Beginning to unravel the mystery of the serpent in the Bible: It must be remembered that the serpent is responsible for Adam and Eve leaving the garden. According to the Bible it is the “fault” of the serpent that Adam and Eve ate the fruit which causes their expulsion. But think about this? The tree is Eve’s tree. The tree is named after her. It is the tree of life. The name Eve means life, making it in actuality the tree of Eve. She doesn’t need the permission of the serpent, a deity or anyone to eat from her own tree. It is her right. It is more than her right, it is an expression of her essence. In fact, if she doesn’t eat from the tree, she would never leave the garden of Eden bringing herself/ her life essence to fruition here on Earth. If it is the serpent who midwifed this process, then the serpent as well is responsible for bringing/birthing life here on Earth as we know it today. This is not a curse at all, but a precious blessing.
The name Eve, in Hebrew means “life.” There is a tree in the Garden of Eden also named “life.” In fact, its name is the “Tree of Life.” Rather than forbidden fruit, this tree is the Tree of Eve. It was only later in translation that humankind in general and Eve specifically was forbidden access to Her Tree. (Discussed in When Eve Was a Goddess chapter 14, and in more depth in ONE GODS, chapters 10 and 11).
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.
Now that we’ve seen goddesses living in trees in two cultures that surrounded Israel (Sumeria, Egypt), shouldn’t we be able to find a goddess in a tree in Israel. Yes, we should! Here is how we find Her.
To find our goddess in a tree, we have to look into Hebrew. The word for life in Hebrew is chai familiarly known in the phrase l’chaim – a Hebrew toast meaning “to life.” Chai is two letters – hhets and yud.
Another form of the word life is chai’ah or hhets, yud and heh. Below are the words with their Hebrew and English letters lined up (as best I can with this formatting) and with the phonetic pronunciations in parentheses. Note that Hebrew is written from right to left so the first letter of a word is at the right.
Chai: yud (ya) hhets (ch)
Chai’ah: heh (ha) yud (ya) hhets (ch)
ח י ה
The name of Eve in Hebrew is Hhawah hhets, vav and heh
Eve in Hebrew:
Eve: heh (ha) vav (va’ or wa’) hhets (ch)
ח ו ה
In the Bible, the tree of life is the tree of ha-ch-ya-eem (or ha chaim):
mem (im) yud (ya) yud (ya) hhets (ch) heh(ha)
ה ח י י מ
What can be gleaned by examining these words and their spelling? 1) The words for life and for Eve are variations of each other. Eve means life. 2) The word used with the tree of life is the word for life (or Eve) made plural.
In English we make a word plural by adding an “s” to the end of the word. In Hebrew, there are two ways to make a word plural. One of them is to add the sound “eem” or yud mem to the end of the word. In English, when a word is plural it means more than one In Hebrew when a word is plural it can mean more than one but it also has another meaning – it can be mean something bigger, more immense, grander. For example, in English we would say “one flower” or “two flowers” representing amounts. In Hebrew, it could be “one flower” meaning a single flower or “one flowers” representing grandeur. “One flowers” is a flower which more: bigger, flower-y, splendid. This is the Hebraic logic behind the title of my book, ONE GODS.
Notice: The words for life, Eve and tree of life are all variants of each other. This means that the Tree of Life is quite literally the Tree of Eve. Next up: How we know the goddess and The Tree are one.
Inanna in Sumerian, from a seal ca 2334-2154 BCE. Artist rendition: Samantha Rudolph
In the last post, I discussed the images of the Egyptian Isis in the tree. Egypt was south of the land of Israel. The land north of Israel also had a goddess who lived in a tree. That land was Sumeria and Her tale is told in the Saga of Gilgamesh.
The great Sumerian Queen of Heaven Inanna finds the tree which had been sprouted from the seed of creation. As it had begun to grow, it was torn from its roots by a great flood. Inanna recovered the tree from the waters and took it to plant in the center of her own garden.
After Inanna planted the tree, she planned to let it grow until it was big enough to chop down to make a bed and a throne. But her plans were thwarted when a “snake who could not be charmed” nested in the roots, an anzu bird built its nest in the branches, and Lilith, generally thought to be an evil female demon, took up residence in the trunk.[i] As the story progresses, Inanna calls upon Gilgamesh, the part human/part god Sumerian hero to come and cut down the tree. When he does so, the snake, bird, and Lilith all escape.
One of the first things to notice about the huluppu tree is that it was planted by one goddess (Inanna) and another is living in its trunk. The goddess in the trunk is identified as Lilith in her only extant appearance in Sumerian mythology. In Biblical times she came to be identified as a demon who stole babies or seduced men to their doom. Her lineage, however, is much older. Words etymologically connected with Lilith’s name are the Libyan lilu (water), Lithuanian liete (to pour) and lyti (to rain). To Ariel Golan these “suggest that Lilith of the Ancient East was a vestige of the goddess of heavenly moisture, older than Sumerian mythology, i.e., the Great Goddess.”[ii]
This is a Sumerian image of Lilith from about 1800BCE.
Look at the “coincidences” between Inanna and Lilith. Both were known as Great Goddesses. Various interpretations of Lilith’s origins name her a goddess of the wind or storms, the “hand or hand maiden of Inanna,” “beautiful maiden,” and as a goddess of fertility. Both are connected with lions, wings, rain, and moisture.
Lilith was once known as a great goddess in her own right. What is she doing inhabiting a tree? Notice that in both the images of Inanna and Lilith, they are shown with wings. Is it any coincidence that a bird, with their most prominent feature of wings, sits atop the very tree in which a goddess resides? That she also, is known for her wings? The same wings that adorn birds? More on this in future posts.
Now that we’ve seen goddesses living in trees in the cultures both north and south of Israel, wouldn’t it make sense for there be a goddess living in a tree in the holy land itself? (Hint: There is). Check out in the Biblical Wisdom section.
[i] This story is from the Gilgamesh cycles; Kramer and Wolkstein.
[ii] Golan, Myth and Symbol, 228.
Trees are very important in our human mythos. In many societies, the tree is actually considered to be the ancestor of humankind with a mythological forerunner related to or born from the cosmic tree. Certain cultures had connections with specific trees. The Norse’s tree of life, named Yggdrasil, was a yew tree. The Druids were known for their oaks, the Mayans for the ceiba tree, and the Chinese for the pear and mulberry trees. This notion was so common that still today we still speak about our ancestors as being “the roots” of our “family tree” of which there are many “branches.”
Along with this theme of ancestral trees, it was also quite common to find goddesses in trees, as trees or part of a tree. Above is an image from an Egyptian tomb (from a man named Pashedu) which has been dated from about 1314-1200 BCE. Notice the goddess in the tree is literally providing fruit and drink to the petitioner. The goddess has been identified as Isis.
Isis didn’t only provide nourishment from her tree but her nourishment is actually depicted as an extension of her own body. Here is Isis as tree goddess actually suckling a young boy. The boy has been identified as the future pharaoh, Tuthmosis III (18th dynasty, ruled from 1504-1450 BCE).
What does it mean to have a goddess residing in a tree? Why is this theme so common in ancient cultures? Is this theme of goddesses and trees found in the Bible? (hint: yes) In this thread I will be exploring these questions. Next blog post: Another Goddess in the Tree from another cultural tradition.