Universal Brotherhood – April 1898

THE SERPENT SYMBOL — Sarah F. Gordon

Mystics see in the Serpent the emblem of Cosmic Force, a high spiritual essence whose influence pervades the realm of matter.

The emblem of Eternity is a Serpent with its tail in its mouth: a circle, never beginning, never ending. It also represents the Astral Light or Universal Soul from which all that exists is born by separation or differentiation. Through all space thrill the magnetic and electrical elements of animate Nature, the life-giving and death-giving, for life on one plane is death on another plane. In the Secret Doctrine, it says: — "That 'Mystery of the Serpent' was this: Our Earth, or rather terrestrial life, is often referred to in the Secret Teachings as the great Sea, 'the sea of life' having remained to this day a favorite metaphor. The Siphrah Dtzenioutha speaks of primeval chaos and the evolution of the Universe after a destruction (pralaya), comparing it to an uncoiling serpent: — 'Extending hither and thither, its tail in its mouth, the head twisting on its neck, it is enraged and angry. ... It watches and conceals itself. Every Thousand Days it is manifested'" (Secret Doctrine, II, 504).

In the Kabala, the creative Force makes sketches and spiral lines in the shape of a serpent. It holds its tail in its mouth, the symbol of endless eternity and of cyclic periods.

It is held that the ancients believed more in the spiritual or invisible powers of Nature than the men of the present day. Spirit and Matter were opposite poles of the same essence. The dual is in all, active and passive, male and female. The nearer to the heart of mother Nature man keeps, the more he comprehends spiritual truths. A symbol once adopted is kept by its sacredness, though with varying meanings according to that which is uppermost in the mind of the user. Hence a knowledge of the soul life of races is the only true guide in the explanation of symbols. The symbolic hieroglyphics of the ancients were based upon the occult science of correspondences. They defended symbolic teaching on the ground that the symbol left so much unexplained that thereby the intellect was stimulated and trained to deep thinking. Often, alas, the reverse is seen; the symbol being accepted as the thing itself. Occultism teaches that the possible in thought is possible in action. Religion rests on a mental want, we hope, we fear, because we desire. Both emotions prompt action and, to that extent, are opposed to thought. Religion has been through all the forms of self-love, sex-love, love of country, love of humanity, while in each is the germ of the highest love. Develop very strongly any of these forms of love and it will concentrate whatever religious aspirations a person has. All point to one high form which can become a passion for truth. "By the Divine Power of Love all Nature becomes renewed." This is the secret which underlies all the symbols. "Right thought is the path to Life Everlasting: those who think do not die," is an old philosophical axiom. Goethe said "Confidence and resignation, the sense of subjection to a higher will which rules the course of events but which we do not fully comprehend, are the fundamental principles of every better religion."

The Occultist believes that the spiritual and psychic involution proceed on parallel lines with physical evolution; that the inner senses were innate in the first human races.

The serpent is the symbol of the Adept, of his powers of Divine Knowledge. It is the emblem of wisdom and prudence. Every people revered the symbol. Jesus acknowledged the great wisdom and prudence of the serpent. "Be ye wise as serpents." The serpent also symbolizes the creative power. The creative powers in man are the gift of Divine Wisdom, not the result of sin. The curse was not pronounced for seeking natural union, but for abusing these powers. Thus arose good and evil. This is the real curse alluded to in Genesis.

It is owing to the serpent being oviparous that it becomes a symbol of wisdom and an emblem of the Logoi or the Self-born. The egg was chosen as the universal symbol on account of its form and its inner mystery. Within the closed shell evolved a living creature apparently self-created.

The serpent represents the sensual, magnetic element which fascinates while it causes ruin: the alluring of the spiritual force into the vortex of sentient existence. By the symbol of the serpent the ancients represented fire, light, life, struggle, effort, thought, consciousness, progress, civilization, liberty, independence; at the same time it is the ever revolving circle with its opposite poles, life and death, pleasure and pain, heat and cold, light and darkness, active and passive. With heat comes expansion and consequent disintegration into new forms of life. It is only through sentient manifestation that man can rise to the plane of life immortal. It is in the experience earned through the tortures of mortality that man may evolve a God. No spiritual and psychic evolution is possible on earth for one who is forever passive. That would be failure on this material plane. Man is born, he has to evolve the angel by long and repeated lives on earth. Human passions correspond to the earth, which is the fructifier of the seed or germ sown in its depths. As the Voice of the Silence says: — "Out of the furnace of man's life and its black smoke, winged flames arise, flames purified, that, soaring onward 'neath the Karmic eye, weave in the end the fabric glorified of the three vestures of the Path." "Inaction based on selfish fear can bear but evil fruit . The selfish devotee lives to no purpose. The man who does not go through his appointed work in life has lived in vain."

"Follow the wheel of life, follow the wheel of duty to race and kin, to friend and foe, and close thy mind to pleasures as to pain. Both action and inaction may find room in thee, thy body agitated, thy mind tranquil, thy soul as limpid as a mountain lake."


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