(BEING CONTINUED FROM 20/09/13)
The serpent was chosen as the head of the reptilian family. Serpent worship in some form has permeated nearly all parts of the earth. The serpent mounds of the American Indian; the carved-stone snakes of Central and South America; the hooded cobras of India; Python, the great snake o the Greeks; the sacred serpents of the Druids; the Midgard snake of Scandinavia; the Nagas of Burma, Siam, and Cambodia; the brazen serpent of the Jews; the mystic serpent of Orpheus; the snakes at the oracle; of Delphi twining themselves around the tripod upon which the Pythian priestess sat, the tripod itself being in the form of twisted serpents; the sacred serpents preserved in the Egyptian temples; the Uræus coiled upon the foreheads of the Pharaohs and priests;–all these bear witness to the universal veneration in which the snake was held. In the ancient Mysteries the serpent entwining a staff was the symbol of the physician. The serpent-wound staff of Hermes remains the emblem of the medical profession. Among nearly all these ancient peoples the serpent was accepted as the symbol of wisdom or salvation. The antipathy which Christendom feels towards the snake is based upon the little-understood allegory of the Garden of Eden.
The bee was used as, a symbol of royalty by the immortal Charlemagne, and it is probable that the fleur-de-lis, or lily of France, is merely a conventionalized bee and not a flower. There is an ancient Greek legend to the effect that the nine Muses occasionally assumed the form of bees.
From Paracelsus’ Archidoxes Magica.
The scorpion often appears upon the talismans and charms of the Middle Ages. This hieroglyphic Arachnida was supposed to have the power of curing disease. The scorpion shown above was composed of several metals, and was made under certain planetary configurations. Paracelsus advised that it be worn by those suffering from any derangement of the reproductive system.
The serpent is true to the principle of wisdom, for it tempts man to the knowledge of himself. Therefore the knowledge of self resulted from man’s disobedience to the Demiurgus, Jehovah. How the serpent came to be in the garden of the Lord after God had declared that all creatures which He had made during the six days of creation were good has not been satisfactorily answered by the interpreters of Scripture. The tree that grows in the midst of the garden is the spinal fire; the knowledge of the use of that spinal fire is the gift of the great serpent. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, the serpent is the symbol and prototype of the Universal Savior, who redeems the worlds by giving creation the knowledge of itself and the realization of good and evil. If this be not so, why did Moses raise a brazen serpent upon a cross in the wilderness that all who looked upon it might be saved from the sting of the lesser snakes? Was not the brazen serpent a prophecy of the crucified Man to come? If the serpent be only a thing of evil, why did Christ instruct His disciples to be as wise as serpents?
The accepted theory that the serpent is evil cannot be substantiated. It has long been viewed as the emblem of immortality. It is the symbol of reincarnation, or metempsychosis, because it annually sheds its skin, reappearing, as it were, in a new body. There is an ancient superstition to the effect that snakes never die except by violence and that, if uninjured, they would live forever. It was also believed that snakes swallowed themselves, and this resulted in their being considered emblematic of the Supreme Creator, who periodically reabsorbed His universe back into Himself.
In Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky makes this significant statement concerning the origin of serpent worship: “Before our globe had become egg-shaped or round it was a long trail of cosmic dust or fire-mist, moving and writhing like a serpent. This, say the explanations, was the Spirit of God moving on the chaos until its breath had incubated cosmic matter and made it assume the annular shape of a serpent with its tail in its month–emblem of eternity in its spiritual and of our world in its physical sense.”
The seven-headed snake represents the Supreme Deity manifesting through His Elohim, or Seven Spirits, by whose aid He established His universe. The coils of the snake have been used by the pagans to symbolize the motion and also the orbits of the celestial bodies, and it is probable that the symbol of the serpent twisted around the egg–which was common to many of the ancient Mystery schools–represented both the apparent motion of the sun around the earth, and the bands of astral light, or the great magical agent, which move about the planet incessantly.
Electricity was commonly symbolized by the serpent because of its motion. Electricity passing between the poles of a spark gap is serpentine in its motion. Force projected through atmosphere was called The Great Snake. Being symbolic of universal force, the serpent was emblematic of both good and evil. Force can tear down as rapidly as it can build up. The serpent with its tail in its mouth is the symbol of eternity, for in this position the body of the reptile has neither beginning nor end. The head and tail represent the positive and negative poles of the cosmic life circuit. The initiates of the Mysteries were often referred to as serpents, and their wisdom was considered analogous to the divinely inspired power of the snake. There is no doubt that the title “Winged Serpents” (the Seraphim?) was given to one of the invisible hierarchies that labored with the earth during its early formation.
There is a legend that in the beginning of the world winged serpents reigned upon the earth. These were probably the demigods which antedate the historical civilization of every nation. The symbolic relationship between the sun and the serpent found literal witness in the fact that life remains in the snake until sunset, even though it be cut into a dozen parts. The Hopi Indians consider the serpent to be in close communication with the Earth Spirit. Therefore, at the time of their annual snake dance they send their prayers to the Earth Spirit by first specially sanctifying large numbers of these reptiles and then liberating them to return to the earth with the prayers of the tribe.
The great rapidity of motion manifested by lizards has caused them to be associated with Mercury, the Messenger of the Gods, whose winged feet traveled infinite distances almost instantaneously. A point which must not be overlooked in connection with reptiles in symbolism is clearly brought out by the eminent scholar, Dr. H. E. Santee, in his Anatomy of the Brain and Spinal Cord: “In reptiles there are two pineal bodies, an anterior and a posterior, of which the posterior remains undeveloped but the anterior forms a rudimentary, cyclopean eye. In the Hatteria, a New Zealand lizard, it projects through the parietal foramen and presents an imperfect lens and retina and, in its long stalk, nerve fibers.”
Crocodiles were regarded by the Egyptians both as symbols of Typhon and emblems of the Supreme Deity, of the latter because while under water the crocodile is capable of seeing–Plutarch asserts–though its eyes are covered by a thin membrane. The Egyptians declared that no matter how far away the crocodile laid its eggs, the Nile would reach up to them in its next inundation, this reptile being endowed with a mysterious sense capable of making known the extent of the flood months before it took place. There were two kinds of crocodiles. The larger and more ferocious was hated by the Egyptians, for they likened it to the nature of Typhon, their destroying demon. Typhon waited to devour all who failed to pass the judgment of the Dead, which rite took place in the Hall of Justice between the earth and the Elysian Fields. Anthony Todd Thomson thus describes the good treatment accorded the smaller and tamer crocodiles, which the Egyptians accepted as personifications of good: “They were fed daily and occasionally had mulled wine poured down their throats. Their ears were ornamented with rings of gold and precious stones, and their forefeet adorned with bracelets.”
To the Chinese the turtle was a symbol of longevity. At a temple in Singapore a number of sacred turtles are kept, their age recorded by carvings on their shells. The American Indians use the ridge down the back of the turtle shell as a symbol of the Great Divide between life and death. The turtle is a symbol of wisdom because it retires into itself and is its own protection. It is also a phallic symbol, as its relation to long life would signify. The Hindus symbolized the universe as being supported on the backs of four great elephants who, in turn, are standing upon an immense turtle which is crawling continually through chaos.
The Egyptian sphinx, the Greek centaur, and the Assyrian man-bull have much in common. All are composite creatures combining human and animal members; in the Mysteries all signify the composite nature of man and subtly refer to the hierarchies of celestial beings that have charge of the destiny of mankind. These hierarchies are the twelve holy animals now known as constellations–star groups which are merely symbols of impersonal spiritual impulses. Chiron, the centaur, teaching the sons of men, symbolizes the intelligences of the constellation of Sagittarius, who were the custodians of the secret doctrine while (geocentrically) the sun was passing through the sign of Gemini. The five-footed Assyrian man-bull with the wings of an eagle and the head of a man is a reminder that the invisible nature of man has the wings of a god, the head of a man, and the body of a beast. The same concept was expressed through the sphinx–that armed guardian of the Mysteries who, crouching at the gate of the temple, denied entrance to the profane. Thus placed between man and his divine possibilities, the sphinx also represented the secret doctrine itself. Children’s fairy stories abound with descriptions of symbolic monsters, for nearly all such tales are based upon the ancient mystic folklore.
From Kircher’s Œdipus Ægyptiacus.
The spinal cord was symbolized by a snake, and the serpent coiled upon the foreheads of the Egyptian initiates represented the Divine Fire which had crawled serpentlike up the Tree of Life.
From Maurice’s Indian Antiquities.
Both Mithras, the Persian Redeemer, and Serapis, the Egyptian God of the Earth, are symbolized by serpents coiled about their bodies. This remarkable drawing shows the good and evil principles of Persia–Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman–contending for the Egg of the Earth, which each trying to wrench from the teeth of the other.
AS appropriate emblems of various human and divine attributes birds were included in religious and philosophic symbolism that of pagans and of Christians alike. Cruelty was signified by the buzzard; courage by the eagle; self-sacrifice by the pelican; and pride by the peacock. The ability of birds to leave the earth and fly aloft toward the source of light has resulted in their being associated with aspiration, purity, and beauty. Wings were therefore often added to various terrene creatures in an effort to suggest transcendency. Because their habitat was among the branches of the sacred trees in the hearts of ancient forests, birds were also regarded as the appointed messengers of the tree spirits and Nature gods dwelling in these consecrated groves, and through their clear notes the gods themselves were said to speak. Many myths have been fabricated to explain the brilliant plumage of birds. A familiar example is the story of Juno’s peacock, in whose tail feathers were placed the eyes of Argus. Numerous American Indian legends also deal with birds and the origin of the various colors of feathers. The Navahos declare that when all living things climbed to the stalk of a bamboo to escape the Flood, the wild turkey was on the lowest branch and his tail feathers trailed in the water; hence the color was all washed out.
Gravitation, which is a law in the material world, is the impulse toward the center of materiality; levitation, which is a law in the spiritual world, is the impulse toward the center of spirituality. Seeming to be capable of neutralizing the effect of gravity, the bird was said to partake of a nature superior to other terrestrial creation; and its feathers, because of their sustaining power, came to be accepted as symbols of divinity, courage, and accomplishment. A notable example is the dignity attached to eagle feathers by the American Indians, among whom they are insignia of merit. Angels have been invested with wings because, like birds, they were considered to be the intermediaries between the gods and men and to inhabit the air or middle kingdom betwixt heaven and earth. As the dome of the heavens was likened to a skull in the Gothic Mysteries, so the birds which flew across the sky were regarded as thoughts of the Deity. For this reason Odin’s two messenger ravens were called Hugin and Munin–thought andmemory.
Among the Greeks and Romans, the eagle was the appointed bird of Jupiter and consequently signified the swiftly moving forces of the Demiurgus; hence it was looked upon as the mundane lord of the birds, in contradistinction to the phœnix, which was symbolic of the celestial ruler. The eagle typified the sun in its material phase and also the immutable Demiurgic law beneath which all mortal creatures must bend. The eagle was also the Hermetic symbol of sulphur, and signified the mysterious fire of Scorpio–the most profoundly significant sign of the zodiac and the Gate of the Great Mystery. Being one of the three symbols of Scorpio, the eagle, like the Goat of Mendes, was an emblem of the theurgic art and the secret processes by which the infernal fire of the scorpion was transmuted into the spiritual light-fire of the gods.
Among certain American Indian tribes the thunderbird is held in peculiar esteem. This divine creature is said to live above the clouds; the flapping of its wings causes the rumbling which accompanies storms, while the flashes from its eyes are the lightning. Birds were used to signify the vital breath; and among the Egyptians, mysterious hawklike birds with human heads, and carrying in their claws the symbols of immortality, are often shown hovering as emblems of the liberated soul over the mummified bodies of the dead. In Egypt the hawk was the sacred symbol of the sun; and Ra, Osiris, and Horns are often depicted with the heads of hawks. The cock, or rooster, was a symbol of Cashmala (Cadmillus) in the Samothracian Mysteries, and is also a phallic symbol sacred to the sun. It was accepted by the Greeks as the emblem of Ares (Mars) and typified watchfulness and defense. When placed in the center of a weather vane it signifies the sun in the midst of the four corners of creation. The Greeks sacrificed a rooster to the gods at the time of entering the Eleusinian Mysteries. Sir Francis Bacon is supposed to have died as the result of stuffing a fowl with snow. May this not signify Bacon’s initiation into the pagan Mysteries which still existed in his day?
Both the peacock and the ibis were objects of veneration because they destroyed the poisonous reptiles which were popularly regarded as the emissaries of the infernal gods. Because of the myriad of eyes in its tail feathers the peacock was accepted as the symbol of wisdom, and on account of its general appearance it was often confused with the fabled phœnix of the Mysteries. There is a curious belief that the flesh of the peacock will not putrefy even though kept for a considerable time. As an outgrowth of this belief the peacock became the emblem of immortality, because the spiritual nature of man–like the flesh of this bird–is incorruptible.
The Egyptians paid divine honors to the ibis and it was a cardinal crime to kill one, even by accident. It was asserted that the ibis could live only in Egypt and that if transported to a foreign country it would die of grief. The Egyptians declared this bird to be the preserver of crops and especially worthy of veneration because it drove out the winged serpents of Libya which the wind blew into Egypt. The ibis was sacred to Thoth, and when its head and neck were tucked under its wing its body closely resembled a human heart. (See Montfaucon’s Antiquities.) The black and white ibis was sacred to the moon; but all forms were revered because they destroyed crocodile eggs, the crocodile being a symbol of the detested Typhon.
Nocturnal birds were appropriate symbols of both sorcery and the secret divine sciences: sorcery because black magic cannot function in the light of truth (day) and is powerful only when surrounded by ignorance (night); and the divine sciences because those possessing the arcana are able to see through the darkness of ignorance and materiality. Owls and bats were consequently often associated with either witchcraft or wisdom. The goose was an emblem of the first primitive substance or condition from which and within which the worlds were fashioned. In the Mysteries, the universe was likened to an egg which the Cosmic Goose had laid in space. Because of its blackness the crow was the symbol of chaos or the chaotic darkness preceding the light of creation. The grace and purity of the swan were emblematic of the spiritual grace and purity of the initiate. This bird also represented the Mysteries which unfolded these qualities in humanity. This explains the allegories of the gods (the secret wisdom) incarnating in the body of a swan (the initiate).
Being scavengers, the vulture, the buzzard, and the condor signified that form of divine power which by disposing of refuse and other matter dangerous to the life and health of humanity cleanses and purifies the lower spheres. These birds were therefore adopted as symbols of the disintegrative processes which accomplish good while apparently destroying, and by some religions have been mistakenly regarded as evil. Birds such as the parrot and raven were accorded veneration because, being able to mimic the human voice, they were looked upon as links between the human and animal kingdoms.
The dove, accepted by Christianity as the emblem of the Holy Ghost, is an extremely ancient and highly revered pagan yonic emblem. In many of the ancient Mysteries it represented the third person of the Creative Triad, or the Fabricator of the world. As the lower worlds were brought into existence through a generative process, so the dove has been associated with those deities identified with the procreative functions. It is sacred to Astarte, Cybele, Isis, Venus, Juno, Mylitta, and Aphrodite. On account of its gentleness and devotion to its young, the dove was looked upon as the embodiment of the maternal instinct. The dove is also an emblem of wisdom, for it represents the power and order by which the lower worlds are maintained. It has long been accepted as a messenger of the divine will, and signifies the activity of God.
The name dove has been given to oracles and to prophets. “The true name of the dove was Ionah or Iönas; it was a very sacred emblem, and atone time almost universally received; it was adopted by the Hebrews; and the mystic Dove was regarded as a symbol
From Lycosthenes’ Prodigiorum, ac Ostentorum Chronicon.
The phœnix is the most celebrated of all the symbolic creatures fabricated by the ancient Mysteries for the purpose of concealing the great truths of esoteric philosophy. Though modern scholars of natural history declare the existence of the phœnix to be purely mythical, Pliny describes the capture of one of these birds and it exhibition in the Roman Forum during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
from the days of Noah by all those who were of the Church of God. The prophet sent to Ninevah as God’s messenger was called Jonah or the Dove; our Lord’s forerunner, the Baptist, was called in Greek by the name of Ioannes; and so was the Apostle of Love, the author Of the fourth Gospel and of the Apocalypse, named Ioannes.” (Bryant’s Analysis of Ancient Mythology.)
In Masonry the dove is the symbol of purity and innocence. It is significant that in the pagan Mysteries the dove of Venus was crucified upon the four spokes of a great wheel, thus foreshadowing the mystery of the crucified Lord of Love. Although Mohammed drove the doves from the temple at Mecca, occasionally he is depicted with a dove sitting upon his shoulder as the symbol of divine inspiration. In ancient times the effigies of doves were placed upon the heads of scepters to signify that those bearing them were overshadowed by divine prerogative. In mediæval art, the dove frequently was pictured as an emblem of divine benediction.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
by Manly P. Hall
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF ALL AGES