What does Lilith in the guise of serpent, harbinger of change, represent to us? Our first reaction to the temptress may be one where we instinctively recoil in distrust and fear. We have an archetypal disposition to fear this highly dangerous creature with its fangs and forked, flicking tongue. Historically, the symbolism of the serpent has the association of sexual temptation, of being against G.d, and generally of being subversive and evil.
But if we look beyond this grotesque and fearful image, we find in the same creature the power of transformation. In Hatha Yoga for example, the snake resides at the base of the spine, coiled upon itself in a ring. Through certain breathing exercise, the snake uncoils itself upwards, releasing energy into the six chakras until it reaches the forehead or the third eye where the manifested energy brings about a temporary sense of nirvana, bliss and wholeness.
Aesculapias, the ancient Roman god of healing, is symbolized by two serpents representing the principles of sickness and healing, entwined around his staff. Serpents were renowned for their ability to seek out healing herbs and plants for the treatment of illness in the human population.
Hippocrates (460BC) the father of western medicine, is represented to this day as a healer carrying a staff, around which is wound the serpent.
Hermes, the winged messenger and trickster has two entwined serpents, symbolising good and evil, sickness and health at the top end of his staff. A point worthy of consideration is that the staff is rigid, straight and unyielding therefore related to the masculine principle, whereas the serpent coiled around it is flexible and yielding therefore representative of the feminine principle. This image of the staff and the serpent graphically illustrates the union of the opposites (masculine and feminine inter alia) contained therein.
There are countless examples in the literature where the serpent is highly revered. Moses and the Israelites in the Exodus were sent a plague of serpents by G.d to kill them as a punishment for their idolatry. Moses however, cured his people by asking them to look upon the bronze serpent.
The story of the Buddha tells how, after the enlightened One had gone through many and varied terrifying trials and tribulations brought on by Mara, that he met his greatest trial while sitting under the Bo tree. It seemed that a thunderbolt from the sky sent by Mara and her Furies would strike the Buddha down dead. But then, at the ultimate moment, the cobra, the King of Serpents, emerged from the shadow/darkness to offer the Buddha its hood for protection.
Their is also the serpent with its tail in its mouth; half the snake is dark the other half light, like the yin yang symbol. This portrays inter alia the ambivalence of the snake. It is neither one nor the other. It is both. It is both passive and active, constructive and destructive.
The snake both kills and cures. The shedding of skin symbolises metamorphosis and transformation. We too as individuals need to shed skin or stretch out of a skin that has become too tight and restrictive. Nature does this automatically – we as individuals need to work at it. Our old skin needs to give way when it no longer serves its function and purpose. It needs to be discarded, so that a new skin can grow to meet the requirements of the inner and outer world. It is unhealthy to hold onto an old skin that no longer fits. It means a loss of the old skin, that with which we have been complacently comfortable. Underneath our old skin is a new skin; a skin, shiny, moist and of vibrant colour, yearning to show itself. We can embrace the shedding of the skin we know, opening ourselves to change and all the new experiences it brings.
Dreams of serpents invariably are of change in one way or the other, though it is prudent NOT to make any immediate interpretation.
Next week I will look more fully at Lilith and comment on her valuable role in today’s world.