Children of Lilith (autism contemplated from a silent and considerable height)

“Longevity, like intelligence or good looks, is largely a matter of heredity,” writer Edward Abbey noted, adding, “Choose your parents with care.”  Our parents also pass on to us their stories, the stories of how they came to be and how they met, of how we came to be—stories of our origins—and even while those stories are alive on the lips of those parents who tell them, they begin to take on a mythological cast.  Individual stories come to be seen against a background of archetypal plotlines, be it those of immigrants, farmers, royalty, madness, romance, adventure, fate, or Providence—or perhaps simply of familiar mediocrity.

What’s your movie?
Are you takin’ a trip to the moon?
Are you playin’ the rustic buffoon?
Or is it the brilliant but ruthless tycoon?
What’s your movie?

At any rate, even when we build our entire lives in refutation and rejection of them, these are our defining stories.  Even should our parents—or our forefathers—lie to us or leave out relevant facts, those lies and omissions become part of their stories’ archetypal resonances, unsuspected but still there, still defining (or misdefining) us in ways which may not be recognized for decades or centuries.  Even millennia later, long after the lives and lessons of countless literal ancestors have been distilled and sublimated into actual myth, such buried truths can out, in ways we might never imagine.

Andrew Lehman has proposed that autistics are among other things genetic time-travelers:

Parents with diverging ethnic threads with little or no lineage contact for tens of thousands of years send their children speeding off into the past. When they return, emerging from the womb with characteristics of both parents, they often carry with them additional features retained by the last common ancestor of the breeding pair.

That last common ancestor of autistics as it happens would have been a member of a matriarchal culture, a culture maintained and reinforced by the socio-biological realities of its time, and one in which women—matriarchs—by and large set the tone.  This, as opposed to the tone set in the patriarchal cultures in which monotheism took root and thrived.  It was the Desert Fathers, after all, who directed and starred in the original production of “Father Knows Best,” which went on to become the extremely successful, many-chaptered series we know as the Torah or the Old Testament.  Right in the beginning of this series is an official version of our culture’s origins, the story of Adam’s rib, Eve who was made from that rib, and their famous departure from the Garden of Eden.

What’s your movie?
The artist who’s misunderstood?
The bad guy tryin’ to do good?
Or just the nicest damn fella in the neighborhood?
What’s your movie?

Close readers have long noticed that in Genesis 1:27 the phrase “male and female He created them” contradicts the later account of Eve being formed from Adam’s rib.  Who then, if not Eve, was this first woman?  Her name was Lilith.  I did not make this up; rabbis did, by way of a practice known as midrash, a form of professional commentary on the Torah employed by rabbis to explain and expand upon just such niggling details.

Lilith, the rabbis explained, was the worst sort of woman, a she-demon responsible for among other things making babies die and men have wet dreams.  Oh, and she was the talking serpent who tempted Eve with the apple.  The actual problem was that Lilith insisted on equality with Adam.  She remembered her matriarchal past, knew her own value, and was willing to share her position with Adam, but not to give it up. It’s a story memorialized in popular culture just over a decade ago.  As CNN’s Donna Freydkin has it:

The festival is named after the legendary Lilith, who refused to obey Adam and instead bolted from the Garden of Eden … McLachlan herself would not cave in to concert promoters and radio stations refusing to play two female acts back-to-back … The first Lilith Fair was born a year later.

So what exactly, so far, does this have to do with autistics?  Maybe a good deal; maybe not so much.  So far, it depends on how useful Andrew Lehman’s theories turn out to be, and only time will tell there.  Even before I made this connection with his work though, I just recently made the offhand claim that autistics are children of the mythological Lilith, all in the context of the observation that in Gwen McKay’s words, “autistics tend to be less inclined toward conventional religious belief.”  In trying to remember where I first ran across that notion, all I could come up with was four separate facts which I had apparently put together on my own some years ago, and then attributed to a single writer.

What’s your movie?
Are you the long-suffering motherly matron?
Or would you settle for a fashion plate?
Or are you the schemer we all love to hate?
What’s your movie?

If it turns out there was such a writer, I’ll be happy to step aside—and invite them to post here.  In the meantime, for your consideration and for now without sources, here are the four items which led me to connect autistics and Lilith:

1)  Just as we now have parents who claim, “There was a vaccination, and suddenly my child is no longer my child,” there was a time when parents would claim, “Suddenly my child is no longer my child, because fairies came in the night, stole my child from its crib, and replaced it with one of theirs.”  In both cases the child in question is autistic—my point here being that among people who believed in fairies, autistic children contributed to and provided evidence for the myth that fairies stole human infants and left changeling children in their place.

2)  Much as Victorian culture made over Eros from an awesome, consequential god into a ridiculous cherub, it also made over fairies into creatures far different from their origins.  Historical, pre-Victorian accounts of encounters with fairies describe them as human in size and appearance, yet strangely difficult to communicate with, and as having a sort of otherworldly affect.  Perhaps the heart of fairy lore was spun around wandering adult autistics who were close to nature and gifted with animals, and to whom magical powers were attributed by profoundly teleological thinkers.

3)  Fairies themselves were sometimes thought to have been descended from Lilith, as she was an adventuress full of the reproductive vigor God had given her, and did not always merely leave men with wet dreams.  She had many children, so the stories went, and their descendants were known as the fairy folk.

4)  Autistics, as I wrote the other day, seem to lack the sense of personal shortcoming and guilt that is so handily explained and reinforced by the Original Sin which came of those two fateful bites from the Forbidden Apple.

What’s your movie?
Are you playing the Talk of the Town?
The prince who gave up a crown?
Or are you standin’ up singin’ as the ship goes down?
What’s your movie?

In the spirit of Mose Allison’s What’s Your Movie? then, I propose that one defining story, one mythological heritage, or one “movie” that is available to us as autistics might well be that we are the Children of Lilith, time travelers and holdouts from an age prior to the ascendancy of Yahweh and the prophets.  Moreover, especially if Andrew Lehman is correct, it may be that we are as available to that story as it is to us; we may be playing our parts in it whether or not it feels comfortable or would be our conscious choice to do so.  The Desert Fathers after all were well-satisfied to see matriarchal culture fade away in the first place; it may be that their figurative sons and daughters can only be displeased to see it fading back in—and this may be the archetypal background against which today’s “autism wars” best make sense.

Like Abbey reminds us, circling overhead for some years now in his long-promised reincarnation as a sedate and humble turkey buzzard, choose your parents with care.

on 06/18/10 in featured, Politics | 4 Comments | Read More

Comments (4)


  1. jack brightside says:

    your story seems to leave out anouther possibility, there is also the story of the watchers, the angles who came down and slept with human women, it was said that lilith also did it with the beasts of the feild, or at least that seems to be implied from that story I watched on the history channel, and that she was responsible for such mythical creatures as the cenocephale, (not sure thats the right pronunciation) and that the angels who came down were responsible for faeries, giants, gnomes, and the beings that although they seemed human with no animal charecteristics, were different or deformed in some way, and that lack of guilt doesnt seem entirley fair, I’ve noticed some autistics, at least in my expierience, who do feel shame and guilt, but look for a logical solution, the vulcan joke could be implied, there are times when they seem to realize that wallowing in there own guilt or missery will do no good, and times when they know they have screwed up, and dont seem to do literaly anything for fear of making things worse, it more or less seems to be a form of synestasia, I believe is the term, were emotional information gaind from sight seems to be translaited into a sence of touch, quite sharply it would appear, this might explain the odd eye contact situation, in which they might not look at a person, because of sensoty overload, or might be distant to touch, like touching a spot that is already tender, and for reference to synestasia, try synthate on stan lee’s superhumans

  2. Trish says:

    thank you for writing this. it’s comforting. I have thought that maybe people with autism, bi-polar, add (more than adhd), etc have a stronger connection with “the muse” rather than with “god”. If God is The Creator, then what or who inspired the creations? The Muse. A creation seems to have limitations (time, space, color…), but an inspiration is more like ethereal patterns of chaos that wrap around an through creation. It’s like gazing into someone’s eye and seeing beyond the color and shape in front of you.
    just a thought

  3. Mark Stairwalt says:

    You’re welcome, Trish. Your language reminds me of Lorca’s essay on the duende, in which he compares and contrasts muse, angel, and duende. I think there’s an essay yet to be written about the intense world theory of autism and Lorca’s duende.

    I also think the diagnosis of autistics as possessing “weak central coherence” may be symptomatic of a monotheist view of an autistic/polytheistic psychology, one characterized by, as you say, “stronger connection[s] with” a whole pantheon of Invisibles, the muse among them.

  4. Title…

    […]here are some links to internet sites that we link to for the reason that we believe they’re worth visiting[…]…

Leave a Reply