Ecstatic Birth and the Bible: Womb Wisdom and the Fruits of Eve's Desire. by Nets Manela
I first got connected to my roots, both as an Earthling and as a person of Jewish ancestry, through the Jewish farming and environmental scene. There’s a whole lot of joy there (here) - growing, pickling (yes, as in lacto-fermentation), and sharing vegetables; connecting youth with sun, soil, water, air, and ancestry; singing and celebrating together. This joy is medicine that soothes, inspires, and empowers us as we walk a healing path, even while facing and grieving violence, oppression, destruction, and heartbreak in our ancestral homeland and right here, in the lands of many diaspora and native communities.
Sometimes, authors and thought leaders point to old testament biblical passages and “Judeo-Christian” paradigms as the source of extractive and oppressive attitudes and behaviors. This irks me. I’ve learned with a number of wonderful Torah scholars whose wisdom and interpretations of our sacred texts resonate deeply with my own understanding as well as with the wisdom of many indigenous traditions regarding humans’ role as gardeners and stewards of our multi-species communities.
Recently, I attended an online Ecstatic Birth Pro intro workshop led by Sheila Kamara Hay, founder of ecstaticbirth.pro, and student of the wise and wonderful Mama Gena, who wrote the book Pussy, A Reclamation, which I highly recommend reading and embodying!! She mentioned the common trope many women unfortunately believe, even subconsciously, that because Eve ate the apple, women are doomed forever to suffer in childbirth. Well, guess what? This cultural pattern irks me, too. So I made another deep dive into my people’s sacred text and emerged with some good stuff.
***Please note that in Jewish tradition, we consider words of Torah on four levels: literal, metaphorical, allegorical, and mystical. The sum of those meanings as a whole gives us a multi-dimensional interpretation. We also engage with millennia-long conversations among our sages. Of course, there are many disagreements and multiple interpretations of every letter of our texts.***
One way to read Eve’s story is like this:
Eve listened to the serpent and reconsidered the meaning of the messages she’d received about the tree of knowledge of good and bad. She chose to seek pleasure and wisdom. She opened her senses, opened her hand, opened her mouth, and shared the fruit from the tree of knowing good and bad with her man. Their eyes and minds were opened to the existence and exposure of their genitals. They sought privacy. They made love. They conceived. Eve bore children. Their children were born with the ability and knowledge to choose to do good and to choose to do bad. Their children were also born with the capacity to master their desires.
With these choices, so many new possibilities opened up! Some good and some bad. Remember, this isn’t the story of “the tree of life” and “the tree of death.” This is the story of “the tree of life” and “the tree of intimate knowing of good and bad.” That’s how the Hebrew translates. So the new possibilities include the whole spectrum of good and bad and the power to choose, whereas before, everything was just good and very good. We now have enmity possible between snakes and people - we become vulnerable to each other. The land itself becomes vulnerable to human misuse. We get sweaty labor and the possibility of both bread and starvation; the possibility of domination of male over female; female urges and desires for sex and conception; intimate knowing of good and bad through sex; mortality; murder; the possibility of being cut off from intimate relationship with Creator; the possibility of being cut off from intimate relationship with land.
This reads to me as a description of humanity and the human experience - not a prescription for pain! This is a story of new possibilities and the full spectrum of choices from the most gorgeous, masterful stewardship and loving, compassionate ways of relating to plants, animals, land, and people, to the most horrific and oppressive.
As Sheila spoke about in her class, when we talk about sex, we talk about the whole spectrum from horror to pleasure to transcendence. It’s time we talked about birth in the same way! We can do better than “very painful,” better than “pain management“ and “pain coping techniques,” better even than “pain free!” We can turn this conversation to pleasure and ecstasy and transcendence. We can embrace “by the sweat of our brow” as an expression of passion with a big “YES!” - just as we might for a wild night of dancing or playing our favorite sport or hiking to the top of a mountain or making love! We can bring the feminine powers of curiosity, openness, choice in the face of vulnerability (our “yes!” and our “no!”), self-mastery, surrender, and passion to labor and birth and parenting. This is Eve’s legacy. This is the potential of our embodied womb wisdom. This is the spiritual inheritance of those who carry the stories of Torah and the bible.
A whole other layer of this story involves parallels with primate to human evolution. The development of the neocortex, the thinking and judging part of the brain, which enables humans to survive in all kinds of challenging climates, made our heads bigger. Bigger heads required our upright posture, which in turn necessitated smaller pelvises. Now we have babies with partially unformed, flexible skulls, passing in a tighter squeeze through our smaller pelvises and requiring a fourth trimester of womb-like care on the outside, where they begin their Earth-side education. In labor, we often turn off the lights, seek quiet and privacy, get down on all fours, turn off our thinking brains, and surrender to our more ancient, embodied wisdom, becoming more like other primates and mammals to facilitate birth. We also get down like that to farm, to make love, to pray. Coincidence?
Another layer of the text actually lays out a four-part seder, or "order," like a Passover seder or a Tu b'Shvat seder - a journey through the four worlds, the four levels of the being, the four steps of the creative process according to Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. This is a seder to activate our womb wisdom for opening, pleasure, passion, and ecstatic transcendence. Curious?
Won’t you please let me know if you’d be interested in seeing a recording of my class on this topic?
Also stay tuned for my next post: Diversify Your Attachment Portfolio.
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