Archive for Venom

Symbols, Part 8: Serpents

Posted in All, Health, Humor, Psychology, Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2010 by marushiadark

“If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” ~ Ross Perot.

That sentiment may be practical advice, but it serves to illustrate how serpents get a pretty bad rep, both in ancient and modern society.

A number of stories depict snakes as villainous, conniving, and evil.  Medusa and Grendel’s Mother are classic examples.  Indiana Jones can face down Nazis Occultists but is afraid of snakes.  Interpretations of passages from Genesis and Revelation equated the serpent with Satan.  We refer to liars as “snakes” and to fake remedies as “snake oil.”  And a cursory glance on Google will reveal a number of quotes about snakes (like the one above) in which the general advice is to kill them right away.

It would seem that most people throughout the ages don’t like snakes, nor do they take the time to educate themselves about snakes.

There is practical reason to be cautious of snakes, since a number of species are, in fact, poisonous.  But by and large, they are not something to fear.  Most of the top ten deadliest snakes are located in Australia, and then others such as the boa constrictor or the anaconda do not appear commonly in most people’s lives.  Snakes, like most animals, operate based on survival instinct.  They eat when they are hungry and attack when they feel threatened.  If you leave them be, even the deadly ones, you’ve nothing to worry about.  Snakes are deserving of our adoration and respect, like every other creature.

“I’m fascinated by the concept of snake-handling.  When you read about the Pentecostal snake-handlers, what strikes you most is their commitment.” ~ Lucinda Williams

The Pentecostal tradition of snake-handling comes from an interpretation of the ending of Mark 16.  The idea of snake-handling, in a Christian perspective, is most likely because of the association of snakes with Satan, and that to wield power over snakes is to overcome the power of the devil.

An interesting idea, except that it is believed by a number of scholars that the end of Mark 16 is, in fact, a later addition to the Gospel to make it more like The Gospel of Luke.

Still, the Pentecostals are not the first group to practice snake-handling.  Many people keep snakes as pets and we are all familiar with the late Steve Irwin and his famous handling of snakes and other deadly creatures.  Such traditions of snake handling go back many thousands of years, in fact.

“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die.’ ” ~ Genesis 3:4

Genesis 3:1 is the first appearance of the serpent in the Bible.  Here, it is depicted as “more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”  The word “cunning,” typically has a derogatory connotation associated with deceit.  However, it can also mean clever, skillful, sharp, or shrewd.  So the serpent was the most intelligent creature God had made up until that point.  Depending on which interpretation you choose to follow, this may or may not include man and angels.  Lucifer was allegedly the most intelligent being in existence next to God, but he was not a “beast of the field.”  Man also was not a “beast of the field,” but the serpent may have been smarter than man, since it convinced Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.

Either way, the serpent is very intelligent, but is it malicious?  Some people blame the serpent for costing us paradise.  Certainly the God of the Old Testament does, since he punishes the serpent by removing its limbs and making it subservient to man.

Others see the serpent as a savior, bestowing on mankind the gifts of knowledge and reason.  If anything, the Tree of Knowledge helped to enable our free will by making us more aware of our reality.  And although Adam and Eve did ultimately get cast out of Eden, it could be said that the serpent never really lied.  God said Adam and Eve would surely die if they ate the fruit.  But the fruit isn’t what killed them, and God still had a chance to change his mind if he wanted to.  So one could say it was God’s decision to cut them off from the Tree of Life that ultimately killed them.

Some people believe that the human race is either descended from, or is the creation of, serpent-like alien beings, equated with the Annunaki of Mesopotamian mythology.  Many of the Biblical stories derive from earlier Sumerian and Babylonian myths, of which the Annunaki are a part.  Certainly the “sons of god” from Genesis and the numerous references to “we” and “us” suggests a pantheon of beings, not just one alone, and the behavior of God in the Old Testament suggests he came to earth quite frequently.  Either way, if there is any truth to the serpent alien story, are they benevolent or malevolent?  Who’s to say?

In Jewish mythology, Lilith – the first wife of Adam – was created at the same time as Adam.  She is often depicted carrying a serpent or sometimes equated with the serpent of Genesis.  Lilith is viewed as different things by different people.

The two most prevalent interpretations are that she is either a woman who got a bad deal for being the first feminist, or a demonic seductress.  Quite an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Lilith also appears in Babylonian mythology and is often equated with the owl, another creature related to wisdom.  The owl can see in the dark, meaning it has secret knowledge of things that the sun does not reveal.  The owl is also a nocturnal predator.  So again, are we to trust the creature or not?

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.”  ~ Matthew 10:16-17.

Martin Luther King was a minister before he became a civil rights leader.  In one of his sermons, he talks extensively about what Jesus meant by the above passage.  In his view, to be “wise as serpents” is a good thing and means to be tough of mind.  To think things through, to be logical, and self-determinant and to not just accept what so-called authorities tell us, but to instead think for ourselves and be our own judges, our own authorities.  Then, to be “harmless as doves,” is to be soft-hearted, compassionate, and kind.  To see our brothers as ourselves and to bring freedom to all.

The serpent ties these ideas together in another religious leader, Moses.

In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground.  It turns into a snake and Moses is very afraid.  But after working with God, he later uses this same power against the Egyptian priests to liberate his people from the tyrannical pharaoh.

Moses is not the only religious figure to be linked to a staff and snake, however.  In Greek mythology, Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing, and the son of Apollo (the sun god).  Asclepius is also associated with the 13th sign of the Zodiac: Ophiuchus, the symbol for which is a snake coiled around a rod.  This is the proper symbol for healing, as can be seen on the Emergency Medical Service’s Star of Life, the EMS being an organization that saves many lives.  Interestingly, the symbol chosen by medical institutions is the caduceus, which is a symbol of Hermes, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, gamblers, thieves, and liars.  That should tell you a lot, right there.

Also, I mentioned before that alternative remedies are often referred to as “snake oil.”  I wonder what would happen if it were one day discovered that snake oil actually cures cancer.  Think about that for a while.

All in all, snakes are complex creatures.  Perhaps the real truth is that snakes have two sides to them, like all of us: a dark side and a light side.  One side cold and calculating, the other bright and helpful.  One side seductive and deadly, the other side sensual and enlightening.

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Venenum Veritas

Posted in All, Miscellaneous, Psychology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by marushiadark

“Idealism is what precedes experience; cynicism is what follows.” ~ David Wolf, astronaut

There’s an old saying that I’ve often taken as my own personal motto.  It goes, “Expect the worst, hope for the best.”  I’ve always felt it to be very pragmatic because if the worst ever happens, you’ll be prepared for it and not caught off-guard.  Conversely, if anything other than the worst case scenario happens, you will be pleasantly surprised.  So it would seem that, by following such a logical strategy as that, you would be very well off, no?

Lately, I’m no longer so sure.

I’ve always been a very analytically-minded person.  And while it’s often good to have a back-up plan just in case things go wrong, such has left me carrying a lot of worry around, most of it needless. As the Dalai Lama says, “If a problem can be solved, there is no use worrying about it.  If it can’t be solved, worrying will do no good.”

Cynicism has also made me a very untrusting person.  Some people have told me that’s a good thing, since few are exactly who they claim to be and few are worthy of trust.  Others have said that, in continuing to think along those lines, I will continue to create only what’s on my mind, and what’s on my mind is often cynicism; so my world will seek to placate those thoughts.

I know where it comes from.  It comes from being a student of the truth and always wishing to know that which is true and correct, but at the same time having been lied to and deceived so many times in my life.  Not all of it was intentional, a lot of it was reaction to mental aberrations (actually, all lying is the result of mental aberrations), and a lot of it also comes from my own failings – my own pains and misunderstandings.  If nothing else, it’s very paradoxical.  At times, it is a great burden to carry the truth, especially when others aren’t there to help support you.

Sometimes, I find myself wishing I could go back to that naive little child where everything was perfect and I was always happy.  Yet there are other times where I feel like I wouldn’t trade who I am now for a hundred years of happiness if it meant giving up the truth, because I know I am much freer now and in greater control of the world around me, which in itself brings happiness sometimes.

The truth is a powerfully addictive drug.  The more you learn, the more you can’t help but continue learning.  The more you know, the more you become aware of just how little you actually know in comparison to the sum of all things that can be known; and this newly discovered level of ignorance just spurs the desire to learn that much more.

Many addicts will tell you that, initially, their drug of choice induces a natural high.  But after a while, it becomes customary and routine, so the person falls out of that euphoria into a deep trench and needs a greater dose to reach the same feeling of high as before.  This, of course, creates an escalation in which the highs get higher and the lows get lower.  The sine wave of ups and downs begins to grow in amplitude, but to what extent?  Are we to simply not learn anything at all and be content in our ignorance or is it worth the pains to climb the mountain of knowledge?  Is it worth it to build wings of wax and fly towards the sun, even with the full knowledge that our efforts were in vain from the very beginning and that we’re destined to plummet back into the sea?

Do we simply build better wings?  The better our wings, the higher we soar, but the farther we also have to plummet back down.  Is such a thing worth it?  I think that’s a choice that every man or woman must come to terms with at some point in their lives.  Personally, I like flying, so I’d rather learn to fly than be stuck in the ground.  Being stuck isn’t any fun at all.

Without that feeling of high, you might as well just be a robot and live forever.  I think that idealism is the high and cynicism the low when it comes to knowing things.

One time, I got a fortune cookie fortune that simply said “Don’t give into cynicism.”  What if Kennedy had given into cynicism?  We might not have gone into space and the world would be a totally different place than it is today.  Maybe if we learn enough, and if our wings are constructed well enough, we ourselves will reach into outer space where gravity effects us less, and from there we’ll have laid the foundation for soaring toward the stars, metaphorically speaking.