retold by Howard Schwartz
There was a house in Tunis that was rumored to be haunted by demons. It used to have been owned by rich and respectable people, but demons had invaded the house to hold a wedding, and when the owner had resisted, neither he nor his wife were ever seen again. And so the house remained boarded up, and no one came near it.
At last it was sold for a pittance to a man who planned to tear it down and erect a new house in its place. But his wife, who was very greedy, convinced him to first go through the house and take any valuables that might have been left inside it.
When they opened the front door, they found that all the furniture inside was molded, and none of it could be used anymore. The husband wanted to leave, but his wife convinced him to first open the cellar door, even though that was where the demons were rumored to be living. Once the door was opened, the wife rushed inside and found everything in perfect condition. All the furniture was fit to be in a palace. Most beautiful of all was an ornate mirror in a golden frame, hanging on the far wall. Excited, the wife had her husband move all the fine furniture to the cellar of their own house, where she proudly displayed it. The mirror, however, she gave to her beautiful, dark-haired daughter, who primped and preened in front of it. In this way, the girl was drawn into Lilith’s web.
For this mirror had hung in the den of demons, and a daughter of Lilith had made her home in it. Even though the mirror was removed from its original place, still all mirrors are gateways to Lilith’s cave, the cave in which she lived after she left Adam in the Garden of Eden, the cave where she sported with her demon lovers. There she bred armies of demons, who went out into the world, and always returned through mirrors. That it is why it is said that Lilith makes her home in every mirror.
Nine months after the woman had brought all the cursed furniture into her house, she was found dead. She had inhaled a feather from one of her fluffy feather pillows. The husband sold off all the splendid furniture, which only made him uneasy. But he could not persuade his daughter to part with the mirror, which she now loved as part of herself.
Now the demon who lived inside the mirror had been watching every movement of the preening girl, and one day she slipped out of the mirror and entered into the girl’s mind through her eyes and took control over her, controlling her every thought and desire. And so the girl, driven by Lilith’s evil desires, ran around with every man in the neighborhood, and brought great shame upon her good father, who knew that now she had ruined her reputation, no good man would marry her.
And he was right, for the demoness hated love above all things, and never let the girl get close enough to her men to love them. For if she had, then the demoness’s power over her would have been broken. Instead she drove her on to higher and higher vulgarities, never satisfied.
One night, the father had had enough. His daughter had not been home for days, and her bed was unslept in. He called out a curse against her, a very powerful one: “May the Lord turn my wicked daughter into a bat, flitting around from one man to another, never to have one for her own; may she live in darkness since she has abandoned herself into the night, and may she bear this curse so long as shame lives in my heart!”
And at that moment, the young woman – who was in the arms of a young man – let out a terrible scream and vanished. The young man looked to see where she had gone, but all he could see was a small, screeching bat, flying off into the distance.
Note: This is a traditional tale that Schwartz did not write. I have changed and adapted his version. Therefore, no plagiarism here, don’t sue me.
Not exactly a children’s tale, is it? This story is very typical of the Jewish folk and fairy tale tradition (and hey, I should know, I grew up with this stuff). Female sexuality is always seen as very dangerous, and this goes waaaaaay back, to Genesis, that is. Remember when G-d created Adam? Well there’s a line that says: “Man and woman he created them.” This comes before Eve entered the picture. So what the Rabbis did to explain this apparent discrepancy was give Adam a different, original wife: Lilith. She was banished from Eden because she refused to accept the inferior sexual position to Adam, and since that day she’s spent her time stealing babies and possessing young girls (there are other versions of the story, but this is the simplest one, the one that involves the least amount of Biblical and Kabbalistic lore).
What is really interesting about this tale is the moral ambiguity. Point the first: the young woman’s wicked behavior was not really her fault, as she was being controlled by a demon. So in theory, she did not deserve the curse levied at her by her father. However, point the second: it is implied that the girl might have ended up on this road anyway, since she was vain in the first place, always posing in front of the mirror. Though of course, I don’t buy that argument, since there’s still a difference between sins of thought and sins of action (if you want to put it crudely like that). In the end, I don’t actually think that the fairy tale cares about the whether the woman was supposed to deserve her curse or not; its more of a cautionary tale thing.
But I digress. These Jewish tales (especially this one which comes from Tunisia) are very very different from the European tales we’ve seen so far. They’re much closer to The Arabian Nights than the Brothers Grimm. If you’ve ever read the Arabian Nights, you know that they’re filled with sex and intrigue, murder and demons and G-ds. Next to that, the Grimms (or especially someone like Andersen or Stockton) look like cold pudding. And in case you’re curious, if anything, Schwartz often *tones down* the sex a bit, and authors like Isaac Bashevis Singer are far, far racier.