The serpent is probably one of the most complicated and difficult spiritual symbols to understand and incorporate into one’s own spiritual life in all its multi-faceted elements. In some stories a serpent – say a behemoth or a leviathan – is a monster which needs to be slain. In others, the serpent is a sign of rising energy, such as qi, kundalini, or chi. On the emblematic staff of the physician there are two serpents climbing rising the central rod as a symbol of healing. There is always a serpent coiled under the tree of life, not only in the Bible but in world-wide mythologies. The serpent took the blame for the the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. Was this a fair assessment?
Serpent energy has been connected with ley lines of the earth. Lightning in the sky has been likened to serpentine energy. Our umbilical cord has also been compared to a serpent.
Another world-wide cultural symbol is the feathered serpent, perhaps most well-known as Quetzalcoatl of Meso-America. The feathered serpent also appears in Egyptian lore and perhaps most surprisingly, in the Bible. The image above is from Egypt.
The image above was drawn by my daughter Samantha Rudolph. It is a copy of an ancient Sumerian seal representing the hieros gamos or the Sacred Marriage. In the seal, the god and the goddess are looking at each other over the World Tree. Notice both the serpents at the bottom of the tree as well as the two serpents rising behind each of the deities.
These symbols are indicative of what Marija Gimbutas calls “the alphabet of the metaphysical.” (Language of the Goddess, pg1).
It is especially significant that the serpent is shown in connection with both the god and the goddess thereby representing both male and female aspects. Remember that the hieros gamos does not mean a marriage between a man and a woman as some religionists would have us believe. The true hieros gamos is the marriage WITHIN ourselves of our own separations, our own oppositions or what has been come to be called the female and male aspects within ourselves.
Because the serpent is seen on both sides, it too, represents the coming together of apparent opposites. In its female aspect, it is associated with the ley lines of the earth. Also for slithering in and out of earthern soil. The umbilical cord has been likened to a serpent. In its male aspect it has been associated with bolt lightning.
The unification of the fires of heaven (lightning) and the waters of earth are the essence of creation, represented and united within one symbol – the serpent.
The serpent is a long time symbol of healing. The rising energies of the serpent are known in other other cultures as Ki, Chi, Kundalini. We use the symbol of the rising serpents in our healing iconography – the caduceus. The central staff of the caduceus is a representation of the world tree and the rising serpents on each side cross at significant points until they rise to the top and sprout wings. The symbol of the serpent on a pole/world tree as an agent of healing appears in the Bible:
And the LORD said unto Moses
Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole:
and it shall come to pass, that eery one that is bitten,
when he looketh upon it, shall live.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole,
and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man,
when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
Serpents as energies of healing is are truly multi-cultural symbols. The image above is from the cover of my book One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible. It is in the Museo Nacional De Antrolopología in Mexico City. Its accompanying description says scholars consider it to be a rising snail (caracol). The description also depicts it as an Aztecan symbol of life. This makes it possible, even likely, that it is actually the emblem of Quetzalcóatl the feathered serpent. In this image he is rising from a feathered or rayed symbol of the sun.
So was it legit to blame the serpent for Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden? I say resoundingly NO!
It was said among Rabbis of old that the skin of the serpent enfolded all of creation. This is, I believe a recognition of the serpent as SEED CARRIER. Seeds are the roots of all-potential. It is through seeds that life exists as it does on this sacred Earth we inhabit. The serpent has been likened to the umbilical cord which connects the developing one to its mother, providing nourishment for growth. The serpent is also the mystic umbilical cord feeding us nourishment of both the heavens and the earth.
In a Sumerian story, which comes from the Gilgamesh myths and is a precursor to the story of Noah in the Bible, the themes of seeds and serpent meet. In the story, he meets the Sumerian Noah named Utnapishtim, and pleads to him for the secret to immortality. At the ending to the story, Gilgamesh is able to find the seeds of immortality called “An Oldster Man Becomes Child,” in the “abyss,” that cauldron of chaos from whence life emerged. With the seeds in hand, Gilgamesh heads for home, planning to eat them when he grows old and needs the spark of youth. But in a moment when Gilgamesh isn’t watchful, a serpent finds the seeds, snatches them and disappears as it sloughs off its old skin and transforms.
This is partially why the serpent is always found coiled at the base of the Tree of Life. The tree of life contains the fruit which will confer immortality. The serpent is their guardian, their keeper, their protector, their grail. The fruit from the tree of life is merely the seed in another form (as is any drink or elixir of immortality – soma, ambrosia, fountain of youth).
Through the seeds, which the serpent embodies, life is created. The “fall” is merely birth, something to be celebrated, not pounding our chests in fears of some inborn “sin” of the human race. Without birth there would be no human life. Without the seed growing to maturity, there would be no human life. Without the serpentine connection we have with our birth mothers and continue to have with our spirit ancestors, there would be no human life. And for all this we can thank the serpent.