Interpretations of Serpents in Theosophy and Ancient Mythology

“But however it may read, the Dragon was never regarded as Evil, nor was the Serpent either — in antiquity. In the metaphors, whether astronomical, cosmical, theogonical or simply physiological, i.e., phallic — the Serpent was always regarded as a divine symbol.” (H.P. Blavatsky, THE SECRET DOCTRINE, Vol. II., pg. 505)

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew x: xvi)

Introductory Word on the Adoration of the Dragon and Serpent 

The sources of the Gnosis, and its philosophy does not come from Christian theology, and should not be interpreted in the light of ecclesiastical learning. The reason the “serpent” and “dragon” has been since antiquity adored, before Roman Catholicism made it a symbol of the “Evil One,” is because the ophidian represents eternity and wisdom.

In India and East Asia, the original meaning is still preserved in the symbol of the Nagas (Initiates “wise as serpents”), and the Dragon or lóng (Man. simplified: 龙), for “Wisdom” and “Intelligence.” In China, (1) the Dragon is the only mythological animal of the 12 animals of the Chinese calendar; and (2) it is also the highest ranking-animal in the Chinese animal hierarchy. The Buddhists who came to China adored the Dragon. However, the Christians see only in the serpent and dragon, evil—in accordance with Revelations, or the sectarian theology of the Church. An extreme position to rely on, when interpreting ancient history.

If the serpent was a symbol of evil, then Moses would not have carried the emblem of the nehushtan נחושתן (brazen serpent), or the divine healer, on his pole; which is also the caduceus of Mercury (Wisdom). It is the emblem of the Jewish Sōdalites (Initiates). The Dragon was not only a metaphysical property of Matter, it was symbolic for the , or learned instructors (“wise men”); also generically termed by the Chinese–Dhyanis and Imperials from the early periods of Humanity†. The Serpent, as many of the symbols of DEITY, has multiple interpretations.

The Jews adopted the ophite for the shape of the “seducer,” for a physiological and phallic purpose; “and no amount of casuistical reasoning on the part of the Roman Catholic Church can give it another meaning, once that the mystery language is well studied…” (Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 2., pg. 208). The serpent is Agathodaimōn (good genius) and Kakodaimōn (evil genius), because the Mind being in physical matter. The manifested Universe is pervaded by duality; and without the physical basis, it would be an “empty abstraction.”

The “original” meaning, refers to the imperials, or initiates — the only true and primitive (first) illuminés. As explained, the Gnōstic or Basilidean ophite (Chnouphis) had a “knowledge of good and evil” — in essence, the primordial fire-god; god of Wisdom in Egypt; and patron of all the Initiates. Chnouphis, or Agathodaimōn (i.e., Ahura Mazda) was the Christōs§ (Gr.) of the Gnōstics, and Mithra of the Romans and Persians.

The cosmic serpent describes a cosmogonical phase from the Chaos, or Abyss, which issued forth a circle formed of spirals. This is Tiferet (Heb. תפארת) of the Tree of Life. Coiled within the unfolding geometric spirals is the serpent, which is the emblem of Wisdom and Eternity, and this is the Divine Mind or Agathodaimōn. The Secret Doctrine asserts that Darkness in metaphysics is “not evil, but is the necessary and indispensable corollary which completes Light or Good…” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 2., pg. 214).

“And now it may be hoped the full meaning of the serpent emblem is proven. It is neither that of evil, nor, least of all, that of the devil; but is, indeed, the [[SEMES EILAM ABRASAX]] (“the eternal Sun-Abrasax”), the central spiritual sun of all the Kabalists.” (ibid.)

“Our present quarrel is exclusively with theology. The Church enforces belief in a personal god and a personal devil, while Occultism shows the fallacy of such a belief. (…) If our modern philosophers — preceded by the medieval scholars — have helped themselves to more than one fundamental idea of antiquity, theologians have built their God and his Archangels, their Satan and his Angels, along with the Logos and his staff, entirely out of the dramatis personae of the old heathen Pantheons. They would have been welcome to these, had they not cunningly distorted the original characters, perverted the philosophical meaning, and taking advantage of the ignorance of Christendom — the result of long ages of mental sleep, during which humanity was permitted to think only by proxy — tossed every symbol into the most inextricable confusion. One of their most sinful achievements in this direction, was the transformation of the divine alter ego into the grotesque Satan of their theology. As the whole philosophy of the problem of evil hangs upon the correct comprehension of the constitution of the inner being of nature and man, of the divine within the animal (…). When the good St. Augustine and the fiery Tertullian called the Devil “the monkey of God,” this could be attributed to the ignorance of the age they lived in. It is more difficult to excuse our modern writers on the same ground. The translation of Mazdean literature has afforded to the Roman Catholic writers the pretext for proving their point in the same direction once more. They have taken advantage of the dual nature of Ahura Mazda in the Zend Avesta and the Vendidad, and of his Amshaspends, to emphasize still further their wild theories. Satan is the plagiarist and the copyist by anticipation of the religion which came ages later. This was one of the master strokes of the Latin Church, its best trump-card (…). Though only a succes destime, in general, even among those who are not interested in either Theosophy or Spiritualism, yet the weapon is often used by the Christian (Roman Catholic) Kabalists against the Eastern Occultists.” (Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 2., pg. 475-476)

She is referring to the Christian reconstruction of Satan.

With that said, we will define the Interpretations of the S e r p e n t.


Source: Theosophical Encyclopedia. I have highly edited the section.


Serpent Symbolism

The serpent, Occult Philosophy teaches, is a symbol of wisdom and eternity, as in accordance with ancient traditions. Christian lore portrays the symbol as the devil, and the fallen angel, identified with Lucifer. In reality, the symbol of the serpent has several interpretations, and the Theosophical Encyclopedia explained this.

It will be summarised and edited.

  1. The Serpent as a Symbol of the Initiate and of Wisdom. The serpent and the dragon are the two symbols of “wise persons.” In India, the Nagas referred to mortal Buddhas, or holy men known as Initiates, a sect of worshippers of Shiva, who ruled Ceylon. Serpents in India are associated with the Dhyani-Buddhas, called Aeons (Heb. asdt) in the Gnostic system of Valentinus. In China, some wise men were associated with the Dragon, and have temples dedicated to the Dragon, which is a symbol of Wisdom.
  2. The Serpent Biting Its Own Tail. An ancient symbol implying the cyclical nature of the cosmos — from birth to dissolution at the end of the cycle of a Cosmos¹.
  3. The Seven-Headed Serpent. Appearing as Ananta in Hindu mythology, it is the serpent the god Vishnu rests upon. It is the incomprehensible silence (σιγη ακαταληπτος), or Wisdom (Gr. Νούς των Όλων “Universal Mind”) and Logos; and represents the inconceivable NOUMENON (Gr. Nyx, or Absolute Darkness) of the Seventh State, of undifferentiated cosmic substance (neutral axis of all states of objectivity and subjectivity), or homogenous matter. Ananta’s “seven heads,” represent its seven primeval differentiations (representing one Force) into the elements. The one element, who is also Vishnu, is that producing itself by itself.”
  4. The Serpent Shedding its Seven Skins. The Aitareya Brāhmaṇa represents this symbol as the serpent, or sarpa, Rājñī (“queen” and consort of the Sun God), who “sheds her skins.” In The Secret Doctrine (Vol. 2., pg. 47), H.P. Blavatsky says, this symbolises the seven geological changes accompanying the evolution of the seven ROOT RACES.
  5. The Serpent and the Egg. Together, the serpent symbolises infinity, while the egg (the MUNDANE EGG), symbolises the manifested universe and all the sub-systems within it, e.g., the solar system. When the egg is represented as being swallowed by the serpent, the cycles of cosmic activity come to a close.
  6. The Serpent Fire. Symbol of the sacred and Rational Fire (πυρ), or Light, of a mystical nature. Known as Agni in India and Pothos (ποθος) in Phoenicia, according to a certain Sanchianathon. In The New Testament, one of the aspects of the Hidden Light, or Fire-god (the first-born), is the parakletōs; and in India, it is called the kuṇḍalinī, or “coiled one.” It is popular to regard the sacred fire, as a power rooted at the base of the human spine. However, the fire is actually dual, within the human constitution. The power, described as a fiery electro-spiritual force, arises from two places: the heart, and the base of the human spine. The latter has to do with Eros (ερως), or desire (the passional nature), the sensual, animal, and the psychic; but is generally dangerous to physio-neurological (affecting central nervous system), and physio-psychological (mental states) health. The power, Theosophy teaches of, contrary to Modern and Western Yoga, is in “the inner chamber of the Heart.” The “seven heads”* are reflected in the brain around the pineal gland and in the “inner heart,” which is “the abode of the World’s Mother” (see Consciousness and Self-Consciousness). Theosophist, James Morgan Pryse identified demonstrated that the parakletōs in the psychology of the Greek Gnosis and known as the “comforter” in the New Testament is the kundalini, or devi-prakriti.
  7. The Serpent in Genesis. The serpent in New Testament lore that persuaded Adam and Eve, to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. The story of the serpent is identical to the legend of PROMETHEUS who stole the Intellectual Fire and infused it into mankind; and was thence punished by Zeus by being chained to a rock, where vultures would disembowel and eat his insides, when he’d rot. Each time, he was regenerated, to endure the pain again. The rock symbolises the physical matter, to which we are metaphorically chained during the cycles of incarnation. The serpent in Genesis, from the view of occultists, represents the lower “serpent fire,” entwined around our spinal column, and thereby pulling us down. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolises sense perception of the world, with the human nervous system symbolising the trunk and branches of a tree. It deprives us of Eden, or spiritual consciousness. Helena P. Blavatsky, says that it is Jehovah, or Adonai personating the serpent in the garden. In Bere’shith (Genesis), as it is the case in the Greek Myth, the Olympian gods and the elōhim in Genesis, did not want to give man “intelligence,” until a rebel in the story comes along, and initiates the process.
  8. The Brazen Serpent. A dual-principle. In the Book of Numbers of the Torah, Moses is instructed by Adonai to heal those bitten by poisonous snakes, with a copper serpent. The Israelites then adopted this as their symbol, and it became an object representing their worship and healing. John 3:13-15 likens Jesus to the Serpent. Jesus likens himself to the Brazen Serpent (Asclepios the healer-god or Adonis), that lifts up those who believe in him, and have everlasting life (immortality). H.P. Blavatsky remarks that the serpents were the Seraphim that bit the Israelites. The Brazen Serpent is Adon (Bacchus or Pan), or Adonai — the chief of the Seraphim.

Also read Why the Gnostic Ophites and India honored the Serpent.

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