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The Brazen Serpent, by Benjamin West; among th...

The Brazen Serpent, by Benjamin West; among the overthrown, an unmistakable reference to the Laocoön (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The serpent symbol is found in most mythological and religious traditions around the world—past, present, and most likely future.

Similarities in meaning exist as do important differences.

In Jewish and Christian accounts of Eden, the serpent is the “most subtle” of all creatures that tempts Eve into disobeying God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge. Eve then seduces Adam into eating and mankind is expelled from the Garden of Eden and cursed to forever suffer and work.

Cultural studies professors often use this to “prove” that the biblical Garden of Eden story in particular, and the Genesis account in general, are responsible for just about everything bad today, from mankind’s desire to conquer nature (toxic pollution), to man’s domination over women (sexism and gender inequality), to the lack of animal rights and the inhumane treatment of animals. But the biblical account isn’t quite so simple as saying that the serpent always represents evil.

It’s true that God sent “fiery” snakes to punish the Israelites for complaining in the wilderness. But God also instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent to heal the afflicted.

In the Book of Numbers, while Moses was in the wilderness, he mounted a serpent of bronze on a pole that functioned as a cure against the bite of the “seraphim”, the “burning ones” (Numbers 21:4-9). The phrase in Num.21:9, “a serpent of bronze,” is a wordplay as “serpent” (nehash) and “bronze” (nehoshet) are closely related in Hebrew, nehash nehoshet

And a vision in Isaiah 6 tells of a fiery, winged serpents that flank God’s throne, symbolizing God’s divine glory and omnipotence.²

The Biblical Leviathan was a great sea serpent, “the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1).

In India, the kundalini (Skt: coiled like a snake) represents serpent power which is awakened by carefully opening a series of chakras (body/psyche points of power).

India also has a naga cult with widespread devotees who worship a demi-god cobra with a human face.

Ancient Egyptian culture had the erect cobra symbolizing the utmost power and authority of the Pharaoh and the gods.³

The snake is also regarded as a healer in some Native American traditions.


Serpent devouring a man (Detail from Aztec calendar)

In Mexican mythological art, a giant serpent is often depicted as swallowing a human being, usually head-first. This has interesting psychological connotations, especially for depth psychology. The serpent could be seen as a portal or the powers of the unconscious which can “swallow” the ego, leading to a new kind of awareness and outlook.

Australian aboriginal myths also talk of the serpent “swallowing up people and animals.”4

These mythic images of swallowing might bear a symbolic relation to the Biblical notion that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Again, interpreted psychologically to mean that inferior aspects of the human personality must be symbolically devoured, purged or sent to hell for the superior aspect of the self to be realized and eventually flourish.

The logo for contemporary western medicine is a snake coiled around a pole, a symbol derived from ancient Greece, as evident in engravings of Aesculapius, c. 100 BCE, where a serpent is coiled around his staff. This symbol is often mistakenly linked to the Greek Caduceus, displayed in myth as a two serpents wound around a staff, sometimes with wings.

Artwork by Cherie Landa (’15) – Jungian examples often are simple circles, perhaps to conform to Jung’s model of the self. But this is an interesting variation.

The psychiatrist Carl Jung was interested in the Ouroboric serpent, a symbol derived from Gnosticism in which the snake forms a circle by biting its own tail. For Jung this is a mandala, symbolizing his understanding of the self and wholeness.

The above only scratches the surface of serpent symbolism, a topic too diverse to treat adequately here. Nevertheless, J. E. Cirlot suggests that one commonality present among many serpent symbols is the representation of psychic energy. And Philip Gardiner and others say that snake symbolism as a whole is dualistic, containing elements of salvation and destruction. We should point out, however, that this dualism does not necessarily mean that both positive and negative aspects are present at the same time, or that they are of equal power—a point that some New Age, neoGnostics seem to overlook.

¹ and Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary (1987), pp. 926-7.

²  Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary (2000), p. 1188. This is a curious parallel to the serpents that surround some Hindu deities.

³ Ibid.

4 Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia ed. Richard Cavendish, 2003, Time Warner Books, p. 211.

Related » Apollo, Kundalini, Persephone, Shakti


Siva (or Shiva)

Shiva: true2source

Siva or Shiva (Skt: kind, friendly) is a major Hindu god who, according to the dominant theory, evolved out of the mythology of the conquering Aryans in the Indian sub-continent.¹

A bit of a latecomer, Siva nevertheless replaced the earlier Vedic storm god Rudra by becoming part the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva.

In popular folk mythology, Brahma is said to have created the universe, Visnu preserves it and Siva, through his cosmic dance, destroys it. But this is only a general outline, for Siva first created Brahma and Visnu. And instead of merely destroying, Siva also regulates the universe.

In an incident with the Pine Forest Sages, Siva breaks the reclusive sages’ excessive meditation by literally seducing their wives. By sexually enticing their wives, Siva intentionally angers the Sages, disrupts their meditation and diffuses their excessive spiritual power. Otherwise, the tapas (Skt: heat, or spiritual force) generated by the sages’ prolonged and intense concentration would have disrupted the cosmic balance.² So in a sense, we see Siva behaving as something of a trickster.

The Other Side of Siva: Taran Rampersad

The Other Side of Siva: Taran Rampersad

However, Siva is not only a trickster.

With his third eye, depicted vertically on his forehead, he emits deadly rays of fire, not unlike the ‘phasers’ of Star Trek or the energy beams generated by Marvel’s Tony Stark / Iron Man. Siva’s death ray incinerates demonic opponents residing in highly volatile spiritual realms.

But, for Hindus, Siva’s third eye has a more passive aspect, symbolizing the locus of spiritual “seeing” and peace. Siva’s third eye is sometimes, perhaps inaccurately, equated with Jesus’ teaching, “Let thine eye be single” (Matthew 6:22, Luke 11:34).

Siva is often depicted in temple carvings ityaphallically (with erect phallus). His linga (Skt: phallus) symbolizes his control over his divine creative power, just as in Hinduism the female yoni (Skt: vagina) represents the cosmic source or life-giving aspects of the divinity.

Siva also rides the sacred bull, Nandi. And he has a blue throat from partially ingesting poison, which otherwise would have destroyed the universe.

His wife is Parvati and he’s said to reside at Mt. Kailasa in the Himalayas.

Siva Thandavam: Velachery Balu / Balasubramanian G Velu

Siva Thandavam: Velachery Balu / Balasubramanian G Velu

In Hindu devotional cults and Western popular spiritualism, Siva is, perhaps uncritically, identified with supposedly “active male” energy that must be united with the Shakti – “passive female” energy – to effect a union of these complementary cosmic energies within an given individual or couple—that is, balancing the Shiva-Shakti.

To some, this way of thinking is nothing more than archetypal stereotypes, rank with sexist connotations.³ To others, it represents sublime truths accessibly only to those spiritually “advanced” enough to appreciate them. And to others, the entire Hindu pantheon is suspect as some kind of devilish manifestation.4

¹ The fact that the Aryan invasion theory has been disputed and continues to be debated complicates the picture, as with most mythological and religious issues.

² Most of my academic understanding of the Siva myths comes from the outstanding Indologist, Wendy Doniger. See

³ Professor Naomi Goldenberg has critiqued what she sees as archetypal sexism in work of C. G. Jung.

Naomi R. Goldenberg, after reviewing Jung’s idea of archetypes as disembodied Platonic forms and on the damage done to women by the mind-body dichotomy, suggests that “feminist theory radically depart from the Jungian archetype [and] from all systems of thought that posit transcendent, superhuman deities.” See


English: Sculpture of Shiva in copper alloy fr...

Sculpture of Shiva in copper alloy from India (Tamil Nadu). Dimensions: 30 x 22 1/2 x 7 in. Circa 950-1000. Chola dynasty IXe -XIIIe c. (Wikipedia)


Photo – Ari Moore via Flickr



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Huston Smith

English: Huston Smith at home in Berkeley.

Huston Smith at home in Berkeley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Huston Smith (1919 –  ) is a widely respected educator and media figure in the area of comparative religion. In his compact classic, The World’s Religions (1991, formerly The Religions of Man, 1958), Smith reveals many of the insights and problems inherent to a comparative study of religion.

Choosing to place more emphasis on religious experience as something integral to personal transformation, and less on historical data, Smith hopes to rekindle debate around several age old questions:

Why are we here? What gives meaning to life? Does something exist beyond the world of the senses? Is there an afterlife?

Not strictly opposed to organized religions, Smith says their group aspect makes them a “mixed bag.”

Like any term religion can be defined as one wishes, and if one links it to institutions, I think religious institutions are indispensable, but they’re clearly a mixed bag, and we’ve had the wars of religions; but I tend to think this is the nature of institutions and people in the aggregate. What government has a clean or perfect record, you know?¹

Smith is reminiscent of to another leading interpreter of religion, Joseph Campbell, whose somewhat Jungian approach to the spirit has sparked worldwide interest and debate. However, Smith, as we see in the quote immediately below, doesn’t seem to entirely equate Christianity with non-Christian world religions.²

Hans Makart 006

Japanese kimono by Hans Makart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some interesting Huston Smith quotes via Wikipedia:³

  • Smith is a practicing Christian who credits his faith to his missionary parents who had “instilled in me a Christianity that was able to withstand the dominating secular culture of modernity.”
  • “Institutions are not pretty. Show me a pretty government. Healing is wonderful, but the American Medical Association? Learning is wonderful, but universities? The same is true for religion… religion is institutionalized spirituality.”
  • “The goal of spiritual life is not altered states, but altered traits.”

Related » Aton, Illness

¹ Huston Smith, “The Psychology of Religious Experience” in Jeffrey Mishlove, Thinking Allowed video series:

² I remember seeing an early b&w Huston Smith film in an Oriental Phil. course at Trent University in the mid-1980s. Smith was quite young in the film, wearing a conventional Western suit with short cut hair. The class members laughed out loud at the seeming contradiction. Here was this uber straight looking Western guy doing a film on esoteric world religions. Our professor replied something like – “That’s what things were like back then.” And in retrospect, there was really nothing to laugh about. Smith was a pioneer, actively exploring areas that most others wouldn’t even imagine questioning beyond the prevailing Hollywood and music industry stereotypes. (As much as I admire Frank Sinatra, for instance, I smirk when I hear him sing about “far Bombay” in “Come Fly with Me“). Not to say that Sinatra necessarily believed in these clichés. I have no idea. But they certainly resonated with the pop culture that he thrived in. Another musical example would be Nat King Cole’s Hajji Baba (Persian Lament). For more, see E. Said, Orientalism.


On the Web:

  • “‘RUMI: Poet of the Heart,’ an award-winning 60 minute film produced and directed by Haydn Reiss, featuring Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Deepak Chopra, storyteller and mythologist Michael Meade, and religious historian Huston Smith.”

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Syntonic Counter-Transference

Watch Over me

Watch Over Me by stonethestone via Flickr

In 1957 the psychiatrist and Jungian analyst, Michael Fordham, forwarded the term “syntonic counter-transference” (SCT) to describe a kind of transference where the analyst enters into a “primitive identity” with the analysand. With SCT the analyst apparently senses the patient’s unconscious feelings, usually at the same time as the patient. However, sometimes the analyst picks up on the patient’s feelings before the patient becomes aware of them.

A somewhat mysterious idea that is difficult to verify, SCT raises questions that figures like Stanislav Grof and C. G. Jung have looked at within their respective schools of transpersonal psychiatry and analytical psychology.

One problem with SCT arises if the analyst becomes grandiose, falsely believing he or she arrives at the truth of a dynamic before the client does. The potential for abuse relating to a dysfunctional relationship and misplaced trust in the analyst is arguably no small matter. To counteract this issue, responsible therapists speak of a “therapeutic relationship” where doctor and client learn something from each other while maintaining emotional objectivity. But this is the ideal, of course. It’s a well known fact that Jung, himself, had an affair with Sabina Spielrein, one of his clients.



Tanka painter by Leon Meerson

Tanka painter by Leon Meerson

Tankha are Tibetan and Nepali Buddhist artworks said to assist in the quest for liberation. The visual themes are almost always religious in some fashion. Wikipedia explains:

Thangka perform several different functions. Images of deities can be used as teaching tools when depicting the life (or lives) of the Buddha, describing historical events concerning important Lamas, or retelling myths associated with other deities. Devotional images act as the centerpiece during a ritual or ceremony and are often used as mediums through which one can offer prayers or make requests. Overall, and perhaps most importantly, religious art is used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment. ¹

Here are some examples:

English: Tibetan Buddhist thangka painting of ...

Tibetan Buddhist thangka painting of a mandala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tibetan Buddhist Namgyal monks preparing the K...

Tibetan Buddhist Namgyal monks preparing the Kalachakra mandala within the pavilion, under thangkas of Padmasambhava, Kalachakra, Lord Buddha, Kalachakra Mandala, and White Tara, prayer area, main shrine, Verizon Center, Washington D.C., USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Tibetan Buddhist thangka painting

English: Tibetan Buddhist thangka painting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buddha Amitabha in Tibetan Buddhism, tradition...

Buddha Amitabha in Tibetan Buddhism, traditional Thangka painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The Bhavacakra (Sanskrit; Devanagari:...

The Bhavacakra (Sanskrit; Devanagari: भवचक्र; Pali: bhavacakka) or Wheel of Becoming is a symbolic representation of continuous existence proces in the form of a circle, used primarily in Tibetan Buddhism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vajravarahi mandala

Vajravarahi mandala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description at "I took ...

Description at “I took this photo myself in September 1993 and am happy for it to be freely available. John Hill 02:45, 28 January 2007 (UTC) I am sorry – in the original name I gave the date as 1994 by mistake – it was taken during our trip to Tibet in 1993. John Hill (talk) 00:48, 9 January 2008 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: 14th century Tibetan thangka painting...

14th century Tibetan thangka painting of the Mandala of Vajravarahi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Art shop in Kathmandu, Nepal

Art shop in Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Painted Bhutanese Medicine Buddha mandala with...

Painted Bhutanese Medicine Buddha mandala with the goddess Prajnaparamita in center, 19th century, Rubin Museum of Art Bhutanese art is similar to the art of Tibet. Both are based upon Vajrayana Buddhism, with its pantheon of divine beings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the above we can see the visual diversity of the Tankha. The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung was particularly interested in their mandala qualities. Jung likened the tankha to circular shaped Christian art that he felt was pointing to the same, or a similar phenomenon—the self.

“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing,…which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time….Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:…the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.”

—Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp 195 – 196.

The reason I say “similar” is because Jung, at some points in his Collected Works and Letters, argues that Christianity differs from Eastern religions. The upwardly skewed symbol of the cross, he felt, indicated an upward bias. Jung once said that Eastern yogis, lamas and saints were “at bottom” of the spiritual change we see in the West.²


² I included this quote (and its reference) in an essay for my doctoral studies. The essay, however, is not online, and probably buried deep in a cardboard box. I will find it… soon. :)

Related Posts » Buddhism, Karma, Mandala, Metempsychosis, Moksha, Reincarnation, Samsara



Tantra BH 2007 - Jai Kartar + Carina by Siri Amrit Singh (Alexander Czajkowski)

Tantra BH 2007 – Jai Kartar + Carina by Siri Amrit Singh (Alexander Czajkowski)

Generally a tantra is a spiritual text, “thread,” rule or path with a related discipline. There are many different types of tantras within Hinduism and Buddhism. Most paths share the belief that apparently male and female energies combine to transmute ordinary consciousness to a higher level of spiritual awareness. In Hinduism the right hand path refers mostly to meditation on Siva’s relation to Shakti. In the left hand path, a complex series of rites are performed by an equal number of male and female aspirants. These rites culminate in sexual union in which the male does not ejaculate because semen is believed to contain mystical power, especially when spiritually united with the female’s Shakti.

English: Original Statue of Carl Jung in Mathe...

Original Statue of Carl Jung in Mathew Street, Liverpool, UK. Made of plaster, it was vandalised and replaced in 1993. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C. G. Jung was interested in the ideas of tantra and monastic celibacy, saying that monks sacrificed the worldly activity of ordinary sex for a rich inner reality. Critics of the idea that sexuality should be sacrificed for a deeper (or higher) spirituality argue that sexuality has been unjustly debased through the years. Some feminist critics also say that many who devalue sexuality never had sex based on genuine love between equal partners. This may be partly true but it also reduces the many sided issue of celibacy into some kind of misogynist hangup. Many saints and yogis, alike, paint a very different picture with regard to the necessity of celibacy in advanced stages of God realization.

Related Posts » Bauls, Chakras, Kundalini, Shapeshifter, Yoga

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Shatner, William – TekWar (1990 PB) uploaded by sdobie
via Flickr

TekWar is a series of science fiction novels, TV shows and made-for-TV movies created by William Shatner (Captain Kirk of Star Trek) portraying a disturbing vision of mankind’s technological future.

Although the books imply that Shatner is the author, after some time it came out that they were ghost-written by science-fiction author Ron Goulart.

In TekWar dark warlords enslave the population through the distribution of a mind-altering drug in a corrupt society. What’s novel about this drug is that it’s entirely digital. A microchip.

Good and bad characters fight information wars on an advanced internet, connected directly to the mind. Users wear special headgear and information is externally displayed in holographic images.

So instead of computers merely receiving viruses through the web, as we have today, enemy hackers can literally kill each other through the neural interface.

While the idea of “killing thoughts” may seem unique to science fiction, similar non-technological myths of killing at a distance appear in voodoo doll, witchcraft and evil eye lore. And some mystics and shamanic practitioners believe they are mystically “killing” the lesser aspects of other people’s personalities through a kind of inner, transpersonal “slamming,” for lack of a better word.

English: William Shatner photographed by Jerry...

William Shatner photographed by Jerry Avenaim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the claims of these mystics and shamans are true,¹ to me it would seem to involve a kind of unclear, gloomy or possibly hellish underworld that one hopefully would be able to rise above. But as long as individuals identify with this kind of dynamic (i.e. I’m the big, important psychic warrior and you just don’t understand...)² they’ll probably remain stuck there.

On this point the psychologist Carl Jung stressed time and again that so-called archetypal forces are powerful, transpersonal and sometimes volatile. The key, Jung said, is to not identify with any of them. And I think this is an important precursor to enjoying a higher, heavenly bliss that just can’t be found in a shadowy and tumultuous psychological underworld.

¹ (a) The Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo claimed to assist the Allied Forces in WW-II by virtue of his meditation, and at a distance. (b) Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy notes that some shamans take up a different vocation if their culture doesn’t recognize them as such, which seems to suggest that, for some, their commitment to this practice is only as deep as their ability to make a living out of it.

² Jung called this inflation. And Joseph Campbell further delineated different types of mythic involvement with concepts of Mythic Dissociation, Mythic Eternalization, Mythic Identification, Mythic Inflation, Mythic Subordination.


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