Masonic Articles and Essays
The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry
Bro... Jonathan Dinsmore 1o
Misunderstood by many in humanity's history, the serpent, in truth, represents wisdom, transformation, immortality, and healing. The ouroboros is of particular importance in Freemasonry: a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life.
The serpent is one of mankind’s most significant symbols, showing up prominently our myths, stories, and dreams. There is something about the slithering snake which resonates with an ancient archetypal force of humanity. Furthermore, the snake plays an integral role in the symbology of esoteric philosophy and eastern traditions.The language of symbolism is built on a structural syntax of similarity of forms. Two otherwise disparate things are connected, because they bear some likeness to one another, and through this principle of sympathetic resonance, all things are connected. So, what likeness does the snake owe it's archetypal resonance?
The serpent plays a role of some kind in most mythological systems, and is one of the most common elements to appear in individuals’ dreams. Dreams are still a mystery to science, but those who delve into their analysis can see that they speak a language which stretches beyond our nightly sojourns, into the dream of this waking life, as well. So, the serpent, too, spans the gulf between personal sleep, and waking collective myth.
Perhaps the most famous snake in the Western world was that which tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Whether this Knowledge purveyor was truly a deceptive villain depends on the interpreter of the story, but certainly the mainstream of Christianity sees the it as such, even the devil himself. A Gnostic view, on the other hand, portrays the Edenic serpent as the Luciferian liberator of mankind from Jehova’s captivity.
In other myths and traditions, the serpent is seen as less nefarious, and often as a symbol of wisdom, perhaps because of its apparent stillness, self-control, and single-pointed precision when attacking. It plays the role of guardian of the center of the world in Greek mythology, twin encirclers of the world in Chinese mythology, intermediary to the Gods and bringer of wisdom and culture by the Aztecs, and initiator of manhood by the Australian Aborigines, just to name a few.
Perhaps most significantly to Freemasons, the Egyptians saw the serpent as one of the primary forms of the Sun God Amun-Ra, the divine inseminator of the cosmic egg from which sprung all of Creation. As we’ve all seen, the Pharaohs were also represented with serpents emerging from their forehead, and many have speculated that this relates to the “third eye,” the psychic or spiritual eye which is said to see all.
Last, but not least, the Vedantic teachings of the East also use the serpent as the representation of one of the most important forces in the universe, that coiled-up latent power which dwells in the gut and lower regions of the Human being, known as kundalini. It’s said that as one progresses along the yogic path, this serpentine life-force energy will be roused from its sleep, and climb up through the chakras, to finally arrive at the third eye, and provide complete illumination to the enlightened individual.
Beyond the investigation of the serpent’s mythological roles throughout history, another connection interests me, and that is the serpent’s form as an apt representation of both dimensionality, and the central nervous system. As you may recall, the progression through the dimensions begins with the zero-dimensional point, proceeds to the one-dimensional line, the two-dimensional plane, three-dimensional space, and perhaps beyond into higher dimensions. And this dimensional framework makes up the basic structure or matrix of our reality.
If you consider the head of the snake to be the zero-dimensional point, which leads the motion of the snake creating a one-dimensional line, then this motion slithering in an S-form also reveals the two-dimensional plane; finally, when the king of snakes, the cobra, stands upright and erect, it reveals three-dimensional space. Thus the serpent can be seen to represent the most basic form of any entity existing in the matrix of space-time.
Furthermore, the possibility of higher dimensions implies that our entire 3D physical universe may be a single point, like the original zero, in yet higher dimensions, moving through hyperspace to leave behind a snake-like timeline which makes up the past, a process which repeats to create higher and higher dimensional spaces until, perhaps, the tenth dimension of infinity.
Lastly, you can take everything just said about the serpent and apply it to our own form, that of an upright central nervous system. Have you ever looked at an image of our nervous system removed from the body? We are like serpents who grew limbs, hair, and skin.
The central intelligence of our body/mind is a serpentine brain and spinal cord, with various smaller branches protruding out into the rest of the body. So, perhaps in the end, we are the serpent.
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