Queen of the succubi
For the first two millennia of recorded history, nature and society reflected a more holistic view of the world. Somewhere in the first millennia B.C., however, this communal world view of humanity broke down, and the alienations of civilization began to reshape history. It is during this time (700 B.C.) that Lilith, Adam’s
Figure 1.1 Engraving by Gustave Dore for The Succubus in Balzac's Les Contes Drolatiques. Scanned from a copy of The Eye: The Seer and the Seen, by Francis Huxley. Used with permission of Thames and Hudson.
rebellious first wife who demands equality, first appears in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah (34:14) as the “night hag.” Isaiah reads:
And wild beasts shall meet with hyenas, The satyr shall cry to his fellow; yea, there shall the night hag alight, and find for herself a resting place.
This verse is part of a biblical chapter about the Lord’s rage at all nations, and the image of Lilith as a night hag is situated between the following two verses. In Isaiah 34:8-12, we read about the Lord’s vengeance, when he intends to turn the entire land into pitch night and day so that it
shall not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up for ever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste . . . the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plummet of chaos over its nobles.
They shall name it No Kingdom There, and all its princes shall be nothing.
In Isaiah 34:15, reference to Lilith is repeated in the image of an owl:
There shall the owl nest and lay and hatch and gather her young in her shadow;
yea, there shall kites be gathered, each one with her mate.
Later, when God comes to save the people, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).
For the nomadic Hebrews of the desert, Lilith “was the voice howling over the mounds of dead and vanished civilizations; she was the female force living in the desolation of male vanities” (Thompson, 1978: 46). Eyes, smoke, ashes, chaos, confusion, blindness, lameness and a place called No Kingdom There where princes are nothing - images that evoke the incinerating power of absolute shame (Ayers, 2003). Shame always lurks in the places of darkness, ash and waste. God, consumed by rage, dominates the land by threatening to obliterate it and make men powerless, and it is at this point that Lilith makes her first appearance. Could this vengeance the Lord is acting upon be due to his shame over the limits of his own power and goodness, an evil aspect of God’s own nature? In his book entitled God: A Biography, Jack Miles (1996) makes an interesting observation about God: he states that when God created woman he suffered considerable anxiety. God is narcissistically fretting over the perceived flaw in his supposedly perfect creation of Adam - the fact that he is alone, either as male or as androgyny. God is compelled to attempt its correction through the creation of a woman. God says “It is not good for a man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” Thus, says Miles, “it is understood desire, admitted need, that shames” (p. 37). In needing woman (as both sexual object and mother) the perfection of God’s sovereignty is compromised. And why are not Adam and Eve, in their shameful desire for each other, an image of God who created them in his own image? “Is it this - their presentation to him of himself as not exercising mastery but as experiencing need - that enrages him? And is he, his rage spent, ashamed of his own desire and moved to cover his shame by covering theirs?” (p. 37).
What, then, does God’s dissociated shame have to do with the creation of the succubus, that desirable female created by God? God is dependent and cannot be without woman, and so he projects this need into man which inspires woman’s creation (in the same way he later projects his humanity into man through Jesus, who had to be given birth through woman). In other words, the patriarchal God, that same perfect, omnipotent God that eradicated the Great Mother, can’t create the world without a woman because of his need-driven desire. He does not create perfection in a single stroke, but, like any human being, struggles towards perfection time and time again. In order to rid God of his shame, another creation story emerges (one that we later learn precedes Eve) introducing the image of Lilith. Desirousness, that unruly emotion which is the hallmark of the man’s attraction to the succubus, is now evil, and it is this sin that incites the generation of absolute shame in the masculine psyche.
Lilith’s story is told in a sixth century A.D. Judaic book entitled The Alphabet of Ben Sira, which has been kept alive to this day.
When the Almighty - may his name be praised - created the first, solitary man, He said: It is not good for man to be alone. And He fashioned for man a woman from the earth, like him (Adam), and called her Lilith. Soon, they began to quarrel with each other. She said to him: I will not lie underneath, and he said: I will not lie underneath but above, for you are meant to lie underneath and I to lie above. She said to him: We are both equal, because we are both (created) from the earth. But they didn’t listen to each other. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced God’s avowed name and flew into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator and said: Lord of the World! The woman you have given me has gone away from me. Immediately, the Almighty - may His name be praised - sent three angels after her, to bring her back. The Almighty - may His name be praised - said to him (Adam): If she decides to return, it is good, but if not, then she must take it upon herself to ensure that a hundred of her children die each day. They went to her and found her in the middle of the sea, in the raging water in which one day the Egyptians would drown. And they told her the word of God. But she refused to return. They said to her: We must drown you in the sea. She said to them: Leave me! I was created for no other purpose than to harm children, eight days (after birth) for boys and twenty for girls . . .
According to this passage, Lilith is Adam’s first wife, a shameless, sterile avenging witch who leaves her husband after a bitter quarrel and denies her own motherhood in pursuit of supremacy. At his elation at having a mate, Adam tries to do what he has seen the animals doing, and so puts her on the ground and tries to mount her. Adam attempts to compel her obedience by force, but Lilith, full of her own wildness and instinctual power, is no object to be placed under control. In her rage she utters the magic name of God, rises up into the air, and flees. In her departure a great theme of division between male and female is being announced, and it is one that will echo throughout history all the way to the present. Lilith is not a loyal companion; as demon-wife, her power is derived from the shame that a man feels when he has been unable to command his wife’s exclusive loyalty.
The source of Lilith’s omnipotence is speaking God’s name, for to know the secret name of something is to know how to gain power over it. The unity of God is expressed in the tetragram YHWH. In one version of the Zohar, Lilith tears his divine name apart.
She it is who separates the two H’s from each other and prevents the entry of the W between them. When Lilith stands between the one H and the other, then the Almighty, may His name be praised, cannot join them together.
(quoted in Hurwitz, 1999: 148)
Lilith has the will to speak God’s name, and this gives her the power to not accept His patriarchal authority and flee from Adam. As a result of her stand God divides his unity and dissociates from his female side. In order for God to maintain his omnipotence, mind and heart, thinking and emotion, reason and imagination are no longer united in a harmonious fashion. Captured in this idea is the essence of God’s dysfunctional relationship not only to woman, but to the whole of Israel. In the following biblical passages, the Master of all the powers in the universe reveals his feelings of impotence as He rages at Israel - metaphorically his wanton wife (Frymer-Kensky, 1992: 144): “I will then uncover her shame in the very sight of her lovers” (Hosea 2:10); and “I myself will lift up your skirts over your face and your shame shall be seen; I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and neighings, your lewd harlotries . . . How long will it be before you are made clean?” (Jeremiah 13:26-27).
Lilith was a complete failure, and so now God needs to create another woman, a completely subordinate being who complies with Adam’s wishes without hesitation. Adam’s second wife is the more well-known and docile Eve - but even she is to become another tempting bitch by talking Adam into eating an apple from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is no accident that the unknowing Adam meets with the mate who is to become the agent for his expulsion from the garden. Their moment of shame marks the beginning of Western history. Unity with God is lost and existence is more intensely polarized. The word separation becomes very important. Adam and Eve move out of a blissful world of oneness towards a world of limitation and death, of good and evil, light and dark, male and female. The price of sexuality and individuation is death: long before Freud put forth his interpretations, Eros and Thanatos were inseparably linked in our cultural myths.
Also inseparably linked is shame with the image of this eye. In the post-Edenic psyche, shame depicted as an eye lies at the core of our inescapable human predicament. In their move toward knowledge, Adam and Eve reduce humankind to hiding in shame. Figure 1.2 entitled Garden of Paradise depicts the single-eyed fountain of life witnessing the creation of Adam and Eve, a time when harmony and connection are imagined to have been possible. In the pupil of this eye a little child dances. This painting also depicts the world of order and reason being created out of dark, chthonic depths - the patriarchal world built upon the foundations of the dark matriarchal.
Lilith and Eve are two women central to the Judeo-Christian patriarchy (and the first religions to completely banish the Great Mother). Both were sexual temptresses who assert their will against God, and suffer the misogyny of the Church Fathers for being in some way irresistible. Both are models for the relations between men and women (and internally the structure of ego and consciousness) who present two stories that set the tone of how women will be viewed. When patriarchy arises through the negation of the Great Mother as a figure of autonomy and power, as repeatedly has been said, a splitting of the whole into good and bad, male and female, occurs, and in this dichotomy, women are forced to identify with either Lilith or Eve.
These two wives of Adam lead us to the idea of a shame spectrum of women, one not much better than the other. Eve appears as completely subordinate, and has no problem assuming the position Adam expects, while Lilith refuses the
Figure 1.2 Garden of Paradise, c. 1500, oil on panel, by Hieronymus Bosch, Netherlandish, c. 1450/60-1516. Photography copyright © The Art Institute of Chicago.
lower position, claiming that they were both made from the earth at the same time. With the move from Eve to Lilith, shameful nakedness becomes shameless sexuality. The maternal physical features of corpulence, wide child bearing hips, pendulous breasts and enormous stomach disappear in the face of sexiness, the sleek, young maiden with voluptuous breasts, curvaceous torso, slight waist and slender, long legs.
At one end of the spectrum we find Eve, the non-existent woman who lives engulfed in shame for causing the downfall of all humanity. Eve does not mother us all with her cosmic reproductive power; she is a seductive little housewife who does a number on Adam and sends the world to hell. Eve accepts expulsion from the Garden of Eden in order to redeem herself in God’s eyes. Eve’s beauty is a manifestation of God’s omnipotence: She is made from Adam, although even this subservience did not allow her to escape tarnishing. That Eve carries all the shame of the world, to the point of her non-being, is clear.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Lilith, the alluring and seductive figure of fatal enchantment, created by God at the same time as Adam. It is on the basis of her simultaneous creation that she demands equality. Denied and enraged by her unequal treatment, she dominates a man and kills children. She is a woman shamelessly identified with a masculine power, or will, which leads to power over. She is the cold, lying, ruthless, heartless, manipulative, back-biting female who won’t obey the rules. Lilith’s beauty and her possession of it is a manifestation of God’s impotence. This preening for power is described in the following passage from Jewish literature (Stone, 1984):
Women are evil . . . because they have no power or strength to stand up against man, they use wiles and try to ensnare him by their charms; and man, whom women cannot subdue by strength, she subdues by guile . . . they lay plots in their hearts against men: by the way they adorn themselves they first lead their minds astray, and by a look they instill the poison . . . for a woman cannot overcome a man by force.
On an intrapsychic level, the succubus can be encountered any time a woman reaches for power out of her own non-existence (shame), or an aspect of the masculine psyche that gets activated and disconnects from the feminine whenever he feels made small, inferior or disrespected (shamed). She is the cruel, vain, and dark side of woman’s nature, and, on the collective level, a castrating aspect of the Terrible Mother with the Evil Eyes. This element gets played out between men and women. For example, she can emerge when a manipulative female uses sexuality in an attempt to have power over a man, or when a man, identified with power, requires an armpiece to decorate him for his own enjoyment. The following vignette depicts this dynamic well: a woman meets a man and, pressing for marriage, is engaged 20 days following her own sobriety. She is a sexy, voluptuous woman with large breast implants and impeccably manicured fake nails. When the couple first got engaged they argued about children; she wanted to have one, but he already had two from his first marriage and didn’t want any more. Once married, Vicki covertly helped herself to $40,000 of her husband’s money that he had saved for his children’s college tuition and spent it instead on artificial insemination. When she was no longer able to hide her pregnancy, she boldly told her husband what she had done. Two years later (after she had the baby who was under his care) she reveals that her story was a lie; the truth is that she had been having an affair with his business partner with whom she conceived the child.
And what might the unconscious have to say about such an act? One patient dreamt the following during a time when she was struggling to face her feelings in order to attain some sense of existence, or succumb to her temptations to return to a life of public relations and white collar crime:
I am facing a huge mountain of ice. I know that I must climb the mountain to conquer the summit. Once there, I will be making a pact with the devil to solve my money problems.
Her feelings are frozen in ice. Because she has disregarded them, they begin to grow in the cold regions. An evil twist takes hold of her unconscious processes. Avoiding her helplessness through a conquering will entails a pact with the devil, the loss of her own soul - powerlessness is always the occasion for a pact with the devil (and the devil won, for shortly after this dream the patient terminated treatment). The shamelessness of the succubus is a loss of soul. Such a woman is an empty receptacle, internalizing the projections that cut off the flow of her own being. She becomes a projection screen for men, her absence of shame magnetically attracting a man’s shame to fill up her hollowness.
The succubus and the shame she contains is the psychic heritage of all humankind, for shame is the affect which makes us human. She derives her powers from mankind’s fatal flaw - unbounded omnipotence. On a human level, she is a devouring aspect of woman who does not know portions; she is herself pursued by an insatiable appetite, craving adulation, dominating to possess power as a substitute for soul. If the cravings go, nearly all she calls self will go with them, and then she is threatened with being engulfed by emptiness and helplessness. Instead, she stays wild with suppressed fury and vengeance, full of narcissistic envy in her fixation on the surface and the look of things. She is unprincipled, has no values, self-respect or pride, stands for nothing, and therefore goes for whatever suits her. This vacancy locks up and freezes all of her real powers of self. In woman, the succubus is a lost soul. And for a man, she becomes his worst nightmare. Her hunger is really her need for recognition, to be seen as good. But her inability to touch her own shame may never allow her the sense of existence she so desperately needs.
The imagery of the collective unconscious is enduring. Or, as Faulkner puts it, “the past is never dead; it is not even past”. A new incarnation of the succubus is developing in a modern kind of female killer, the suicide bombers of Al Qaeda or the “black widows” of Chechnya. The presence of these killers concretizes the relationship between the succubus and masculine shame. Having lost husbands and sons, these women want to live only long enough to take revenge. Arab men who see foreign occupation as a form of emasculation (one Muslim was quoted as saying that the occupation was “part of a plan to steal our souls - to castrate us”) recruit and train these women for battle (Dickey, 2005: 32). The women are told that after martyring themselves they can be redeemed in paradise by becoming “the purest and most beautiful form of angel at the highest level possible in heaven” (p. 34). In other words, their suicidal sacrifice will provide the recognition that they need, and purge them of their evils to become good. Meanwhile, men who martyr themselves will attain the succubus - 72 houris - virginal beings with black eyes and alabaster skin that will attend to all of their sexual desires in paradise (p. 31). Emasculation will be transformed into power.
No matter what form she takes, the succubus, shaped by historical concerns, comes to represent something central to our culture, a symbol of our current “Age of Chaos” (Thompson, 1981). She continues to shape the perceptions of masculinity and femininity to this day. This primordial image, common to all humanity, is an inexhaustible subject that begs for interpretation; for the purpose of my present analysis, however, the succubus conveys something important about masculine shame. Patriarchy has proposed the succubus woman as a symbol for its own shame, a scheming, wicked woman with a lust for phallic power and vengeance. The image of the succubus cannot be looked at as a single image, as a female alone; she derives her power through the devil (her husband) to wreak revenge on a man, a mother and an infant.