Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Serpent Power: The Wisdom of the Earth
The Earth is our Seat of Power
There is one more image of the Feminine Wisdom of the Earth that is important to acknowledge. This is the reality of Feminine Wisdom as Throne. All mother goddesses share this aspect of being the throne, or the seat of power. We see numerous statues of the Mother and Child: Isis and Horus, the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. In Celtic mythology, the Goddess of the Land is the Throne of the King; that is, the king assumed his power by a symbolic marriage to the Land, from which he gets his power to rule. What can we say about this aspect of the mothering power of the Earth, this throne-like quality? What does it mean to be seated in the lap of the Goddess?
The seat of power. What relevance does this image hold for us? I feel that there is both a literal and an imaginative meaning to this symbol. There are literal spots on the Earth where each of us feels most at home. For some of us, it is the mountains; for others, it is the ocean; still others, fields of growing grain. Or perhaps it is forests, rivers, gentle rolling plains, valleys or deserts. These places strike a responsive chord in our hearts. The combination of height, depth, breadth, light and temperature, as well as the peculiar beauty of each landscape, makes us feel something special about the world and ourselves. These places are our power spots, for they refresh and nourish our spirits. They seem to draw out our innermost selves; they make us feel most alive!
The feeling that you get when you are connected with the Earth in this manner can become a seat of power within you. You know the feeling whenever and wherever you encounter it again - in another place where the land is similar, in a dream landscape, or even in a relationship. In recognizing this feeling as an essential part of your being, you can nourish it and be nourished by it. The image and the feeling that you get from the land will lead you deeper into your life. The Native Americans knew this about the land: the land shapes you to itself.
Connected to the symbol of the throne is the Celtic idea of Sovereignty. The King and the people whom he represented gave Sovereignty to the Goddess of the Land. This meant that they gave Her pre-eminence in recognition of Her power and efficacy. This can mean, for us, giving sovereignty to the Earth and Her mysteries; it can mean giving sovereignty to the promptings of the soul, which is the spark of divinity and creativity within each of us; and it can mean giving sovereignty, or authority, to our feminine, imaginal consciousness that forms our primary relationship to the world.
As the story of The Marriage of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell suggests, we have to learn to live with the fact that the Earth as well as women are shape-shifters. Besides taking on animal shapes, Dame Ragnell or Lady Sovereignty could appear to be the ugliest old hag or the most beautiful woman, depending on the question She poses to us. The same goes for the unique individuality of our souls. Our feelings, thoughts and beliefs shift and change because that is their nature – that is the Soul's nature. When our ego consciousness is cut off from our soul, we experience life as the Hag, chaotic and brutal. When we wed our Soul to Spirit, Life does become the 'most beautiful'. We obviously need new strategies for living once we face our unconscious feminine side and listen to its perspective. The question of feminine sovereignty is still being posed to the masculine world. It will never be understood until our collective consciousness embraces the feminine wisdom of the Earth.
The story promises that once we do accept this wisdom and this wedding, we will make joy out of mind. What a wonderful thing to really know that divine Spirit lives within our bodies. What a blessed reality when we experience how Spirit helps our body, mind and spirit develop to their fullest potential. That same Spirit manifests as the natural laws of the Earth. Once we remember that our souls incarnate onto this Earth to evolve through learning the spiritual lessons of the material world, especially about the nature of Love and Union, we will honor the Earth and our bodies as Temples of Spirit. This is the healing of the passion of matter. This is something that Feminine Wisdom can teach us if we give over our ego's standpoint for its larger purpose, which always serves life.
Over the past two thousands year, humanity developed a type of ego consciousness that has given rise to the greatest Light as well as descended into utter Darkness. But in the past few hundred years, that ego consciousness has been split off from the feminine unconscious and therefore from the Self. When people turn to listen to their unique feminine wisdom, and pay attention to their unconscious, working to re-learn its language, we transform and enlarge our consciousness to encompass our loved ones, our community's needs, and the Earth.
We can no longer ignore the fact that the environment is being ravished by our corporate economy to the point of no return. Global warming is a reality. At some point in the future, our fresh water supply will dwindle - the corporate takeover of water supplies is already underway. Americans consistently say that we value the environment and yet many of us are unwilling to take on the inconvenience of changing our lifestyle to stop the waste and destruction it generates. People need stories to help them see why a change of perspective is necessary. We have to search for those new stories for ourselves and our world.
Maybe we need to consider giving women, imaginal feminine consciousness, and the Earth, our Mother, sovereignty once again. It would mean honoring these feminine images and stories. The Earth Mother poses the question, "What is our true nature?" She gives birth to all of us, just as the Self gives birth to us as individuals. If we gave sovereignty to imagination and soul, to Earth as the vessel of transformation, and (dare I say it,) to women, we might find our way to a different vision with which to see the world, and to a new way of integrating the different facets of our lives. If we dare to express our own creativity, that creativity can form new patterns of life. When we turn to the things in life that really matter to us, to the matter - mater/mother - of our lives, we will allow life's imaginal dimensions to enrich the context of our lives in this world; concrete lives made rich and meaningful by this sacred context.
EARTH’S WISDOM: The Serpent of Wisdom
While all animals live in harmony with the Earth and their ecosystem, there is one animal that has represented Earth’s Wisdom since ancient times. The Snake or Serpent is a symbol of the wisdom of the energies of life and death within our bodies. Because the snake sheds its skin, it is a potent symbol of change. Yet, we have come to associate snakes with evil and the Devil in Christianity, and so women’s bodies and sexuality have been vilified by association. It all began in the Garden of Eden.
This one story has been used to subjugate women throughout Western history. The snake tempted Eve, and by her sin, we are all fallen from grace. But what exactly was the temptation? The serpent tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, of good and evil. Now that we know that there were matriarchies before the patriarchy gained power, the knowledge of good and evil already existed. Women had this knowledge. Women have always had this knowledge. It’s bred in our bones. To grow, to change, to evolve, to become a conscious human being, each of us must have this knowledge of good and evil. We have to learn to make choices and exercise our free will. And we do this by listening to our bodies and our feelings and then using our minds to make choices. This ancient knowledge is part of our feminine heritage.
And it is Snake who offers us this wisdom. Ancient priestesses are represented with snakes twinned around their arms, symbolizing their ability to act on their instinctive knowledge. Snakes were found in goddess temples, especially those like Delphi where prophetic insight was sought. All cultures venerated the serpent, and all cultures acknowledge the wisdom, subtly and healing powers of the snake. In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh’s crown was comprised of the uraeus, the cobra which represented divine wisdom and power. And if we look at most world mythologies, there is always a serpent coiled around the Tree of Life.
Serpents symbolize complex energies, both male and female. Serpents represent the transformative energies of death and rebirth, and they shed their skins as examples. They travel underground, and so bring back hidden knowledge. Their coils echo the cycles of manifestation, the ebb and flow of life. The Ouroboros, the serpent which eats its own tail, opens us to possibilities of return and renewal, the infinite powers of creation and destruction. When it coils around the Tree of Life, the serpent brings the dynamism of growth. As a symbol of self-creative manifestation, it is both light and dark, good and evil, healing and poisonous, preserver and destroyer. It is only in the West that the serpent has come to be associated with only the dark aspects of this energy. And so we have heroes fighting the serpent: Zeus and Typhon, Apollo and Python, Osiris and Set, Marduk and Tiamat. These are psychological stories of the hero ego trying to overcome the Unconscious. Our Western religions could never contain the contradiction of opposites – when things are in opposition, they are meant to complement each other, not cut each other off. Because of its inability to unite the opposites, Christianity’s version of the serpent and its wisdom of life is the Devil, the negative, malevolent, destructive, deceitful and cunning adversary of God. The Tempter. But that’s only half the story.
Hermes’ caduceus has two snakes twinning around a central staff. These double serpents represent the opposites which ultimately have to be united – the union of opposites which finds a third, transcendent function that mediates between the two. In medical symbolism, these two snakes represent healing and poison, illness and health – the twin forces of life and death. Earth’s Wisdom is that all these opposites are really united. Like the Kundalini energy in the body, this serpent power is the energy of life. Once the Kundalini rises up the spine through the body and the charkas, it brings us to higher states of consciousness.
The wave-like undulations of snake as it travels echoes the energy and light waves we know of from science. Snake reminds us that all is energy. We can travel to the future on these waves in dreams, or we can raise this energy up our spine for greater awareness. When snake sheds its skin, it reminds us that we live in the midst of constant change, the transmutation of life-death-rebirth. On the physical plane, this energy creates passion, sexuality, desire and vitality. On the emotional plane, it engenders our creativity and dreams. In the mind it creates our personal power and intellect. When this energy reaches into the spiritual planes, it brings us Wisdom, wholeness and a connection with Divinity. Powerful stuff indeed.
Snakes and serpents appear in dreams all the time. When there are many snakes crawling around, like Indiana Jones we get ‘freaked out’ by them. All that energy with no place to go. A woman dreamed that she was holding a party for her family, but there were many snakes in the room, which symbolizes undifferentiated and uncontrolled life-force. She and her family have lots of energy and power, but they don’t use it well. Especially when the family gets together, the energies run wild. They have no container for it, and so it becomes dangerous.
Another woman dreamed of snakes, but these snakes gave her power. She dreamed: My husband and I are headed into a forest sanctuary. I yell at him to watch out, for a golden snake comes down out of a tree, mouth open, fangs out and bites him in the neck. I go to help him and I grab a cake knife. One golden cobra flings itself into the air at me. It is so golden it looks like it’s covered in jewels. This cobra flings itself down to bite me on the head and as I wake up, my arms and legs are energized.
The dream story describes a real shift in energy between this couple. The husband is now working on his feminine energy and the wife has taken back her power and freedom. The husband is listening with respect to her ideas and learning to understand his own feelings and intuitions.
As I mentioned earlier, one of my first dreams in Jungian analysis had to do with the birth of a golden dragon. Symbolically, serpents and dragons are often interchangeable in myths. The dragon, especially in the East, represents the highest spiritual and supernatural powers, as well as wisdom, strength and the cycles and laws of life. In our Western mystery traditions, the dragon lines were energy paths on the earth, paths that could be followed and used for drawing up earth power.
Dragons are the guardians of treasure and secret knowledge. The winged serpent, a combination of bird and serpent, is an attribute of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, the great culture hero of the Aztecs. The golden color of my dream dragon implies that it is a spiritual energy, like the golden auras around the heads of saints. This dream was both a task and a promise to me: my job was to become conscious of the treasures of the Collective Unconscious, the ancient knowledge and wisdom of the Earth.
Earth’s wisdom is available to each and every one of us. We receive this wisdom through our dreams and our instincts, and through visions and feelings that come to us when we go out onto the land. We can communicate with our Mother, the Earth if we want to. We can go to ancient sacred sites and feel the energy lines that flow beneath the earth’s surface. We can go outside our homes and find places of power and energy. We can once again establish a relationship with the Earth if we are willing to listen and learn.
This is the gift that our mother, the Earth, wants us to use. Isn’t it time we did?
Do you have a good relationship with your body? Are your senses fine-tuned? What kind of relationship do you have with our Mother, the Earth? Go out into Nature and speak with some trees, the land, the sky. What is Nature telling you?