S Serpent as Symbol: Lilith

There is no such thing as a neutral response to the serpent, at least for me. I remember as a young girl hopping gaily from rock to rock on the shore-line on my way home, when a snake slithered out from the shadows and crossed my path. I almost jumped out of my skin from fright and ran all the way home. That immediate experience of fear stays with me still – and yet, a life-time later, I write about her, have painted the ouroboros (the serpent with its tail in its mouth) from a dream, and continue to experience her in my daily life. Remembering also that Lilith is a light bringer –

The image above shows Hermes, the winged messenger and trickster. The two entwined serpents at the top end of his staff symbolise good and evil, health and sickness. The staff is rigid, straight and unyielding related therefore to the masculine, whereas the serpents coiled around it are flexible and yielding and therefore representative of the feminine principle. The image of staff and serpents illustrates the union of the opposites (masculine and feminine inter alia) contained therein.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine (4000BC), is represented to this day as a healer carrying a staff, around which is wound the serpent. Aesculapius, the ancient Roman god of healing, is symbolised by two serpents, representing the principles of sickness and healing entwined around his staff. Serpents were also renowned for their ability to seek out healing herbs and plants for the treatment of illness in the human population.

Moses in the desert and his bronze serpent – an interesting paradoxical story –

While the Buddha was sitting under the Bo tree after his years of trials tribulations and travelling, now to receive his enlightenment, Mara sent down a bolt of lightning to strike him down dead. But, at that moment, the King of Serpents, the cobra, emerged from the shadows to offer the Buddha its hood for protection. That which is most low, is the very serpent that saves the Buddha.

That which can kill can also cure –

What has this to do with Lilith and our lives today?

The serpent sheds its skin, as we do too. We shed skins when we emerge from our various experiences of life events, all our stages and phases – baby hood to adulthood to old age and death. Marriage, divorce, grief, illness, joy, retrenchment, success – the list is endless. Each phase requires a stretching out and a shedding of a skin that no longer fits. Nature does this automatically, like the butterfly, emerging from its cocoon. We as humans need to work at it. Our old skin, or attitudes, beliefs, conditionings that no longer serve their function, need discarding, so that a new skin can grow to meet the requirements of an impermanent inner and outer world. We are sometimes loathe to shed our old skins, even if they do not fit. We are more familiar with our comfort zones – habit plays its part –

There are so many stories in the literature that tell of women’s harrowing descents into the underworld, scathed and scarred from the storms of sorrows they’ve endured, to return, transformed – Isis, Inanna, Penelope, Persephone, Demeter to mention a few –

‘Where there is sorrow, there is Holy Ground’ – Oscar Wilde

Lilith, her myth and symbolism, represents for me the serpent as the primordial feminine, as do other myths of this ilk, eternally emerging from the devouring darkness, renewing, shedding skins. Yet, by using the same energy as that of the darkness, she creates, more into her own being each step of the way –

The first two pictures are of the ouroboros, one a painting, the other a clay ‘fashioning’ from some while back.

This last one was using my left hand when my right hand was out of action ..

done on 13 Aug 2013 with left hand

Can we look the hooded cobra in the eye?

Thank you for reading! Each time I promise myself I will keep these posts to 500 words or less – I fail each time –




34 Comments on A to Z S Serpent Lilith

  1. Susan, my skin is raw from shedding psychological ayers and there are always more to shed. I love thinking of Lilith as revealing us in this way–and the ego protests and clings to the familiar, the past. I had an experience this week of saying yes to something I thought I couldn’t do because of hearing loss. Part of me felt comfortable saying no, but it became a Yes down deep in my belly. I can teach a workshop and others will help me. Simply asking for help is a another layer shed.

    There are no poisonous snakes in my area, so I enjoy their slithering presence. With Gwynn, I’ve observed that it can be a job to drop the old skin. A female garter snake about 2 feet long lives under my back porch. Garter snakes, unlike most egg-laying snakes, birth their young live. Hundreds of squirming babies. I know the mama raids mouse and chipmunk nests to feed her offspring, so she’s my ally. A feral snake rather than a feral cat.

    • That is lovely that you said YES Elaine – and knowing that others will help and assist you! They are lucky to have you. It’s definitely a shedding of a layer to ask for help – something I’m not good at. A layer I need to shed. But right now I’m thinking of my son Mike who I asked for help long distance earlier because a post that’s going up tonight looked all wrong in its spacing. (I’m not to tamper with it or check before it goes up – I really hope all is in order). And of course I remember the hike from last week when my husband and Mike helped me without my even asking …

      I will try the willing neighbour attitude that you and Gwynn have towards snakes. Which reminds me of a friend of mine who years ago did a solo quest in the mountains down in the Cape. On the morning of her return and when she packing up her sparse things, a cobra was there. She was rooted to the spot – and stood still for quite a while. For her a turning point. It was as if the snake was coming to say goodbye ..

  2. HI Susan – well that puts my present life into perspective … I am shedding a skin to restart anew, remembering myself, yet appreciating what I need to learn in this particular situation. I don’t like snakes much … having had one uncoil under me as a tot … and having to run a mile to the bus stop … tiny legs with the babysitter pushing the pushchair with one brother in well behind me – then my father hatching snakes in the house … only grass snakes … but still – but I watched a wonderful programme about bones and animal adaptions … and changed my mind – well accepted them for the incredible animals they are! Cheers Hilary

    • oooooh, those experiences of ssssnakes! Your father hatching them in the house?? Even a grass snake would scare me. Even seeing them on TV gives me a certain frisson of fear. Thanks Hilary for coming by – may the skin shedding go well and your new skin fit perfectly 🙂

  3. Shedding old skins. This is what I’m taking from this post Susan.
    The snake represents kundalini in yoga and as I’m only just beginning to learn and explore this aspect, I’m in no shape to comment.
    But, ponder I will:)
    I used to be scared of snakes but not any more. Things have happened which make me look at them very differently these days.
    Thank you for opening so many rabbit holes to explore 🙂
    T is for Tales of Tailors

    • Thanks Arti for coming by – yes, I know about the kundalini that arises from the base of the spine to the topmost chakra, releasing its energy as it travels upwards – (my late mother was a yoga teacher) … Glad you’re not scared of snakes … would be interesting to know why?

      • Call it biological feedback (like a medic friend does) or imagery seen while meditating: almost a year ago, I started seeing Shiva and his form and the snake around his neck every once in a while while I sat on my mat to meditate.
        July last year, I was staying at a homestay in rural Tamil Nadu. The rooms were in the middle of a paddy field. I’m an early riser so I woke up almost at sunrise and when I pushed the room door open to step out, I saw a snake coiled up on top of my slippers. I didn’t scream or freeze. I just watched it unfurl and slither away. The old me would have packed up and left that morning. So, I don’t know why I was so calm. It’s a mystery to me too.

        • Thanks Arti for sharing that experience. Amazing how you ‘knew’ how to act in that actual instance. Call it your inner knowing – which is always a mystery yet an affirming one 🙂 I’m sure meditation helps in general to maintain a level of calm … and Shiva being on stand by …

  4. Fascinating post, Susan. And I apologise for failing to keep up with your posts. I’ve learned a lot from those I’ve read and hope to catch up on some I’ve missed. I like the way you highlight words beginning with the letter. It’s like a treasure hunt, but you weave the words together beautifully.

    • Thanks Norah – no need to apologise but thank you for coming by. I too am up to my ears in the A-Z and am sooo behind in others’ posts including yours. Mmmm, I may use your word ‘treasure’ for my T post which I’m Trying to construct! Thank you for your lovely compliment 🙂

  5. I am afraid of snakes susan, If I find one- I would run away, this post is profound and I loved the way you shared about snakes shedding their skins… I found this comparison very interesting and true, we are creatures of habits and once we get accustomed of wearing a skin which makes us feel at home and comfortable, it is not easy to let go of it, if it meant for our own growth and progress.

    I have a seen a few pictures of Lord Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree and is protected by the snakes, I did not know the reason- thanks for enlightening me today and I am impressed how you brought in Moses and the bronze serpent:) True “that which can kill can also cure” All the images posted are so relevant and related.

    Lot of learning for me here:) Thanks & blessings to you

  6. and this too struck a chord – sometimes I am so intent on shedding the old and love the exhilaration when it is cast aside and the skin is new to the breeze and life is fresh and a little awkward, and other times I hang on for dear life ( of the ego) to the habit not even wanting to peel a little. that both can inhabit me simultaneously is part of the journey …

    • ‘a little awkward’ 🙂 that’s lovely and true to life in the shedding of the old! And the happening together, neither exempt from the other. Thank you for your lovely comment Sandra.

  7. Hi, Susan – I agree that your posts are the perfect length, with so much meaning to share. After reading this piece today, I checked out more back posts on your blog that I had missed earlier.

    • Thank you Donna! That makes me feel better! Tomorrow’s? Who knows? I’ll be using 2 photos of mine that I meant to use in the S post but now I have to figure out a way of using those photos in T … looking forward to yours!

  8. Actually, you succeed each time! So much important stuff to say, Susan. Thanks for sharing. And I love the ouroboros(es?). :0)

  9. I’m going to think about this some more Susan. I have a strong connection to Mercury/Hermes/Thoth and I think I’m trying to tease out some alchemical understanding here.

    Each of your ouroboros feel like a shedding and expanding into a new. I wonder if you did another one now if there’d be something else available to unfold.

    BTW, I literally did not know about the cobra and Buddha and I’m gobsmacked. Sometimes the pieces that are missing in my remembering seem utterly astounding.

    • Thanks Deborah – yes I have been attempting an ouroboros of sorts, though have painted over it several times – now it’s a large black and blank canvas – pregnant with possibilities –

      I’m glad you found something ‘new’ about the Buddha and the King of Serpents!

  10. Susan, I appreciate your thoughts and agree with what you’ve shared.

    I’ve also experienced Lilith as the place in our psyches where we receive other people’s shadow projections and are prone to projecting our ow shadows. Lilith’s serpent wisdom grows when she learns to take back her projections and surrender expectations, to shed any illusions and accept what is and what will never be, without unconsciously taking on and carrying repressed shadow material for others and mistaking it as her own. As an archetype, I believe it’s how Lilith finds redemption and meaning.

    If not, and she stays ‘stuck’, her disembodied and stifled energy can easily turn bitter and twisted, taking on demonic (rather than daemonic) form.

    There is no light-filled, bright and shiny place for Lilith, who must remain among the oppressed and lowly, though she can help us to connect to other archetypal energies within our psyches. Lilith provides an open and receptive channel to God and the unconscious, through which creativity, intuition and light flow.

    Thanks for the post and fitting S-words..

    • Thanks LB for your comment .. shedding illusions is one of the hardest tasks we all face, men and women. It would be a shaking of the foundations. The same with projections … putting onto others what we own ourselves. I agree also about not allowing projections to be put on one’s self. I’ve been the recipient of that too.

      I like all that you say – thank you for broadening it all; I see Lilith as a shape-shifter, and a need to keep her alive.

      • My typo is telling: “. . . projecting our *ow* shadows.”

        According to Merriam-Webster, the word “ow” is an exclamation used “. . . to express sudden pain.”

        • I noted the typo – ‘ow’ definitely means ouch and a word I use if eg I stub my toe. ‘Ow’ in front of shadows … meaningful indeed! Freudian slip?

  11. In each of the stories the serpent represents transformation and change. maybe that is why they became fearsome, as did Lilith…

  12. Dear Susan, Thank you for retelling us of the meaning of those two entwined serpents wrapped around Hermes staff. I have a pendant of the same image, and up until I just read your words, I never twigged that it was an archetypal image that depicted the balance between masculine and feminine energies … Hmm I shall be wearing this symbolic pendant with new meaning now! There’s a rich note to add to my Animus Diet book! Snakes, eek! Usually I scream when I see one!

    Ah! Shedding skins resonates with this poet deeply! Sometimes I know when I’m approaching, or I’m in the middle of another shedding season, other times I don’t even know it’s happened until weeks if not months (or years!) later. In many ways I feel I am still emerging from my many midlife corrections, as I feel in flux, with so much constantly changing all around me. It’s wonderful to see your art, I find the alchemical ouroboros almost hypnotic! Warm and wild blessings, Deborah.

    • Great Deborah that you saw it in your pendant with new meaning! I must find my snake charm …

      And thanks for saying that you feel skins shedding at different times of your life, even if recognised only later … in soul, Susan

  13. Your posts are interesting and intellectual. I enjoy them as they make me think. Life can be very similar to a snake’s life. I have seen our Garter snakes have difficulty shedding their skins at time. So the snakes sometimes have the same struggles in life as we do, as we slither through life too. Plus, if children are around the snakes’ lives are not as quiet as they would like.

    • That’s an interesting observation Gwynn re snakes having difficulty sometimes in shedding their skins – like us I guess. And also, they don’t mean us harm unless we present a threat to them .. thanks for coming by.

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