Monthly Marvel: Cainite

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. A very particular version of Cainite (descendents of Cain) is this month’s wonder: these are bicephalic people living in a subterranean world. Be warned that this entry is long.


CAINITE

This week’s fantastic being is the Cainite. A bit of Jewish myth, the Cainites were the children of Cain, murderer of his brother Abel. There are lots of legends about Cain’s descendants, but I want to focus on just one: according to some obscure sources the Cainites were a race of two-headed people. I apologize for this entry’s excessive length: there is no convenient summary like a Wikipedia article, so I will need to collect the assorted versions of the story myself. Skip down to the last paragraph (after the second photograph) for the briefer sort of entry I usually provide.

Source: Ron Almog at flic.kr/p/fLU7Bw

Source: Ron Almog at flic.kr/p/fLU7Bw

In Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan’s Realm, Bernard J. Bamberger recounts a passage in the Zohar about seven subterranean earths inhabited by assorted strange beings. In one of these live the Cainites: when Cain was driven off the face of the earth, he descended to Arka, a land of mingled darkness and light. The light and the darkness each had a ruler, and they were in conflict when Cain arrived. On his arrival, these two rulers made their peace, and after this Cain sired two-headed offspring, who participated in both the darkness and the light. The two rulers of Arka were named Afrira and Kastimon, which appeared as six-winged angels when separate, yet they could come together into the form of a human or a two-headed snake.

In “King Solomon and the Two-Headed Man,” by Ahimaaz, Court Historian (pseudonym for Professor Solomon, pseudonym for Steve Solomon), the story goes like this: In the month of Adar in the eleventh year of David’s reign, some desert nomads brought a strange captive into Jerusalem. The captive, who they found wandering near the Salt Sea, had two heads and wore goatskins. When he was taken before King David, the man introduced himself as Gilgil the Cainite, from the land of Tebel. When he gave the history of his people, he spoke with first one head and then the other. The early Cainites had surpassed even Cain in wickedness, so God banished them from the earth and imprisoned them in Tebel, a vast melancholy cavern world beneath the ground, with a small sun of its own, water that seeped from the ceiling, and thin topsoil. In this cavern there lived moles and bats. And God laid a further curse, that the children of the Cainites would be born with two heads as a reminder of Cain’s brother Abel and as an instruction that they should live in harmony with one another. Most of the Cainites worshipped God, having abandoned their wicked ways (so I suppose God’s curse worked?), but from time to time one of a Cainite’s heads would be pious while the other head would be depraved. Gilgil heard stories of the upper world, however, and so he had decided to attempt an upward journey through some labyrinthine tunnels. For days he ventured; when the tunnel forked, his two heads would argue about which way to go, but he was resolute, and in time he entered the light of the surface world. He was promptly captured. King David granted Gilgil a parcel of land, and Gilgil took an Israelite wife. Many years later, Gilgil’s seventh son, named Pilpil and the only child that inherited his father’s bicephaly (double-headedness), tried to claim two shares of the inheritance because he was truly two people; Solomon (now king) was at first inclined to agree, because a Cainite’s heads can disagree. But then Solomon had cold water poured over one of Pilpil’s blindfolded heads, and when both gasped in surprise he ruled that Pilpil was in fact only one person, and should have only one share of the land. This is a metaphor: regular humans also disagree with themselves from time to time, and act pious in one moment but impious the next.

Steve Solomon likely got his story from Rabbi Louis Ginzberg’sThe Legends of the Jews, published in 1909. Ginzberg (1873-1953) was a scholar of Jewish law, legends, and midrash. The legends he collected for of The Legends of the Jews have a strange, mystical quality. When Adam was cast from Paradise, he and Eve wandered into the lowest of the seven earths, called Erez; this world is dark and void, lit only by the flames of the angelic sword which blocks the way to Paradise. Here he was terrified. When Adam had done penance, God led him and Eve into Adamah, the second earth. Into Adamah light is reflected from its own sky and emanated from pale stars. When Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother Abel in Adamah, Cain was sent back to Erez, where he was terrified by the darkness, and by the flames of the angels’ ever-turning sword. When Cain repented, God allowed him to rise to the third earth, called Arka, which received a little light from the sun. Here the Cainites plant trees, but they have no wheat. Some of the Cainites are giants, and some are dwarfs; all have two heads, which can never agree or come to any decision. They might be pious now, only to be wicked an hour from now. The demon Asmodeus once summoned one of the Cainites into the court of Solomon, to prove a point of some kind. The Cainite wanted to return to Arka, but even Asmodeus with all his magic could not return him. So the Cainite lived among the Israelites, where he worked land, took a wife, and had seven sons; one of these sons was also two-headed. This son claimed two portions of his father’s inheritance, and took his case before Solomon and the Sanhedrin, who knew not what to do. And so Solomon poured hot water upon one of the man’s heads, and both screamed. You know the rest.

Source: 1024 greenstreet at flic.kr/p/mMEgi. I know, I know: this image doesn’t really have the right feel to it. I had a hard time finding one that did have that ancient-Israel sort of aesthetic, though, let alone such an image in the public domain or creative commons!

Source: 1024 greenstreet at flic.kr/p/mMEgi. I know, I know: this image doesn’t really have the right feel to it. I had a hard time finding one that did have that ancient-Israel sort of aesthetic, though, let alone such an image in the public domain or creative commons!

The stories all agree that the Cainites have two heads that sometimes or often disagree, perhaps because they were cursed by God. The stories also all note that the Cainites live in an underground cavern, called either Arka or Tebel, where they have few resources under a faint light or a false sun. Of course, based on the evidence, I’m inclined to say Solomon for all his wisdom was wrong when he ruled that a Cainite was one person: two heads means two brains, which means two minds, which means two people. So rather than saying that a Cainite’s heads sometimes disagree, for instance, it might be more accurate to say that Cainite twins sometimes disagree. Given the story of the Cainite who took an Israelite wife and had seven children, one and only one of whom appeared to be a Cainite, we might speculate that they are humans, and their bicephaly is a recessive genetic trait. But more interesting to me is to wonder what the society of Arka—or Tebel—would be like: What would be their laws? How would they marry? (Note that, in Israel, the Cainite took only one wife rather than two.) What attitude would people with no exclusive claim to their own bodies have toward the ownership of property? What would be the history of their philosophy? Similar questions are posed, and some answers ventured, in other works featuring societies of bicephalic twins: Shelley Jackson’s novel Half-Life and Alluria Publishing’s Remarkable Races: The Taddol RPG supplements. But I would appreciate fuller answers, so you should feel free to offer your own.

Posted by Christian H.

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