Through a Jungian Lens

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A Snake in the Garden

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This is a Bull Snake that I found wandering through a campground following my final experiences as an educational administrator.  This isn’t a poisonous snake, but is dangerous to Rattle Snakes who are also found in the region.  The public camping on one side of the lake is Rattle Snake free.  The active presence of th Bull Snake keeps it that way.  However, on the southern side of the lake, Rattle Snakes are found with some effort.   My grandchildren get excited when they get to see one of these snakes relatively up close and personal.  And, of course, I get to take photos of the snake and them.

Responses to the presence of a snake is mixed, but in the Christian world, it is decidedly more negative than positive.  The association of the snake in the Garden of Eden and the loss of Paradise, is tied with the presence of evil, with another face of Satan.  In that garden, the snake points the way to consciousness, to knowledge.  Coming from the underworld, the world of the unconscious, the snake dares us to break the prohibitions that would keep us unconscious.  I think of how this is somewhat akin to the shadow sneaking out of hiding and daring us to break some of the barriers we have built around ourselves so well that we have begun to suffocate.  We get so caught up in living the myths we create for ourselves in the outer world of appearances, that we abandon the soul and the depths of who we are.

The snake is old and primitive and instinctual.  Yet for all of this, it is also a symbol of transformative power.  The snake sheds its skin and re-emerges fuller, longer, thicker ready to penetrate the earth, to plumb the depths of the underworld and again return to the outer world to again go through the work of growth and change.  This is what happens to each of us as we attempt to deal with the personal shadow and gain more consciousness as we search for meaning, as we try to answer the burning question, “Who am I?”

For me, as a man, it is interesting that defining “self” seems to be often caught up in relationships, especially the relationship to the feminine.  The pull to going within the feminine until the sense of self seems to fully disappear into a state of unconscious bliss, only to re-emerge into the light of consciousness feeling just a bit more complete. Self is not isolated and alone, it is connected through threads and threads of relationship in the outer world, as well as threads of relationship to the under world.

“It is not easy for modern man to grasp the significance of the symbols that come down to us from the past or that appear in our dreams.  Nor is it easy to see how the ancient conflict between symbols of containment and liberation relates to our  own predicament.” (Jung, Man and His Symbols, p. 156)

The serpent is a masculine symbol, the object which unites both logos and eros, that allows the masculine to become one with the feminine thus allowing the holy marriage between consciousness and the unconscious

“Hermes is Trickster in a different role as a messenger, a god of the crossroads, and finally the leader of souls to and from the underworld.  His phallus therefore penetrtes from the known into the unknown world, seeking a spiritual message of deliverance and healing.” (Jung, Man and His Symbols, p. 155)


4 Responses

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  1. I recall in Gnostic christianity it is the snake who implores for wisdom. Snakes have a long time history of connection to the divine.


    May 10, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    • You are right, Urspo. That is a difficult viewpoint for many to accept.

      Robert G. Longpré

      May 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

  2. Snakes are generally quite uncommon in the UK; that is to say, they are locally common, so you might see them a great deal in one area and never in another. Adders, the only venomous snake in the UK, is apparently quite common along the dunes near where I walk.
    I used to see grasssnakes a lot when we lived in rural Norfolk, and in a curious synchronicity, this was when I was undergoing a profound process of waking up to unconscious forces. Since we left 7 years ago, I haven’t seen a single live snake at all. I haven’t been sinking back into an unconscious state; I think the symbol served its use at the time.
    I dream of spiders a lot and see them in the hypnogogic and -pompic states. Neither creature has ever inspired much fear or loathing in me…


    May 11, 2010 at 3:00 am

    • I am not often worried about snakes. But that said, I do give them respect.

      Robert G. Longpré

      May 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

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