Title: Unsafe Sex: The Lilith Myth in Avatar
Author: B. Pilgrim
School: College of Theology, Paranormal Judaica and Walter Skinner Studies
Date Archived: 4-29-98



Unsafe Sex: The Lilith Myth in Avatar

by B. Pilgrim
unstuck @yahoo.com



The best X-Files episodes are those that update the dreams and horrors that
have always been with us.

I am always impressed by the way that Mr. Carter and company have been able
to take stories that are, sometimes literally, as old as the hills, and
finds a new way to interpret them for the modern world. In the third season
episode Avatar, an ancient myth - the Lilith/Succubi legend, is once again
explored from a new angle. In this paper, I will look at the ancient Hebrew
and Sumerian roots of the dark goddess Lilith and the Succubi, and then
examine how these myths were used by writers Howard Gordon and David
Duchovny to form not only the details, but the very structure of Avatar.

*Lilith, Mother of Demons*

To examine the story of Lilith, we must begin with Genesis. In the biblical
description of creation, there is a serious contradiction, usually referred
to as Genesis I and Genesis II. The two contradictory passages are...

Genesis 1:27 "And Elohim (God) created Adam in His image, in the image of
God He created him; male and female He created them."

and

Genesis 2:18-22 "And Yahweh (God) said, 'It is not good for Adam to be
alone. I will make a fitting helper for him'...And Yahweh fashioned the rib
that He had taken from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man."

The contradiction is clear...how could the first woman, who would later be
called Chava (Life), be created twice? This question was answered in the
Babylonian Talmud, a book interpreting the Torah (The five books of Moses),
written during the Babylonian Exile (around 600 BC). The solution was,
according to the Talmudic scholars, that Adam had had two wives. The first
one that God created, in Genesis I, didn't work out, so he created a second
one in Genesis II. This first wife was called Lilith, and owns much of her
origin to Sumerian mythology and their belief in a Succubus.

This Sumerian archetype for Lilith was called the Ardut Lili. A young female
spirit, the Ardut Lili was credited with attacking men at night, causing
what we now know as "Night Hag Syndrome" (the same syndrome that Walter
Skinner is suffering from in Avatar). The symptoms of Night Hag Syndrome
will be discussed later in this paper.

The Talmudic Scholars took the basic concept of the Ardut Lili and created
Lilith. According to the Talmud, Adam was created with a female side, called
Lilith. At first, they were connected, physically as well as spiritually.
Some scholars say that they were one creature with two natures, male and
female, called Adam Kadmon, complete in and of himself. Most scholars,
however, say that they were two separate creatures, physically connected in
some way. When God realized that this wouldn't work for procreation, he
separated them, two equal creatures, each possessing half of human nature.

This is where the trouble started in the first marriage. Adam demanded that
Lilith be subservient to him in all ways (including sexually), while Lilith
demanded that they be equals. She attempted to create a perfect world of
equality, but he envisioned the world as ruled by himself, with all,
including Lilith, under his authority. The conflict between them grew
bitter, until Lilith used the power of The Ineffable Name (the true name of
God), to release herself from Eden, effectively leaving Adam. It is little
known that according to the Talmud, Cain was not the son of Adam and Chava
(Eve), but of Adam and Lilith, making him Abel's half brother.

Obviously this situation could not be allowed to continue, so God created
Chava from Adam's rib, ensuring that she would be more to his taste (that
is, subservient to him) but not too subservient, since she was taken from
his side, to stand next to him in life. Meanwhile, Lilith went to live
outside of Eden, in a cave on the shores of the Red Sea. While there, she
took the demons of the world as her lovers, and gave birth to abominations
to plague mankind. Some interpretations say it was also her that tempted
Chava, in the form of the serpent, to eat of the fruit of The Tree of Life,
causing mankind's fall from grace.

Following that fall, for which Adam blamed Chava, Adam decided that he may
have been too hard on Lilith, and tried to get God to bring her back.
However, she refused to return to Eden if she would have to be subservient
to Adam. God tried to force her to return by sending three angels to kill
her demonic offspring. In retaliation, Lilith swore to visit men in the
night and seduce them in their sleep (as a Succubus), using those illicit
encounters to give birth to a new race of demons. She also swore to kill
infants, and generally harass the children of Adam down through the
centuries. The only children that she spares are those protected by the
names of the three angels that God sent to punish her.

Lilith has come to represent the darker, wilder side of sex and love. To
feminists, she symbolizes feminine power, freed from the restraints of the
male world, or of home and hearth so to speak. To more orthodox minds, she
is the "Mother of Demons", the source of all things dark and chaotic in the
world, especially those connected with sex.

*Lilith in Avatar*

The Lilith/Succubi myth is used in the episode Avatar in two different ways.
The first, and far more obvious, is in A.D. Skinner's mysterious malady.
From nearly the beginning of the episode, Mulder has connected Skinner's
nightmares to the Succubus myth, and rightly so. The Sumerians developed the
story of the Succubus especially to explain Night Terrors, the conditions
that causes people to wake filled with unexplainable dread, often unable to
move. The sensation of having a weight on your chest restricting your
breathing(caused by partial temporary paralysis of the lungs) lends itself
to the image of a person sitting on you, draining the life from you. The
condition Skinner suffers from only deviates from the myth in that instead
of seeing a beautiful woman, he sees an old hag. However, the basic concept
remains intact. It is clear that Mulder would notice the possible
supernatural element, and explains his reasons for it well. The only element
that is left hanging is the phosphorescence around the victim's lips, which
has no bearing on the myth at all. Still, a nice use of an ancient belief,
translated into modern terms.

The more subtle use of the Lilith myth can be found in the stucture of the
episode itself, especially in Walter and Sharon Skinner's marriage. Looked
at from the standpoint of the Lilith myth, it is easy to see Skinner himself
as Adam, the strange appartion (the succubus) as Lilith and Sharon as Chava
(Eve).

Skinner can be seen as Adam, caught between two women, a Lilith figure (the
hag/succubus) who represents his life in Vietnam and before, the wild,
violent side of his nature, and a Chava figure, Sharon, representing his
later life, orderly and productive. The first "bride" he encountered was
Lilith. As he himself admitted, in his youth, Walter Skinner was not the
cool authority figure we first meet in Tooms. However, the near death
experience, when he is drawn back to life by this mysterious, hag-like
figure (just as when Lilith is separated from Adam, she tries to draw him to
create a perfect world of equality), is the climax of his relationship with
Lilith. At some point soon after, he rejects her, and marries Sharon. He
begins a more conventional, staid period of his life...but soon tensions
exist. As his knowledge increases (just as Adam's eating of the Tree of
Knowledge caused him to be forced from Eden and break temporarily with
Chava) he becomes bitter, dissatisfied with the things he has to do and the
choices he has to make. This drives a wedge between himself and Sharon, and
the relationship begins to end. As it does so, he is drawn (at least in his
dreams) to Lilith, the hag again. However, this too is unsatisfactory, and
he is seen at the end of the episode, refusing to break once and for all
with Sharon/Chava....however, it should be noted that at Sharon's bedside,
he has a vision of the hag. However, just as Lilith would not harm Adam's
children who are protected by the three angels, so she sends Skinner to
defend his children (Scully and the witness), who are protected by angels
(Mulder and the police officers).

Therefore, both on an obvious level and a more esoteric one, Avatar is
wrapped around the concept of Lilith, as a destructive force, but also,
ultimately, as a protective one. Until he reconciles with the hag that
haunts his night, he can't return to the safety of a strong marriage with
Sharon. Ulitmately, it is the reconciliation of Lilith with Adam and Chava
that is the key to peace, according to the Kaballah and Judaism, that is the
key to domestic peace. Just as it is for Walter Skinner.