The Goddess and The Serpent
By Devi Bhakta
We've been talking about Nageshwari, or Manasa, the "Snake Goddess," and so I thought I would write a little something about the powerful lessons that
devotees of the Goddess can find in Her serpent aspects. |
The snake, or serpent, is an image that has been inseparable from the Goddess from the earliest prehistoric art onward to the most sophisticated Hindu philosophical musings on the Goddess as Kundalini, or the Serpent Power. Nageshwari is a more primal Hindu vision of the Goddess -- but she too falls into the same ancient association.
"The serpent first appears in the Neolithic era as a serpent Mother Goddess [in a terracotta
statuette from Sesklo, Thessaly, c. 5000 BCE], and is also drawn coiling around the womb and the phallus as the principle of
regeneration. In the Sumerian cities of Ur and Uruk, in the lowest level of excavation, were found two very old images of the Mother Goddess and Her child, both having the heads of snakes. As the
male aspect of the Goddess was [historically] differentiated [into an independent male divinity], the serpent became the fertilizing
phallus, image of the son who was Her son and consort, born from Her, married with Her and dying back into Her for rebirth in an
unending cycle." ("The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image," Baring and Cashford.)
|CONFUSED SYMBOLISM |
By contrast, the Hindu image of Nageshwari, the Serpent Goddess is free of these negative associations. As noted in Nora's introduction on the Group's homepage, She is an almost wholly beneficent deity. And doesn't it just "feel" right that She should be? For probably 10,000 years of human history, the serpent was not a negative symbol; the Old Testament -- in its zeal to wipe out the ancient Goddess cults of Canaan -- essentially flipped the symbolism on its head. Ancient images were given new interpretations -- but humankind's genetic memory (Jung's "Collective Unconscious") is strong: Intellectual redefinitions of a symbol as old as humanity cannot that easily change our instinctive reactions.
As Joseph Campbell observed:
"There is ... an ambivalence inherent in many of the basic symbols of the Bible that no amount of rhetorical stress on the patriarchal interpretation can suppress. They address a pictorial message to the heart that exactly reverses the verbal message addressed to the brain -- and this nervous discord inhabits both Christianity and Islam as well as Judaism, since they too share the legacy of the Old Testament."
Why did this happen? Simple: In the Bible, the "story of Eve is in part the story of the displacing of the Mother Goddess by the Father God," Baring and Cashford write.
"Demythologizing a Goddess is a subtle process whereby the [holiness] that once belonged to Her is withdrawn and clothes another figure, in this case Yahweh [the 'jealous od' of the Old Testament]. Insofar as She was formerly also Creation or Nature Herself, the demythologizing process extends to the whole of nature, which becomes, like Her, fallen and cursed." The Goddess becomes woman, woman becomes cursed, and woman and all of nature are given to man to possess and rule over. Lovely, eh?
Of course, such an interpretation is a trap for the overly literal and concrete mind, and much less beautiful and inspiring than a true interpretation in keeping with the ancient symbolism. From this wider viewpoint, the tale of Genesis becomes a fine parable describing the first great cultural shift of humanity -- from its hunter/gatherer origins into the first permanent agricultural civilizations. That is, the birth of human consciousness -- the moment when the human intellect created the duality, which enables civilizations to develop and grow -- but which cut us off from Nature and the Unity of the Cosmos. The role of Shaktism, of Hinduism -- of virtually any mystical religious practice on Earth -- is to reclaim that Unity; that Yoga.
In his book, "You Shall Be as Gods," Erich Fromm writes: "Adam and Eve, at the beginning of their evolution, are bound to blood and soil; they are still 'blind.' But 'their eyes are opened' after they acquire the knowledge of good and evil. With this knowledge, the original harmony with nature is broken. Man begins the process of individuation and cuts his ties with nature. In fact, he and nature become enemies, not to be reconciled until man has become fully human. With this first step of severing the ties between man and nature, history -- and alienation -- begins. … This is not the story of the 'fall' of man, but of his awakening -- and thus, of the beginning of his rise."
Sadhana is the practice by which we regain this lost Unit, by which we become "fully human." And Shakti Sadhana -- the mystical religious practice that places the Goddess at its center -- is an especially powerful route by which to achieve that goal. That is why, in Shakti Sadhana, we say that it is not necessary -- or advisable -- to deny or reject the world in the course of one's spiritual strivings. Whereas non-mystical forms of Christianity and Islam tend to offer the Paradise of Unity with the Divine only after death of the body, Hinduism teaches that you can have it here and now, because the body is a manifestation of the Divine, if only we can manage to draw back the veil. And for that matter, Jesus -- himself a great Yogi, when taken at his word rather than the later dogma that grew up around him -- taught the same thing, in words that any Shakta would readily endorse: "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21.)
SHAKTISM AND OTHER RELIGIONS
In response to
the above, one member wrote: William wrote: "I see this [in the symbolism of Genesis and Revelation]: ... It is not "the world" that is
destroyed, but the Christian world. ...These are symbols for the spiritual renaissance occurring now! ***