Most Christians think immediately of the Creation Story when we think of serpents and serpent symbols. Indeed, for much of modern, Western history, the serpent has been symbol of the devil, temptation, evil, and the Fall. So, when we see pictures of snakes or hear of stories revering them, the conclusion is "devil worship". But this is inaccurate. Pre-Christianity, the serpent was a powerful, and nearly universal, symbol of deity, fertility and strength. The serpent has been seen as both male, female and androgynous; as cosmic or earth-bound.
A cosmic serpent is the Ouroboros. It was a part of Greek and Egypt beliefs. The Ourobouros was an eternal symbol. With it's head biting the tail and encircling the earth, it had no ending or beginning and encompassed everything. By consuming itself, the Ouroboros is a symbol similar to the Pheonix, creating life again from death.
In the Kundalini tradition, Sakti is the serpent representing feminine power. Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice designed to waken the Sakti and allow her to unite with Siva at the crown chakra, representing pure consciousness. Sakti is illustrated as a spiral or an elaborate knot.
And who could forget the Caduceus. The North American symbol of medicine, doctors and hospitals? The exact origins of this symbol are not exactly clear from my research. It appears there are several stories related to the Cauceus, some positive, some negative.
St Brigid's Day was celebrated last month. One of the symbols of Brigid (the bride) and of her followers, is the serpent. In fact, this symbolism is so strong that we still celebrate the end of her people every year in March. But most people don't realize it. I didn't until I studied more about serpent mythology. The story goes that St Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland and that is why there are no snakes on the island today. In reality, there probably weren't any snakes in Ireland when St. Patrick lived there either. The snakes are a reference to the followers of the old religion. St Patrick baptized most of the leaders and prominent citizenry to the Catholic church. The followers of Brigid were either forced to hide their beliefs or leave. Much of their practices were actually absorbed into the church. Brigid was remade as a saint. Her holiday was renamed Candlemas and her symbol of the 4 seasons/wheel of the year was called a cross and said to describe the Passions of Christ. The symbol of the serpent was completely turned around and came to represent the devil and his temptations.
Jenni just reviewed the book, Dance of the Dissident Daughter. She shared with me this quote:
To my surprise, I'd learned that in ancient times the snake was not maligned or sen as evil but rather symbolized female wisdom, power, and regeneration. It was associated with the ancient Goddess and was protrayed as her companion. The snake was perhaps the central symbol of sacred feminine energy.
That day as I gazed at the picture of Eve and the serpent, I remembered Goddess and her connection to the snake, and inside I heard a resounding click...Questions followed one another in rapid-fire succession: how had the snake, of all creatures--an animal no better or worse than other wild beings-come to embody the full projection of evil within the Jewish and Christian traditions? Why was the snake selected to represent Satan in the origin myth? Could it be that the patriarchal force chose the snake in hopes of diminishing women's connection to feminine wisdom, power, and regeneration? Was it a way of discrediting the Feminine Divine?
In the context of that time and history, the idea made gut-wrenching sense. In fact, later I would read many such theories by scholars, theologians, and historians.
Holding the picture of Eve and the serpent that day, I realized how significant and sad it is that in the story Yahweh forever placed enmity between Eve and the snake. Taking symbolic history into account, we might say that Yahweh placed enmity between Eve and her deep Feminine Source, her wisdom and power.
What did it mean spiritually and psychologically for a woman to be at odds with that source? Wasn't this another way of portraying women's severed connection with their feminine souls?
This aspect of the creation story has bothered me, well, forever. But since I have learned more about the Goddess and the Divine Feminine, it bothers me more. Stories are powerful and the creation story has had great influence in the world. I hope to review the book, Eve and Choice made in Eden soon. In it, Beverly Campbell postulates that this story has done great harm to women and our place in society. By relating women to evil, much has been done to women in the name of purification.
So, in honor of the serpent and the Goddess, I'd like to start a discussion today. What influence has the creation story had on your world-view? Does the knowledge of the original symbolism of the serpent change your view of St Patrick's day? What other thoughts does this bring to mind? Do share!