Eve in Christian Culture by Anne Baring

Eve in Christian Culture

by Anne Baring (see credits) and Jules Cashford (see credits)

Chapter 13b from The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford (Penguin Books, 1991) pp. 514-546; copyright © Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, 1991. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

John Phillips’ book Eve: The History of an Idea is a masterly analysis of the myth of Eve and its legacy: the destructive patterns in our culture that the myth reflects and supports, most obviously in relation to the feminine principle. As he says, ‘Because Adam and Eve are characterized as they are, human history and social relationships are set in order in such a way that certain possibilities are excluded.’(44) He shows how the dispiriting theme elaborating Eve’s and woman’s sinfulness can be traced all through Christian culture, even to the modern theologian Karl Barth. In this chapter we have been greatly helped by his research, and acknowledge our debt to him.

Christianity did not heal the wound to the image of woman caused by the literal reading of the story in Genesis 2 and 3. The inference is that Adam was perfectly happy by himself in the Garden until Eve came along. With her appearance his troubles begin. As Luther put it, following a well-established tradition, if the serpent had assailed Adam, then the victory would have been Adam’s.(45)

In spite of the, one might have thought, crucial fact that in the Gospels Jesus does not refer to original sin nor equate sexuality with sinfulness, this became one of the foundation stones of Christian teaching. The men who laid it were first of all Paul, and then the Christian Fathers, particularly Augustine, who declared that women have no souls.(46)

Paul does not uphold his great statement that Jew and Greek, bond and free man, male and female, are ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28). Elsewhere, he makes definitive distinctions between men and women’s respective value in the eyes of God. Again, the reason for ruling on God’s creatures is God’s holy word in Genesis:

I will . . . that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. (1 Tim. 2;8-14)

Again, in one of his letters to the Ephesians, he writes:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. (Eph.5:22-4)

The Christian wife followed the role of the Jewish wife, as the Church in relation to Christ took over the role of Israel in relation to Yahweh. In Colossians husbands are enjoined to love their wives, but wives are told, 'submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord’ (Col.3:18). In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, men are allowed to prophesy 'one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted’ (1Cor.14:31) but women must:

...keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (1Cor.14:34-35)

In this way Judaic practice was perpetuated, even though Christian men and women were permitted to sit together in church instead of segregated from each other, as they were in the synagogue. The contortions of theology are further expressed in another of Paul’s letters, in which he is concerned with the veiling of women in church. As before, he draws his authority from the tale of the rib, with its idea of woman as the secondary creation, arguing that ‘the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God’(1 Cor.11:3) From this it follows that women should cover their heads, even as men should uncover them:

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of man.
For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. (1Cor.11:7-9)

Whether or not these passages are actually from the hand of Paul, they reflect the attitudes of the early Christian priesthood to women, and it is these passages that have been quoted in the past (and present) to keep women in their ‘place’.(47)

Eve and Pandora

When the early Fathers were formulating Christian doctrine, they drew on three sources outside the Book of Genesis: the writings of Paul, the non-scriptural Jewish writings - such as the Secret Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Moses and the Books of Adam and Eve - and the Greek myth of Pandora. Although it was pagan and so, properly, irrelevant, the parallels between Pandora and Eve proved irresistible.

It is strange that a Greek myth, written down close to the time when the myth of Eve appeared, should carry the same inflection. Hesiod, in his Works and Days and Theogony, written about 700 BC, tells the story of how Pandora was created by Zeus as a punishment for the human race, because Prometheus had brought them the gift of fire, which he had stolen from the gods:

‘But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.’ So said the father of men and gods, and laughed aloud. And he bade famous Hephaestos make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athena to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature . . . And he called this woman Pandora because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a sorrow to men who eat bread.(48)

Hermes then takes this ‘snare’ to Epimetheus, whose name means ‘hindsight’, as a gift from Zeus, and Epimetheus accepts her, forgetting the warning of his brother Prometheus, whose name means ‘foresight’. Before this, the human race had no toil, sickness or death, but with the opening of Pandora’s mysterious jar or urn, pithos, all this was unleashed upon the world:

But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door ... But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is fu11.(49)

Pandora, like Eve, was blamed for human mortality and all the troubles that afflict humanity, though Pandora is not the ‘Mother of All Living’ but only the Mother of ‘the race of women and female kind’.(50) Zeus, like Yahweh, inflicted punishment on the human race through woman. As with the story of Eve, it is not difficult to detect the same inversion as the patriarchal gods established their supremacy in a former goddess culture. A similar inversion is found in the image of the original goddess behind the image of Pandora, where Pandora’s name of ‘all gifts’ (in Greek pan means ‘all’, dora means ‘gifts’) is transparent to the older meaning of ‘She who gives all things’. Harrison comments that Zeus ‘takes over even the creation of the Earth-Mother who was from the beginning’.(51) This is confirmed by Hesiod’s description of the silvery robe and embroidered veil with which Athena clothed Pandora and the exquisite crown that Hephaestos made for her:

And the goddess bright-eyed Athena girded and clothed her with silvery raiment, and down from her head she spread with her hands a broidered veil, a wonder to see; and she, Pallas Athena put about her head lovely garlands, flowers of new-grown herbs. Also she put upon her head a crown of gold which the very famous Limping God made himself and worked with his own hands as a favour to Zeus his father. On it was much curious work, wonderful to see; for of the many creatures which the land and sea rear up, he put upon it wondrous things, like living beings with voices: and great beauty shone out from it.(52)

The beauty of this creation was none the less to be a deception to humankind Hephaestos, having fashioned Pandora from earth and adorned her, brought her before the gods:

When he had made the beautiful evil to be the price for the blessing (of fire), he brought her out ... to the place where the other gods and men were. And wonder took hold of the deathless gods and mortal men when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.(53 )

The Christian Fathers Origen and Tertullian both refer to the myth of Pandora, and Tertullian’s association of it with Eve deserves mention:

If ever there was a certain Pandora, whom Hesiod cites as the first woman, hers was the first head to be crowned by the graces with a diadem; for she received gifts from all and was hence called ‘Pandora’; to us, however, Moses ... describes the first woman, Eve, as being more conveniently encircled with leaves about the middle than with flowers about the temple.(54)

Figure 15. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

In Figure 15 the suggestive nakedness of the woman with one hand on the skull of death and the other on the urn of all ills is clearly intended to bring sexuality to mind as the cause of both. The legacy of both myths, combined in the antithetical prose of John Chrysostom in the fourth century AD, shows how taken he was with Hesiod’s idea of woman as a ‘beautiful evil’ (Greek: kalon kakon): ‘What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours?’(55)

Phillips points out that there is a ‘tantalizing hint’ that one version of the story that came before Hesiod’s story 'presented a man or a woman with two jars, one containing kalon - good, and the other kakon - evil, and left humanity to choose. By Hesiod’s time, or perhaps by his own hand, the two jars had become one and Pandora had become a kalon kokon.'(56) The image of the female figure with two jars or urns may carry the same idea as the Minoan goddess with her two snakes, and the urn used for storing oil or wine, and even for burial, was found all over Crete and ancient Greece.(57) The precise contrast of ‘hindsight’ and ‘foresight’ in the names of the two brothers supports this further suggestion of a choice between opposites, and indeed Origen explicitly compares the story of the forbidden urn with that of the forbidden fruit.(58) Also Hermes, the guide of souls and trickster god of imagination and divine curiosity, who gives Pandora her name, voice and wily nature, plays a similar role to the serpent in that both disturb the status quo and precipitate change. However, in both cases it is not the initiation into the moral consciousness of choice that is emphasized (though it may have been in the original Greek tale), but the entry of sorrow and death due to the woman.

It was Erasmus who, anticipating quite exactly the notion of a Freudian slip, turned pithos, jar or urn, into pyxis, box (slang for female genitals), so imposing an indelible sexual innuendo on the original vessel, once the sacred body of the mother goddess containing and conferring all the gifts of life and death.(59) Dora and Erwin Panofsky put forward the interesting idea that Erasmus’ ‘mistake’ was a fusion or confusion of Pandora with Psyche, the bride of Cupid (the Greek Eros), son of Venus (the Greek Aphrodite), in Apuleius’ tale of Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass.(60) Psyche, in the last of the tasks set her by Venus, is given a pyxis, which she is to carry down to Hades and fill with a little bit of Persephone’s beauty. She obtains the pyxis, ‘filled and sealed’, but cannot resist the temptation of opening it, when she is overcome by the vapours released from it and faints, only then to be rescued by Cupid. The point of the analogy that probably appealed to Erasmus, already steeped in the tradition of Eve, was the capacity of women to succumb to temptation, and so to place subjective desire before objective command. In any case, the movement from the urn of life and death to the box, and the folly of opening it common to both tales, makes again, subtly, that crude analogy between a woman’s sex and her moral inferiority. The congeniality of this idea for the Christian Fathers must explain their straying into pagan paths to gather evidence for their case.

Eve as Secondary Creation

The implications of the rib story for Christian thought were, as we have seen’ far-reaching: Eve was a secondary creation, not made in God’s image’ and so of inferior substance, a weaker vessel, less rational, more likely to succumb to the temptation of the serpent; that is, a morally inferior human being. This is Thomas Aquinas, echoing Paul: ‘In a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman; as God is the beginning and end of every creature.'(61) From which, on an assumption of God as Supreme Reason, it follows that: ‘By a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.’(62) As Milton phrases it in Paradise Lost: ‘He for God only, she for God in him.’(63) This is taken directly from Yahweh’s curse to the woman. Firstly she is to suffer the ‘sorrow’ of childbirth, and secondly she is to relate primarily through Adam: ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’ (Gen.3:16). The implication is that her first independent action should be her last. On the other hand, Adam is cursed for two reasons, the first of which is simply stated: ‘Thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife’ (Gen. 3:17). It is surprising that the second reason does not come first for one with so direct a relation with his creator: that he ate of the tree that God had commanded him not to eat. Again, the implication is that just hearkening - that is, listening and assenting - to his wife is tantamount to breaking the divine commandment.

James Hillman, in his book The Myth of Analysis, sums up the psychological history of the male-female relationship as ‘a series of footnotes to the tale of Adam and Eve’, following the pattern of ‘First Adam, then Eve’:

Whatever is divine in Eve comes to her secondhand through the substance of Adam . . . First, the male is prior in time, because he was created first. Second, the male is superior, since he alone is said to be created in the image of God. Third, the male is superior in consciousness, because Eve was extracted from Adam’s deep sleep, from his unconsciousness ... His sleep resulted in Eve; Eve is man’s ‘sleep.’ Fourth, Adam is substantially superior, since Eve is preformed in Adam as part to whole . . . The existence, essence and material substance of Eve depend on Adam. He is her formal cause, since she is made of his rib; and he is her final cause, since her end and purpose is help for him. The male is the precondition of the female and the ground of its possibility. (64)

From this image comes the argument that as Adam and Eve, so man and woman have a fundamentally different relationship with their divine creator. Man’s relationship is direct, like Adam’s; woman’s is indirect and dependent on her ‘Adam’, like Eve’s. (One wonders, parenthetically, what if she doesn’t have an ‘Adam’ to relate through?) Even a modern theologian, Claus Westermann, can write about the fixed order of relationship as if it were ‘God-given’: ‘Woman has always had the fulfillment of her being, her respectability in the community, in belonging to the man, and in motherhood.’(65)

The idea that woman belongs to man rather than to herself and God appears here to be so deeply rooted as to be beyond history, yet it goes back no farther than the Iron Age, specifically to the beliefs and tribal structure of the once nomadic Aryans and Semites.

Figure 16. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

In the tenderly conceived picture from the Heures de Rohan in Figure 16 God draws Eve gently out of the side of the sleeping Adam, yet she is both the diminutive size of a child and also a full-grown woman, an exact image of the imbalance to which Hillman refers.

Eve as Inferior Substance

Because she was created second, out of Adam, the substance of Eve was believed to be inferior. The divine was reflected in her only through reflection from Adam. Secondary creation and inferior substance are then one and the same. This did not extend only to the moral character of Eve, and so to all women, but also to Eve in her function as a female, and so to all females.

The idea of female inferiority, deriving in the Judaeo-Christian tradition from Eve, inevitably biased hypotheses and interfered with empirical observation in that ultimate of nature’s mysteries: the creation of new life from old. Woman was therefore considered inferior to man in her capacity to contribute to the birth of a child. This point of view was originally formulated by Aristotle, whose works had reached Europe in the twelfth century and had a great influence on Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle, in his work On the Generation of Animals, proposes that ‘the female does not contribute semen to generation’, merely the blood of the menses, that is, blood that is not transformed. Semen, on the other hand, is blood that has gone through a transformation process called pepsis: ‘If, then, the male stands for the effective and active, and the female, considered as female, for the passive, it follows that what the female would contribute to the semen of the male would not be semen but material for the semen to work upon.'(66)

For Aquinas, following Aristotle, woman was not the creator of the child but only the passive vehicle that brought it to birth, the active and vital function in procreation being the male. The creation of a female child was, moreover, the result of a flawed process, which could extend even to the weather:

For the active power in the seed of the male tends to produce something like itself, perfect in masculinity; but the procreation of a female is the result either of the debility of the active power, of some unsuitability of the material, or of some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp.(67)

The combination of Aristotle and the Genesis myth was decisive for Thomas Aquinas, and in his writings, which were central for Catholic theology, he presented woman as being on a lower plane than man, ignobilior et vilior, as he put it. This compares with the Brahmanic teaching in India that woman is destined to reincarnate at a lower level than man because of her innate inferiority.(68) It is also an idea found, astonishingly, in Plato’s Timaeus.69 (67) In the West this belief found its expression in the perplexing debate of the Middle Ages: ‘Habet Mulier Animum?’- ‘Does Woman have a Soul?’

The residue of these ideas persisted in medicine as late as the nineteenth century, when semen was still regarded as superior to blood, and the male role in procreation superior to the role of the female, who simply provided the womb. On an analogy with the relation of the Virgin Mary to the Holy Spirit, the woman was the vessel to hold the divinely active seed. The female egg was simply not looked for because there was no reason why it should be there; or, more precisely, there was every reason why it was not there. The assumption of female inferiority has been so pervasive that it has structured perception to the point where it can hardly be seen.

In An Outline of Psychoanalysis, for instance, one of Freud’s last books, the idea of female inferiority is attributed to all female children with a bewildering lack of adult argument. An understanding of feminine psychology, he writes, is to be based on the belief that little girls, comparing themselves to little boys, ‘naturally’ come to the conclusion that their anatomy is inferior and, unhappily, their subsequent view of themselves never recovers its former innocence:

A female child has, of course, no need to fear the loss of a penis; she must, however, react to the fact of not having received one. From the very first she envies boys its possession; her whole development may be said to take place under the colours of envy for the penis. She ... makes efforts to compensate for her defect - efforts which may lead in the end to a normal feminine attitude. If during the phallic phase she attempts to get pleasure like a boy by the manual stimulation of her genitals, it often happens that she fails to obtain sufficient gratification and extends her judgement of inferiority from her stunted penis to her whole self.(70)

As Hillman aptly comments: ‘Freud’s fantasy of the little girl’s mind becomes a Freudian fantasy in the little girl’s mind.'(71) This unique definition of a feminine attitude as the end result of efforts to compensate for a physical ‘defect’ is even presented as an observed fact, an ‘observation’ that does not merely assume the superiority of male genitals, but assumes as well a hierarchical model of relationship between the sexes. Perhaps Jung’s wry remark that ‘one sees what one can best see oneself’(72 ) is not altogether inappropriate here. As a refreshing contrast, an old African legend goes:

God made the man and the woman, and put them together.
When they saw each other, they began to laugh.
Then God sent them into the world.

Eve, the Serpent and the Devil

If secondary creation and inferior substance are accepted, it follows that there is in Eve an image of a flaw in creation. From the history of scapegoats and sacrifice, we might expect that Eve would receive those accusations of imperfection that human beings with unconscious demands for perfection cannot make to themselves, and so project outwards onto a figure who can be blamed instead. The worse the figure can be made out to be, the better the accusers, by contrast, feel themselves to be: ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in shine own eye?’ (Matt. 7:3).

To put it another way: Eve has been so frequently allied with the serpent and with the devil, as though they were all on the same plane of reference (sitting down, as it were, at table together), that some explanation would seem to be necessary.

The first association between Eve and the serpent comes in the closeness of their names, for the Hebrew Hawwah is very close to the Arabic and Aramaic word for serpent, and this was remarked upon by the earliest Jewish commentators. Phillips writes:

The association between Eve and the serpent, and between the serpent and Satan (the Sammael of Jewish legend and the Shaitan of Iblis of the Qur’an) is made again and again in interpretations of the story of the creation and fall of the first humans . . . She is held to be the devil’s mouthpiece, Satan’s familiar. At times she herself is seen in some way to be the forbidden fruit, or the serpent in paradise, or even the Fall.(74)

Figure 17. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

It was probably inevitable that once the association between Eve and serpent was made in a pejorative sense (whereas, symbolically, the relation between goddess and serpent had been life-giving), the association of the serpent with the devil, and of the devil with Eve, would follow sooner or later. While the serpent often appears to be tempting Eve erotically, Satan was eventually to appear in European paintings as the serpent with Eve’s head on it, with the suggestion implicit in the image that Eve has assumed the serpent’s tempting role in relation to Adam. The further innuendo was that Eve’s relation with the serpent was not all it should have been.

The alacrity with which some Christian writers of the Faith embraced this imagery as real calls for some attempt at understanding what happens when spirituality and sexuality fall into polarity. The sexual instinct, split off from spirit and depotentiated through repression, appears here to have found expression in the concrete image of what was simultaneously feared and longed for: the dissociated genital of the female. As Jung puts it: ‘What is unconscious is projected; that’s the rule.’(75)

The general premises of theological conviction are admirably parodied by Milton. when Adam in Paradise Lost identifies Eve with the serpent:

Out of my sight, thou serpent, that name best
Befits thee, with him leagued, thy self as false
And hateful; nothing wants, but that thy shape,
Like his, and colour serpentine may show
Thy inward fraud, to warn all creatures from thee
Henceforth; lest that too heavenly form, pretended
To hellish falsehood, snare them.

concluding that

. . . . all was but a show
Rather than solid virtue, all but a rib
Crooked by nature . . .(76)

Phillips summarises:

The serpent was regarded, consciously or unconsciously, as a powerful symbol for the connection between evil and sexuality. The original transgression was seen from a very early date as having something to do with sexual awareness. Eve thus becomes the vehicle for the intrusion of lust into the created order . . . From the genital of Woman all men have come forth and to the genital of Woman most men return. Psychologically, then, women must be regarded as perpetually confronting men with the threat of nonexistence, and men avoid this terror by reversing the natural course (women are really born from men) or by denying their sexual yearning for the comfort of oblivion (women are seducers). Thus the association of the first woman with the devil-snake in legend and art ought not to surprise us. Eve must be the creation of Satan, or created by God out of Satan’s substance, or placed on the earth to do Satan’s bidding.(77)

Eve as Temptress and the Devil’s Gateway

Figure 18. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Woman is like an apple, lovely without, rotten within.’ So runs the fifteenth-century York Mystery Cycle. The forbidden fruit, by now the apple, became a symbol of sexual intercourse. Eve was the instigator of tbe whole affair, for through her beauty and her wiles she seduced Adam to taste of the forbidden fruit. The unquestioned assumption here is one common to most Christian writings, that, due to her secondary creation and inferior substance, Eve was more likely than Adam to give in to temptation because she was a weaker vessel for God’s word. So Eve is drawn as morally weak, less rational, less disciplined, vain, greedy, gullible, cunning and wily like the serpent. Being more instinctive and less lawful, she is more sexual. Sexuality was, then, against God, that is, for the devil. It was a short step to find Eve, and those who share her sex, to be a gateway for the devil to enter.

Figure 19. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

In Figure 19 crossed legs symbolize sexual involvement, and Rubens paints Eve’s invitation to eat of the apple as a sexual invitation. A small serpent coils around the trunk of the tree, its tail almost becoming a curl of her hair and its body touching her hand, which also curves, serpentine, around a branch. Eve, here, is the serpent of sex:

Though the devil tempted Eve to sin, yet Eve seduced Adam. And as the sin of Eve would not have brought death to our soul and body unless the sin had afterwards passed on to Adam, to which he was tempted by Eve, not by the devil, therefore she is more bitter than death. (78)

And again:

By every garb of penitence woman might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve - the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium of human perdition . . . Do you not know that you are each an Eve? . . . You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom that devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert - that is, death - even the Son of God had to die. (79)

This was Tertullian, writing in the third century AD. Woman is ‘each an Eve’ and man, then, is each an Adam. Further, Eve is the means through which the devil reaches Adam, and through Adam the human race.

Figure 20. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Having polarized God and humanity, Tertullian must find God good and humanity bad. Since, he argues, evil cannot exist in the nature of God, it must have come into existence as a result of something, ‘and that something is undoubtedly matter’,(80) and the worst of matter is the carnality of the body. Eve and women, with their greater sexuality (as envisaged by the abstinent Christian Fathers), had the power to create evil by luring men into the sin of lust and its practices: ‘Man’, he continues, was ‘solidified in the womb, amongst all uncleanness’, and ‘issues through the parts of shame’.(81)

Figure 21. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

The implications of such judgements were not confined to the Church, nor was their purpose limited to a theological reckoning with death. Far more damagingly, they entered a general way of thinking so radically that they could even become a way of expressing love for God. An old Irish lament has all the rhythms of devotion:

I am Eve, the wife of noble Adam; it was I who violated Jesus in the past; it was I who robbed my children of heaven; it is I by right who should have been crucified. I had heaven at my command; evil the bad choice that shamed me; evil the punishment for my crime that has aged me; alas, my hand is not pure. It was I who plucked the apple; it went past the narrow of my gullet; as long as they live in daylight women will not cease from folly on account of that. There would be no ice in any place; there would be no bright windy winter; there would be no hell, there would be no greed, there would be no terror but for me.(82)

The unconsciousness of these projections is as remarkable as their continued existence in Christian society. Only very recently have people questioned the law on rape, where the assumption was implicit that a woman was largely responsible for rape attacks, having somehow ‘enticed', the man into believing she was inviting his assault, or that (not knowing her own mind) when she said ‘no’, she did not really mean it. Only recently has a woman’s being battered by her husband been treated as an offence against the person, rather than an acceptable punishment from a husband to a wife. The myth of Eve’s ‘seduction’ of Adam’s obedience to God and the idea that she is ‘to blame’ for what they both ‘did’ may lie behind these otherwise incomprehensible phenomena.

The tapestries in Figures 20 and 21 are related. In Figure 20 God greets Adam, just risen from the earth, like a brother, an image of himself. In Figure 21 the primary substance, made in God’s image, then self-righteously - and, given his upbringing, most plausibly - blames Eve, with no sense of his own contribution to the breaking of his creator’s commandment.

In the fifteenth century two Dominican priests, Sprenger and Kraemer, were empowered by the Pope to set up a commission of inquiry into witchcraft, and to hand over the women they held to be guilty to the Inquisition. Sprenger was the man who, notwithstanding his hatred of women, held the Virgin in utmost.veneration, and formed the first lay confraternity for the recitation of the rosary in 1475. (83) The terrifying document these two Dominicans drew up, called the Malleus Maleficarum (the Witches’ Hammer - literally, the Hammer of the Evil-doers), was published between 1487 and 1489, and became the textbook of the Inquisition, going through nineteen editions and much usage in the next 300 years. It was responsible for the persecution, torture and murder by burning or hanging of thousands of women, including Joan of Arc, who were named as witches who had consorted with the devil.

The Inquisition fused together three categories of persecuted people: witches, heretics and the insane. Many of the accused women were mentally ill, and since at that time the mentally ill were classified as being possessed of the devil, the cause of their possession was, inevitably, preoccupation with sex. The authors wrote:

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, a fourth thing which says not, It is enough; that is, the mouth of the womb. Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort even with devils.(84)

As with Lilith, who could be warded off with an amulet, these witches also spare those who have been baptized or who wear the sign of the cross. Lilith is no longer a disembodied spirit, but has become ‘incarnate in women and can be recognized by those holy enough to do so.

Zilboorg, in his History of Medical Psychology, tracing the history of the treatment of mental illness from Greek to modern times, writes:

The Old World seems to have risen against woman and written this gruesome testimonial to its own madness. Even after she had been tortured and broken in body and spirit, woman was not granted the privilege of facing the world in a direct way. The witch, stripped of her clothes, her wounds and marks of torture exposed, her head and genitals shaven so that no devil could conceal himself in her hair, would be led into court backwards so that her evil eyes might not rest on the judge and bewitch him . . . Never in the history of humanity was woman more systematically degraded. She paid for the fall of Eve sevenfold, and the Law bore a countenance of pride and selfsatisfaction’ and the delusional certainty that the will of the Lord had been done.(85)

This work was not, however, confined to Catholics, but was taken up by Luther, Calvin, James I and the Puritans in Massachusetts with the hanging of the witches of Salem. The last witch was beheaded in Switzerland in 1782. Nor was it only women who were burned, but anyone who could be ‘proven’ to be a heretic. Anyone, like Giordano Bruno, who threatened the established beliefs with a statement that ‘contradicted’ scripture, could be destroyed. Compassion for the accused was taken as proof of complicity with the Devil. Intellect was no protection against the exigencies of Faith. Calvin was congratulated by Melancthon (known at the time as a humanist) on the burning of the great physician Servetus, who had discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood. His ‘heresy’ had been to travel to the Holy Land and describe it as barren instead of flowing with milk and honey, and for this his tongue was torn out before he was burnt.

Montaigne must be left the last comment: ‘It is’, he wrote, ‘setting a high value on one’s conjectures, if for their sake one is willing to burn a human being alive.(86)

Eve and the Body

Eve came to represent Body and Matter; Adam, accordingly, became Mind and Spirit, or (with Aquinas) Rational Soul. Eve was Carnality, and Adam was Spirituality. Because of the long patriarchal inheritance, both Jewish and Greek, it must have seemed ‘quite natural’ for the Christian Fathers to associate man with Mind and woman with Body. This split between mind and body can be seen as yet another of those oppositions that follow from the primary separation between creator and creation that was the mark of Iron Age mythology. The belief that the body must be controlled, mortified, made to suffer for its desires and in general brought into a relationship of subjection to the mind is very deeply engrained in the Christian psyche. Only Alchemy worked on the assumption that spirit and matter are two aspects of one single matrix of energy. The idea that body and mind might be two aspects or perspectives of the soul, or that the body is the temple of the soul and its physical expression, was always known to alchemists and mystics, and is now advanced by the discoveries of modern physics. The old distinctions have to give way to the idea that all matter, however ‘solid’ in appearance, is in fact energy, but the relevance of these discoveries to theology and medicine is only now beginning to be explored.(87)

The opposition between mind and body in Christian doctrine took its flavour from the ‘sin of Eve’, which became the inherent sinfulness of the flesh, in particular all those bodily organs that had to do with excretion of waste matter, sexual intercourse and birth. Marina Warner, in her book on the Virgin Mary, Alone of All Her Sex, comments:

In the faeces and urine - Augustine’s phrase - of childbirth, the closeness of woman to al1 that is vile, lowly, corruptible, and material was epitomized; in the ‘curse’ of menstruation, she lay closer to the beasts; the lure of her beauty was nothing but an aspect of the death brought about by her seduction of Adam in the garden. St John Chrysostom warned: ‘The whole of her bodily beauty is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum, and the fluid of digested food.’ (88)

Compare Yeats:

Love is all
That cannot take the whole
Body and soul;
And that is what Jane said.

Warner has outlined the Christian theological argument that ‘woman was womb and womb was evil’:

When Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome endorsed virginity for its special holiness, they were the heirs and representatives of much current thought in the Roman empire of their day. And in this battle between the flesh and the spirit, the female sex was firmly placed on the side of the flesh. For as childbirth was woman’s special function, and its pangs the special penalty decreed by God after the Fall, and as the child she bore in her womb was stained by sin from the moment of its conception, the evils of sex were particularly identified with the female. Woman was womb and womb was evil: this cluster of ideas endemic to Christianity is but the extension of Augustine’s argument about original sin. (90)

Hillman makes the point that as long as the physical body and matter generally represent the feminine principle, then whatever is physical will continue to receive anti-feminine projections, so that matter, evil, darkness and female will continue to be interchangeable concepts. The female body in particular will have ‘a doubly negative cast’:

The material aspect of the feminine, ‘her human body, the thing most prone to gross material corruption’ (papal wording of bull declaring the Assumption of the Virgin Mary as dogma, 1950 will have a doubly negative cast. The more female the material, the more will it be evil; the more materialized the female, the more will it be dark. Upon the physical body of the feminine the fantasies of female inferiority become most florid, since just here the abysmal side of bodily man with his animal passions and instinctual nature’ is constellated.(91)

Another aspect of the rejection of the body was the behaviour of the Christian saints, who inflicted on it every kind of torture and misery, from starvation to flagellation. Asceticism, chastity and celibacy became the hallmark of the virtuous, of men and women dedicated to the holy life. Virginity became the ‘gateway’ to immortality: ‘Let us love chastity above all things,’ Augustine wrote, ‘for it was to show that this was pleasing to Him that Christ chose the modesty of a virgin womb.’ Augustine, as Warner writes, thus bound up three ideas in a causal chain: the sinfulness of sex, the virgin birth, and the good of virginity.(92)

In this way the spiritual life was irrevocably divided from the natural life; so love of God could not be born of love of life. On the contrary, the virgin and the martyr offered their bodies to Christ in the belief that virginity and martyrdom would bring them closer to God. The body was to be sacrificed to the spirit in the belief that in this way evil would be vanquished: ‘The root, and the flower, too, of virginity, is a crucified life’, wrote John Chrysostom.(93)

On the other hand, the asceticism of certain Christian saints has to be placed in the context of shamanic experience, where the aim in both is to transcend the limitations that keep people bound to earthly needs and concerns, closing them to another kind of perception that has always been called ‘visionary’.(94) The withdrawal into the wilderness, a model set by Jesus himself, or the self-imposed fast of the Christian ascetics can be understood as an enactment of the sacrifice or death to the old way that in all mystical traditions marks the entrance to a more profound understanding. Initiation into the deeper mysteries of life requires in all traditions that people perform a ritual that separates them from everyday life ‘in the world’, so enabling them to experience a ‘second birth’ into a new kind of seeing and hearing that is the result of what the alchemists called the Opus Contra Naturam, the work against nature.

The distinction in kind between the denigration of the body and all physical, instinctive life and the shaping, ordering and relating of the body and physical life to the ends of the individual as a whole is obviously crucial here. It may never have been helpful to distinguish the elements of this question into terms such as ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’, but it certainly is not helpful to polarize the two sides of a conflict into different kinds of entities, and then make one superior to the other. Even if, provisionally, we accept a distinction into ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’ - at least in our language - the task of bringing ‘them’ into harmony is made almost impossible if there is an inherent prejudice against one or the other. What may be less obvious is that it is the images of male and female in the psyche that lie,often invisibly, behind more grandiose statements about what is, or is not a life of value. Hillman’s discussion is central:

The matter-spirit relation and the difficulties of their harmony reflect, from the psychological point of view, prior difficulties in the harmony of those opposites we call mind and body or, even deeper, male and female . . . In other words, the uniform world-picture will depend on the male and female images of the psyche, for even world-pictures are also in part psychological phenomena . . . The transformation of our world-view necessitates the transformation of the view of the feminine. Man’s view of matter moves when his view of the feminine moves . . . The uniform world-image in metaphysics requires a uniformity of self-image in psychology, a conjunction of spirit and matter represented by male and female. The idea of female inferiority is therefore paradigmatic for a group of problems that become manifest at the same time in psychological, social, scientific, and metaphysical areas.(95)


The idea of female inferiority may also be paradigmatic for the conception of ‘original sin’. What does the world picture of Genesis tell us about the relation between the male and female images of the psyche? That the male images are valued and the female images are not. The primary valuing is, of course, the Father God, who makes heaven and earth through his word, as something apart from himself. The created world then takes on the female image of inferiority, for creation is not of the same substance as the creator. Nature and human nature as part of creation are not divine, for the divine transcends them. In relation to the divine, they are flawed. Adam is female in relation to God, shaped out of the clay and given the breath of life, but male in relation to Eve, who is drawn from his body without the breath of life. Eve is then female in relation to Adam, and ‘doubly female’ in relation to God. The female human is doubly flawed, as Hillman noted, so that through her the inherent flaw in all creation is exposed. The breath of life is male because it comes from God to Adam, but not Eve, and the clay that comes from nature is female.

In Latin ‘breath’ is ‘spirit’, spiritus (coming from the father); ‘nature’ comes from ‘birth’, natus; and matter comes from mother, Matrix: Mother Nature. Spirit is male and nature or matter is female - inferior, fallen. Human nature, being female in relation to God, is fallen, sinful. Eve, as doubly fallen, doubly sinful, cannot obey God. Adam could but, because of Eve, does not.

We suggest that the fallacious reasoning here stems from the fact that female images are out of balance with the male images in the human psyche. At some points they are even in direct opposition to each other. No conjunction or harmony between them is possible when they are transferred on to a world picture that is then believed as true. The disharmony between transcendence (male) and immanence (female) will not be experienced as an imbalance to be reflected on, but as the necessary order of things. In studying the writings of the people who formulated the doctrine of original sin, the underlying drama of male and female images may be borne in mind.

Doctrinal Christian thought continued the opposition between the human and the divine, and between nature and spirit, by understanding the divinity of Christ in terms of the redemption of humanity. Christ was to be the Second Adam, who removed, through his death and resurrection, the curse placed upon the first. In Paul’s words: ‘For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’. (1 Cor. 15:21-2) It is as if it were believed that by denigrating the one, the other was magnified.

The idea of the Fall, with the related idea of original sin, was therefore central for Christianity in a way that it was not for Judaism, for it provided the point for the counterpoint, which is Redemption. The doctrine of original sin is mainly the creation of the Christian Fathers, who either regarded Eve as the original sinner, or as not capable of sin at all since she was not capable of moral choice. They developed this doctrine in the third and fourth centuries AD, constructing their theories on the second and third chapters of Genesis, and expanding the ideas not of Jesus, but of Paul, who wrote of sin in the same vein as death: ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned’ (Rom. 5:12). They came to believe that the ‘sin’ of Adam in disobeying God’s commandment (Eve is here excluded) impaired a world that had been created perfect.

Origen (third century AD), the most learned and prolific writer of all the Fathers, believed, however, that the Fall did not spoil an already existing world but actually brought it into being. So, following Philo, he held that the coats of skin with which God clothed the nakedness of Adam and Eve were the actual bodies that clothed the soul expelled from its supersensible realm. As we can see below, however, this led him to regard the whole material world as inherently contaminated:(96)

Everyone who enters the world is said to be affected by a kind of contamination. By the very fact that he is placed in his mother’s womb, and that the source from which he takes the material of his body is the father’s seed, he may be said to be contaminated in respect of father and mother . . . Thus every man is polluted in father and mother and only Jesus my Lord came to birth without stain. He was not polluted in respect of his mother, for he entered a body which was not contaminated.(96)

Perhaps the ultimate statement of original sin may be left to Calvin, who, in 1559, some 1,300 years after Origen, said:

Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul . . . For our nature is not merely bereft of good but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence have used a word by no means wide of the mark, if it were added (and this is what many do not concede) that whatever is in man, from intellect to will, from the soul to the flesh, is all defiled and crammed with concupiscence; or, to sum it up briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing but concupiscence . . .(98)

It was Augustine (AD 35-430), however, who was the main formulator of the doctrine of original sin.(99) As Elaine Pagels argues in her book Adam, Eve and the Serpent, Augustine effectively transformed much of the teaching of the Christian faith: ‘Instead of the freedom of the will and humanity’s original royal dignity, Augustine emphasizes humanity’s enslavement to sin. Humanity is sick, suffering, and helpless, irreparably damaged by the fall, for that “original sin’’.’(100)

As a result of his reflections, theologians believed that life on earth was a curse that was passed from Adam to all future generations by the process of heredity. The fateful means was then the involuntary impulse of desire that led to the sexual act of procreation. Augustine’s relentless logic even named the impulse to sexuality - lust - as evil, not the act itself, which was barely tolerable even within marriage: ‘We ought not to condemn marriage because of the evil of lust, nor must we praise lust because of the good of marriage.’(10l)

Warner clarifies Augustine’s position:

Augustine suggested that either the hereditary taint was transmitted through the male genitals themselves during intercourse, and that the body itself, not the soul, was genetically flawed by the Fall, or that because a child cannot be conceived outside the sexual embrace, which necessarily involves the sin of passion, the child is stained from that moment. The premise for this literal connection of intercourse and original sin was the virgin birth of Christ. The son of God chose to be born from a virgin mother because this was the only way a child could enter the world without sin.(l02)

It seems to be a feature of Augustine’s thought that he cannot conceive of the divine without conceiving of what he calls ‘the devil’:

By a kind of divine justice the human race was handed over to the devil’s power, since the sin of the first man passed at birth to all who were born by the intercourse of the two sexes, and the debt of the first parents bound all their posterity . . . The method by which man was surrendered to the devil’s power ought not to be understood in the sense that it was God’s act, or the result of God’s command: rather he merely permitted it, but he did so with justice. When God deserted the sinner, the instigator of the sin rushed in. (l03)

Still trying to explain how death and evil entered a world created by a good and omnipotent God, Augustine places the blame for sin on humanity. (So also does the Yahwist writer of the Flood story in Genesis’ when he has Yahweh remove the curse he had put on the ground, yet still maintain that ‘the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth'. (Gen. 8:21))

The doctrine of original sin deprived humanity of any innate divinity, and instead named woman and man as innately corrupt and condemned to sin eternally There was no intrinsic good in the natural world and in human nature. But human beings cannot mistrust their own natures and at the same time trust the divine, since the divine, whatever else the word conveys to those for whom it is meaningful, is at least the name for the Source of our being, and if our being is tainted, then so must be our divinity. It is, therefore, consistent with Augustine’s premise that having found our nature tainted ‘from the mother’s womb’,(104) he cannot imagine it redeemed by recourse to any indwelling divine presence, since how would we recognize its voice?

We are not, then, to listen to the depths of our own being and begin the challenging task of discriminating the true from the false, but are to displace our devotion on to an external authority, the Church, which will relate us to what we are not. For this to happen, we are to believe its doctrines and observe its rituals, starting at birth to baptize away sin. Inevitably, from this starting point, humanity requires an intermediary between its innate sinfulness and the goodness of God, so the abstraction of 'the Church’ replaced the immanence of the Holy Spirit dwelling immediately (and without need of interpretation) within all life.

If humanity is corrupt, then woman, because of Eve, is more so. Here, Augustine’s position is disclosed in what he does not say:

Eve would not have believed the serpent, nor would Adam have preferred his wife’s wish to God’s command . . . The transgression happened because they are already evil; that evil fruit could come only from an evil tree, a tree which had become unnaturally evil through unnatural viciousness of the will . . . The grievousness of Adam’s fall was in proportion to the loftiness of his position. His nature was such as to be capable of immortality if it had refused to sin; his nature was such as to display no strife of flesh against spirit; his nature was such as to show no struggle against vice, not because it surrendered to vice, but because there was no vice in him . . . The sin with which God charged Adam was a sin from which he could have refrained . . . and a sin which was far worse than the sins of all other men just because he was so much better than all others. Hence the punishment which straightaway followed his sin was so severe as to make it inevitable that he should die, though it had been in his power to be free from death . . . Now when this happened the whole human race was ‘in his loins.’ Hence in accordance with the mysterious and powerful natural laws of heredity it followed that those who were in his loins and were to come into this world through the concupiscence of the flesh were condemned with him . . . And so the sons of Adam were infected by the contagion of sin and subjected to the law of death Though they are infants, incapable of voluntary action, good or bad, yet because of their involvement in him who sinned of his own volition, they derive from him the guilt of sin, and the punishment of death: just as those who are involved in Christ, although they have done nothing of their own volition, receive from him a share in righteousness and the reward of everlasting life.(l05)

In this passage Eve’s part in the engendering of the human race is strikingly absent, since it is in Adam’s ‘loins’ only that the whole human race exists in potentia. As the medical historian Edelstein observes: ‘The theory of the human body is always a part of philosophy.(106) Furthermore, Eve is guilty of listening to a ‘serpent’, whereas Adam ‘fell’ from the ‘loftiness of his position’ of being apparently the only one of them capable of immortality. Eve is placed in communion with a reptile of the earth (concretely visualized), while Adam communes with ‘his wife’ - understandably beguiled (for this one time only) into assuming she is his moral equal - and he communes with God, who made him but not her. Adam names the animals, as he does his wife, but he does not converse with them. Again, the implication is not hard to find: Eve is closer to, that is, ‘more like’, the animals without souls, and furthest from the specifically human condition of conscience and self-consciousness which Adam embodies. The imagery of Genesis draws her as an instinctive not a moral being. She liked the look of the tree - it was ‘good for food’ and ‘pleasant to the eyes’, and ‘to be desired’ to make one wise, as though (woman that she was) she assumed that wisdom was instantly available simply by virtue of being desired. Yet take the story not literally but symbolically, and the meanings change into their opposite. Symbolically, the feminine principle in human beings of both sexes is more receptive to the instinctive and intuitive wisdom that transcends the limits of any one conscious viewpoint, and is therefore ‘closer to God’. Here, the serpent is the image of that divine curiosity which disturbs the established order so that we are drawn deeper into understanding. Then, like the caduceus of intertwining snakes, the magic wand of Hermes, god of imagination, the serpent transforms and heals the limitations of an exclusively conscious viewpoint, dogmatically held. But literally interpreted, as a woman who takes the word of a serpent over God’s injunction, she is closer to the devil (doubly female).

The anomalies in Augustine’s discussion fall into place when we read elsewhere: ‘The image of God is in man and it is one. Women were drawn from man who has God’s jurisdiction as if he were God’s vicar because he has the image of the one God. Therefore, woman is not made in God’s image.’(l07)

Philip Sherrard sets the legacy of Augustine in perspective. It is, he writes,

one of the paradoxes, and also one of the tragedies, of the western Christian tradition that the man who affirmed so strongly the presence of God in the depths of his own self and so the ultimate independence of the human personality from all worldly categories should as a dogmatic theologian have been responsible more perhaps than any other Christian writer for 'consecrating’ within the Christian world the idea of man’s slavery and impotence due to the radical perversion of human nature through original sin. It has been St Augustine’s theology which in the West has veiled down to the present day the full radiance of the Christian revelation of divine sonship - the full revelation of who man essentially is.(108)

Although the idea of humanity’s innate sinfulness has been held in the unconscious psyche for many centuries, it can be re-evaluated in the same way that any idea can once it has become conscious. In any other discipline we might ask ‘why do we need this idea?’ It purports to explain what Antony on the murder of Julius Caesar calls ‘the evil that men do’, which ‘lives after them’.(109) But in so far as it explains that, it does not explain the good that men do, which also lives after them. On the contrary, like any negative idea, it is more likely to create and sustain the thing it condemns. Blake’s words ‘Error, or Creation, is Burnt up the Moment men cease to behold it’(1l0) may be relevant to the suggestion that in perpetuating the belief of primordial sin, we bring about the conditions where ‘sin’ is engendered, for we deprive ourselves of the habit of trusting ourselves and looking within for moral guidance. However, Blake’s fundamental conviction was that ‘everything that lives is Holy’. It is sad that the insight Augustine recorded late in his life was not available to him in time to redeem his conviction of his own and humanity’s sinfulness: ‘Too late came I to thee, O thou Beauty both so ancient and so fresh, Yea, too late came I to love thee. And behold, thou wert within me, and I out of myself, where I made search for thee.’(111)


Central to Christian doctrine from the fourth century AD was the teaching that as Christ was the Second Adam, so Mary was the ‘Second Eve’, that Mary through her virginity had redeemed the sin of Eve. The paradise that had been lost was now regained, since the transmission of original sin had been finally interrupted by the untainted birth of Christ. As Jerome said, ‘Now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.’(1l2) And Irenaeus declared: ‘Eve by her disobedience brought death upon herself and on all the human race: Mary, by her obedience, brought salvation.’(1l3)

It is fundamentally Mary’s virginity that is the cornerstone of Christian theology, for without it there could be no ‘Son of God’ and no suspension of the laws of nature that manifest in the human being as original sin ‘from the mother’s womb’, as Saint Augustine locates it. Jesus would have been a man like other men, and it would have been impossible to render him Christ the Redeemer of Sin. So, in the Christian tradition it was essential to provide a doctrine of the immaculate conception of Jesus, and equally essential, later, to extend the idea of immaculate conception to Mary herself, so that she would also be completely free of any taint of the ‘original’ sin, now unquestionably human sexuality. Logically, Mary’s mother, Anne, should also have had the taint removed from her, and so, also, the whole line of ancestresses back to and including Eve. Divinity of parentage and a miraculous birth are common to all mythic traditions as a way of acknowledging the one who becomes the hero or the saviour of the community,(114) but this myth bore the unique burden of redeeming the whole of nature.

Figure 22. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Mary’s virginity was defined in imagery that banished sexuality and birth from embodying an aspect of divinity. She becomes the mother of the Redeemer and the mother of all believers, but she is no longer the mother of all living, as Eve was. So the natural processes of birth by which all living creatures come into being are rejected as links in the corrupting chain of original sin. Mary’s womb, unlike Eve’s, is uncorrupted by human fecundation, or the human processes of birth. In the imagery of the Song of Songs, it is ‘a garden enclosed . . . a spring shut up, a fountain sealed’ (S. of S. 4:12).

Mary served only to make things worse for Eve. As Tertullian himself explains it: ‘Eve becomes more evil because Mary is the perfect woman’ He explains further :

Eve believed the serpent, Mary believed Gabriel; the one sinned by believing, the other by believing effaced the sin. But did Eve conceive nothing in her womb from the devil’s word? She certainly did. For the devil’s word was the seed for her, so that thereafter she should give birth as an outcast, and give birth in sorrow. And in fact she bore a devil who murdered his brother; while Mary gave birth to one who should in time bring salvation to Israel.(115)

Mary became virgin before, during and after the birth of her son (aeiparthenos). There could be no ‘rite of passage’ either in or out of her womb, which therefore remained uncontaminated either by the sexual act, or by the blood, ‘urine and faeces’ of birth. Everything ‘natural’ had to be removed from association with her, because what was natural was bound to the corruption of sexuality and the decay of death. Woman, through whom birth came, was, by inverse logic, the one through whom death came. Coitus, Phillips writes, became ‘the means by which the sins of the fathers and mothers are visited on the sons and daughters. Sin, sexuality and death were thus woven into the tapestry depicting Eve; obedience, virginity, and eternal life became shining attributes of Mary.'(116)

Virginity was identified with freedom from sin, which implicitly turned sexuality into the primary sin. However, the association of virginity with freedom from sin, and so with the promise of eternal life, involved the Christian Fathers in the contradiction that death could be overcome only by denying the natural process of entry into life. Evidently, the way to achieve immortality was not to be born at all! The theoretical assumption that Christianity has not devalued nature and that there is no dualism involved in its teaching is thoroughly undermined by the ‘logic’ of these images

What was the effect on women in particular of this absolute polarization of spirit and nature, which identified ‘spirit’ with the immaculate Mary and ‘nature’ with the sinful Eve? If they could not emulate Mary’s virginity, they were condemned to align themselves with Eve. There was no way in which they could combine within themselves the opposing roles of virgin and mother, for their motherhood could never achieve Mary’s perpetual virginity (the inviolate hymen), nor their virginity her fortunate motherhood. They could, therefore, identify themselves only with Eve. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition of mythic images women had none of the variety of models that existed in Greece in the figures of Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite, as well as Demeter, Persephone, Hera and Hestia, goddess of the hearth and home. Instead, as either Mary or Eve, the reality of woman was wholly imagined in sexual or relational terms as mother, wife, virgin or whore. Even Mary Magdalene, who might have escaped conventional definition, was called a ‘penitent whore’. Where is the image of woman independent of relationship to man or child unless, to go full circle, it be Lilith?


With the Reformation there might have been a hope of a new interpretation of the Genesis myth, and with it a change in attitude towards women and men. Not only did the old ideas endure, however, but they were given new confirmation by Luther and his successors. Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century both started out following the first chapter of Genesis, and declaring woman to be equal to man. But then, working out the reasons for the Fall, they both came to the conclusion that it was Eve’s independence that was the cause of her being able to lead Adam into sin: and so determined that woman should be the compliant partner of man, subject to his will in all things. This subjugation is punishment for her sin and the expression of divine justice, such that any refusal on the part of woman to accept the social order must be understood as a further sin: a refusal to accept the judgement of God.(1l7) Woman’s place in relation to man’s was to be based on Eve’s to Adam’s. She is, Luther writes, in his act of nailing, like ‘a nail driven into the wall’:

Now there is added to these sorrows of gestation and birth that Eve has been placed under the power of her husband ... This punishment, too, springs from original sin, and the woman bears it just as unwillingly as she bears those pains and inconveniences that have been placed upon her flesh. The rule remains with the husband, and the wife is compelled to obey him by God’s command. He rules the home and the state, wages wars, defends his possessions, tills the soil, builds, plants, etc. The woman, on the other hand, is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home and . . . does not go beyond her most personal duties . . . Women are generally disinclined to put up with this burden, and they naturally seek to gain what they have lost through sin. If they are unable to do more, they at least indicate their impatience through grumbling. However, they cannot perform the functions of men: teach, rule, etc. In procreation and in feeding and nurturing their offspring they are masters. In this way Eve is punished; but, as I said at the beginning, it is a gladsome punishment if you consider the hope of eternal life and the honour of motherhood which have been left her.(1l8)

This attitude, which was in essence no different from the early Christian and medieval ideal, found its way into Lutheran, Calvinist and Puritan teaching. ‘It cannot be denied’, wrote Calvin reluctantly, ‘but that the woman was created after the image of God, though in the second degree.’(119) Luther, commenting on Genesis, drew on the old Iron Age imagery to make the same point: ‘For as the sun is more excellent than the moon, so the woman, although she was a most beautiful work of God, was none the less not the equal of the male in glory and prestige.’(l20) The notion of woman is thus rendered equivalent to the notion of fallen woman, so she becomes in her person a living reproach to the sinfulness of her nature at having merited the punishment of subjugation.

For Calvin, the subordination of women to men took its justification from the hierarchical order that God intended. It reflected the divinely appointed social order in which man was to rule and woman was to obey. As the Good Book said: ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’

For this speache, ‘Thy lust shall belong to thy husband’ is as much in effect, as if he should denied that shee should be free, on her owne, but subject to the rule of her husband, to depend upon his will and pleasure: As if he should say, Thou shalt desire nothing but what the husband will. Even so the woman, which had perversely exceeded her boundes, is restrained and bridled.(l21)

These sentiments informed the work of successive Protestant theologians, until this century, in the writings of Karl Barth, a final ‘nail’ fixes Eve’s descendants in their place: ‘Woman does not have a single possibility apart from being man’s helpmeet ... Being herself the completion of man’s humanity she has no further need of a further completion of her own.’(l22) It is his view that the ‘command of the Lord’ does not dishonour or humiliate anyone. Rather, ‘it puts both man and woman in their proper place’, which, for woman, is to be woman: ‘The essential point is that woman must always and in all circumstances be woman; that she must see and conduct herself as such and not as a man.’(123) There is no mention here of the possibility of man being himself the completion of woman’s humanity, and no conception of man and woman each finding the completion of their humanity in their own unique individuality, or in their relation to their own divinity, still less the heretical idea that ‘God’s humanity’ could be explored through human beings. In contrast, the Van Eycks’ conception of Adam and Eve (Fig. 23) makes no judgement between them, and draws them as partners in relationship on the soul’s journey.

Figure 23. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

In the continuing story of Eve can be read the result of the imbalance between the masculine and feminine principles that was ratified in the story of the Enuma Elish. The myth, with its Jewish, Christian and Islamic interpretations, has persisted, but the original historical situation and human experience that brought it into existence have been forgotten. Furthermore, the symbolic meaning of the myth as the birth of consciousness is completely obscured to those who take it as divine revelation. The innocent phrases that explore humanity’s most testing moment have been abstracted from the narrative, generalized out of context, and wrenched into shapes that support the prevailing social order. The 'nervous discord’ between the image and the word can be overcome if the myth is read symbolically as a tragic myth that treats of one dimension of human existence, the kathodos or going down, but not the anodos, the coming up into the mythic vision. But, read concretely, the image is sacrificed to the interpretation of the word, and so the inherent joyousness of the images cannot reach the feelings they exist to move. Any myth taken literally confuses two levels of understanding or two modes of discourse, and so is bound to destroy the life it was conceived to discover. To this, Genesis is no exception.


There are now more urgent implications of the consistent misreading of this myth throughout the last 2,000 years of our mythological tradition. And these affect, quite crucially, our present attitudes to nature and the ‘body’ of the Earth. There has never been in Christianity, as there was in the goddess cultures, an understanding of the Earth as a ‘living being’, still less an awareness that Everything was Holy, since belief in divine immanence was doctrinally dismissed as belief in spirits. The goddesses and gods of pagan cultures were thought of as demons, and the values expressed through them were regarded as demonic. Yet the Oxyrhynchus Manuscript gives the words of Jesus that show that the earlier vision of the sacredness of nature was an integral part of his teaching:

Who then are they that draw us and when shall come the Kingdom that is in heaven?

The fowls of the air and of the beasts whatever is beneath the earth or upon the earth, and the fishes of the sea, these they are that draw you. And the Kingdom of heaven is within you and whosoever knoweth himself shall find it. And, having found it, ye shall know yourselves that ye are sons and heirs of the Father, the Almighty, and shall know yourselves that ye are in God and God in you.(l24)

If nature is not believed to be intrinsically divine, and instead is only ‘made’ by the deity as something separate from the whole, and if the physical processes of birth and begetting are experienced as a transmission of sin from generation to generation, then it is hardly surprising if they are eventually regarded as mechanistic. Consequently, nature has been progressively desacralized from Augustine, through Aquinas, to the development of science from the sixteenth century to the present day. It was Francis Bacon who said that nature should be ‘hounded in her wandering . . . bound into service . . . made a slave’. Borrowing the language of the Inquisition’ nature was to be ‘put in constraint’ and the aim of the scientist was to ‘torture’ her secrets from her.(125) Descartes also wrote that humanity’s ultimate purpose was to become the ‘Lords and Masters of Nature'.(126) Such language would be inconceivable in a culture that believed in divine immanence.

Until very recently matter was regarded as so emptied of spirit that it was thought to be ‘inert’, even ‘dead’. Jung said:

Today we talk of ‘matter’. We describe its physical properties. We conduct laboratory experiments to demonstrate some of its aspects. But the word ‘matter’ remains a dry, inhuman, and purely intellectual concept, without any psychic significance for us. How different was the former image of matter - the Great Mother - that could encompass and express the profound emotional meaning of Mother Earth.(127)

Science now suggests that there is no such thing as ‘death’ in matter, for even the decomposed body, reduced to atoms and molecules, is ‘alive’. Although Christian doctrine taught that human beings had souls and that they were a composite unity of body and soul, it did not, in the Western tradition, teach that the divine, therefore, dwelt within them. Moreover, the identification of the body with evil, and of the soul with a state of primordial and inherited sinfulness, effectively deprived both human nature and nature of any intrinsic divinity.

Aristotle was a vital factor in this process, for his works, translated into Latin from the beginning of the twelfth century, had a radical effect on doctrinal Christianity through their influence on Thomas Aquinas. It was at this point that the Platonic image of a great chain of being, emanating from the source of life in the highest pleromatic sphere and descending by a succession of hierarchical stages, infusing the lowest emanation of the manifest world with being, was lost. It was replaced by the Aristotelian idea that the universal cannot be present in a particular substance or entity. The same notion is also found in Tertullian’s writings: ‘Flesh does not become spirit nor spirit flesh.’(l28) Through Aristotle’s influence on Aquinas the idea is developed that there are two orders, a supernatural and a natural, and that humanity belongs to the natural order rather than to the supernatural. Soul is reduced to the rational principle in human beings, which cannot know God through participation in the life emanating from the source, but can only learn about God. Its knowing is not informed by the active intelligence and insight of divine wisdom present within it or co-inherent with it, but is something more like intellect, or the ability to reason, which is created by God but not part of God.

The soul, and even more the body, is not then an emanation of the creator, who stands apart from both body and soul in the way that the creator stood apart from creation in Genesis. The effect of this doctrine was to split spirit once again from nature, and the unmanifest life from the manifest. Aquinas’s thought, steeped in the rigid distinction between universal and particular made by Aristotle, compounded the impact of the doctrine of original sin, for it stated once again that there could be in nature and humanity no indwelling divine spirit. The teaching of Jesus that humanity as the son was part of the Father (just as in the goddess culture humanity had been the child of the Mother) could have bridged this great divide. However, the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ developed by the Church could not allow this, for the divine event was interpreted as taking place uniquely, in one man only on behalf of humanity, but not within all humanity, nor in the whole of creation. So the insight contained in Jesus’ words in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas was lost, and the wound in the soul was not healed but exacerbated.

Here Jesus creates an image beyond duality, significantly bringing into complete harmony the male and female images of the soul:

When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female (not) be female . . . then you shall enter (the Kingdom).(129)

And again, he offers an unforgettable image of divine immanence:

Cleave a (piece of) wood, I am there;
lift up the stone and you will find Me there.

The way we look upon nature reflects ideas about nature, which in turn reflect the way we look upon human nature. We might wonder if the notion of original sin was begotten by those who could not love life in its entirety, for no mystic of any tradition excludes one part of life from the whole. Is ‘Yahweh’s’ curse (literally taken) then not rather the Yahwist’s curse, and the curse also of those who followed him, the rage of humanity against what it sees as its own annihilation? By contrast, Blake directs our thought inwards: ‘To the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees. As the Eye is formed, such are its Power(131) As in every culture, the poet’s vision is one of unity:

Vast chain of being! which from God began,
Nature’s aethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee,
From thee to nothing. - On superior pow’rs
Were we to press, inferior might on ours;
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed;
From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.

The image of a path of descent and ascent for angelic beings or souls, which occurs in Jacob’s dream of the ladder extending between heaven and earth, and which inspired Blake (Fig.24), may also convey the idea of a continuous chain of relationship throughout creation.

Figure 24. Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

The myth of the Garden of Eden could also be understood as symbolizing the memory of an original wholeness, which is forgotten in the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, drawing us into time and consciousness, and sending us each on a unique journey of exploration. But the fruit of the Garden that has been ingested, continues to live inside us as the impulse to remember the state of union before dismemberment in time, for the memory persists in echoes and glimpses that cannot be explained and will not go away. Yeats’s ‘Anima Mundi’ and 'Great Memory’, Jung’s ‘Collective Unconscious’and Black Elk’s 'Sacred Hoop of the World' (133) may come from this source, as may the often dreamed-of ‘Akashic Records’ as well as Plato’s theory of Knowledge as Recollection, Anamnesis. Nearer to our own time, the idea, nourished by the Neoplatonic tradition, that the soul retains the memory of its place of origin but can no longer perceive it, is expressed by Shakespeare through Lorenzo’s love for Jessica:

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlayed with patines of bright gold;
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-ey’d cherubims;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly clothe it in, we cannot hear it.

Notes and References

Chapter 13 (continued). Eve. The Mother of All Living

44. Phillips, op. cit., p 57

45. Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5, p. 151, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p 58.

46. Whitmont, op. cit., p. 124.

47. See Peter Brown,The Body and Society, for the position of women in early Christian society.

48. Hesiod, Works and Days, trs. after H. G. Evelyn-White, pp. 55-77. Harrison comments on Hesiod’s poem:

Through all the magic of a poet, caught and enchanted himself by the vision of a lovely woman, there gleams the ugly malice of theological animus. Zeus the Father will have no great Earth-goddess, Mother and Maid in one . . . but her figure is from the beginning, so he remakes it.

(Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p.285.)

49. Hesiod, Works and Days, 94-100.

50. Heslod, Theogony, trs. H.G. Evelyn-White, 590.

51. Jane Harrison, ‘Pandora’s Box’, Journal of Hellenistic Studies, 20: 108-9.

52. Hesiod, Theogony, 573-90.

53. ibid.,585-90.

54. Tertullian, De Corona Militis, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 21.

55. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), In Mattheum Homili, xxxii, Ex Capitae, xix (a), Migne, Patrologiae Graecae, Vol. 56, p. 803; quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 22.

56. Phillips, op. cit., p. 20.

57. A similar synthesis, or abstraction, can be seen in the astrological symbolism of Aquarius, the Water Bearer, who in the oldest zodiac pictures (e.g., the second-century-AD zodiac in the Temple of Denderah, and the eleventh century York zodiac in England) carries the two vessels of life and death. In the later zodiacs the Water Bearer carries only one vessel, and the richness of the original symbolism is lost.

58. Dora and Erwin Panofsky, Pandora’s Box, p.12.

59. Compare the vase imagery of the Virgin Mary, the sealed vessel, and the vase or jar of oil that Mary Magdalene holds; also the alchemical vessel in Alchemy; all of which carry the same image of containment as Pandora’s urn.

60. Apuleius, The Golden Ass, pp. 14-26. Panofsky, op. cit., pp. 17-19.

61. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 93, 4 ad.1; quoted in Marina Warner Alone of All Her Sex, p. 179.

62. Aquinas, op. cit., 1a., 92, i; quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 35.

63. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Bk. 4, 299.

64. James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis, pp. 217-18. Simone de Beauvoir comments on the same subject:

Humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself, but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being ... She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, he is the Absolute - she is the Other.

(The Second Sex,. p 16)

65. Claus Westermann, Genesis, 1-12, p. 357; quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 115,

66. Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, 729a, 22, quoted in Hillman, op. cit., p. 228.

67. Aquinas, op. cit., 1a, 92, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 35.

68. The Image of Man, London, Arts Council Publication, 1982, p. 180.

69. Plato, The Timaeus, in R. D. Archer-Hind (ed.), The Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, New York, Arno Press, 1973, 42, D.

70. Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, SE, XXIII, pp. 193-4; quoted in Hillman, op. cit., p. 241.

71. Hillman, op. cit., p. 243.

72. C. G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 6, Psychological Types, para. 9.

73. Quoted in Phillips, op. cit., frontispiece.

74. ibid., p. 41.

75. C. G. Jung. We regret we are unable to find this reference.

76. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 10, 867-95.

77. Phillips, op. cit., pp. 44-5.

78. H. Kramer and J. Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, p.47.

79. Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 76.

80. Tertullian, Adversus Hermogenem, pp. 2-3, quoted in H. Bettenson (ed.), Early Christian Fathers, p.108.

81. Tertullian, De Carne Christi, pp. 4-5, quoted in Bettenson, op. cit., p. 125

82. Quoted by Phillips, op. cit., p. 77.

83. Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.306.

84. Kramer and Sprenger, op. cit., p. 43.

85. Gregory Zilboorg, A History of Medical Psychology, New York, Norton, 1941, pp. 161-2.

86. Montaigne, Essais, Vol. IX, p. 22, quoted in Zilboorg, op. cit.

87. Donnah Zohar, Quantum Self.

88. Warner, op. cit., p. 58.

89. W. B. Yeats, ‘Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgement’, Collected Poems, p.291-2.

90. Warner, op. cit., p. 57.

91. Hillman, op. cit., p. 219.

92. Warner, op. cit., p. 54.

93. John Chrysostom, from De Virginitate, quoted in an encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII, 25 March 1954.

94. See Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, p. 102.

95. Hillman, op. cit., pp. 216-17.

96. J. W. Trigg, Origen, p.109,

97. Origen, ‘Hom. in Leviticum’, xii, 4, in Bettenson, op. cit., p. 220.

98. Henry Bettenson (ed.), Documents of the Christian Church, p. 213.

99. Augustine conceived the doctrine of original sin in response to the heresy of the British monk Pelagius. See Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent, pp. 124-6. See also the important book by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for Heaven: The Catholic Church and Sexuality, which was published too late to be included in this discussion.

100. Pagels, op. cit., p. 99.

101. Augustine, De Nuptiis et Concupiscentia, 1, 8 (7), quoted in Warner, op. cit., p. 54.

102. Warner, op. cit., p. 54.

103. Augustine, De Trin, 13, quoted in H. Bettenson (ed.), The Later Christian Fathers, p.220.

104. Augustine, quoted in Pagels, op.cit., p. 131.

105. Augustine, de Civ. Dei, 14. 13, and Op. imp.c.Jul. 6. 22, quoted in Bettenson (ed.), op. cit., pp. 196-7.

106. Hillman, op. cit., p. 219.

107. Corpus Iuris Canonici, quoted in E. and G. Strachan, Freeing the Feminine, p. 122.

108. Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature, p. 21.

109. William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, III, ii.

110. William Blake, ‘A Descriptive Catalogue: Vision of the Last Judgement’, in Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, p. 651.

111. Augustine, Confessions, Book X, Chapter 27.

112. I.etter 22, Philip Schaff and Henry Wave (trs.), The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 6:30, quoted in Warner, op. cit., p. 54.

113. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 111, xxii, 4, in Bettenson (ed.), The Early Christian Fathers, p. 74.

114. See Otto Rank, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, New York, I941, and Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

115. Tertullian, De Carne Christi, p.17 in Bettenson (ed.) The Early Christian Fathers, p. 126.

116. Phillips, op. cit., p. 135.

117. See Rosemary Radford Ruether’s discussion in Sexism and God-talk: Towards a Feminist Theology, Boston, Mass., Beacon Press, 1983, pp. 97-9.

118. Luther, op. cit., 69, 115, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 104.

119. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Book ii. 9, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 99.

120. Luther, op. cit., 69, 115, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., p. 104.

121. Calvin, op. cit., Chapter 2, verse 18, quoted in Phillips, op. cit., pp. 105-6.

122. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3:2, p. 287.

123. ibid., 3:4, p. 170

124. Quoted from the Oxyrhynchus Manuscript in Frank C. Happold, Mysticism, pp. 174-5.

125. Francis Bacon, quoted by Carolyn Merchant in The Death of Nature, p.169.

126. Descartes, quoted in Maurice Ashe, New Renaissance, p. 59.

127. C. G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, p. 85.

128. Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 16, in Bettenson (ed.), The Early Christian Fathers, p. 122.

129. The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 22

130. ibid., Logion 77.

131. William Blake, Letter to the Revd Dr Trusler, 23-8-1799, in Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), Poetry and Prose of William Blake, p.835.

132. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, lines 237-46.

133. John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, p. 43.

134. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, V, i.

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