At the heart of symbolism

The serpent wound round the tree


The serpent, one and two

The serpent or the snake is one of the most complex and most widely spread symbols across many traditions:

  • It represents not only opposite aspects such as light-obscurity, feminine-masculine, creation-destruction etc., but their unifying principle as well;
  • It is often linked to other symbols such as the bird, spiral and tree or assimilated to the dragon. As the dragon, the serpent plays the role of custodian of the fruit of the tree that give access to knowledge.

First of all, the serpent is at once duality and unity. Its androgynous nature makes him neither good nor bad, but neutral, i.e. beyond the world of duality where man usually wants to confine it.

Plate 16th century, Iznik (Turkey)OuroborosSecondly, the serpent is often represented as a helix wound round the trunk of a tree or a vertically erected stick. The trunk of the tree or the vertical stick symbolizes the World Axis, the direct path between Earth and Heaven. The coiling-up of the animal around the trunk characterizes the outline, the indirect path between Earth and Heaven. Each single turn of the helix constitutes a cycle associated with a being's state. The end of a cycle does not coincide with its beginning, for the individual dies to a state of being to be reborn into another one. The cycle related to a state corresponds to a journey through all its modes and its projection on the vertical axis to the centre of that state. It follows that the direct path goes through the centre of each state and the indirect one through the various modes of each of them.

The projection of any cycle on a horizontal plan is a circle that considers the various modes of its course separately. It gives the impression of a permanent restart that makes the human being feel as if he is a prisoner of his temporal condition. Such a cycle is mischievously symbolized by the ouroboros, a serpent that bites his own tail.

The course of the multitude of the being's states can be undertaken in two opposite directions: the ascending direction towards the superior states and the descending direction towards the inferior ones. These two opposite directions correspond to the two currents of the cosmic force, the ascending current considered as beneficial and the descending one depicted as malefic. Indeed, both currents are not opposed, but complementary and are part of a single process; they describe the universal manifestation from the Principle, the totally unified state and the return of the manifestation towards the same Principle. That is so true that the two inverse currents of the cosmic force are symbolized by a unique serpent called amphisbaena with a head at both ends (for more details, see the double spiral).

To achieve the full realization, the being will have to leave the cycle associated with a state to rejoin the centre of it. Then, he will be able to follow his ascension alongside the vertical axis. If there is continuity between the states of the cyclic course, the passage to the centre of a state implies, on the contrary, a discontinuity, a jump corresponding to the integration of the various modes of the considered state. There is no access to the superior states without a jump into the unknown.

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