Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Blissful Serpent

I've been trying to write a blog about this photo for a few days. It's taken from one of the portals at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It depicts the serpent tempting Adam and Eve to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden. When I discovered this image, it was love at first sight. I was astonished by the figure's sensual joy. This wasn't the sleazy lounge lizard usually described in the story of the fall. Instead, it presented a whole different story. Rather than posting a long-winded analysis, I'll just introduce her to you and let you have a dialogue. I'm very interested in hearing what you see.


  1. I am rushing to pick up my daughter but I wanted to say that I see "unity" and "love" and "bliss" and I know from other studies that the serpent is a universal symbol for knowledge and wisdom. The snake perhaps triggers fears of our darker side, the shadow self? Something we must embrace inorder to embody our wholeness?

  2. the bliss of kundalini .. and trust the chritianists to turn that into something evil ...

    this whole western separate from creation ridiculousness has to end ...

  3. I've had a minor obsession with the Garden Myth my whole life. I love re-writings of it, like Ursula K. LeGuin's short story She Unnames Them, and Philip Pullman's epic His Dark Materials Trilogy. I've re-read the text itself many times in the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Hebrew, and struggled with a dictionary to read it in Hebrew myself.

    I cannot get past one detail that almost nobody mentions: That the God character is the only one in the narrative who tells a lie.

  4. Jo, that's a central question, the God character promoting deception. That deception in story terms is the inciting incident, the action that shatters the balanced lives of the characters and their world. The desires and actions taken to regain that balance drive the unfolding of the story. This reflects our human story, our drive to regain primordial unity.

    Back to the deception. To me the serpent represents the movement of primal oneness becoming conscious of its own existence. Silence stirs and becomes aware of itself. Oneness appears as twoness, perceiver and perceived. The deception is that oneness is spilt, that unity is the duality of good and evil, light and dark, etc. When we live this duality while forgetting the oneness behind them we are driven from the garden and live in exile.

    The implications of this are obviously far reaching and too long to go into here. Interested in your thoughts.

  5. Anthony, we’re in very close agreement. In Gnostic Christianity, the Creator-God is named Ialdabaoth (often spelled Ialdaboath), and he is the son of Sophia/Wisdom. He is not the Ultimate/Omni-God as he subsequently named himself in more orthodox traditions, but he’s “merely” the Creator. Like many creative types, his Ego got out of control and yes, instead of seeing himself, his Muses, and his creation as One, he sought to lord it over the latter, keeping them in the dark for the short-term gratification of having worshippers. The Serpent, as you point out, is primal consciousness becoming aware of itself, and so Eve bit the fruit.

    For me, the tragedy in the Genesis narrative happens when the God-character confronts Eve and Adam, and instead of standing up to him and saying, “We ate it and we didn’t die! You misled us!” they were contrite. They blamed each other and the Serpent. It’s as if they wanted to be punished. It’s as if they, at their level of consciousness, needed a boss. I would posit that this is where adherents of hierarchical, organized religions are now. They aren’t ready for Oneness because it implies too much responsibility, so they would rather worship an all-powerful God who’s in control. But as more of us attest to having eaten and not died, or to having peeked behind the curtain, or seen the naked emperor, the more we accomplish the work of Balancing. Making this leap necessarily requires facing the specter of a wrathful God, or the fear of Nothingness, or Death, or Exile; but the reward is a paradise of our own making, in which we are the creators. Hopefully we don’t repeat Ialdabaoth’s error.

    Good stuff! Thank you for opening this conversation.