LDS Grass-Roots Interpretations of the Eve Archetype

Bored in Vernal doctrine, feminism, Mormon, symbols, temple, theology, women 21 Comments

Since Eve is one of the most powerful archetypes for women, it’s not surprising that this story is at the root of many discussions of womanhood.  Feminists have generally been dissatisfied with how the biblical Eve story has affected values and attitudes toward women over the centuries.  Early exegesis of the creation story became the rationale for rules and regulations guiding women’s behavior.  Because Eve was regarded as a source of sin, there was a perceived need to harness the dangerous energy represented by woman.  LDS theology has attempted to redefine the symbolic Eve by picturing her as a free agent who recognized the need for a Fall and purposely “transgressed” the law in order to usher the human race into the mortal sphere.  This is an attempt to connect the name of the first woman with life (Eve=Havvah=life)  instead of forbidden knowledge, lust, temptation, sin, and death. Joseph Fielding Smith said:

One of these days, if I ever get to where I can speak to Mother Eve, I want to thank her for tempting Adam to partake of the fruit. He accepted the temptation, with the result that children came into this world. … If she hadn’t had that influence over Adam, and if Adam had done according to the commandment first given to him, they would still be in the Garden of Eden and we would not be here at all. We wouldn’t have come into this world. So the commentators made a great mistake when they put in the Bible … “man’s shameful fall.”

However, the archetype has not proven easy to overcome.  Even the LDS continue to draw upon the Eve myth for the defining of cultural roles and for the justification of women’s status in the Church hierarchy.  In the temple ritual, Eve, after having partaken of the fruit, is portrayed as an adjunct to the man Adam.  She promises to listen to his counsel while he is given access to the Lord.  She stands by passively  while he is addressed and taught by spiritual guides.  It is interesting to see how this portrayal has subtly softened and shifted over the years.  In the Church, as well as in other settings, the Eve archetype is slowly being reinterpreted.  I have been excited to see how this has been happening at the grass roots level of Mormon experience.  Lately there have been a few examples which I would like to highlight.

Brooke, at the Exponent 2 blog has written an original poem which contains an exploration of the Eve myth and its meaning to women:

Things I Tell Myself When I Eat Apples

I do not believe in the necessity
of breaking teeth to eat an apple,
only in the necessity of breaking skin.

There also cannot be one true way
to eat the apple. Or to share it.
But I’ll say it again, the skin must break
(even if the skin itself is not eaten).
But there is no need to scrape your gums on it,
or break your jaw. And if you are peeling
or slicing it, be careful with that knife.

Do you hear me? You don’t have to hurt yourself
to eat the apple. you don’t have to eat the skin
or seeds
or stem
or bruises.
God,
you don’t even have to eat
this apple.

Follow the link above to read a fascinating discussion of the shades of meaning in this poem.  Here Brooke allows Woman to escape the paradigm — to decide for herself what parts of the apple she will consume, what effect it will have, or even if she will eat the apple at all.  After reading the poem, it becomes evident that we ourselves make choices about how we will experience our religion and how we will read and interpret our archetypal stories.

An LDS artist recently displayed online a work she has created depicting Eve about to bite into an apple. This apple has teeth — menacing teeth which are bared in opposition to her determination. Galen, the illustrator, has linked her drawing to other sketches: one of Eve slaying the angel, and a study of Alexander Louis Leloir’s Jacob wrestling the angel. Taken together, these efforts betray an interest in a re-interpretation of the Eve myth, one in which Eve wrestles with Deity’s intent for her. In these pictures, Eve takes strong and purposeful control over he destiny. This coincides with LDS rhetoric on Eve, perhaps even more than the woman we encounter in the Temple, or even in the Proclamation on the Family.

eve
Eve

I first saw this image on facebook, and I immediately wrote a response to it, a poetic little quotation which I posted as my status: “The knowledge Heaven gives us hath torrid teeth. And, as Eve, we must meet it with our own determined bite, and welcome the crimson pain, and swallow the iron tang.” But as I pondered these words that came out of my subconscious I realized that my take on the Eve story is a bit different than Brooke’s, or Galen’s. I look at the knowledge offered Eve as painful, and necessary, and difficult. I see the universal condition of women to be something which takes courage and perhaps even violence to face and to swallow. So, as much as I admire the new visions of the Eve story that I see coming to the fore through Mormon women as well as modern feminists, I can glimpse a bit of the medieval mindset in my own psyche.  I’m excited about the opportunity that these two works have given me to consider the messages I’ve taken in, and find new ways to retell and experience them.

I thought I’d offer our women readers here at Mormon Matters an opportunity to explore their reactions to the Eve archetype. I wanted to ask if they are comfortable with the social roles women have inherited with this myth, or if they would like to reinterpret it, to tell the story another way, to picture the meaning differently. But then I realized that perhaps men aren’t all that comfortable with what they’ve gotten from their progenitor, Adam, either. I know some men who don’t want to perpetuate the myth of the male provider figure in their lives. To some of you it might be stifling or burdensome to feel you must always bear the weight of this responsibility. Others might feel uncomfortable in a leadership role, with a wife covenanted to hearken to you. What would it mean to be able to reconstruct your societal and spiritual role? Would you like to do it, and if so, how would you go about it?

Finally, since Church doctrine on the subject of men’s and women’s roles as relating to Adam and Eve is fairly vague and malleable, do you feel empowered to interpret the Eve (or Adam) myth in new and creative ways, as early Church leaders did? Do you feel comfortable playing with the sacred narrative, as these artists have? If you would like to share a poem or a drawing with our readers, even better! Give us a link in the comments.

Comments

comments

Comments 21

  1. Feminist, masculinist, whatever you may be, are we not all connected? Doesn’t the most fearsome feminist you know have a father, possbily brothers, sons etc? Same with masculinists! We are all connected. Can’t we all just get along?

  2. I don’t think Bored in Vernal’s post deserved the response it got from Jon Miranda. I don’t understand Jon’s hostility or his point, if he has one.

    Bored in Vernal, I thought the article was interesting. I wonder what the world would be like if the adam and eve story were never told.

  3. Love the poem and the artwork. I’m not sure I have any profound thoughts about the Eve story. I’ve always thought Eve was framed, but it’s interesting to try to think about the Fall with Eve being empowered to make her own decisions.

    Thanks for sharing, BiV (and G).

  4. Thanks BiV. Your own poetic response to my drawing was deeply touching. Growing up, my image of Eve (and by extension, womanhood) was always very tinged with passivity, following, being submissive, etc. I have had several people ask me why my work isn’t about Lilith (the one supposed to be the rebellious trouble maker). For me it is a deep need to redefine Eve herself, she who is set up as the ultimate example for me.

    (Btw, her slaying the angel is inspired by Virginia Wolf’s statement about needing to Kill the angel of the house in order to become a writer.)

    Oh, speaking of Eve, I LOVE Lynnette’s recent post on the subject.

  5. Yes, Galen–thank you for that link to Lynnette’s post. These very struggles are those which are leading LDS women to redefine the Eve story in a way that is more meaningful to them.

    Dexter, what WOULD the world be like without that seminal story? Quite different, I imagine, as evidenced by societies which were NOT influenced by it. That said, I do enjoy archetypes and myths as a pathway for understanding the unconscious mind, so it’s cool to unpack the Adam and Eve story and play around with it to see where it can take us. I absolutely love that these women have been able to do it through their artistic creations.

    Some other fascinating Eve images I encountered were: Rubble Riser by Anahi Decanio–just look at all the symbolism in the mixed-media piece. Also Shawn Dell Joyce’s Eve/Gaia. (third image down) This one contrasts the shame/rape of nature (Eve) by the industrial world, with redemption through sustainability represented by a Gaia figure. Both of these works demonstrate what I am talking about when I speak of a reimaging of the Eve myth.

  6. Dexter:
    I guess I meant sometimes people think too much, especially feminists and masculinists. I did not mean my post to be hostile or angry.

  7. Perhaps I misinterpreted. I apologize, Jon. When you said “or whatever you may be” I thought you were accusing the author of being a feminist or something, but you meant, “whatever you may be” regarding everyone out there. I apologize. I agree with your sentiment now that I understand it. 🙂

  8. One note: I don’t know if Brooke intended the poem to be a deliberate exploration of Eve (she doesn’t say as much on the Exponent post and the comments that follow). But that said, it’s telling that so many of the commenters (including myself) immediately made that connection.

    I’ve enjoyed both Brooke’s poem and the artwork it inspired, and am in turn inspired by it all!

  9. Seeing Eve as some one who first recognised the struggle descend in order to finally ascend I believe is similar to what Christ experienced. In fact I think it would be more appropriate to parrallel those two rather than Adam. I like what Beverley Campbell highlights about the word ebguile in the eden narrative, that ih has connotations of being a multi-level decision-making process that required emotional, psychological and physical pressure. However we must still deal with what BiV notes about the covenant system outlined in the temple narrative. I personally think that it is a little warped, perhaps for narrative purposes, and even disagrees with what I have gleaned from the sealing covenants.

  10. and isn’t it interesting that it is the language of this very covenant that has been softened and changed over the years? Does that mean it is suggestive of a relationship, and that the nature of this relationship may be negotiated? Or perhaps it is indicative of societal norms and can change over time? Looking at the temple ceremony symbolically is extremely important.

  11. I believe it is probably the later. It seems that understanding what is implied in our covenants is an interpretive process rather than a contract. I think this is one thing that I really like about Ostler’s view divinity and grace. What is central is relationships of love and trust that are entered into freely. For me that is central to what the temple means. The way we phrase those covenants may change depending upon our cultural context but the intent is the same.

    On a slightly different note I believe that archetypes are supposed to be polysemic and I believe they can serve different purposes for us spiritually. In fact I believe that when archetypes become too fixed that is when we are in danger of carrying to extremes, like has happened with Eve. I tried to deal with this on a previous psot regarding the council in heaven. At times Adam image of provider can be important while at others his actions of responding to his wife. The images we see are conflicted, even schizophrenic. I think that is ok because it makes them seem like real people whom we can engage with rather than being flat characters in a narrative that become cliche.

  12. I don’t think that the root of the covenant has changed, just the wording. And the purpose of the change is not to become more in touch with societal norms, but quite the contrary. As society has changed, the interpretation of the covenant has changed. Perhaps the changes in the wording are to ensure that we view it in the correct light. Perhaps the earlier (more restrictive?) wording was indicative of how far Mormon society would/could have been willing to accept woman’s role. Interesting discussion!

    I’m niether a feminist nor a masculinist. I’m a theistic humanist.

  13. Post
    Author

    I like Rico’s suggestion that our covenants imply an interpretive process. Most symbols are not intended to apply to each person in the same way; they are not intended to have only one true and fixed interpretation. Even with the less “restrictive” language of the woman’s covenant, we can still see the lingering effects of the sectarian view of the Eve story as women make their version of the covenant of obedience and sacrifice. This covenant differs from the man’s covenant. He is directly responsible to God to keep his commandments. But it is stated that BECAUSE the woman was the FIRST to take the forbidden fruit, her covenant is different. She is to listen to her husband’s counsel, rather than having a direct relationship with God (at least in the wording as it is presented in this particular covenant). This doesn’t sound like the Eve that Joseph Fielding Smith wanted to “thank” for her influence over Adam in convincing him to take the fruit! (see the quote in my above post).

    I like that JFS said that disseminators of the Bible made “a great mistake” when they called the Fall shameful. If this interpretation of the Fall is in error, what assumptions about women’s roles (which rest on the theory that Eve was misguided and sinful) are also great mistakes?

  14. What one should not assume from either the temple or scriptural accounts is that Eve’s decision was immediate and without thought or time to deliberate. Certainly God was not pleased with either the temptor or the tempted. Lucifer’s comment about “why he did it” arouses suspicion that there may have been “another way.” I do think that LDS theology has always been that as the posterity of A&E we honor & venerate their position as our parents & accept their decision as a “transgression” & not sin. I don’t believe that the patriarcal nature of most societies is due to the events in the GoE but rather more likely due to the influence of testosterone which provides for more muscle & aggressiveness than the nuturing hormones found in the female.

  15. #14 Bored in Vernal ~ I like that JFS said that disseminators of the Bible made “a great mistake” when they called the Fall shameful. If this interpretation of the Fall is in error, what assumptions about women’s roles (which rest on the theory that Eve was misguided and sinful) are also great mistakes?

    This is a deep irony for me as far as Mormonism’s gender teachings go, BiV. Mormonism attempts to redeem the account of the Fall and rescue Eve from strict wrong-doing, calling her actions thoughtful, deliberate and essential to mankind’s progression. You would think that would be something that would pose good news for women.

    And yet, the LDS church somehow arrives at the exact same conclusion that most of the Judeo-Christian world has arrived at for the last four millenia: women are meant to be subordinate to men.* My husband’s favorite justification for the priesthood ban on women is that it was implemented because Eve was the one who ate the forbidden fruit first, and he claims that this is taught in the temple (you guys would probably know what he’s talking about better than I would). It all just makes me sigh. All that effort for naught.

    I would also argue that changing the account to say that Adam was tempted first and resisted the temptation hurts the current egalitarian apologetics for women’s status and the Fall. Currently some translations render Genesis 3:6 “[A]nd [Eve] also gave some [fruit] to her husband who was with her, and he ate,” therefore it’s argued that Adam was present at the temptation the entire time and did nothing to stop Eve, so he’s just as culpable. The temple account eviscerates this argument by having Adam get unsuccessfully tempted on his own beforehand as well as clarifying that Adam was not present at Eve’s temptation, so Eve is responsible for instigating the Fall all by her lonesome. If you’re arguing that the Fall isn’t a bad thing, then maybe that’s not a bad thing, but if the temple does portray Eve as being punished for the Fall and Adam as being rewarded for initially resisting, then it’s a step backwards.

    *Could all you defenders of the status quo just butt out for once? Yes, I know you vehemently disagree that the church subordinates women, and I really don’t care. I’ve heard you’re terribad apologetics before, and this time I’d really like to not hear about heads and necks or how “preside” doesn’t really mean “preside” or how awesome mommyhood is or how all the men who run the church only serve with the consent of their wives and that somehow means women are the real power in the church. Thanks in advance.

  16. I don’t feel a need to bite back,probably because I’ve spent my married life with a man who has always walked against the prevailing wind.It’s become clearer to me that God has no agenda to subordinate women,whatever the other men in my life may have needed to do.I have no idea how to correct the narrative,other than to teach our children,alongside my husband,that we walk together.I can see that they will write this story their own way,as I have come to do.We get to say no to how others define us.I’m currently enjoying making love,not war.That’s where the work is.

    Mostly I refuse to give these guys the power to hurt me,as I don’t accept that such behaviour is a manifestation of priesthood power.Occasionally it gets under my skin,but I soon see from my husbands love that such behaviour is inappropriate.I simply do not accept that anyone other than the Saviour is my mediator in my relationship with God,however limited someone else’s definitions of me may be.

    I’m working on loving my lover better,as he has been working on loving me.Joyful work.

  17. BiV–You GO!

    One question…why do we always overlook Lilith? Is it because she was demonized? She is a more powerful archetype for some women than even Eve.

    Lilith places an interesting spin on the whole myth of the Garden of Eden. Did God make a mistake? No? So then in reality, it is woman’s natural place to be joined with man, have power with man rather than man having power over her.

    My blog post called “Makin’ S*** Up–Semi True Stories” parodies the Creationist myth a bit, but it is presenting a point nonetheless.

    Reminds me of a joke–one of the last ones I told my mother before she passed away; a devout Mormon, she laughed her head off.

    One day Eve spoke to God:

    EVE: I’ve got a problem.

    GOD: What’s the problem, Eve?

    EVE: I know that you created me and provided this
    beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals, as well as
    that hilarious comedic snake, but I’m just not happy.

    GOD: And why is that Eve?

    EVE: I am lonely, and I’m sick to death of apples.

    GOD: Well, Eve, in that case, I have a solution. I
    shall create a man for you?

    EVE: Man? What is that?

    GOD: A flawed creature, with many bad traits.
    He’ll lie, cheat, and be vain; all-in-all, he’ll give you a
    hard time. But he’ll be bigger, faster and will like to
    hunt and kill things. I’ll create him in such a way that
    he will satisfy your physical needs. He will be witless
    and will revel in childish things like fighting and
    kicking a ball about. He won’t be as smart as you, so he
    will also need your advice to think properly.

    EVE: Sounds great, but what’s the catch?

    GOD: Well… you can have him on one condition.

    EVE: And what’s that, dear God?

    GOD: As I said, he’ll be proud, arrogant and
    self-admiring… so you’ll have to let him believe
    that I made him first. And it will have to be our little
    secret…you know, woman to woman.

    :0)

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