Lilith is a mythological and religious figure who has been a part of human folklore, religion, anthropology, and astrology for as long as we have recorded history. Her roots are found in ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek sculptures and texts, she is mentioned in The King James Bible of Genesis and Jewish mythology. Her branches have spread across hundreds of years, and she is represented in Renaissance and contemporary writings and artworks. Michelangelo depicted her as a half-serpent half-woman demon coiled around the Tree of Knowledge. Some renditions embody her with wings, and she’s abstractly considered dirt, earth or air. She is often associated with Black Isis (Egypt), Kali (Hindu), Tara (Tibet), the Black Madonna (Christianity), and others. In one story, Lilith was created by God at the same time he created Adam. However, she was banished by God for being too intelligent to obey Adam.
Later she was replaced by Eve, Adam’s second wife, but this time God created Eve out of only one of Adam’s ribs rather than of equal parts. In another story, she was not banished but chose to leave because Adam would not let her be on top. Astronomically, Black Moon Lilith is the moon’s orbit at its furthest distance from the earth. In astrology, she represents the shadow self, the darkest thoughts, and most primitive human behavior.
The cycle of life takes us through all phases of Lilith again and again to varying degrees as we navigate the terrain of being human. All three stages of the Moon Goddess were evident as I moved through painful and challenging life transitions. My spirit trudged through the dark loamy forest floor, climbed up thick branches to reach the top of the canopy, and finally soared free out into the full light and warmth of the sun.
In my painting, Black Moon Lilith, the far-left face represents the subjugated self. This self is oppressed by the circumstances or people nearest who contributed significantly to our most profoundly painful experiences. In this stage, we are oppressed by people who are in the second phase. This phase can be painful, dangerous and spirit draining. While blindly roaming through the darkest of nights I bumped against the raw, rough edges of my soul and I stared into my own eyes at the ugliness, fear, and pains buried inside.
Before the death of someone we love, we go through life unaware of the ultimate truth that death is the hardest part of living. Some of us experience death at a very early age, some not until we are much older. I don’t think a person can conceptualize death until it is experienced. I lost my father when I was 13, and I grieved him very hard for about ten years. My young mind was not equipped to deal with the concept of death. As I walked through life without him, I’d see him everywhere: driving down the street, standing at a bus stop, at the grocery store, in other people. Twenty-five years later my sister died, and again I faced the unfathomable emptiness that death brings. A few short years later we lost my niece and my mother, followed by my uncle. Many other friends and family members far too young to die also left.
Coming to terms with death as a fact of life is a long slow process of discovery and acceptance. Part of it feels surreal in its permanence and finality, but it's not surreal at all. Death is the ultimate reality as it is the one thing we cannot change or alter; everything else we experience in life is malleable.
The hardest part of life is death. Grief felt like infinite loneliness and longing for the person I’d never see again, never have a conversation with, never hold his or her hand. I also developed an overwhelming fear of my own death. The guaranteed certainty that everyone dies seeped into my soul. I became obsessed with my own demise. Grieving my loved ones soon became about the grief of my own loss of life and the loss of all the living people around me. Time became relative, and everyone I’d ever known would soon be dead. Everyone who has ever been born would die. I began grieving for my lover who was still alive and thriving right next to me. I mourned all my friends and family who were still alive. Life took on an ugly hue of muddy grays, and everything seemed meaningless in the shadow of death. I suffered from existential angst (a.k.a. depression). No matter what art I made in life, death would always be my final piece. There was no escaping death.
My spirit was crushed by the oppressive weight of my broken heart. I believed that the universe was an unsafe and hostile place. I was oppressed by life and by proxy death.
The invitation is to recognize circumstances or people around you, oppressing you - keeping you down, including yourself.
The middle figure in the painting is Lilith as the oppressor: we oppress ourselves and those around us, and we derive fuel from imposing our will on others. I became the oppressor of others by controlling relationships. All my fears, anger and rage overflowed inappropriately poisoning most environments where I floundered. Oppressing myself, I dove headfirst into the empty pool of existential angst. I was both afraid of death and thought suicide was my only way to express control, engaged in fight or flight all the time, had no faith. All the intelligence, love, creativity, magic in the world was meaningless.
I grew up with the illusion that my family’s foundation was solid, like an island. It was my mother who set the stage: she was raised in a catholic orphanage because she was taken from her mother after her own father’s death. A single mom with five children from three different men, she was only twenty-five years old when she had all five of us. We grew up together. We didn’t need or rely on anyone for anything. My mother, the poorest little rich girl, taught us hunger, yearning, and entitlement. Everything we came by was fought for, earned, stolen, or traded. We were like gypsy pirates, and there was honor among thieves when it came to my family. In my mind we shared everything and took care of each other; blood was thicker than anything, and we’d always be able to rely on each other. But, even at home, it was a dog eat dog world. For the longest time, I thought the saying was doggy-dog-world, which felt cuter and more benign. The dinner table was fraught with competition for the best, or any, portion of meat. We fought for mom’s attention at the sacrifice of our relationships with each other. I thought it didn’t matter whether my siblings loved me as long as I had my mother’s love, but it sure hurt my feelings when I realized I did need them, but they were unavailable.
1971, Band of Gypsies
Once mom was gone, there was no loyalty or honor and no peacekeeper. We scattered from each other like dried autumn leaves across the barren dirt lawn, each dragging our black plastic trash bag of human baggage, bad habits, and ideals. I wondered who we were now that our matriarch was gone; who I was now that I was no longer someone’s favorite child. I felt like I lost my sense of humor when she died because I could always make her laugh. We could no longer accuse her of neglect or have her to tell us we could kick any addiction. None of our family stories mattered anymore. It was as if our story died with her.
Had Margie not died six years before, I wonder who she would blame for making her feel unwelcome in her own family now that our mother was gone. Growing up, Margie constantly cried about feeling like an outsider. She didn’t understand that by claiming she didn’t belong that she was pushing us away. It felt like my love for her was never good enough, which alienated me. I couldn’t understand how she was entitled to more love than what was there. Why do we crave or want something that we’ve never had? What is the origin of the desire to fulfill a heretofore unknown, or unfulfilled need?
I cried and dried my tears alone. I lied to myself believing I could pick myself up and carry on without their support. I hardened myself against the world and bulldozed over anything that got in my way. I was miserable and cruel, and when my lover told me I needed help, I shrugged it off. I never needed anyone before, why would I now? I’d say: people die, everyone dies, I may as well get used to it.
But I grew bitter: I went through my days not feeling, ignoring the fear, and acting out my rage on anyone I thought deserved it. I came of age with an inflated ego and sense of self. I believed that only the strong survive and I was determined to be the strongest, smartest, wiliest, toughest mofo around. I had physical strength, but I was emotionally frail. I was the thorn causing all the discomforts in my own life. I was cruel to people I love, who love me, and not all of them have forgiven me.
Ego is the part of me that I built up as a reaction to the outside world. I wore it like a cloak to hide my true nature, to portray an image of who I think I am, or who society wants me to be. I adopted strict and polarizing definitions of good, bad, right, wrong, items of value versus insignificant disposable things and people. My ego was a shield between my darkest shadow self and what I presented to the world. I identified myself as separate from others as if I were unique amongst a homogeneous population.
Everyone thinks they’re unique. We are all part of the same organism (earth), and since we can’t all be unique, no one is. The ego-based judgments we make about other people keep us separated from the reality that we’re all human beings just trying to live. Ego can distort reality. If we let ego make us feel superior, it brings feelings of inferiority, because believing in superior/inferior means there’s a hierarchy and if we believe we’re above someone, there’s always someone else above us. The ego is necessary for it keeps us socially responsible and helps us behave appropriately, but when you are distorting the reality of your situation, you are not honoring truth, and you are likely oppressing yourself and others. I did not honor myself for a long time. I couldn’t because I did not have access to my higher thinking brain, I was limbic. I oppressed myself.
Without our matriarch, the common bond and familial obligations dissolved. There was no longer a requirement to get along or maintain the relationships. I don’t talk to my family much these days. Connecting is difficult when the presence of each other brings back painful memories. On top of that, if more than two of us are together, we are automatically back in the family dynamic that we were in as we grew up. There’s one who needs no one and thinks everyone else is stupid, the one who can do no wrong; the addict; the flirty man-eater, the know-it-all/done-it-all. Memories of the tragedies rear a familiar dread, and things devolve into dysfunction. There is no camaraderie or closeness anymore. It’s sad to feel uncomfortable with people you love. Maybe it’s uncomfortable to love people you’re sad with. Or perhaps it's sad to love uncomfortable people.
Was I merely grieving, or had I moved into something else? How do you know when grief morphs into depression? I oppressed friends, family, pets. I oppressed myself with obsessions over my own death. It was all I could think about. I was suffering from nihilistic existential angst. I felt rejected by life. I rejected life. Life was meaningless.
Over several months, my self-hatred grew, and I called myself some very terrible names and said some horrible things about life. My mantras included: Loathsome me. Woe is me. I will burn bridges. Lay waste to all I’ve built. Sever relationships. Kill all my loves. Harden my heart. Seal my eyes. Close my ears. Bury my head. Fan the flames of anger and hate.
I came close to suicide. I was distraught, isolated from everyone I had ever loved or who I thought loved me. It felt like more misery was ahead and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I knew I did not want to die, but I had no idea how to change my trajectory. I could not forget my constant companion: Death. I started psychotherapy soon after I realized how far away from joy I was.
When you have the wherewithal to recognize it, or you have exhausted all your resources, and there’s no point lower, or the people who love you insist you get help, set aside your ego and take a good long look in the mirror. Admit that you need help and that you don’t have to do it alone. You probably couldn’t even if you tried. Strip away all the masks and props that your ego has constructed over the years; take stock of the things to which you attached or repelled and silence the internal voice (mind) with its limiting beliefs. Pull away the layers until you see yourself in all your naked, raw, vulnerable beauty. Don’t look elsewhere, don’t be afraid: this is you without the things you identified with long ago. Oppression comes at us in many forms: vices, people, or situations that may no longer serve us.
The invitation is to realize how you are responsible for the oppression that you’re feeling and imposing upon others. Choose yourself wisely.
Liberated from Oppression:
The final stage of Lilith is when we are liberated from the oppression, and we stand in our full power. Be brave and know that you deserve happiness. If you’re aiming for perfection – don’t, being human is a flawed endeavor. Perfection is overrated and unrealistic. A better and more attainable goal is to be a good person. First, good to yourself, then to others, and then to the planet we rely on for sustenance. Part of being a good human is moving through the world with grace, compassion, and awareness of the consequences of our actions. When we are caught up in the whirlwind of day to day living, letting our egos drives us, it is easy to lose oneself in petty dramas, psychic disturbances based on past events (that have nothing to do with present moment), and all the other byproducts from living. As rational beings operating out of ego, we tend to polarize and identify opposites, choosing one extreme with which to identify. The side we pick is not about right or wrong but about preference and affiliation, familiarity and what we have been nurtured to believe. When we polarize, we lose the ability to be compassionate. Operating outside of compassion toward others is essentially operating outside of compassion for ourselves.
If you can get to the sweet center where your true desires, hopes, and dreams reside, you may find deep down a part of you that is capable of being kind, happy, and pure. By eliminating all the societal “should” and the misplaced ideals of who you are, your soft underbelly comes forward into the light. Give yourself permission to embrace it.
I must regularly purge my past and forgive myself the humiliating and embarrassing behavior I default to when I’m operating in limbic mode. Life is a work in progress. I do this again and again, continually returning to soul. It’s not easy to be enlightened and conscious all the time; I have a lifetime of an ever-evolving ego to unravel. The muscle memory is compelling, and I find myself back in the Oppressor mode letting the superiority/inferiority or judgment and overly masked, cloaked self, take over and act out. (The ego is strong with this one). There are safety and reliability in the familiar but knowing something or being good at something does not mean we should do it. It’s important to recognize when it is happening because with mindfulness comes the strength to change. I am tenacious, and I resolve again and again to be a good human. Being human is natural; being a good human takes effort and strength.
Over the last several years, I delved into numerous healing methods to help me become a better human being, worthy of healthy adult relationships. Many of which I’ll discuss in this book, including psychotherapy, EMDR, Tapping, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, Ho’oponopono, yoga, meditation, crying, earthing, neurofeedback.
Death begets life begets death begets life. Only the experience of birth softens the death hardened heart. New life, whether literal or metaphorical, offsets the inevitable experience of it. Even a near-death experience can give new life, new perspective. We must accept the joys as well as the pains in the world. I am stronger because of where I’ve been and the hurdles I have overcome. When living and loving in the present moment, I am strength personified. The sun dies each night only to be reborn. I worship the dying and rising sun, and I rely upon it to remind me that each day is a new opportunity to live a full, happy intentional life. I am strong, whole and free from oppression.
The invitation is to dive into the waters of life and surrender to the dichotomy that is both the good and bad, the easy and difficult, the minutiae and vastness of being. Embrace your life and liberate from oppression. Be strong like Adam’s first wife, permit yourself to be too intelligent to obey oppression, even your own.