(Painting: John Roddam Spencer Stanhope)
In the Christian version of Genesis, Adam (meaning literally “man”) is the perfect model of strength and beauty. He donates a rib to create a submissive partner, the naïve Eve. They dwell in the Garden of Eden with two special trees – the Tree of Knowledge (which gives the wisdom to uncover good and evil) and the Tree of Life (which grants immortality). Eve is tempted by the devil (in the guise of the serpent) to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and is then expelled from paradise alongside her mate, cutting off the Tree of Life and making them both mortal.
Eve, the first woman deceived by a sweet-talking male, becomes the original mother of mankind. In the beginning she is a daughter of nature – a creature half-way between animal and man – beautiful, sensual, emotional, but also fickle, stupid, and weak. This archetypal woman soon becomes the victim, the first person seduced by Satan and therefore the first witch. Indeed, in early iconography, Eve is even physically linked with the serpent through her long twisting hair.
Eve sins in multiple ways – by disobeying God and rejecting divine authority, going her own way, and in seeking the wisdom of the male Gods – implying that all the evil, death, and suffering in the world comes from disobeying your master. Naïve woman is blamed for the Fall, a typical psychological projection onto a convenient scapegoat.
At some point Lilith became entwined with Eve in the minds of the early Christian commentators. Instead of a masculine Satan being culpable for Eve’s ruin, Lilith is associated with the snake in Genesis 3 – a female demon who tempts Eve into rebellion. Even John Milton alludes to the “snake witch” in Paradise Lost. Thereafter, the gullible Eve is portrayed as a calculating, evil, seductress, and the source of man’s carnal desire.
And because the first woman committed the primal sin, all females were forever to be held accountable. For centuries they were considered subservient, lustful, untrustworthy, base, unintelligent, and sly. Small wonder that so many of the witches executed in the Burning Times were female!
Brunel, Pierre. Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.
Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999.
Witcombe, Christopher: “Eve and the Identity of Women” (7) http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/7evelilith.html
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