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The succubus takes hold

This phenomena is demonstrated well by witchcraft (the conception of the witch and her practices), which originally belonged to a social and cultural world that supported the Great Mother. The witch was originally not an evil being, but performed useful, constructive and healing acts through magic. As religious thought was revolutionized, the witch was demythologized. Demonic forms were imposed upon her image through her eyes, which turned her into an unmitigated, evil woman.

So like the evil eye that she used, the witch became the explanation for every kind of misfortune. How did this happen? What brought about this dramatic change? Abusch (2002) looks at the literature on witchcraft beliefs and practices in ancient Mesopotamia through his translation of engraved tablets that form what is called the Maqlu, an Akkadian magical series of eight tablets of incantations that achieved their long text form by the first millennium. Combing through it stanza by stanza, he has discovered that it contains many inconsistencies and redundancies which he attributes to historical developments which attest to changes.

He starts by making a connection between witchcraft and the anger of a personal god (a new idea at the time) and uses these two forces to serve as a prism through which to observe the society and intellectual thought of the time. A battle was waged between these two independent entities, the witch and the divine god. Consider the following passages from Maqlu, and pay particular attention to the shaming (or castrating) power contained in the eye of the witch:

The witch saw me and came after me,

With her spittle, she cut off (commercial) traffic,

With her witchcraft, she cut off (my) trading,

She drove away my god and goddess from my person

(III 13-16)

Because a witch has bewitched me,

A deceitful woman has accused me,

Has (thereby) caused my god and goddess to be estranged from me (and) I have become sickening in the sight of anyone who beholds me,

I am therefore unable to rest day or night.

  • (14-8)
  • (Because) I have been made unclean (smeared) by witchcraft,

I stand before you,

(Because) I have been cursed in the presence of god and man,

I come before you

(Because) I am sickening in the sight of anyone who beholds me,

I bow down before you.

  • (II 86-88)
  • (quoted in Abusch, 2002: 29-30)

Abusch includes a footnote that god refers to the city god, “the anger of god, king, nobleman and prince you have set upon me” (p. 30). The new idea was created that the witch could cause the personal god to be angry, and thus cause divine abandonment.

He speculates that the negative image of the witch was shaped and brought into line with certain beliefs and ideologies evolving at that time. Abusch states:

Initially . . . the asipu, a main-stream “white magician,” was probably not the primary person who fought against witchcraft. But at some point, perhaps in the early second millennium, witchcraft became a concern of the asipu, perhaps because the female witch had changed her character but more because of the expanding role of the male asipu as a result of increasingly centralization and stratification of state, temple, and economy.

(2002: 28)

Abusch determines that witchcraft as a means of providing explanations of evil and misfortune is a later or secondary addition to the text: “Different forms of textual evidence prove that various traditional texts were rewritten to include witchcraft” (2002: 47). Sentences like “That man: witchcraft has been practiced against him; he has been cursed before god and goddess” mark the entry of a new form of witchcraft that conveys the idea that “the removal (and distancing) of the personal god . . . is fundamentally the primitive and infantile fear that another - here a woman - may take away a man’s power and sense of being” (p. 46). From this statement it is clear that the good witch of Mesopotamian literature has been deliberately transformed into an image of the succubus, that woman who can castrate a man, and thus deprive him of favor with his omnipotent god. In other words, these changes did not simply emerge from the natural, autopoetic mind of a culturally complex system: the image was composed by the more artificial intelligence of the conscious mind.

Historical transformations of culture are reflected in myths and so resemble each other. The figure chosen to play the sexual temptress Lilith in the first Judaic creation story was originally Sumerian, the beneficent Inanna. She was a Goddess revered in the city of Sumer as the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Goddess of Love. Inanna’s awesome facial features loom large over her temple (see Figure 2.2 , caption reads “the temple frieze of the House of Inanna (or of Heaven)”), which is full of statues with startling, staring eyes, heavily outlined in black, their pupils set with deep blue lapis lazuli. Lilit, or the dark, sexual side of Inanna, was once addressed in prayer on a four thousand-year-old tablet. This mere mention of her name in connection with sexuality was enough to turn the Goddess Inanna into a she-demon of the succubus variety.

By the third millennium B.C., Inanna succumbs to the many hostile intrusions into her domain by patriarchal sky gods. The unified world view of the Great Goddess shatters, and her powers are undermined by a male god named An. While the surviving record is written from the vantage point of those who would suppress the Goddess, a critical reading of her hymns sheds light on the key issues involved in the patriarchal transformation of Inanna into a succubus. During the period 1950-1700 B.C., Lilith makes her first appearance in a fragment of a Sumerian version of the Gilgamesh Epic (the original is said to be appreciably older, and is believed to date from the fortieth century B.C.) (Hurwitz, 1999: 49). We first meet Inanna rescuing the tree of life, the huluppu tree, from the world flood and planting it in her garden. She wants to make a shining throne and sacred marriage bed from the growing tree, claiming her queenship and womanhood. Yet in order to do this she must first get rid of the unwelcome intruders who live in the tree - the serpent who nests in the tree, the anzu bird whose young live in the branches, and the “dark-maid Lilith” who “built her throne in the trunk.” Inanna is powerless in the face of them, and so she calls on her earthly brother Gilgamesh for help. “Gilgamesh is the brazen young hero, full of manliness and equipped with signs of his physical strength - his heavy axe, which weighs 450 pounds, and his great armor, which weighs 60 pounds.” Gilgamesh uses the axe, the “cutting weapon of civilization” (or sword that hangs over our heads), to cut down the tree. He defeats the “serpent who could not be charmed,” the bird flies with “his” young to the mountain, and a terror-stricken Lilith flees to wild, uninhabitable places. The hero has conquered the succubus. The bird, the snake and Lilith are all forms of the Goddess now outlawed by the patriarchy. The loving and good Mother Goddess is debased and made into the night-demon Lilith. The change to a new male culture is openly celebrated in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In defeating the chaotic lawlessness of nature, Gilgamesh epitomizes the hero, and the story is for all intents and purposes an ode to the phallus. The main point of reference in the story is the social order, the need to dominate and subdue the feminine as the only way to make a safe connection to the female other (a theme for the remainder of this book).

Another name for Inanna was Divine Lady Owl, the roots of the Old Testament (Isaiah) reference to Lilith as a night or screech. Lilith appears in ancient Sumerian bas reliefs from 2000 B.C. with bird feet, flanked by owls and lions (see Figure 2.4) . Walker (2000: 216) guesses that Lilith was also embodied in the owl-eyed “Eye Goddess” statuettes of the House of Inanna. The Latin word for “owl,” strix, evolved into the Italian strega, “witch” (p. 6).

The symbol of the owl remained for centuries to come, for even throughout Europe in the witch-crazed Middle Ages, Lilith is represented as the nocturnal, predatory owl. Night flying witches were often depicted with owl wings. In Figure 2.5, she is depicted atop a human skull in an ancient tomb, with the shining sun rising behind her. The sun compels her to return to her hiding place in the forest. The motto written in Middle German behind the owl reads “Ich Fyrcht Den Tag,” or “I Dread the Day”. Tales of Lilith’s shaming powers in her form as owl were handed down by word of mouth, and the following story was recorded by Brothers Grimm in the nineteenth century:

Many hundreds of years ago a horned monster lost its way. It was an owl with sharp talons and two tall, feathery horns, one above each eye. Spotting an open barn door, in a quiet little village located on the edge of a deep, dark forest, the creature flew inside and perched on a rafter to spend the night. Bright and early the next morning the farmer came in to milk the cows. But

Sumerian bas reliefs from 2000 B.C. Lilith with bird feet, flanked by owls and lions. Copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York

Figure 2.4 Sumerian bas reliefs from 2000 B.C. Lilith with bird feet, flanked by owls and lions. Copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, New York.

catching sight of the monster, he raced out, terrified. He screamed to his neighbors for help. They all came running, armed with pitchforks and scythes. One look at those huge, foreboding eyes, however, froze them in their tracks.

So the farmer sent for the man known as the bravest and strongest in the entire village. “Have courage,” the fearless one assured them. “It will not stare at us much longer!” And he pranced into the barn as if he were going to gather the morning eggs, sitting primly in their little nests.

But he saw those eyes big as saucers and just as unwavering, those feathered horns rising under the monster’s head like the horns of some demon from the underworld. The rescuer reached no further than the fifth rung of the ladder. He half-slid, half-fell to the ground and sped out of the barn.

Lilith in the form of an owl atop a human skull

Figure 2.5 Lilith in the form of an owl atop a human skull. The motto written in Middle German behind the owl reads “Ich Fyrcht Den Tag,’’ or “I Dread the Day”. Copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The villagers were in a frenzy. Their best man had just run away. The creature threatened to destroy them all. Finally, the town burgomaster proposed that everyone contribute enough money to pay the owner for his barn and all his hay, corn, and animals inside.

The next morning, where the barn had once stood, nothing but grey ashes remained.

And the owl was no more.

(Grimm & Grimm, 1944: 174)

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