The way that the serpent is best known in the Bible is as the cunning traitor who convinces Eve to eat the “forbidden fruit.” But there are other representations that are less well known. There are serpent priests, a feathered serpent, a healing serpent and a wise serpent. (Chapter 13 in 21 Secrets of the Bible). The serpent priests are the Levites, the feathered serpent is a seraph (Isaiah 30:6), the healing serpent is the fiery serpent that Moses carries on a pole (Numbers 21:8) and the wise serpent appears in Matthew 10:16 “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Why, then, is the serpent so reviled? Could the image of the serpent be a Biblical reversal of even more ancient teachings?
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.
Last week the Supreme Court legalized marriage for gay couples with all the rights of hetero couples. HOO-RAH! It is well past time. In some “religious” strongholds people are resisting saying that the tradition of marriage between one man and one woman goes back to the Bible. Adam and Eve, they say, created the template which makes only hetero marriage acceptable. Actually, this is not the case. The name Adam means “red earth” and the name Eve mean “life.” So the template of marriage is actually between the earth and life itself. In other words creation.
In ancient times there was the teaching of hieros gamos which meant sacred marriage. These teachings often occurred within the ancient mystery schools. This was not an external marriage but an internal one that each human – each human with a divine spirit – needed to experience to live a complete life. It is the marriage of opposites within ourselves. The marriage of the aspects of ourselves which we identify as feminine with the aspects of ourselves which we identify as masculine. The marriage of the light and dark WITHIN ourselves. The marriage of heaven and earth WITHIN ourselves. The marriage of spirit and matter WITHIN ourselves.
The secret sacred lesson is that all things which may appear to be opposites are in truth, different aspects of ONENESS.
The serpent is an excellent symbol of oneness because it can be seen as both earthly and heavenly, as well as male and female.
Notice that in the sacred marriage there is not the dysfunctional focus that we stress in our own culture of the shape of one’s genitals and the performance of the sexual act. True, sex is the foundation of human creation, the coming together of opposites. But the true lessons is that the coming together of opposites has many forms and functions and that is part of the Great Mystery of our lives.
Bet the Supreme Court didn’t take any of that into consideration in their decision!
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 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.
All of these elements of the serpent will be explored in upcoming blog posts.
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From my book:
ONE GODS: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible is a shamanic exploration of the Bible’s great journeys, struggles, quests, heroes, and heroines. Janet Rudolph’s ground-breaking book is an extra-ordinary look at Biblical mysticism and mystery. In her telling, it was Eve’s birthright to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life for it bears her name – Eve in Hebrew means life.
Drawing on spiritual forensics, she traces the footsteps of legends such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Moses across cultures and time. The enigmas of healing serpents, burning bushes, heavenly ladders and more are traced from the ancient mystery schools of Egypt and MesoAmerica to the standing stones of the Celts and beyond.
The Bible is represented as a dynamic, living document, guiding the reader in a quest to discover personal answers to age-old questions: Who am I? What is my personal relationship to divinity? Why am I alive? Why will I die?
Unveiling new revelations on the Bible’s earliest teachings, ONE GODS provides inspiration and knowledge as well as concrete tools for readers to embark upon, add a touch of magic to and deepen their own spiritual journeys.
The world tree always has a bird in the branches and a serpent at the roots. Look at these two images. The serpent goddess above from the 2nd century CE, perhaps an early image of a mermaid, shows the goddess and the serpent as one. The familiar image of Isis on the right shows her with her wings. The goddess and the bird as one.
As archaeological scholar Marija Gimbutas wrote, “The Snake Goddess and the Bird Goddess appear as separate figures and as a single divinity. Their functions are so intimately related that their separate treatment is impossible. She is one and she is two, sometimes snake, sometimes bird.”[i]
AND, I would add she is all TREE OF LIFE just as the TREE OF LIFE is Her complete with Her feathered wings and Her serpent “legs.”
[i] Gimbutas, Old Europe; 112.
This post is a partial review of my last several posts: It is a passage from my book ONE GODS: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible
Now that we’ve seen goddesses inhabiting trees in the two cultures closest to ancient Israel, wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a tree in the Bible named after a goddess?
There is just such a woman in the bible, although without the designation “goddess;” Eve, chavah or hawwah as seen in Chapter 2. In Hebrew, the “tree of Life” is the tree of ha-hay-yim.
Ha-hay-yim is a variation of hawwah (with masculine plural “eem” or “yim”). The tree of life, literally translated, means the tree of Eve (transcendent of gender) in its grandest, most powerful aspect. This is the same aspect of the “eem” plural seen in Elohim in Chapter 8. Ha–hay–yim is LIFE/EVE writ large in the fullness of all mystery.
Among the many languages deriving from the same source, called Central Semitic,[i] are Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew. Comparative etymology shows that it is not just the tree that is a namesake to Eve. As Walker points out, “In Arabic, the words for ‘snake,’ ‘life’ and ‘teaching’ are all related to the name of Eve – the biblical versions of the Goddess with her serpent form, who gave the food of enlightenment to the first man.”[ii] In Arabic and Aramaic the word for serpent is hayyat. The letters “w” and “y” are interchangeable.
Eve (hawwah) was encouraged by an aspect of herself (hayyat) to eat the fruit from another aspect of herself, the tree of life (ha-hay-yim). The three elements; tree of life, Eve, and serpent are one and the same, a unity of symbols, the Great Goddess in three aspects.
[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Semitic_languages; consulted February 214. Also in Jean; 53-55. He calls the common root the “Phoenician alphabet.”
[ii] Walker, Barbara G., The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects Harper SanFrancisco, 1988; 388.
What are the mysteries that Moses and Aaron perform “in the sight of the people?” According to Exodus Chapter 4, they are three bits of magic; throwing his staff on the ground which turns into a serpent and then back again to a staff, turning his hand leprous and healing it, and taking water from the Nile and changing it to blood.
All of these “miracles” actually occur within the story thread of the Burning Bush.[i] It is the Burning Bush which represents the true mystery and magic of creation. The Burning Bush is the first historical record of the nature of true oneness. It is a symbolic representation of what I have come to call inter-arching oneness[ii]. The Burning Bush contains two element: Fire and Bush. As the Holman Christian Standard Bible says, “Fire is frequently associated with special displays of God’s presence.” In other words, fire represents divinity and all heavenly aspects. The bush represents the earth and all earthly aspects. If the fire and the bush were next to each other, in separate spaces, the symbolism would have been one of duality; spirit and matter as separate. But that is not what happens. The fire and the bush occupy the same space. This represents nonduality or the essential oneness of all spirit and all matter; all creation. Here are visual representations of this using circles.
If each circle stood by itself merely touching edges, they would be a representation of duality:
But the Burning Bush teaches a different lesson. It teaches how the elements (the circles) interpenetrate:
To use the paradigm of the Burning Bush with the visualizations of the circles. With the circles touching but not interpenetrated, the message is one of duality. The fire and the bush are in different spaces:
But the message that Moses brings is one of inter-arching oneness. The interpenetration of the two aspects is where the fire and bush exist in the same space:
From these stories and happenings, it becomes clear that Moses brought to the world, the message of “all-oneness.” In each of the three magics that Aaron performs “in the sight of the people” a change of physical state occurs. What he is actually doing is peeling back the illusion of the material world to show that the world we can see with our eyes is fluid. Snake/rod, clean hand/leprous hand, water/blood. All are one and the same. All are one. Only the magician/prophet/wizard/shaman who understands the nature of true oneness can perform such seemingly miraculous acts.
What this tells us is that Moses didn’t just bring a message of a one god but he brought the message of the oneness of all creation.
[i] The basis for my understanding of these teachings come from my former teachers, Rev. Dr. JC and Rev. Sherry Husfelt. I thank them for their many insights. They teach “interpenetrative radical nonduality” as the essential oneness of all creation.
[ii] overarching would indicate something above or a separation, intra-arching would indicate a turning inward, also a separation