SCALES OF THE FISH
SEAL OF SOLOMON
SERPENT OR SNAKE
The central idea of cosmogonies is that of 'the primordial sacrifice'. Inverting the concept, we can deduce that there is no creation without sacrifice. To sacrifice what is esteemed is to sacrifice oneself, and the spiritual energy thereby acquired is proportional to the importance of what is lost. All forms of suffering can be sacrificial, if fully and wholeheartedly sought and accepted. The physical and negative signs—of mutilation, chastisement, self-abasement and severe penalties or tribulations—are all symbolic of the obverse tendencies in the spiritual order. This is why the majority of legends and folktales, stories of heroes, saints and exceptional men commonly tell not only of suffering but also of strange situations of inferiority such as that so vividly illustrated in the story of Cinderella.
According to Subba Rao, this is a cosmic symbol expressive of the complete man—he who is at once animal, spiritual and worthy of his divine origin. Man thus constitutes a link between heaven and earth, implying a state of tension which finds its symbolic expression in the arc or rainbow. Sagittarius, the Centaur, or the Archer signify this triple nature of the symbol; the horse symbolizes the instinctive organism, the human part denotes the three higher principles embracing the monad as expressed by the arrow. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, Sagittarius is represented by 'scorpion-men' who are 'no more than two-thirds divine' .
In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a determinative sign symbolizing the wind, the creative breath and the spur to action . It corresponds to the Element of air. In some mediaeval emblems it appears as an allegory of the Holy Spirit .
A mythological fire-spirit, a kind of lizard which was supposed to inhabit the Element of fire. In graphic symbolism, and also in alchemy, the salamander signifies fire— which in fact constitutes its general significance.
Winged An attribute of Mercury, and a symbol of 'loftiness' of spirit in Greek mythology, with the same significance as Pegasus. Perseus put on winged sandals in order to slay Medusa the Gorgon .
Symbolic of the feminine principle and, at the same time, of the earth as the beginning and end of material life. Its significance corresponds to that of the receptacle, the amphora and the boat Hence, in alchemy, it is known as the 'philosophical egg' or the vessel of transmutation.
Saturn symbolizes time which, with its ravenous appetite for life, devours all its creations, whether they are beings, things, ideas or sentiments. He is also symbolic of the insufficiency, in the mystic sense, of any order of existence within the plane of the temporal, or the necessity for the 'reign of Cronos' to be succeeded by another cosmic mode of existence in which time has no place.
Time brings restlessness—the sense of duration lasting from the moment of stimulus up to the instant of satisfaction. Hence, Saturn is symbolic of activity, of slow, implacable dynamism, of realization and communication ; and this is why he is said to have 'devoured his children' and why he is related to the Ouroboros or the serpent which bites its own tail. Other attributes of his are the oar standing for navigation and progress in things temporal, the hour-glass and the scythe . In the scythe we can detect a double meaning: first, its function of cutting, parallel to and corroborating the symbolism of devouring; and, secondly, its curved shape, which invariably corresponds to the feminine principle.
This is why the alchemists, masters in the spiritual science of symbolism, named Saturn 'Mercurius senex': given the androgynous character of Mercury, Saturn takes on the same characteristic ambiguity of gender and sex, and is related to the earth, the sarcophagus and putrefaction, as well as to the colour black. Mertens Stienon suggests that Saturn is, in every case, a symbol of the law of limitation which gives shape to life, or the localised expression in time and space of the universal life .
A characteristic of ancient mythology is the idea that each reign must give way to another, even on the plane of the divine; it was an idea which was inextricably bound up with the notion of life as continuity and succession, and of sacrifice as the sole source of re-creation. The successive cosmic reigns of Uranus Saturn and Jupiter provided a model for earthly government, for the 'ritual assassination of the king' at certain astral conjunctions or at the end of certain periods, and later for the displacement of this bloody ceremony by its simulacra.
In Rome, the Saturnalia was the most outstanding example of such sacrifice and simulacra. Frazer notes that it was a general practice in ancient Italy to elect a man to play the part of Saturn and enjoy all the prerogatives of the god for a while before dying either by his own hand or by sacrifice.
The principal figure in the Carnival festival is a burlesque image and a direct successor of the old king of the Saturnalia. The 'King of the Bean', the mediaeval 'Bishop of Fools', the 'Abbot of Unreason' and the 'Lord of Misrule' are all personifications of one and the
same thing and may well stem from a common source. In every case they are symbolic of the ideas of duration and sacrifice, whereby, by means of inversion and transformation, the brevity and intensity of life may be contrasted with its vulgar mediocrity . The Carnival itself is, in its brevity, a symbol of this desire to concentrate into a given period of time all the possibilities of existence, apart from the fact that, in its orgiastic sense, it is an invocation of primordial chaos and a desperate quest for the 'way out of time'.
This instrument, of Chaldaean origin , is the mystic symbol of justice, that is, of the equivalence and equation of guilt and punishment. In emblems, marks and allegories it is often depicted inside a circle crowned by a fleur-de-lis, a star, a cross or a dove . In its most common form, that is, two equal scales balanced symmetrically on either side of a central pivot, it has a secondary meaning—subservient to the above—which is, to a certain extent, similar to other symbolic bilateral images, such as the double-bladed axe, the Tree of Life, trees of the Sephiroth, etc. The deepest significance of the balance derives from the zodiacal archetype of Libra, related to 'immanent justice', or the idea that all guilt automatically unleashes the very forces that bring self-destruction and punishment .
Scales of the Fish
on the one hand, they signify protection and defence. On the other, water and the nether world. And also, by extension, the previous persisting into the subsequent, the inferior into the superior. The story of the Apostles Acts ix, 1 tells how, when Paul was called by the voice of God, there fell from his eyes 'as it had been scales' . The scaly pattern on the lower parts of some beings such as mermaids, mermen and Baphomet of the Knights Templar serves to emphasize their association with levelsymbolism, expressing in visual form the cosmic or moral inferiority of what, from the viewpoint of vertical 'height', appears below.
Related to the magic wand, the club, the thunderbolt and the phallus, as well as to Thor's hammer. The symbolism of all these falls within the general group of signs and emblems of fertility , but it could be linked also to that of the 'world-axis'. In allegories containing the sceptre, the form, colour and material of the object all play their part in enriching the basic symbolism. One of the most common representations of a sceptre terminates in a fleur-de-lis, which is a symbol of light and purification.
Like the cross, a symbol of 'conjunction' ; but it is also an attribute of the mystic spinners who cut the thread of life of mortal Man. It is, then, an ambivalent symbol expressive of both creation and destruction, birth and death.
The eighth sign of the Zodiac. It corresponds to that period of the span of man's life which lies under the threat of death that is, the 'fall'. It is also related with the sexual function . In the Middle Ages the scorpion makes its appearance in Christian art as an emblem of treachery and as a symbol for the Jew . In the symbolism of megaliths it is the antithesis of the bee whose honey succours Man. Finally, its symbolism is equivaleAt to that of the hangman .
An attribute of Saturn and, in general, linked with allegories of death; it is also associated with Attis and the priests of Cybele, in which case the allusion is to self-mutilation . In some images of these deities it is not a large agricultural scythe that is portrayed but a small dagger curved in shape and called harpe. Broadly speaking, all curved weapons are lunar and feminine symbols, whereas straight ones are masculine and solar. Straightness signifies penetration and forcefulness, curves suggest the means to an end and passivity. For this reason, the harpe has been linked with the 'indirect way', that is, with the secret path which leads to the beyond. According to Diel, the scythe is also symbolic of the harvest—of renewed hopes for rebirth. Hence, like Pisces in the Zodiac, the soythe-symbol incorporates the ambiguity of the beginning as the end, and vice versa . Both these senses—of mutilation and of hope—are, despite their contradictory nature, related to the idea of sacrifice inherent in all images of weapons.
The symbolic significance of the sea corresponds to that of the 'Lower Ocean'—the waters in flux, the transitional and mediating agent between the non-formal air and gases and the formal earth and solids and, by analogy, between life and death. The waters of the oceans are thus seen not only as the source of life but also as its goal. 'To return to the sea' is 'to return to the mother', that is, to die.
Like other marks or brands, the seal is a sign of ownership and individuality—of differentiation. And, in the form of a seal of beeswax or sealing-wax, it is symbolic of virginity, of narrowmindedness and of repression.
Seal of Solomon
SEAL OF SOLOMON.
This consists of two triangles superimposed and interlaced so as to form a six-pointed star. Wirth terms it the 'star of the microcosm', or a sign of the spiritual potential of the individual who can endlessly deny himself. In reality it is a symbol of the human soul as a 'conjunction' of consciousness and the unconscious, signified by the intermingling of the triangle denoting fire and the inverted triangle water . Both of these are, according to alchemic theory, subject to the principle of the immaterial, called Azoth by the philosophers, and represented in the Seal of Solomon by a central point which is not actually portrayed but which has to be seen in the imagination alone, as in some of the mandalas of India and Tibet.
They consist of the four 'phases' of the sun's orbit and hence correspond to the phases of the moon as well as to the four stages of a man's life. The Greeks represented the seasons by the figures of four women: Spring was depicted wearing a floral crown and standing beside a shrub in blossom; Summer, with a crown of ears of corn, bearing a sheaf in one hand and a sickle in the other, Autumn carries bunches of grapes and a basket full of fruit; Winter, bare-headed, beside leafless trees. They have also been represented by the figures of animals: Spring as a sheep, Summer as a dragon, Autumn as a hare, Winter as a salamander . The four-part division of the seasons enables them to be related also to the points of the compass and to the tetramorphs.
Called 'serpent's egg' in Celtic tradition, it is one of the symbols for the life-force and the primordial seed.
SECRET OF THE SECRETS, THE.
All secrets symbolize the power of the supernatural, and this explains their disquieting effect upon most human beings. Jung is emphatic about this, pointing out that, for the same reason, it is very helpful for the individual so affected to unburden himself of his secrets . on the other hand, the ability to master this state of tension within oneself confers an awareness of unfailing superiority —a sensation which is common in individuals who live outside the law and in spies and privy counsellors to kings and magnates. This same notion supplies part of the basic attraction of esoteric thought and of all forms of Hermetic science in literature and art.
Symbolic of latent, non-manifest forces, or of the mysterious potentialities the presence of which, sometimes unsuspected, is the justification for hope. These potentialities also symbolize the mystic Centre—the non-apparent point which is the irradiating origin of every branch and shoot of the great Tree of the World .
This is an order composed of seven elements. Ultimately, it is founded upon the seven Directions of Space: two opposite directions for each dimension, plus the centre. This spatial order of six dynamic elements, plus one which is static, is projected into the week as a model of the septenary in the passage of time. Three is, in many cultures, the number pertaining to heaven since it constitutes the vertical order of the three-dimensional spatial cross and four is associated with the earth because of the four directions—comparable with the cardinal points—of the two horizontal dimensions. Hence, seven is the number expressing the sum of heaven and earth as twelve is the expression of their multiplicative possibilities .
In religion, the septenary is expressed or alluded to by means of ternaries such as the three theological virtues plus the quaternary of the cardinal virtues; the septenary of the capital sins , in particular, is seen in traditional symbolist theory as deriving from the influence of—or analogy with—the spiritual principles of the seven planets, or the ancient mythological deities.
In the heavens, seven finds particular expression in the constellation of the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas six of whom are visible and one hidden . Seven, with its characteristic quality of synthesis, is regarded as a symbol of the transformation and integration of all hierarchical orders as a whole ; hence there are seven notes in the diatonic scale, seven colours in the rainbow, and seven planetary spheres together with their seven planets. Sometimes it is taken as being split into—or alternatively as the union of—the numbers two and five (the Sun and Moon; and Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), or three and four the Sun, Moon and Mercury; and Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Seven is represented graphically by the joining of the triangle and the square, the triangle being either superimposed upon or inscribed within the square.
This septenary pattern is often employed in extensive architectural layouts, for it has a quality of the mandala about it, comparable with the notion of 'squaring the circle'.
It would be impossible to name, even in brief or in sum, all the innumerable applications of the septenary, or the ways in which this cosmic 'model' figures in myths, legends, folktales and dreams, or in historical events, works of art, and so on. At times the seven-scheme takes on a complex symbolism—the planetary gods in their evil guise, or the days of the week conceived in terms of spiritual peril in the configuration of the seven-headed dragon; and sometimes it gives expression to the reigning celestial order( as with the sevenbranched candelabra in the Temple of Solomon)
Schneider notes that, in the Scottish sword-dance, St. George conquers the dragon in the company of seven saints (the seven-heads theme inverted in order to ensure victory).
It was from its use as a symbol for the complete musical scale as in Orpheus' lyre that the number seven came to acquire such widespread application: there were seven Hesperides, seven kings who attacked Thebes and seven who defended it, seven sons and seven daughters of Niobe ; and Plato conceived of a celestial siren singing in each of the seven spheres, and these 'seven Sirens of the Spheres' correspond to the seven virgins in Cinderella and the seven fairies of legend and folklore (one each for each Direction of space and time).
For Loeffler, these fairies correspond to the seven Lipiki of Hindu esoteric thought, that is, the spirits relative to each plane of the human consciousness: sensation, emotion, reflective intelligence, intuition, spirituality, will and intimations of the divine . Hence the esoteric conclusion that the human being is composed of seven spheres after the pattern of the heavens.
The Jewish Cabala provides a link between the mythological deities, in so far as they are creative and beneficient, and the seven celestial hierarchies: the Sun—the angel of light— Michael; the Moon—the angel of hope and dreams—Gabriel; Mercury—the civilizing angel—Raphael; Venus—the angel of love —Anael; Mars—the angel of destruction—Samael; Jupiter—the administering angel—Zachariel; Saturn—the angel of solicitude— Oriphiel. Levi has drawn a number of parallels based on the septenary, exactly corresponding to certain elements on all planes of the cosmos. To quote only the emblems which he attributes to particular deities: the Sun—a serpent with a lion's head; the Moon —a globe divided into two half-moons; Mercury—the Hermetic caduceus; Venus—the lingam; Mars—a dragon biting the hilt of a sword; Jupiter—a flaming pentagram in the claws of an eagle; Saturn—an aged man with a scythe . It is not too difficult to grasp the significance of numbers based on the septenary. The vast majority of symbols containing seven elements all over the world originate from the celestial prototype of the seven spheres.
Cola Alberich refers to a number of examples of the number seven appearing as a characteristic feature of tattoos and amulets.
He quotes Hippocrates, for example: 'The number seven, because of its occult virtues, tends to bring all things into being: it is the dispenser of life and the source of all change—for the moon itself changes its phase every seven days. This number influences all sublime beings.' And Cola Alberich comments that 'combs with seven points were magic symbols in Susa; among the Chinese, the "fox with seven tails" is the evil genius; the saints and sages have "seven holes" in their heart; the animal spirits are seven in number; there are seven fairies of seven colours; on the seventh day of the seventh month, great popular festivals were held all over China, and the most favoured of amulets is the lotus with seven leaves.
In Tibet, there are seven emblems of Buddha.... In the sacred pyramids of Mocha, on the Peruvian coast, the guaca Indian tomb of the sun has seven steps. In Islam, the number seven enjoys great popularity: there are seven heavens, seven earths, seven seas; pilgrims walk seven times round the temple of Mecca; there are seven days of ill-omen; man is composed of seven substances; seven is the number of the foods gathered from the fields....'
Serial order derives from the separate existence of a certain number of elements in discontinuity, disclosing minor differences when opposed to or contrasted with other orders or scales. Serial orders are, then, composed of the differentiation of one entity, or the diversification of what is unitary or the unification of what is relatively diverse. Hence we should distinguish in any given series:
a the limits or poles of the series;
b a limited number of elements included in the series by virtue of their ability to fall into place between the two poles;
c an inner graduation which obtains between two or more of these elements. This graduated scale expresses the relationship between the qualitative and the quantitative (that is, the potentiality of either to be transformed into the other) as exemplified by the vibratory phenomena of the notes of the musical scale and the colours of the spectrum. The arrangement of a series in time is equivalent to defining or constituting a process, and this process will be evolutive if it is ascending, and regressive if it is descending or recurring.
Serpent or Snake
If all symbols are really functions and signs of things imbued with energy, then the serpent or snake is, by analogy, symbolic of energy itself—of force pure and simple; hence its ambivalence and multivalencies. Another reason for its great variety of symbolic meaning derives from the consideration that these meanings may relate either to the serpent as a whole or to any of its major characteristics—for example, to its sinuous movements, its common association with the tree and its formal analogy with the roots and branches of the tree, the way it sheds its skin, its threatening tongue, the undulating pattern of its body, its hiss, its resemblance to a ligament, its method of attacking its victims by coiling itself round them, and so on.
Still another explanation lies in its varying habitat: there are snakes which inhabit woods, others which thrive in the desert, aquatic serpents and those that lurk in lakes and ponds, wells and springs. In India, snake cults or cults of the spirit of the snake are connected with the symbolism of the waters of the sea.
Snakes are guardians of the springs of life and of immortality, and also of those superior riches of the spirit that are symbolized by hidden treasure . As regards the West, Bayley has suggested that the snake, since its sinuous shape is similar to that of waves, may be a symbol of the wisdom of the deeps and of the great mysteries.
Yet, in their multiplicity and as creatures of the desert, snakes are forces of destruction, afflicting all those who have succeeded in crossing the Red Sea and leaving Egypt ; in this sense, they are connected with the 'temptations' facing those who have overcome the limitations of matter and have entered into the realm of the 'dryness' of the spirit.
This explains why Blavatsky can say that, physically, the snake symbolizes the seduction of strength by matter as Jason by Medea, Hercules by Omphale, Adam by Eve, thereby providing us with a palpable illustration of the workings of the process of involution; and of how the inferior can lurk within the superior, or the previous within the subsequent . This is borne out by Diel, for whom the snake is symbolic not of personal sin but of the principle of evil inherent in all worldly things. The same idea is incorporated into the Nordic myth about the serpent of Midgard . There is a clear connexion between the snake and the feminine principle.
Eliade observes that Gresmann (Mytische Reste in der Paradieserzahlung, in Archiv f. Rel. X, 345) regarded Eve as an archaic Phoenician goddess of the underworld who is personified in the serpent although a better interpretation would be to identify it with the allegorical figure of Lilith, the enemy and temptress of Eve.
In support of this, Eliade points to the numerous Mediterranean deities who are represented carrying a snake in one or both of their hands for example, the Greek Artemis, Hecate, Persephone, and he relates these to the finely sculpted Cretan priestesses in gold or ivory, and to mythic figures with snakes for hair Medusa the Gorgon, or the Erinyes. He goes on to mention that in Central Europe there is a belief that hairs pulled out from the head of a woman under the influence of the moon will be turned into snakes .
The serpent or snake was very common in Egypt; the hieroglyph which corresponds phonetically to the letter Z is a representation of the movement of the snake. Like the sign of the slug, or horned snake phonetically equivalent to F, this hieroglyph refers to primigenial and cosmic forces. Generally speaking, the names of the goddesses are determined by signs representing the snake—which is tantamount to saying that it is because of Woman that the spirit has fallen into matter and evil.
The snake is also used, as are other reptiles, to refer to the primordial—the most primitive strata of life.
In the Book of the Dead XVII, the reptiles are the first to acclaim Ra when he appears above the surface of the waters of Nou or Nu or Nun. The demonic implications of the serpent are exemplified in Tuat, whose evil spirits are portrayed as snakes; however, these— like the vanquished dragon—may also take on a beneficent form as forces which have been mastered, controlled, sublimated and utilized for the superior purposes of the psyche and the development of mankind, and in this sense they correspond to the goddesses Nekhebit and Uadjit or Buto. They also become an Uraeus—the same thing happens in the symbolism of the Kundalini—constituting the most precious ornament of the royal diadem .
As we have said, it is the basic characteristics of the snake which have determined its symbolic significance. To quote Teillard's definition of the snake, it is: 'An animal endowed with magnetic force. Because it sheds its skin, it symbolizes resurrection. Because of its sinuous movement' and also because its coils are capable of strangling 'it signifies strength. Because of its viciousness, it represents the evil side of nature' .
Its ability to shed its skin greatly impressed ancient writers: Philo of Alexandria believed that when the snake shakes off its skin it likewise shakes off its old age, that it can both kill and cure and that it is therefore the symbol and attribute of the aggressive powers, positive and negative, which rule the world. This is a Gnostic and Manichean idea of Persian provenance. He decided finally that it is the 'most spiritual of animals'. Jung has pointed out that the Gnostics related it to the spinal cord and the spinal marrow, an excellent image of the way the unconscious expresses itself suddenly and unexpectedly with its peremptory and terrible incursions .
He adds that, psychologically, the snake is a symptom of anguish expressive of abnormal stirrings in the unconscious, that is, of a reactivation of its destructive potentiality.
This is directly comparable to the significance of the serpent of Midgard in Norse mythology. In the Voluspa it is proclaimed that the deluge will commence when the serpent awakens to destroy the universe . For Zimmer, the serpent is the lifeforce which determines birth and rebirth and hence it is connected with the Wheel of Life. The legend of Buddha tells how the serpent wound itself round his body seven times as in the effigies of the Mithraic Cronos, but, since it could not crush him, it turned into a youth bowing low before Gautama .
The connexion of the snake with the wheel is expressed in graphic form in the Gnostic symbol of the Ouroboros, or serpent biting its own tail; half of this mythic being is dark and the other half light as in the Chinese Yang-Yin symbol, which clearly illustrates the essential ambivalence of the snake in that it pertains to both aspects of the cycle the active and the passive, the affirmative and the negative, the constructive and the destructive. Wirth comments that the 'ancient serpent is the prop of the world, providing it with both materials and energy, unfolding as reason and imagination, and also as a force of the darkness' . The snake was an important symbol for the Gnostics, and especially for the so-called Naassene sect from naas—snake. Hippolytus, criticizing this doctrine, asserted that the snake was said to live in all objects and in all beings. This brings us to the Yoga concept of the Kundalini or the snake as an image of inner strength.
Kundalini is represented symbolically as a snake coiled up upon itself in the form of a ring kundala , in that subtle part of the organism corresponding to the lower extremity of the spinal column; this, at any rate, is the case with the ordinary man.
But, as a result of exercises directed towards his spiritualization—Hatha Yoga, for instance—the snake uncoils and stretches up through wheels chakras corresponding to the various plexuses of the body until it reaches the area of the forehead corresponding to the third eye of Shiva.
It is then, according to Hindu belief, that man recovers his sense of the eternal . The symbolism here probably relates to an ascending force, rising up, that is, from the area governed by the sexual organ up to the realm of thought—an interpretation which it is also possible to justify by simple reference to the symbolism of level, taking the heart as central.
In other words, the symbol denotes 'sublimation of the personality' Avalon, The Serpent Power. Jung has noted that the custom of representing transformation and renovation of figures of snakes constitutes a well-documented archetype; and he suggests that the Egyptian Uraeus is the visible expression of the Kundalini on a higher plane . There are also various rites which accord with this concept of progressive elevation.
The progress through the six chakras—there is in fact a seventh, but it is unnamed and like the central point of certain mandala-like patterns is not represented visually—may be regarded as analogous to climbing up the terraces of the ziggurat or mounting the steps pertaining to the seven metals in the Mithraic ritual . Apart from the circular and cosmic position it tends to take up, and the quality of completeness which this implies, the snake is frequently related to other symbols.
The most common of these is the tree, which, being unitary, may be said to correspond to the masculine principle, in which case the ophidian would represent the feminine.
The tree and the serpent are, in mythology, prefiguration of Adam and Eve. Furthermore, by analogy, we also have here a situation of symbolic Entanglement— the snake curled round the tree or round the staff of AesculapiusW and a symbolic image of moral dualism. Diet, who tends to favour this kind of interpretation, suggests that the snake coiled round the staff or club of the god of medicine recalls the basic, Biblical symbol of the Tree of Life encircled by the snake and signifying the principle of evil; the pattern here points to the close relationship between life and corruption as the source of all evil. Diel goes on to suggest that it is this subversion of the spirit that brings about the death of the soul, and that this is what medicine must, in the first place, set out to combat .
Now, the opposite to the encircling or triumphant snake is the crucified snake, as it is to be found among the figures included in Abraham le. Jeuf (Paris, Bibl. Nat. Ms. Fr. 14765, of the 16th century )
This figure of the reptile nailed to a cross—or the chthonian and feminine principle vanquished by the spirit—is also represented mythically by the victory of eagle over serpent. Heinrich Zimmer recalls that, in the Cads an eagle appears to the Greeks, carrying a wounded snake in its claws.
The seer Calchas saw this as an omen portending the triumph of the Greeks the masculine and patriarchal order of the Aryans subduing the predominantly feminine and matriarchal principle of Asia . Since all struggle is a form of 'conjunction' and therefore of love, it is hardly surprising that man should have created a synthesis of opposing powers—heaven and earth—in the image of the 'plumed serpent', the most notable symbol of pre-Columbian America.
This serpent has feathers on its head, in its tail and sometimes on its body. Quetzalcoatl is another androgynous symbol of this kind . The symmetrical placing of two serpents, as in the caduceus of Mercury, is indicative of an equilibrium of forces, of the counterbalancing of the cowed serpent or sublimated power by the untamed serpent, so representing good balanced by evil, health by sickness. As Jung has shrewdly observed, this much-used image is an adumbration of homoeopathy—a cure effected by what caused the ailment. The serpent therefore becomes the source of the healing of the wound caused by the serpent. This is why it could serve as a symbol of St. John the Evangelist and appear in association with a chalice.
The different forms which the serpent may take are not numerous The sea-serpent seems simply to emphasize the integration of the symbolism of the unconscious with that of the abyss . If it has more than one head, this merely serves to add to the basic symbolism, the extra significance corresponding to the particular number of heads it is given.
The dragon or the serpent with seven heads occurs often in legends, myths and folktales simply because seven represents multiplication of unity and locates the reptile among the essential orders of the cosmos.
The seven-headed serpent partakes of the symbolism of the seven Directions of Space, the seven days of the week, and the seven planetary gods, and has a bearing upon the seven sins . The three-headed serpent refers to the three principles of the active, the passive and the neutral. In alchemy, the winged serpent represents the volatile principle, and the wingless the fixed principle.
The crucified serpent denotes the fixation of the volatile and also sublimation as in the Prometheus myth. Alchemists also saw in the serpent an illustration of 'the feminine in Man' or his 'humid essence', relating the reptile to Mercury as the androgynous god who—like Shiva—was doubtless endowed with a tendency towards both good and evil an aspect also portrayed by the Gnostics in their twin serpents called Agathodaemon and Kakodaemon .
There are also serpents of unusual aspect—the snake with a sheep's head, for instance, in reliefs on certain Gallo-Roman sepulchres.
In view of the favourable symbolic sense of the sheep connected with Aries, spring, initiation and fire, this adaptation implies a degree of spiritualization . Finally, according to Schneider, the sacrificed serpent is the symbolic equivalent of the swan's neck and of the swan itself and it is by the swan that the hero is wafted heavenwards, plucking away upon his harp .
That is to say, the sacrifice of the serpent as a life-force makes it possible to accept death gratefully like the swan and to soar up to higher regions. Father Heras has suggested that the snake is symbolic of fertility and destruction and that it is in this sense that it appears on the menhir of Kernuz Finistere. It appears in opposition to the arrow in the effigy of the horned god of Cerdena with another head on top alluding to the symbolism of the Gemini.
Plato, in Timaeus, speaks of the sexes as 'living', as if in some way they were independent of the beings to which they pertain. This is visually symbolized by the ventral faces given to some of the fabulous mediaeval figures, as well as by the paws added to the heads of the gryces, deriving from ancient Carthaginian and Gnostic images.
Now, orthodox Freudians have reduced the great majority of objects, depending upon whether their predominant characteristic is that of the container or the contained, to either feminine or masculine sexual implications; but there is nothing new in this, for implicit in the ancient Chinese Yang-Yin symbol is the notion of a classification whereby all things fall within a system which locates the genders at opposite poles, corresponding to the duality of the sexes.
We must not overlook that the sexes may symbolize spiritual principles; consciousness and the unconscious, heaven and earth, fire and water. The sexual conjunctio is the most graphic and impressive of all images expressive of the idea of union, and hence alchemists used it to represent initiatory truths which transcend the laws of biology, as Jung has demonstrated, particularly in Psychology of the Transference.