Meditating on the Serpent: the Symbolism of Snakes


The serpent is an ancient symbol that carries different meanings across various cultures, but commonly, it symbolizes the instincts, transformation, rebirth, healing, and wisdom.

The symbolism of the serpent invites us to explore the diverse aspects of our psyche, fostering a deepened self-understanding and self-compassion. It teaches us to acknowledge and integrate our primal instincts and transformative life energy, to respect the guidance of our inner wisdom, and to appreciate the unity of our consciousness. This journey, as symbolized by the serpent, can help us cultivate self-compassion, transforming our challenges into opportunities for growth, healing, and spiritual enlightenment.

Primal Instincts and Urges

At its base, the serpent can symbolize our primal instincts and urges, some of which we may view as lower or undesirable. This interpretation is often found in traditional narratives where the snake embodies temptation and primitive aspects of our nature. When we dream of snakes, we might be encountering aspects of ourselves that we’ve repressed, ignored, or misunderstood. A caged or dead snake could symbolize a loss or repression of instinct, reflecting parts of ourselves that we’ve denied or rejected.

Life Force Energy

The serpent also symbolizes the life force energy that gives rise to our insiticts. This primal energy underlies existence, representing the purposeful flow of life and time. This energy, like the Kundalini in Eastern spiritual practices, is transformative, rising like a serpent from the base of the spine to bring spiritual awakening. Embracing this energy can lead to a mastery over our primal instincts, as symbolized by the image of Buddha sitting peacefully atop a serpent.

Snake as Guide

The serpent can also act as a guide, showing us the winding path forward in life. This path might be precarious or full of promise, reflecting the inherent challenges and opportunities in our journey towards self-compassion and understanding. The Algonquians’ myth of the snake bridge that only the faithful can cross is a testament to this symbolic guidance.

Integration of the Self

The serpent is an emblem of the integration of all aspects of the self. This is particularly evident in the symbol of the Ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail, representing the cyclical nature of life and the integration of opposites. This symbol can remind us to embrace and accept all parts of ourselves, the light and the shadow, the strengths and the weaknesses. True self-compassion comes from acknowledging and accepting our full selves, not just the parts we like or are proud of.

Unifing Principle

As a unifying principle, the serpent bridges the conscious and unconscious realms of our psyche. This represents our challenge to integrate the known and unknown parts of ourselves, including acknowledging and valuing the role of the shadowy (serpent) realms in our conscious lives. This process, though potentially fearful, can lead to a more holistic and compassionate understanding of ourselves.

Transformation and Rebirth

Serpents are often depicted shedding their old skin, symbolizing the process of renewal and transformation. This can serve as a reminder that personal growth involves shedding old beliefs, habits, or self-perceptions that no longer serve us.

Through trasfomration and rebirth, our lower, primal urges can transmute into higher spiritual energy, leading to profound transformations. This is the healing power of the serpent, demonstrating that our primitive instincts, when acknowledged and integrated, can become powerful drivers of personal and spiritual evolution.

Healing

In Greek mythology, the serpent is associated with Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. It symbolizes our capacity to recover and heal from past wounds, traumas, and disappointments. The serpent reminds us to show ourselves kindness and patience during our healing process. We must give ourselves permission to heal at our own pace, recognizing that healing is not linear and that setbacks are part of the journey.

Wisdom

Serpents are often associated with wisdom and knowledge in various traditions. This connection can encourage us to embrace the wisdom gained from our experiences, including our mistakes and failures. It’s important to remind ourselves that everyone stumbles and falls, and that these experiences are not reflections of our worth, but opportunities for learning and growth.

Notes and Quotes on the Serpents Symbol and Meaning

“The serpent stands for the power that heals as well as corrupts”. (Carl Jung, CW 9.2, para 402)

The serpent is an image of the “instinctive psyche” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 282).

Genesis 3:1 speaks of the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). Nahash means serpent in Hebrew. The term is used to identify the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Nahash may be translated as “blind impulse of urges, such as our instinctual drives.” (Crisp, p. 332)

“Snake-dreams usually occur, therefore, when the conscious mind is deviating from its instinctual basis.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 282)

Jung says that “the serpent is … life.” (Carl Jung, Liber Novus, fn 136)

“The snake depicts the force or energy behind that movement and purposiveness–the force of life which leads us both to growth and death. That energy–like electricity in the house, which can be heat, power, sound and vision–lies behind all our functions.” (Tony Chrisp, p.332)

“The serpent represents magical power, which also appears where animal drives are aroused imperceptibly in us. (Carl Jung, Liber Novus, p. 366)

Shesha remains after the end of the aeon (Kalpa). It is said that, during intervals of creation, Vishnu reclines on Shesha, meditating. At the end of time, Shesha is the destroyer of worlds. He vomits a venomous fire, which destroys all creation. This is the power of life energy to create and destroy worlds.

“the spirit is usually expressed by a serpent” (Carl Jung, ETH, Lecture XIII, Page 111)

The serpent is therefore related to the “spirit of revelation and intuitions.” (Carl Jung, ETH, Alchemy, p. 215)

“The Algonquians practice the yuneha, a snake dance that represented a snake shaped constellation, and they believed that the road to the afterlife was a bridge made from a giant serpent that could be crossed only by the faithful.” (Carl Jung, p.11)

“The snake in alchemy is the “mercurial serpent”, the old Gnostic image for the Nous, the mind, where the spirit was represented as a serpent, as the Agathodaemon (the good daemon), or directly called the serpent of the Nous.” (Carl Jung, ETH, Alchemy, p. 215).

“The lower vertebrates have from earliest times been favorite symbols of the collective psychic substratum, which is localized anatomically in the sub-cortical centers, the cerebellum and the spinal cord. These organs constitute the snake.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 282)

In images of Vishvarupa, the cosmic Vishnu or cosmic Self, the snakes reside in the lower realms. Vishnu’s blue feet are called Pātāla. They form the subterranean realms of the great cosmic Self where the serpent beings (nagas) dwell.

In the Bhagavata Purana, the nether world is divided into seven regions. The lowest region is Nagaloka, the realm if the Nagas. It is ruled by Vasuki. It is said that Shiva wears Vasuki round his neck as an ornament. Shiva is sometimes called Naga Natha.

From a psychological perspective, the serpent is also an image of the unconscious. Carl Jung writes of “the serpent mind, which we can only say is unconscious.” (Carl Jung, ETH, p. 111)

“More especially the threat to one’s inmost self from dragons and serpents points to the danger of the newly acquired consciousness being swallowed up again by the instinctive psyche, the unconscious.” (Carl Jung CW 9.1 para. 282)

References:

  1. A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History By John Dowson
  2. Dream dictionary: a guide to dreams and sleep experiences by Tony Crisp – 1991
  3. Myths and Traditions in India: A Fusion of the Past and by Prabhakar Patil
  4. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)

Comments:

I invite you to share your comments and insights on the path to awakening compassion. Your feedback is valuable and helps me gain a deeper understanding of your perspective. Together, we are embarking on a journey towards compassion. Please keep in mind that although I read and appreciate all comments, I am unable to respond individually. Nevertheless, your input plays a vital role in shaping the conversation and fostering a meaningful dialogue. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Let’s awaken into compassion together!

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