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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Mark of Cain by Ruth Mellinkoff


I came across a fascinating little book while doing research on different witchcraft legends called The Mark of Cain by Ruth Mellinkoff.  This book actually has nothing to do with witchcraft but with Judeo-Christian concepts.

The mark of Cain refers to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain is known as the first murderer after he kills his brother whose offering was accepted by God while his own offering was rejected.  The 'mark' referred to in the title is mentioned in the story of the brothers in Genesis 4:8-15 (KJV):
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. 
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. 
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 
13 And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 
15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
That last verse is what has been a sticking point for many a scholar for centuries.  Was it an actual mark on the body?  Or was the word mark used to denote Cain himself?  It has been argued that Cain became stricken with almost a Parkinsonian-like disease that would have frightened away any who came near and that he himself was the mark.  It's also been speculated that this mark was a sign of God's forgiveness instead of his punishment and so no one dared kill Cain since God had already pardoned him.

Since Cain was thought of as a terrible sinner, the mark of Cain is a phrase that has been used to accuse people of being witches and devil worshipers.  Very early on Cain was associated with the Jews as a negative metaphor.  Saint Ambrose, an early father of the Church, stated in Cain and Abel*:
"In Cain we perceive the parracidal people of the Jews, who were stained with the blood of their Lord, their creator, and as a result of the childbearing of the Virgin Mary, their Brother also.  By Abel we understand the Christian who cleaves to God."
Makes you wanna puke doesn't it?  It was even once thought that the mark was black skin.

The author also looks at Cain's mark presented in literature and art.  A more modern piece of literature she dismisses as a "shallow interpretation" of the story of Cain is Demian by Hermann Hesse.  In his novel, Cain's mark is transformed into a mark of distinction that is only given to those with gifted insight.  While Ms. Mellinkoff argues that Hesse's explanation is far removed from the historical context and interpretations of the story, I have to wonder if modern witches and magicians haven't been influenced by this way of thinking about Cain's mark, which is said to be a sign of those with witch blood.  As an aside, I'm just starting to delve into The Pillars of Tubal-Cain by Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard which discusses some of the witch legends mentioned.  I'll do a post devoted to that once I'm done but Esoteric Online has an interesting discussion on it.

The Mark of Cain is a quick read at only 100 pages.  It's still a scholarly work (that's no filler but actual content) and Ms. Mellinkoff expounds on the possible meanings of the mark I've mentioned here as well as several other possibilities. It has about 30 pages of notes (beyond the 100 pages) and several illustrations.  Again, I'm tying this into my own research on witchcraft topics but this book would interest most students of Judeo-Christian history and sacred texts.

*Mellinkoff notes her source as Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, translated by John Savage, Fathers of the Church.  Vol. 42. (p. 362)  New York, 1961.

**Note:  I know I've linked to The Pillars of Tubal-Cain on Amazon but it may be hard to come by or may be unreasonably expensive there.  I've found Magus Books out of Minnesota to be a reliable resource for some hard-to-find books or you can try the publisher's website.

FTC Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from the library and I have not been compensated by the publisher for this review.


© Trish Deneen

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