In the last post, The Ninth Nakshstra: Ashlesha, I briefly touched on Ashlesha’s symbol, the snake, so I thought this would be a great time to go into the snake symbolism some more. The snake has many dualistic qualities. Across cultures they have been the symbols of healing and death, good and evil, and wisdom and cunning. Snakes can be patient and protective or brash and elusive. Whichever way they lean, they are always very aware and intelligent.
Snakes represent both masculine and feminine energy, and thus are considered to symbolize both the sun and fire, and the moon and water. As a masculine symbol it is assertive, phallic, and authoritative. As a feminine symbol it is psychic, creative/cyclical, and emotional. When two snakes intertwine it symbolizes the two primal forces, the divine masculine and the divine feminine, coming together. Within us the Ida (feminine) and Pingala (masculine) Nadis or channels intertwine around the chakras, through the middle of which runs the Sushumna Nadi, where Kundalini, the “serpent” or spiritual energy, rises.
This integration of opposites is also seen in the shape of the double helix of DNA and in the caduceus, the symbol for the god Mercury/Hermes. As mentioned in the last post, Mercury is a neutral planet in astrology, both/neither benefic and/nor malefic. He is dualistic much like the attributes of the snake. Mercury was also a messenger, who assisted the communication between man and the earthly realm, and the gods and the spirit realm. Because of this he is also a guide for the dead, leading souls from this physical world into the immortal world, just as snakes are thought to exist within and between realms. Among Shamanic traditions, the snake forms the cord that allows the shamans to travel the spirit realms. Snakes, who regularly shed their skin, are symbols of rejuvenation, transformation, death, birth, rebirth, and the shadow realms.
Though the caduceus of Hermes is often used as a medical symbol, it is really the rod of Asclepius, the god of healing and the medicinal arts, with its single serpent wrapped around it, that is a symbol for medicine. Though the venom of a snake bite can be deadly, it is that same venom that can be used as healing medicine. In Vedic myth snakes are also associated with both life and death: the gods had placed the demon-snake Vasuki in charge of churning the milky ocean, within which the gods had hidden both the nectar of immortality and poisons. Of course, the both wise and cunning Vasuki decided to taste the immortal nectar only to be caught and then decapitated by the gods. However, since he had tasted the immortal nectar, Amrita, his head and body live on as the “shadow planets” Rahu and Ketu, respectively.
The snake as a symbol of immortality is also shown in the Ouroboros, a serpent (or sometimes dragon) that eats its own tail. The Ouroboros appears in Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Celtic, Norse, Mayan (thank you Sublime Sol for the reminder!), and Middle Age European art. In ancient Norse Mythology, the sea serpent Jörmungandr grew so large that he surrounded the earth and held his tail in his mouth. It is he who holds the earth together, and thus he is called the World Serpent. The Ouroboros symbolizes the continuous cycle of life, immortality, the totality of existence, and the wholeness (or oneness) of All.
Much great info here. I had never thought of the metaphorical connection between snake poison and medicine. Ironic that the medical powers have usurped the ancient caduceus as their symbol, when it belongs to traditional healers.
As long as they uphold their oath to Asclepius (and Hygeia…)! 🙂
I misstated! The caduceus belongs to all healers, not only traditional healers. It is, however, one of those that the FDA monitors. (I’ve been exploring this lately because of the herbal formula that cured my serious illness.)
Yay! for the herbal cure! 🙂
It’s amazing because Ouroboros also appears in Mayan mythology as well.
Thank you!!! I knew I was missing someone with that list. I will add it in and credit you. 🙂
Reading your post has given me a whole new perspective on snakes. Now I can appreciate them both for their symbolic significance as well as one of God’s creatures.
Awesome! 🙂 Thank you!
It’s fascinating Julianne our inbuilt fears of snakes…even city people who have never seen one and are never likely fear this animal because of the mythology surrounding it..and these same people oddly do not ‘believe’ usually in any other mythology..we of course have deadly snakes here and even though if I see one my insides do a turn and my fears kick in I have taken pictures of them as they indeed beautiful creatures..my fear is more for my pets…I have nothing to fear as I am not food or foe…and yes the very venom that kills can cure..great post on the connections with healing . Hugs Bev xx
Thanks Bev! The fear of snakes definitely seems to be something primal, in our animal instinct, but I also think it’s spiritually primal in that the snake, with its dual masc. and fem. essences would urge someone to give up their separate (masc or fem) ego, and that to most is the most frightening thing in the world! 🙂
I agree…letting go is one of our human challemges all through life and greatest fear 🙂
I found this through the Cosmic Carousel. Are you aware of this project? I am considering joining.
No, what is it?…update…found the blog. What’s the project? You found my post through them?
When i commented on your blog, I thought of you and wondered if you knew the project. I found it through the blog The Cosmic Carousel. The project is to post about Mental Health and advocate against stigma for 2014.
Ooh! Yes, I know of the Blog for Mental Health. I was actually part of it about a year ago when I briefly had other blogs exploring the mental illnesses of my mother and sister. They no longer exist and were mostly platforms for me to figure out how to structure my books. This blog doesn’t fit the requirements. Yes, some journal posts do, but since I don’t know how those will morph, I can’t say I will be blogging about mental health.
somehow psychically I most have known that you were involved 🙂
I am going to see if my blog qualifies.
you did a great job typing all the elements together. I also like the symmetry with the DNA, medical symbol,etc
Thanks Linda! The snake kept growing as I started to write about it! 😛 🙂
that can happen 🙂