American Gods episode 1 explained: Who is Bilquis?


If you’ve had a chance to watch American Gods episode 1 you are probably wondering about Bilquis. Read on for some answers!

After episode 1 of American Gods, the main thing on everyone’s mind seems to be the Bilquis scene.

Bilquis (Official Image via Starz)

Many people are asking “Did she really?” Yes, she ate the nice man with her lady parts. You saw that right.

So just who is this literal man-eater, Bilquis? In this exchange with Vulture, Neil Gaiman gives us a bit of information:

"The one religious tradition that doesn’t really come up in the show is Judaism. Which is curious, since you, like me, are Jewish.You know, that’s interesting, because the god Bilquis, in the book, comes from the Jewish tradition. Bilquis is absolutely the Queen of Sheba, and she’s there at the beginning."

History and myth

So we know she’s based on the Queen of Sheba, she of the Song of Songs, a.k.a. erotic literature in the Bible. According to this excellent summary from PBS’s In Search of Myths and Heroes:

"modern scholars believe she came from the Kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia, the Kingdom of Saba in Yemen, or both."

Long story short, Sheba had a great kingdom in Northern Africa, and Solomon had a great kingdom in the Middle East. That much is fact. He probably did invite her over to his fabulous digs in Jerusalem, because they were two world leaders. Of course they’re going to want to talk. The two had some kind of relationship. It may have been strictly professional, but we will never know without a time machine.

How did the Queen of Sheba become the Bilquis we see in the show?

According to the bible, they had a great romance, and then she went home, had the son she’d conceived with Solomon, and spread monotheism all over northern Africa. But the mythology hints at her being some kind of witch or magical creature. Solomon heard she had cloven hooves or hairy legs and wanted to check it out, and in the first recorded upskirt, installs a mirrored floor so he can see for himself. She does, but she magics herself up to look like a human person. They go on to have a relationship anyway. She goes home and has their baby in this version, too.

But in the Jewish mystical tradition, she’s a demon queen who may actually really be Adam’s first wife, Lilith.

Then there’s the 11th century version via ‘Ara’is al-majalis, by Islamic scholar al-Tha’labi; the American Institute for Yemeni Studies discusses more at the link. The bottom line? She’s exotic, desirable, and at least a little bit magical.

Bilquis in America

So now we come to the Bilquis we met in American Gods. The story here, the real story, is about immigrants, and what they brought with them when they came, over the generations. All the stories, traditions, myths and beliefs mix together in the melting pot of America. And then, we forget them. She’s been stewing for centuries, increasingly forgotten, alone, diluted, and powerless. What else is a modern incarnation of a goddess to do? She needs to survive.

The character Bilquis is a feminist and racial critique, and a commentary on Americans’ general ignorance of our own history and traditions. Hold her up to the mirror of American history, and you see the over-sexualization of black women and a fear of their seductive powers. You see a historical, powerful world leader reduced to a one-dimensional aspect: the Bilquis we meet in America Gods is raw sexual power and desire, lingering on. America forgets.

Related Story: American Gods Recap and Review Episode 1: The Bone Orchard

What is Bilquis’ ultimate role in American Gods? Does she have a major part to play? Is she going to eat all the men with her sexy? We will have to watch and find out.