Remember when you were a kid?
Why do we automatically apply the term “innocent” to children?
Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen the worst of life now that we’re adults. We have jobs, we have bills, and we have responsibilities. We’ve probably had sex, smoked, drank, and inhaled.
Children not only haven’t done (hopefully) any of those things but also lack the cognitive maturity to even comprehend most of them. They don’t just lack the life experience that we adults take for granted; they also lack the life wisdom to make sense of many of the things that happen to us. We use the term “innocent,” which means “a pure, guileless, or naive person,” to describe this condition.
Growing up is hard
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'”The Bible, Genesis 2:16-17
Many of you are probably already familiar with the story, but in the Judeo-Christian Bible, Yahweh is said to have placed the first humans in a garden and forbidden them from eating the fruit of a specific tree. That’s right, it was the infamous “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
In Jewish mythology, Adam and Eve “were both naked… and not ashamed.” They were naive and innocent, like young children who don’t feel bad about their bodies until we teach them to.
Along came a serpent
“…the serpent said unto the woman, ‘Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’ And the woman said unto the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’ And the serpent said unto the woman, ‘Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.'”The Bible, Genesis 3:1-5
When I was a kid, I was told that this serpent represented Satan, the mythological antagonist of Christians. However, that is not what the text actually says. Let’s take “the serpent” at face value.
Throughout antiquity, serpents and snakes have been associated with a variety of symbolic meanings in various cultures and religions. The following are a few of the most typical symbolic representations:
- Fertility and Life Force: Serpents were connected to fertility and the life force in many ancient civilizations. This may be because of their ties to the earth and the skin they shed, which stands for renewal and rebirth.
- Wisdom and Knowledge: Serpents were viewed as symbols of knowledge and wisdom in some cultures. The serpent that was entwined around Hermes’ staff, known as the caduceus, in ancient Greek mythology, for example, stood for wisdom and was later adopted as a symbol of medicine.
- Dual Nature: Serpents were frequently used as symbols of duality because they stood for both good and bad, life and death, and light and darkness. In the biblical account of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, where it represents both wisdom and temptation, this dual nature is evident.
- Healing and Transformation: Due to the fact that snakes shed their skin to reveal a new one, they were also connected to transformation and healing. Asclepius, the god of medicine in ancient Greece, was frequently pictured holding a staff wrapped in serpents as a symbol of healing and rebirth.
- Guardianship and Protection: Serpents were revered as guardians of sacred sites like temples and tombs in some ancient cultures because they were thought to have protective properties. The cobra, for instance, represented the goddess Wadjet in ancient Egypt, who guarded the pharaoh and the territory.
- Chaos and Destruction: Other cultures viewed snakes as representations of chaos, devastation, and even death. For instance, according to Norse mythology, the serpent Jormungandr surrounds the world and when released, will bring about the end of the world (Ragnarok).
- Kundalini Energy: The serpent is connected to the idea of Kundalini in Hinduism and other Indian traditions. Kundalini is a type of divine feminine energy that coils at the base of the spine. Spiritual enlightenment is said to result from Kundalini awakening.
These ancient uses of serpents and snakes as symbols reveal their significance in mythology, religion, and culture. The biblical account of the Garden of Eden takes on a new light when one approaches it without preconceived notions. The serpent, a metaphor for learning and wisdom, promises Eve that she and Adam will soon have their eyes opened and “be as gods.”
Similar teachings can be found in numerous traditions, some of which predate Christianity. According to these mysterious teachings, our purpose as human beings trapped in time and space is to develop intellectually. And some early Christian groups, like the Gnostics, thought the Old Testament god, not the serpent, played the role of the antagonist.
The real story?
“The red pill and blue pill represent a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially unsettling or life-changing truth by taking the red pill or remaining in the contented experience of ordinary reality with the blue pill. The terms originate from the 1999 film The Matrix.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_pill_and_blue_pill
The serpent, the bringer of truth, spoke to the first woman and told her she had a choice: eat the fruit from the tree of good and evil (i.e. take the red pill) and “grow up,” or never leave her state of eternal childlike innocence.
The latter may sound appealing in theory, but it runs counter to how most people are hardwired. We’ve made incredible technological progress—from the moon landing to photobombing Pluto—because the best among us have an irresistible urge to keep learning, exploring, and challenging others and ourselves.
Making the right choice
As with any ancient text, it is a great fortune that the Judeo-Christian Bible has made it down to us. Every free person has the right to read it and draw their own conclusions, and I urge you to do the same if such things interest you. The fruit of the tree is a willingness to risk everything in order to gain wisdom and develop oneself. It is important to use every tool at our disposal, including the efforts of scientists and scholars who have tried to gather information objectively, when attempting to interpret ancient texts like the Bible.
Each of us is welcome to draw our own conclusions about the meaning of these ancient texts. The moral of the serpent story, as I understand it, is straightforward: either move forward or remain a naive child in the garden.
What do you choose?
If you’d like to learn more about how the serpent was viewed throughout history, here are a few suggested resources:
- “The Serpent Grail: The Truth Behind the Holy Grail, the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Elixir of Life” by Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn (2005). This book explores the serpent symbolism throughout history and delves into the connections between various ancient cultures and their use of serpent imagery.
- “Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt” by John Anthony West (1993). This book examines the role of serpents in ancient Egyptian culture and their significance in the broader context of ancient wisdom traditions.
- “The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge” by Jeremy Narby (1998). This book discusses the prevalence of serpent symbolism in indigenous cultures and its connection to knowledge and the origins of life.
- “The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West” by Erik Hornung (2001). This work provides an overview of ancient Egyptian religious and mythological beliefs, including the significance of the serpent as a symbol in their culture.
- “The Oxford Dictionary of Symbols” by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant (1994). This comprehensive dictionary offers brief descriptions of various symbols, including serpents and snakes, and their meanings across different cultures.