Snakes, Serpents

October 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

The snake, or serpent, is symbolic of energy itself, of pure force. It is also commonly associated with the tree and its form resembles that of roots and branches. Snakes appear everywhere, some inhabit the woods, they can be found in deserts, as well as in water.

The snake, because of its ability to strangle and because of its aggressiveness, signifies strength. Because it sheds its skin it has been associated with symbolism of resurrection and rebirth. The combination of the ability to rejuvenate and the power to kill, it has power over both life and death. Snakes are also mediators. They mediate between life and death, this world and the underworld, between cosmos and divine space. The ambivalence of the snake (of the positive/negative, constructive/destructive) is expressed in the Gnostic symbol of the heavenly snake Ouroboros. In the Ouroboros symbol the snake is connected to the symbolism of the Wheel, representing cyclic eternity. The symmetrical placing of two snakes like in the caduceus of Mercury, indicates an equilibrium of forces, representing good balanced by evil. The snake then, is cause of both the illness as well as the cure. This is mentioned by Pliny who says that it is a well known fact that all injuries inflicted by serpents, even those of an otherwise incurable nature, can be cured by applying the entrails of the serpent itself to the wound. He also says that someone who has eaten a viper’s liver (boiled), will never be attacked by serpents again (Book 29, Ch 22). The fat of some snakes will also repel venomous creatures.

J.E. Cirlot mentions that the snake was an important symbol for the Gnostics, especially for the Naasenes sect where the snake was said to live in all objects and all beings. He also makes a connection between this idea and to the Kundalini concept (of Yoga) where the snake is an image of inner strength, where Kundalini is represented symbolically as a snake coiled up in the base of the spine.

Ingvil Saelid Gilhus writes that of all animals in the Graeco-Roman culture, the snake played a special role, in relation to gods and goddesses, and it was associated with a number of cults. Snakes were seen as guardians of sacred places as well as private houses, they were used as symbols of the souls of the dead, they symbolized transformation, and had healing powers, as well as prophetic powers (one example is the cult of Glycon).

Pliny mentions that there are numerous remedies that can be derived from serpents, which also is why it has been consecrated to the god of medicine, Æsculapius. There are also other beneficient effects that can be made from preparations of snakes, for instance, Democritus claims there is one preparation that makes one understand the language of birds. (Book 29 Ch 22). Pliny mentions the “dragon”, a serpent destitute of venom, and probably talks of the boa. The head of this serpent is placed beneath the threshold of a door, which will ensure good fortune to the house. The eyes of this snake can be prepared (by being dried up and beaten with honey) and made into a liniment which will protect against terrors of spirits and spectres by night. Other parts of this snake can ensure success in lawsuits, give access to persons high in office, and can render masters indulgent and rulers gracious. The most powerful potion to be made from this serpent though, says Pliny, is the one that magicians claim can make a person invincible. The tail and head of the snake, together with the hairs of a lion’s forehead and lion’s marrow, the foam of a winning race-horse and the claws of a dog, are tied together in a deer’s skin.  (Book 29, Ch 20).

There are many remedies for the eyes which are prepared from snakes, for instance, against  cataract and films upon the eyes. A burnt viper mixed with salt, applied to the tongue will improve eye-sight; slough that was cast off in spring will also improve the sight. The fat of snakes heals ruptures of the cuticle of the eyes. (Book 29, Ch 28). Tooth-ache and other ailments of the teeth can also be cured with the help of snake remedies. When tooth-ache affects upper jaw, two upper teeth of the male white serpent are attached , and two lower ones for tooth ache in the lower jaw. Another efficient cure is to eat a snake’s heart, or to wear it attached to the body. The ashes of a serpent, burnt with salt and injected with oil and roses, injected in the ear are goof for the gums. Injected into hollow teeth, makes the tooth come out without pain. A snake’s tooth worn as an amulet allays tooth-ache. (Book 30, Ch 8).

Some remedies against snake bites include swallow-wort (greater celandine) given in wine and betony as external application to the wound. If a circle of betony is traced around a serpent, the powers of the plant are so strong that the snake will lash itself to death with its tail (Book 25, Ch 55). Another plant harmful to snakes is the ash tree. Pliny states that no serpent will ever lie in the shadow thrown by an ash tree, but keep as far away from it as possible – it will rather throw itself into a lighted fire than encounter the leaves of the tree. There is no better cure against snake bites, according to Pliny, than drinking the juice extracted from these leaves and to apply them to wounds. (Book 16, Ch 24)

Snakes in art

Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake (Poussin)


Lancelot du Lac

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)

(See also: Pan Tadeusz, Simon Schama)


May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)

Lancelot du Lac

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The dark grove at the heart of the forest witnessed extremes of desire and violence.” (Christopher Wood)

Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)


May 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

The process of immersion is in part a sense of death – the body immersed in water; dissolved, a return to the pre-formal; the fluid body. In part, immersion is birth – water as regenerating: life-giving, purifying.

The body is immersed in water; as it resurfaces the new self appears while the old self has disappeared into the deep.


May 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Water is a mediator between life and death because it is a source of both regeneration and annihilation (see also: Transformation). Not only is water rejuvenating, life is also created in water. The place from which all life comes; the primeval ocean, a concept that also is associated with the unconscious.

Furthermore, water is a communicator between the surface and the abyss/depths. The surface itself functions a divider between above and below, between the upper world (life, light) and the lower world (death, darkness).

Another division between above and below, is the distinction between the “upper waters” and “lower waters”, where the former stands for potentiality, possibilities – that which might be, and the latter represents the actual or that which already have been created.

Water also symbolizes the concept of “liquid matter” in general.

Other keywords: transparency/depth, the fluid body, the dragon’s abode

The Diseases of Trees

January 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Like humans, trees can be attacked by maladies. Some afflictions are common for all trees, for instance, attacks by worms, or pain in the limbs. Trees can be afflicted with hunger or indigestion, as well as suffer from excessive fatness (and thus turning themselves into a torch-tree).We can also speak of their bodies as being mutilated.

Sideration, the ill effects caused by the heavens, inflict injuries upon trees. One instance of sideration is a certain heat and dryness that prevails at the rising of the Dog-star, and that causes grafts and young trees to pine away and die.

Both human beings and trees are subjects to diseases of the sinews. For both, the virulence shows itself in either the feet (the roots), or the joints of the fingers (the extremities of the branches that are most distant from the trunk). The first symptom is that the tree is suffering from pain, the affected parts becoming brittle and dry, then follows rapid consumption and ultimately death.

Injuries inflicted by the hand of man are productive of bad effects. Pitch oil and grease are highly detrimental if applied to trees. Trees may also be killed if a circular piece of the bark is removed from around them.  If the bark is removed from the fir and the pine, while the sun is passing through Taurus or Gemini, they will instantly die. In winter however, they are able to withstand the effects of it much longer. This is also the case for holm-oak, the robur and the quercus. If only a narrow circular strip is removed from these trees, there will be no visible injuries. But in the case of the weaker trees, the same operation, even if only performed on one side, will be sure to kill them.

When the roots of a tree are cut, the result should be death.

Trees will also kill one another. For example, by their shade, or density of their foliage. And ivy, by clinging to a tree, will strangle it. It is in the nature of some plants to injure other plants, for instance, the radish and its effect on the vine. It was from this observation that Androcydes used the radish in his antidote for drunkenness, recommending it to be eaten when drinking wine.

(Book 17, Chapter 37)

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