn. The description of her is fabulously gory and terrifying. Here's this from Andalzua again
describing an Aztec figurine:

"She has no head. In its place two spurts of blood gush up, transforming into enormous twin
rattlesnakes facing each other, which symbolize the earth bound characters of human life.
She has no hands. In their place are two more serpents in the form of eag;e-like claws, which
are repeated at her feet: claws that symbolize the digging of graves into the earth as well as
the sky-bond eagle, the masculine force. Hanging from her neck is a necklace of open hands
alternating with human hearts. The hands symbolize the act of giving life; the hearts the pain of
Mother Earth giving birth to all her children, as well as the pain that humans suffer throughout
life in their hard existence. The hearts also represent the taking of life through sacrifice tothe
gods in exchange for their preservation in the world. In the center of the collar hangs a human
skull with living eyes in its sockets. Another identical skull is attached to her belt. These
symbolize life and death together as parts of one process."

It's really a remarkable image because it is so metaphorical without the usual comfort of a
recognizible human face. It makes the concept of death broader in some senses because
it also associates life/death issues within rites of passage in a given life and the on going
development of the soul and the intellect. It struck me as well because of a discussion I
heard with Robert Bly in an interview on depression and grief and the poet. That we
feared grief because it seemed such a dark well, but that when we denied it, we remained
in limbo in depression, caught at a crossroads that gave us nothing. It was essential to
give into the wildness of grief, to the claws and talons, to go down into the underworld
and be with the dead. That they offered fertile advice and that out of that mud we could
return renewed. For the writer there is something of that emotional upheaval, life/death
as part of the creative process. So often writers use that "birth" metaphor to describe
the writing process...(wrongly I think because birth begins one's repsonsibility and
involvement as a parent, whereas getting the book out ends it).. I think death is actually
a fruitful part of that process---not just as a negation "birth" but as part of the dialectic
process in the creation of the work.

P.S. I'm reading Butler...which is a bit like eating big bites of Wasabi. And am awed that
you shared a class with her. Have you seen there is a British web site that has cards
(after the fashion of Basball Cards) for theorists? Hilarious. Her card has a rather droll
comment about her intense and difficult writing style.

Which brings me back and a round about way to figures like Lilith...because they are
associated also with the intellect (she is that most terrifying of creatures...a smart female).
All that elemental, primal power; blood, life/death, sex, earth....connected to a driving intellect.

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 5:12:55 am)
Ach...I have this annoying habit of transposing the letters of Gloria Anzaldua's name...
it is Anzaldua...not Andalzua! Sorry.

And for some peculiar reason my postscript got placed above my last paragraph. I
apologize if it looks a bit weird...

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 6:34:44 am)
the dark road
Midori, as I read your words "...that not to be on the right path is a form of death that
only a trip to the underworld can correct," I thought: that describes the death-in-life that
we experience as depression. So your comments about Robert Bly in the next paragraph
were particularly interesting. I'm reminded of Alan Garner's strange and brilliant
autobiographical essays about depression in his book The Voice That Thunders.
And of a Mexican tale about death and rebirth that I wrote about for a rites-of-passage
article that touched upon mythic symbolism around the subjects of illness, death, and
depression. I won't repeat the Mexican tale here (wonderful as it is) since if anyone's
interested, they can follow this link to the article:


Karen brings up the subject of the classical muse, which interests me greatly, particularly
in relationship to the above. One of the major themes I keep coming back to in my own
fiction concerns the nature of the muse, of artistic inspiration, and what happens when
you stumble (or stride) off "the right path" as Midori says above, the death-in-life than
can occur when a creator is not creating, for whatever reasons. (In both "The Wood Wife"
and "The Color of Angels," the reason is basically that the protagonists have been stuck in
their pasts -- or up their own backsides if one is feeling less charitable towards them --
rather than opening up to emotional risk by journeying on to a new phase of life, a new
road where the muse stands waiting for them (tapping her foot with increasing impatience).
It takes a mythic journey, a night journey, in both of these stories before such a transition
can occur -- and an encounter with death, on both the material and mythical planes. I find
that what's true in myth is often true in my own life, at least. So often the best transitions
into rich new areas of life have been preceded by a trip to the underworld: by illness or calamity,
the death of the old inextricably entwined with the birth of the new.

Oh dear, this is typical. You folks are talking theory, and I'm bringing it down to the level
of personal experience. Jane, I'll have to join you on the "uh me just storyteller" bench. Don't
stop, you theorists. I'm enjoying your posts immense

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 6:47:25 am)
Sorry, I didn't mean to turn that whole message into a link! And I wasn't even logged in
properly when I posted it, so I can't edit it. My apologies.

Here's proper the link:

Registered User
(4/27/01 6:50:34 am)
Re: Godfather/Godmother Death
I have found the gender issue regarding Death quite interesting…It made me think of
the three Fates…I got this description from the Encyclopedia Mythica:
"ruthless avenging Fates who were regarded as old women occupied in spinning, Clotho
the Spinner of the thread of life and Lachesis the Disposer of Lots, she who allots every
man his destiny and Atropos She Who Cannot Be Turned, who finally cuts the thread
of life who give men at their birth both evil and good to have, and they pursue the
transgressions of men and of gods, and these goddesses never cease from their dread
anger until they punish the sinner with a sore penalty."
Maybe it is just me, but the presence of Death as wholly male, as in the Grim Reaper
and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse seems pretty medieval in origin…earlier
representations include both male and female aspects of Death…

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 6:57:18 am)
Terri! I am just reminded in your post of a poem by Michael Hannon you sent to me
years ago that I copied in a book. It seems to echo the image of
the muse, of violence, death and femaleness and the desire of the poet that Anzaldua
has in the image of Coatilcue:

The Muse

"I don't go to her, she comes to me, red
With unspeakable crimes and her hair
Is a black wind annihilating worlds
To get at the door in my bed.

It takes forever to get her clothes off,
And I don't have forever."

And I think it appropriate to add the second Hannon poem which also fits in with
this discussion.

An Angel

"Waking from life in death
Is like waking for the first time
An angel who isn't an angel
Pulling your life over your head
So that you see it was really death
Worn backwards and the angel singing

In a language you were born to adore."

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 8:37:14 am)

Can you give me more information about the theorist cards? I haven't ever seen them but
would love to--maybe they would be useful in a class. If you don't know more about them,
no problem. I'll figure it out!


Unregistered User
(4/27/01 9:02:17 am)
Give me a day to find the reference in my notes. You will love them! And yes they are rather
useful for classes...not indepth, but they hit the salient features of a particular theorists bent
and manage to throw in humor and a photo.

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 10:27:07 am)
Theorist trading cards
I found them and they really are great. Here's the site:

This will allow you to view the whole set of twelve (and counting I believe) and view a few
of them close up on the web. Here's Butler's card

Have fun.

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 10:47:26 am)

Thanks--these will be great for my first year students next fall. There's also a comic book
series on theory that's pretty neat, have you seen that? It's fairly expensive though.


Unregistered User
(4/27/01 11:05:00 am)
I think this is as good a time as any to remind us all that we cannot--even on discussion
boards--quote an entire poem without permission and proper documentation.

Thnaks-- a fellow poet.


Unregistered User
(4/27/01 2:26:38 pm)

So noted. Won't happen again.

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 3:01:08 pm)
Fair use
I doubled checked the "Fair Use Statute" Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976. In my
reading of the statute I don't think on second thought that I've done anything wrong. I
checked the site here

It also gives details of the four necessary conditions of fair use and my reading suggests that
I am in compliance with the law. But you have much more experience than myself with
copyright law and I am too used to employing the Fair Use Statute in the classroom where
perhaps the situation is regarded differently.

Heidi, have you been given any guidelines for the Surlalune site? The "Fair Use Statute"
does allow for the reproduction of materials for educational, non profit purposes, review,
and critical discussion (provided they don't amount to over a certain percentage of the
total work...5% I think.) Does the board fall under that rubric?

Unregistered User
(4/27/01 3:21:33 pm)
quoting poetry
Well, Midori--if those are only sections of the poems, not the entire poems, or if you were
running a critique of them within the body of an article, it would be fair use.

Are they longer?

If you had done it this way:

As Frost says, "Two roads diverged in the woods," a simple statement at best, but having
much resonance, especially as the central word--"diverged"--is a polysyllabic lynchpin for
the line, so that it becomes the fork in the road and the "two roads" are on one side, "in the
woods" on the other. So that when he states, "I took the one less traveled by" we already
know without being told that it has made all the difference.

THAT is fair usage.


Unregistered User
(4/27/01 3:45:05 pm)
single poems versus collections
With all due respect, I think that when poems are part of entire collections, one is permitted
to quote a single poem --since it is only a small percentage of the whole collection and
therefore stays within the percentage requirement. In any case, I shall wholeheartedly honor
your admonishment in the future and keep my quotes to fragments.

Registered User
(4/27/01 6:43:09 pm)
Again on Death
I have very little knowledge Fair Use laws, so I'll confine my comments to the topic of death
and gender.

I don't know if this was covered in the archived thread, but I immediately thought of the
Erlkonig, who is male. He would seem to fall under the rubric of harbinger/announcer,
rather than death-dealer; I do think the distinction is important, but the figures are related
closely enough to merit discussion under the same heading. Though I also think the distinction
isn't necessarily clear-cut; I've always had the sense that the banshee/Erlkonig- type characters
function indirectly as death-bringers -- to see them means death, and it's unclear, to me,
whether it's merely an announcement of the inevitable, or that there is some kind of causal
relationship. To look upon the sacred means death, and that can be construed several different
ways: the sacred will be shown to you immediately before your predetermined passing; or,
alternately, that catching a glimpse of the sacred causes/merits immediate death. I think the
distinction hinges upon cultural beliefs in fate and destiny, whether the death-figure is a harbinger
or a smiter.

As for gender, it's my impression that when the death-figure is female (i.e., Lilith, Kali, Baba Yaga,
the banshee), they often seem to carry the weight of anti-feminist rhetoric, and take on the
characteristics of the "vagina dentata." Male figures rarely seem to be constructed as actively
evil in the way female figures are. Right now, this is just a general impression, that I'll have to
do some more digging for. What do you guys think?


Unregistered User
(4/28/01 1:58:51 am)
single poems/collections
Midori said: "With all due respect, I think that when poems are part of entire collections,
one is permitted to quote a single poem --since it is only a small percentage of the whole
collection and therefore stays within the percentage requirement. In any case, I shall
wholeheartedly honor your admonishment in the future and keep my quotes to fragments. "

Nope, sweetie. That is entirely false. Hence your needing permission and giving payment to
an author when you want to reprint a poem in an anthology or textbook etc. (Hey, I make
a good portion of my living reselling my poetry rights.)

And don't anyone here EVER try and even include a single line of a pop song in a book.
It will cost you a fortune!

This is a thorny issue and I am not a lawyer versed in copyright law. So don't take what
I say as gospel of coourse. But I have been a published poet for 40 some years.


Laura McCaffrey
Registered User
(4/28/01 4:05:19 pm)
Re: Godfather/Godmother Death
To get back to Lilith -

Howard Schwartz in his intro. to _Lilith's Cave_, talks about Lilith's origins. In the Bible
there are actually two creation stories - the first where man and woman are created in
God's image and given dominion over all the beasts, then the second tale of Adam where
Eve is created out of his rib. (Biblical scholars suppose this was a case where two creation
stories were thrown in together, if I remember correctly from religious studies classes.)
However, Schwartz points out that rabbis believed that every word in the scripture was
literally true, therefore Adam must have had a first wife, whom they named Lilith.
According to him, there is only one biblical reference to Lilith, in Isa. 34:14. She seems
to be some kind of Babylonian night demon. In the Talmud there are a few references to
the demoness Lilith. Schwartz goes on to say that the earliest full legend of her is in _The
Alphabet of Ben Sira_, a text of Persion or Arabic origin from the 11th century. In that
text she is Adam's first wife and would not submit to him in any way and would not obey
the angels demanding she return to Adam and the Garden of Eden. She takes lovers, bears
demon children, snatches infants. From then on, she appears in medeival folklore and
Kabbalistic texts, as well as Hasidic tales. (Schwartz, Howard. _Lilith's Cave_. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1988.)

Anyway, so I'd say she was a Talmudic late comer, though she must have had some folkloric
presence. She got picked up by the rabbis and the popluar culture and became the demon
we know her for. As to her personifying death, to me it seems she only personifies certain
aspects of death. She is the Queen of the Demons, seducing men, snatching children, etc.
But she doesn't bring death to all people. She can be tricked and thwarted, though she is
worthy of fear.

Laura Mc

SurLaLune Logo

amazon logo with link

This is an archived string from the
SurLaLune Fairy Tales Discussion Board.

©2001 SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages

Page 1 2 3

Back to May 2001 Archives Table of Contents

Return to Board Archives Main Page

Visit the Current Discussions on EZBoard

Visit the SurLaLune Fairy Tales Main Page