Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


Trelawney bio picture

Today, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:

Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”

Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”

Endelyn, “What? I don’t remember that story.”

Me: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you.” ……

Here’s the part where I froze momentarily, thinking “how can I tell my children that misogynist failed mentor story? how? how?” <deep breath>

Me: “Ok, so this story is thousands of years old, and there are many versions of it. This is mine:

You remember the story Elizabeth was telling you about how Mother God/ess created the darkness and the light, the moon and stars and sun, and the Earth, separating land from sea, the plants and animals? Well, after that, God/ess knelt down in the dirt and scooped up some clay, She formed the clay to look like the part of herself that is like people. She made Eve and Adam. She made them a beautiful garden to live in, with everything they needed. They never were too hot or cold, they didn’t need any clothes, they didn’t need to work at anything or have anything difficult happen.

She told them, “Just stay away from that one tree and don’t eat its fruit, or you will die.” But one day, Eve was sitting under the tree, when another face of the God/ess, the snake, the serpent of Earth wisdom, came and spoke to her. And she told Eve, “Did Mother God/ess tell you that if you eat this fruit you will die? She was trying to protect you, but that’s not true. If you eat this fruit, you will become much more wise and be able to choose whether to do right or wrong. You will become wild and free, and you will experience difficulty and pain, but you won’t be sheltered children in a gilded cage anymore. You will be able to learn and grow, become adults, make love, have children, and learn from your mistakes how to become much more powerful. Once you eat it, you can never go back to being sheltered children, though – you will understand that life is full of choices, and those choices have consequences, and only by experiencing those consequences can we learn and grow.

Eve said, “I want to be wild and free and grow wise, even if it hurts and is hard.” So Eve ate the fruit. Then she understood what the serpent meant, and even though it was scary, she was glad she had eaten it. So Eve took the fruit to Adam and told him what the Serpent God/ess had said, and Adam chose to eat the fruit as well.

Then Mother God/ess came and realized that Eve and Adam had chosen to eat the fruit. She sighed. “OK,” she said, “I guess maybe you were ready. I wanted to keep you as my sheltered little children awhile longer, but I guess it is time for you to be free to learn and grow in wildness and wisdom. I want to warn you that sometimes it will be very, very painful. But I will always be with you, and my healing Love will always surround you. You are very brave already, and I know you will grow more and more wise and strong. I am so proud of you. I love you so much. I give you my blessing, always.”

Endelyn: “I think I have heard a different version of that story.”

Me: There is a version most people tell. That version was written by men who were likely trying to control women and by leaders who were trying to control the people under them, so that version has it that Eve was wrong to eat the fruit and to offer it to Adam, and God/ess got very angry with them both, she kicked them out of the garden as punishment, and then their lives were miserable.”

Endelyn: “THAT’S AWFUL!!! I don’t like that version at all!!!”

Me: “I think there’s a lot to learn from that version about what the story tellers were trying to teach people. But I guess I like my version better.”

Endelyn and Zawna (age 5): “ME, TOO!!!”

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir is an adjunct professor in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance with a specialization in Cross-Cultural Conflict at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She was a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation. Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues.

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Categories: Christianity, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Myth, Naming, Scripture, Textual Interpretation, Theology

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31 replies

  1. Lovely retelling. And so important to know stories always need retelling. There can always be another way of seeing. We get in trouble when we forget that and think that our version or our culture’s version of anything is The Truth.

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    • Elizabeth that’s so well said. And there are two versions in Genesis already, which feels to me like a wonderful model of how multiple versions are a great idea.

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  2. Except for “God/dess” (a bastard word), I like your story a lot. The Goddess is our Great Mother, and She is with us. Thanks for telling us your story.

    For another different retelling of the story, check out Elizabeth Cunningham’s lovely novel, The Wild Mother, which tells us about Lilith, Adam’s first wife.

    And see The Mythology of Eden, by Arthur George and Elena George, which I learned about on the very site. How long ago was that??

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    • Thanks, Barbara! I love Lilith stories!
      I’m curious why you don’t like God/ess. I like God, Goddess, and God/ess, at different times/situations. Mostly, I like to have lots of diverse symbols and manes for the Mystery.

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      • ^names

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      • I don’t much like God/dess because it’s a word that pretends to be inclusive, but it’s really just a diminution of the name of the standard-brand God, in whom I have little interest. Like the Goddess is just a sort of attached being, attached to the God. Some gods are all right, of course. I’m just not interested in that monotheistic Capital-G-God. And I agree with you about diverse symbols and names for the Mystery. Bright blessings!

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      • Thank you, Barbara – yes, I can certainly see how you would find God/ess problematic for those reasons. I mentioned below I do often use Goddess. And God, though always with female pronouns. And lots of other symbols. To me, God/ess, which I speak with a slight pause in the middle, is helpful in how it transcends a gender binary. It is male and female and both and neither. I like how it makes Transgender/nongender persons deeply situated in the divine image. I use the female pronouns because the sea of male pronouns, even about neutral divine symbols, compels me to train my mind not to default to male normativity about divine ideas or neutral symbols.
        I first found this word God/ess in Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-talk. It took me about a decade to get used to it, but I’ve been using it comfortably now for about five years.
        Thank you for the great conversation – I think it is super important to explore these symbols and names and words, to keep engaging in critique and analysis of how they arise, what effect they have, how they construct meaning, and how our understanding of that meaning changes as our cultural awareness changes. So I appreciate your comments deeply.
        Bless you as well!

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  3. Enjoyed reading this post, thanks so much Trelawney! Talking about versions, just to mention, in her poetry, Emily Dickinson also did some interesting work on liberating Eden.

    There’s a new book out with all of Emily Dickinson’s poems, huge in size (845 pgs), but relatively inexpensive, and which swears on its honor that no editing has been done to Emily’s work, as has been the case in other collections. It’s titled EMILY DICKINSON’S POEMS AS SHE PRESERVED THEM (the book is edited by Cristanne Miller) and of course it includes this love poem on the Garden of Eden, p.133. Generally, in her handwriting, Dickinson uses dashes not hyphens, and caps of course wherever she pleases, so here we go:

    Wild nights — Wild nights!
    Were I with thee
    Wild nights should be
    Our luxury!

    Futile — the winds —
    To a Heart in port —
    Done with the Compass —
    Done with the Chart!

    Rowing in Eden —
    Ah! — the Sea!
    Might I but moor — tonight —
    In thee!

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    • My goodness, Sarah, I’m so grateful to know about this new edition of Dickinson!! And yes, that poem is a treasure, just as she is an amazing gift to us all! Thank you for this!

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  4. I love this story but I also do not like God/ess, it reads as Godless… why not just use Goddess for Goddess?

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    • Thank you, Majak! I do often use Goddess. And God. And lots of other symbols. To me, God/ess, which I speak with a slight pause in the middle, is helpful in how it transcends a gender binary. It is male and female and both and neither. I use the female pronouns because the sea of male pronouns, even about neutral divine symbols, compels me to train my mind not to default to male normativity about divine ideas or neutral symbols.
      I first found this word God/ess in Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-talk. It took me about a decade to get used to it, but I’ve been using it comfortably now for about five years.

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      • When I say “God,” I also use female pronouns. I use female pronouns about Christ as well, and about half the time I talk about Jesus.

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  5. What a delightful improv against the patriarchal narrative! Well done you!

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  6. I enjoyed your retelling of the Garden of Eden story, Trelawney. I also wrote one decades ago, which retains the male god, but not as the hero of the story, more like the villain. Maybe I’ll share it sometime.

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    • I also had a retelling, in the book Patriarchs, Prophets and Other Villains edited by Lisa Isherwood.

      There’s a very nice picture book by Helen Oxenbury and Phyllis Root called Big Momma Makes the World (I think it is “Big Momma” in the US and “Big Mama” in the UK), about the seven days of creation.

      And there is a nice version of the Garden of Eden story that I once hear told by Jean Houston.

      God heaved a deep sigh.
      “What’s the matter”, asked his best friend (who we know as Satan or Lucifer).
      “I’ve created this garden, put a man and woman in it, and told them and told them till I am sick not to eat of that one special tree. And what happens?”
      “What does happen” asked Satan.
      “Nothing happens, that’s what. They obey me, and don’t eat the fruit of that tree. It’s infuriating.”
      “I’ll see what I can do” said Satan, and went to check, with the result we know of.
      “Good” said God “NOW the story can begin.”

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      • Thanks, Daniel. I love the story you retell here (by Jean Houston). Yes! Why don’t you share your version as well?

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      • Thanks, Nancy. The reason I did not give my own story (it is in my book) is that, as often happens with anthologies, the copyright is with the publishers, not with me. And even for posting my own work, I don’t like to breach copyright.

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    • I’m so happy to hear about these other versions! My sister Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee also wrote a version in her dissertation on ecological ethics, in which the sense that this is a “failed mentor” fable really comes through. I love the thoughtful creativity I’m seeing here – what a gift! Thank you for this conversation!

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  7. It is amazing how much courage I had to gather prior to commenting on this post. It is in regard with the so-called tree of knowledge placed in Eden – only for the two hapless new beings to be told not to eat anything from it! From a patriarchal male god, as rewritten, interpreted and distorted by a very human male patriarchy over the ages is now accepted as a tool of oppression of the female, the original sinner. So I hoped in any case. To read that the female god, or goddess if one so prefers, did all the making of the heavens and the earth and the humans too, also put the tree there and also told the two fallible (so created) human beings to not eat from it is outrageous.

    The original maker of the universe and earth and the first two fallible humans, is therefore the original tempter/temptress. The original snake. There’s something very wrong with the story.

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    • Interesting, Petruiviljoen. In my retelling of the Garden of Eden story, I also combine the snake and the creatress, but She doesn’t tempt anybody. The snake, was associated with the Goddess in the pre-patriarchal Middle East, and only split when patriarchy wanted to demote the Goddess.

      I read the story by Trelawney through the eyes of a mother who has teenage children she wants to protect. She wouldn’t want them to lose their innocence too soon, like for instance, become sexual before they can handle it. But of course, there’s another aspect of the Goddess that knows that this will happen anyway and wants to empower those children. I’ve been there and done each of those things as a mother, so it made sense to me.

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      • I understand. Yet if one is to take that particularly story seriously, the question remains whether the tree is carnal knowledge alone or is it universal knowledge? There are so many questions.

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      • Petruiviljoen, I did not find your comment confrontational. I am glad to be having these conversations – they are THE important conversations to have, IMO. Blessings on your journey!

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    • Thank you, Petrujviljoen, what an important critique you raise. As Nancy says, I was indeed thinking of it as the way a parent tries to keep h/er children safe by shielding them from certain things until they seem ready. For example, I did not tell my five year old about the massacre in Orlando. But I agree with you that through a different lens or frame it can be seen as oppressive as you say. That is why, IMO, we must keep writing many versions of these stories, to engage with the symbolic messages and truths. I hope you write one!

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  8. Your version makes me smile. Never thought there could be an alternative to the blaming females for everything going wrong one. Thank you!!

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  9. Reblogged this on writingontherim and commented:
    A delightful, grown-up retelling of the old story.

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  10. I’m with Endelyn and Zawna: “ME TOO!!!
    This story is much more true to my image of the Divine.
    two thoughts: One of the First Nation story tellers here told his story of creation and then said: “The story is given to you. Do as you wish with it” – or something to that effect. In other words, change the story to fit your circumstance, needs, visions, etc. Which you have done so well here.
    Second thought is about the symbol of the serpent, which in medicine is a healing symbol. I’m thinking about that within your story as well, and how we need to grow and experiment and change. I can’t think of anything more boring than sitting around a garden with nothing to do.

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    • Haha Barbara – what a delightful response! I love the First Nation quote – I have heard that before! That is how I see it as well – these stories are FOR US, not we for them. I’d love to see that serpent developed more. I can see an entire novel written from this story, from the perspective of that serpent. I agree about the importance of growth and change – as John Wesley told his clergy, “if you haven’t made anyone mad, you are not doing your job” :D

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