Lessons from Eve, the Goddess of Exile


Lessons from Eve, the Goddess of Exile


The biblical tale of Eve, the first woman, can teach us meaningful lessons about exile, shame, and the quest for knowledge.

According to biblical mythology, Eve is the first woman (that is, if we don’t mention Lilith, Adam’s first wife from Jewish mythology). Eve was born of Adam’s rib, meant to be his partner and helper in the Garden of Eden. This was a perfect place presided over by God where everything they could possibly need was provided for them without effort. God’s only rule was not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sure enough, the serpent (whom some say was actually Lilith, who had left the garden voluntarily, refusing to be subservient to Adam or anyone) convinced Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. Eve did and shared some with Adam. Part of the tree’s gifts included the knowledge of shame, pain, and evil, which is hard enough, but God was also furious. He punished them with exile from the Garden of Eden and a life of toil that would eventually end in death. Adam and Eve went on to create the human race, never returning to that place of ease and perfection.

The Power of Exile, Blame, and Shame

To this day, Eve takes a lot of the blame for human flaws and suffering. This queen, the first woman, whose name means mother of all life, becomes the exiled one, the blamed one, the one that must suffer in shame for the rest of her existence.

In their book The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford write, “The most fundamental change from earlier myths … is the new and absolute distinction between the creator and creation, with the result that the “flaw” in creation is rendered equivalent to a flaw in the nature of the creatures: Death is “their” fault; in fact, to be doctrinally specific, it is “her” fault. Comparing this to other creation myths, it seems as if, instead of wrestling with the ambivalence due to created beings imagining their own creation, the absolute perfection of the deity is insisted on to the detriment of human nature (rather in the way that a child in conflict with a parent creates the omnipotence of the parent, on whom its whole world depends, by blaming itself).”

Understanding Eve as the one at fault, the one who exemplifies the pain of free will, gives us a way to blame ourselves for the faults of those systems that are much bigger than us: our parents, God, the social order. While it doesn’t feel good to blame ourselves, it also makes something very big and unfathomable make sense. Blaming ourselves means we have the chance to change and do better. Exile can teach us that we are not all-powerful; that there are systems much bigger than us that we can’t fully understand or control, and we have choices.

The Downfalls and Benefits of Gaining Knowledge

Eve is in a state of exile, literally and metaphorically. Not only has she left the only home she’s ever known, but she’s also blamed for it, exiled from God’s good graces, estranged from the person she thought she was. And yet—is that such a bad thing? The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil gave Adam and Eve knowledge—plenty of it. Was that even a punishment?

As children, we understand ourselves only within the context of our families. As we grow older, we start to separate from them, and there is often a painful moment (or many) of exile from them—of feeling misunderstood, lost, cast out by them. This is the natural movement from dependence to independence; from identity as a part of a group to identity as a self.

The Fortunate Fall

Eve’s choice was to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Many biblical scholars see this as a “fortunate fall.” Perfection implies stasis: Maybe God wanted us to have free will, to learn from our mistakes, to know both darkness and light. God did, after all, create the serpent who did the tempting. By introducing the concept of death, we come to understand the concept of life.

One of my favorite creation stories goes like this: One was lonely, and so One created Two. When we are in the eternal bliss of oneness, how can we possibly know it? The only way to understand the light is when there is enough shadow to see it. Eve brought that shadow to humanity. She is the mother of all life.

Exile means leaving what we’ve known before. In these moments, Eve is with us; suffering, maybe, but also learning. Growing. Working with the choice to enter into the realm of free will, which includes our mistakes and foibles. Without the possibility of a fall, human life is essentially meaningless. If Eve’s gift was exile, exile may also be our path toward a whole new version of belonging: belonging to ourselves.

Learn about Nilapataka Nitya, the goddess of post-traumatic growth.


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Lessons from Eve the Goddess of Exile

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