The Tree and The Serpent: hieros gamos of the Self

For it is secretly, and in the hidden depths of the spirit, that the soul of man is joined to the word of God, so that they are two in one flesh. [St. Augustine] [1]

At the heart of the Jungian model of the psyche is the "archetype of archetypes", the Self, centre of the collective unconscious and also all encompassing director: the point beyond which Jung could not and would not venture. This source and goal of psychic drive is for Jung impersonal. However, there is a dual problem with the classical Jungian position on the nature of the collective unconscious: 1) if general and specific ancestral traits can be functions of the common psyche, which Jung himself appeared to believe [2], where does the intersection/point of departure lie between personal and impersonal? And 2) if the archetypes are the product in toto or in part ancestral accretions, and ergo mutable, how can the universal unconscious remain so ad infinitum? Again, how do the two elements of development and immutability co-exist in the unconscious? [3] In Aion, Jung himself jumbles two different, and apparently contradictory, views of the aetiology of the collective unconscious. In the space of two paragraphs [CW vol 9ii, pars 50-51] he writes, "the habitus of our ancestral psychic life", "habitual modes of thinking, feeling, and behaving which experience has proved appropriate and useful", and then, "we function as man has functioned at all times and in all places", "[they - the archetypes - should be] regarded as absolutes", "The will....cannot alter their nature". Rather than a simplistic philogenetic Self and ontogenetic ego, Jung appears to be postulating a balance of universal/specific in the inherited unconscious, and can be unclear as to just how individual that specifficity can be; for example his speculations on the possibility of a kind of ancestral metempsychosis in lineal descendants. In fact his attempts to racial stratify the unconscious [4] led both to Nazi interest in his theories and commensurate condemnation by his detractors. The former sentiment is of an existentially-formed unconscious, whereas the latter is of a force beyond affectation. If we function now as always then at what point have the archetypes been formed at what point have they become beyond mutability? If all people in all places carry an identical phylogenetic psyche ("..identical in all individuals.." [CW vol 9ii, par 251]) it must have finished its formation before homo sapiens separated. The latest understanding of the emergence of our species has our first fully human ancestors living in Africa 125,000 years ago, but soon divided into numerous branches: Were the archetypes formed in the pre-sapien period? And what of the creative burst throughout the scattered human family ca. 40,000 years ago - the Great Leap Forward: If the archetypal drive existed before then for the whole plethora of cultural and technological developments, why did their realisation not occur previously?

Although Jung would talk about the phylogenetic Self there are other telling passages which seem to indicate something else. In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious we seem to be presented with a part of the psyche which is unconscious (not the ego) and individualised (not universally collective):

Another form of the structural change concerns certain unusual observations about which I speak only with the utmost reserve. I refer to states of possession in which the possession is caused by something that could perhaps be most fitly described as 'ancestral soul', by which I mean the soul of some definite forebear. For all practical purposes, such cases may be regarded as striking instances of identification with deceased persons. My attention was first drawn to such possibilities by Léon Daudet's confused but ingeneous book L'Hérédo. Daudet supposes that, in the structure of the personality, there are ancestral elements which under certain conditions may suddenly come to the fore. The individual is then precipitately thrust into an ancestral role. [Author's note: Léon Daudet - a French novelist and philosopher of the 19th century - was read by Jung and his ideas may well have affected Jung's psychological formulations. Daudet believed that the individual's psyche contained ancestral traits to the extent of being what we would now call subpersonalities. In L'Hérédo the true personality is understood as the Self (the soi) that must be cultivated over and above the ego (the moi). In becoming 'oneself' the ancestral subpersonalities can be controlled and used; the bad ones dispensed with and the beneficial ones retained as models for one's own development. These subpersonalities are referred to as heredisms.] Now we know that ancestral spirits play a very important part in the primitive psychology. Not only are ancestral spirits suposed to be reincarnated in children, but an attempt is made to implant them into the child by naming him after an ancestor. So, too, primitives try to change themselves back into their ancestors by means of certain rites. I would mention especially the Australian conception of the alcheringamijina, ancestral souls, half man and half animal, whose reactivation through relgious rites is of the greatest functional significance for the life of the tribe. Ideas of this sort, dating back to the Stone Age, were widely diffused, as may be seen from the numerous other traces that can be found elsewhere. It is therefore not improbable that these primordial forms of experience may recur even today as cases of identification with ancestral souls, and I believe I have seen such cases. [Collected Works vol 9I, par 224]

And again, in the Psychological Commentary to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Jung writes of both universal and lineally inherited parts of the psyche, noting that, "Among these inherited psychic factors there is a special class which is not confined either to family or race. These are universal dispositions.." [5]

The Ashanti believe that the spirit, ntoro, is transmitted from parent to child, referring to it in the inherited sense as the sunsum. Besides this ancestral psyche, they hold that a part of the spirit called the kra, the life force and divine presence in man, exists in all people. Jungian therapist, Adam Crabtree, who has specialised in multiple personality, recognises ancestral possession in many of his patients:

Although Jung does not develop the details of the nature of the collectiveness from the whole of the human race right down to the individual family. It is my view that the connections on the level of the collective unconscious of the smaller groupings are more complex and contain more detail than those on the level of the collective unconscious of the whole human race. In other words, as one moves down the continuum from the collective unconscious of humanity to the collective unconscious of the family, connections between the individual members become closer and more enriched with the contents of specific experiences of the members. [6]

The solution to the conundrum may lie in a dual answer: one part of the Self may be subject to development (individually and collectively) and another beyond affectation or adaption; the latter functioning as a template - or rather magnetic goal and pre-existent pattern - and the former subject to developmental change within that archetype. The manifestation of the two states of eternal permanence and developmenality can be observed in the projected corresponding religious experiences and formulations. This syzygy is of a universal nature, made apparent in split religious traditions where salvation is attained either by development (effort) or by instantaneous enlightenment: the Northern and Southern schools of Chinese Ch'en (zen) Buddhism, sakya and tantra (successfully combined in Tibet), and Soto and Rinzai Buddhism (in Japan) are examples of schismatic mystical doctrines, teaching the two approaches respectively. With respect to the operation of divine grace we find a similar split in East and West. The heated exchanges between St Augustine, teaching a soteriology dependent totally on the Will of God, and the British lay ascetic Pelagius, who expoused salvation through moral exhortation is paralleled by the split (albeit later) between the Japanese Buddhist Pure Land doctrine of Honen (1133-1212), which taught liberation through constant repitition of the prayer to Amida, and that of his disciple Shinran (1173-1262), who maintained, like the Bishop of Hippo, that man was so weak he could only rely on divine grace, negating salvation through effort (i.e. the life of constant prayer). Many Pure Land followers, like the Catholic Church, synthesised the two approaches, recognising both human spiritual development and direct intervention by Heaven (Jodo-Shinshu).

A common archetypal representation of the Self is the tree [7], demonstrated most forceably in the Teutonic myth of the world tree Yggdrasil, from which emerges the ancestors of the human race. After much study of such mythological tales and the numerous paintings and mandalas of his patients Jung summarizes his conclusions thus:

If a mandala may be described as a symbol of the self seen in cross section, then the tree would respresent a profile view of it: the self depicted as a process of growth. [Collected Works vol 13, par 304] The inverted tree plays a great role among the East Siberian shamans [8]. Kagarow has published a photograph of one such tree, named Nakassa, from a specimen in the Leningrad Museum. The roots signify hairs, and on the trunk near the roots, a face has been carved, showing that the tree represents a man. Presumably this is the shaman himself, or his greater personality. The shaman climbs the magic tree in order to find his true self in the upper world. Eliade says in his excellent study of shamanism: "The Eskimo shaman feels the need for these ecstatic journeys because it is above all during trance he becomes truely himself: the mystical experience is necessary to him as a constituent of his true personality." [Collected Works vol 13, par 462]

The true personality alludes to the unconscious part of the personality, which in the above descriptions fits more comfortably into the conception of the Self as an individual force and dynamic rather than the phylogenetic entity postulated by Jung. Latterly, the psychologist and theosophist Roberto Assagioli, one time colleague of Jung, assigned the Self a personalised nature, as did Gurdjief and Steiner.

One must look for other symbolism in order to find the non-personal aspect of the unconscious, which, I believe, is to be found in the accompanying archetypal image of the serpent or dragon, sometimes benevolent, sometimes malevolent. These two symbols are invariably linked throughout man's mythologies, and most familiar to the western mind from the Book of Genesis [9]. Jung observes that the two have a natural connection but fails to understand exactly what the relationship is, and, moreover, what the totality of the symbolism represents:

...the tree is also connected with the snake, the dragon, and other animals, as in the case of Yggdrasil, the Persian tree Gaokerena in the lake of Vourukasha, or the Tree of the Hesperides, not to mention the holy trees of India, in whose shadow may often be seen dozens of naga (snake) stones. [Collected Works vol 13, par 461]

And commenting on an old English legend concerning the return of Seth to the Garden of Eden:

The tree's lack of bark and the snake's lack of skin indicate the identity between them. [Collected Works vol 13, par 400, footnote 8].

In Man and His Symbols Jung explains the serpent as a symbol of transendence, being its benevolent aspect:

Perhaps the commonest dream symbol of transendence is the snake, as reprented by the therepeutic symbol of the Roman god of medicine Aesculpius, which has survived into modern times as a sign of the medical profession. This was originally a non-poisonous tree snake; as wee see it, coiled around the staff of the healing god [believed by the Romans to have been a hazel rod given by Appollo to Mercury], it seems to embody a kind of mediation between heaven and earth. [page 153]

Although often displayed separately, these symbols together represent the totality of the core of the psyche. The tree is the growing, mutable, individualised Self [10], which leaves the reptile as the phylogenetic, cosmic element [11]. This formulation solves the conundrum of how the Self can be said - at different times - to be an archetype subject to change through an accretion of man's collective experience and also rooted in a dimension outside of temporality. The symbol of the inverted tree is of the Self rooted in heaven as a complement to growing from the earth: the individual - at source - being shaped by the non temporal and the historical. Indeed, Jung spoke of the archetypes being rooted in two different dimensions. This would suggest that the forces represented by the immutable serpent are transmitted to the tree ("Plant this tree on the stone, that it fear not the buffeting of the winds" [CW vol 13, par 421]), which is also shaped by man's collective, existential inheritance. The individual essence truely is the son of man and the son of god - the hominisation of God and deification of man. [12]

Whilst discussing serpentine symbolism in Gnosticism and alchemy Jung identifies it as the divine self:

From this we can see clearly that the serpent was either a foreunner of man or a distant copy of the Anthropos, and how justified is the equation Naas [the serpent] = Nous = Logos = Christ = Higher Adam. [Collected Works vol 9ii, para 367]

Further, the Gnostic sect, the Naassenes, believed that this Naas was tripartite, comprising the rational, the psychic and the earthly13 - later to be echoed in the trinitarian nature of the alchemical spiritus Mercurius.

An interesting text quoted by Jung in Alchemical Studies illustrates the triple force which is as much part of man as God:

In the Aquarium sapientium the 'son of the great world' [filius macrocosmi, the lapis] is correlated with Christ who is the filius microcosmi, and his blood is the quintessence, the red tincture. This the:
true and authentic duplex Mercurius or Giant of twofold substance...God by nature, man, hero, etc., who hath the celestial spirit in him, which quickeneth all things...he is the sole and perfect healer of all imperfect bodies and men, the true heavenly physician of the soul....the triune universal essence [my itals], which is called Jehovah." [Collected Works vol 13, par 384]

In a footnote Jung quotes further from the Aquarium sapientum, by an unknown alchemical author, concerning the divine triune essence. Jung himself thinks the author must be confused: is of one, a divine essence, then of two, of God and Man, that is, of three persons, of four, namely of three persons and one divine essence, as also of five, of three persons and two essences, namely one divine one human."

The alchemist is expressing the central mystery of divine-human communion enveloped in a triunity, just as Mercurius - the serpent symbol of the collective unconscious, according to Jung - is sometimes spoken of in the duplex and elsewhere triadically. [14] What I have referred to as the trinitarian Self [15] is actually a double set of trinities, one as a pre-existent, pretemporal force and the other its counterpart developing from the world of becoming. This formulation leaves the classical Jungian understanding of a truely universal, phylogenetic Self in tact whilst also accommodating those schools that subscribe to an ever-modified psychic core. It actually goes much further in that it offers theologians (and certain philosophies) a point of unity where the eternal alpha provides the human teleological drive towards the omega. God enters human history in a very meaningful and descriptive way, and man's life becomes the instrument of the divine plan. The eschatological concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, of man growing communially and individually into a new - preordained - consciousness can be expressed in Jungian psycholgical terms.

Jung's preoccupation with the psychology of Christianity focuses on the symbol of Christ himself. Aion is an investigation into the Self centering around the Christ symbol - both its meaning and incompleteness. As a psychologist dealing with the psychic realities of mythologems, Jung has a tendency to treat the transcendent Christ alone rather than the combination (not just an absorbtion) of orthodox Christian theology, of celestial Christ and historic Yeshua. This is of fundamental importance: the cause of much dissent within the Early Church was around this very point - the docetism of the Gnostics against the dyphysite formulations of the Nicean-Constantinoplean Creed (381). In order to appreciate the God-man, one has to deal as much with a developing human being and God incarnate (in that human person). It is not the mythological Christ alone who serves Christianity as the symbol of the Self, but the combination of that ancient divine saviour with a Jewish rabbi, whose biblical lineage(s) - real or mythological - display a psychological need for ancestral progression. Here we return to the conundrum not just at the heart of the Jungian model of the psyche but also of christology itself. The divine Son of God is not only the model of aspiration for Christians it served as such for the Jesus of history [16], the Son of Man: an image of the Self both eternally the same and historically modified. Jung talked of the complexio oppositorum of the Self, but referred to Christ and Antichrist [17] whereas the hieros gamos of tree and serpent is of Christ and his bride, the Church [18], the development of the Word in history in the souls of his people. This clash of interpretation of what constitutes wholeness at the centre of the psyche involves the old chestnut of the nature of evil.

Jung was always at pains to draw a division between the metaphysical and psychological, not wanting to speculate in the former, feeling it was incompatible with his empirical investigations into the nature of the psyche. This created a problem both for Jung and for churchmen interested in his ideas; not least of whom was Fr Victor White. Not wanting to compromise his own position but trying to endgender good relations with his Dominican associate, Jung writes:

My learned friend Victor White O.P....thinks he can detect a Manichaean streak in me. I don't go in for metaphysics, but ecclesiastical philosophy undoubtedly does, and for this reason, and for this reason what are we to make of hell, damnation, and the devil, if these things are eternal? Theoretically they consist of nothing, and how does that square with the dogma of eternal damnation? But if they consist of something, that something can hardly be good. So where is the danger of dualism? In addition to this my critic should know how very much I stress the unity of the self, this central archetype which is a complexio oppositorum par excellence, and that my leanings are therefore towards the very reverse of dualism. [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 112, footnote 74].

Perhaps it is by the loosening of the barrier against metaphysical investigation in Jungian thought which will be the way to faciltate the fulfilment of Jung's personal dream to harmonise psychology and religious understanding. Certainly from the religious point of view there must be a clearer way of bringing the eternal element into the model of the psyche. In discussing the nature of the Age of Pisces in relation to Christ as a symbol of the Self, Jung cites Gnostic sources concerning beliefs in cosmic twins, attempting to support the antagonistic sibling relationship of Christ and shadow, the Antichrist. However, after quoting from the Pistis Sophia in Aion regarding the story of Jesus' heavenly twin Jung notes:

It appears from the context of this fragment that Jesus is the "truth sprouting from the earth", whereas the spirit that resembled him is "justice looking down from heaven." The text says: "Truth is the power which issued from thee when thou wast in the lower regions of chaos. For this cause thy power hath said through David, 'Truth hath sprouted out of the earth', because thou wert in the lower regions of chaos." Jesus, accordingly, is conceived as a double personality, part of which rises up from the chaos or hyle, while the other part descends from heaven. [Collected Works vol 9ii, par132].

This idea of the Heavenly Twin, the higher self, runs through Gnostic belief, possibly originating in the concept of the spiritual double, the ka, in ancient Egyptian belief. The Gospel of Thomas is presented as the occult words of Jesus written down by his earthly twin (didymus) Judas Thomas [19], whilst The Acts of John record the Heavenly double of the earthly Jesus. The prophet Mani claimed his Heavenly Twin was the foundation of his own revelation, referring to him as a "mirror image of my own person".

This is more in keeping with the marriage of eternal pattern and developing psyche rather than good and evil. Jung's Gnostic understanding of evil as the shadow of goodness inevitably leads to his view of the combination of plus and minus in the Self, but another apprehension can be evil as the inversion of divine order - the domination of the higher by the lower. One of the ground breaking observations of the natural world with regard to the human condition has been that of genocide by chimpanzees (and not as an act of self defence), followed by subsequent reports of infanticide [20]. Moral rectitude is applicable then to mankind even when it includes that which is part of his natural inclination, and it is that animal power in his behavioural disposition which poses a constant threat to the more recently developed, and therefore fragile, higher faculties. (The Gnostic answer is simply to annihilate the hylic, and to attempt to negate associated codes of morality. "The goal of the opus" says Jung, "was to deliver the anima mundi, the world-creating spirit of God, from the chains of Physis" [CW vol 13, par 404] ). In this sense Jung is quite correct: without darkness light cannot be understood or appreciated. However, Jung's study of alchemy which suited his own predisposition of the investigation of the natural world with man as both an integral part and as a potential controller inveriably slants his views towards man as the self consciousness of the universe [21], its purpose of evolution. This bottom-upwards-direction-alone comprehension is at odds with the orthodox Christian position, although Jung argued that a creator God can only produce what is inherent in His own being, that which is immanent in the god-head. However, as he himself understood, morality is a human preserve and separates man from the rest of the animal kingdom. So if human judgement values do not occur in the natural world from whence do they originate? They are of archtypal disposition, albeit culturally adapted, preexisting not only the individual but apparently the species. The Big Question then is what is the aetiology of morality and aesthetics if not a product of animal existentiality? We are back again at the chicken-and-egg syndrome, which I believe is resolved in the preexistence of one part of the Self, symbolised by the serpent, and brought to temporal realisation by its counterpart, the tree.

The triple natured serpent guardian of the tree or treasure [22] is complemented by the three-tiered tree; the union between them being one of corresponding male/female elements of each of the trinitarian aspects. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the Self is trinitarian in construct with the fourth (Jungian) element being the odd-man-out, the ego [23]. And this trinity one of God, Man and Nature: the integral union of the Self is then in the form of a double trinity or symbolism of the number six. Edward Edinger - a leading American analyst - reviewing some of Jung's letters in The New God-Image traces the development of western man's consciousness through the changing perception of the god archetype. He identifies six stages through which this development has taken place: animism, matriarchy, hierarchical polytheism, tribal monotheism, universal monotheism, and individuation. A brief description taken from each category, respectively, reveals three sets of two consecutive parts for each level of the trinitarian whole: "primitive psyche experiences spirits everywhere: in animals, in trees, in places, in rivers"; "We then get the matriarchal stage of the God-image, in which the great, nourishing earth-mother is the primary factor"; "There is the emergence of urban society...kingship is born"; "Yahweh, on the other hand, was interested in man"; "[Marcion's] maintained that the God of love as revealed by Christ had nothing to do with Yahweh, the God of law"; "the discovery of the psyche" [24].

The mystic, like the shaman [25], ascends through three levels towards divine union: St Bonaventure's 'ladder' not only passed through the triple strata, but each stage was dualistic, possessing the immanent and the transcendent [26]; a sixfold structure related to the six-winged Seraph who embraced St Francis prior to the onset of the first manifestation of the stigmata, according to Mircea Eliade [27]. The origin of this vision of the six-winged Seraph appears to lie in the mystical experience of Isiah who had a vision of God at the start of his prophetic life: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon the throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The fullness of the whole earth is his glory!" Besides being six-winged there are also six seraphim, arranged in Bonaventure-style in three sets of two: the feet representing the mundane level, the head that of humanity, and finally in flight to the heavens, that of divinity. The appearance of winged angels in Judaism is due to the influence of Babylonian and Persian religious ideas, and one may well speculate that this angelic sixfold attendance on God has a common origin with the six Spentas (Wise Ones) who were emanations of and attendants on Ahura Mazda [28]. However, that would be dependent on how one dates both Isiah and Zoroaster, and it may be simply a case of 'untainted' synchronicity. Like the arrangements of Isiah and Bonaventure, the Spentas were in fact two complementary groups of threes; one masculine and the other feminine. In the first triad Voh Manah ensures the presence of God in the righteous, Asha protects the sacred fire (the eternal triple flame), and Kshathra, the military spirit, is supported by the sun, sky and celestial luminaries, whilst the latter triad comprises Armati, the earth goddess, Haurvatat, ruler of healing waters, and Amertat, overseer of medicinal herbs. This is quite patently the marriage of heaven and earth, the hieros gamos of the eternal and the transient. [29]

The trichotomous nature of the serpent and its ambivalence with regard to truth and deception, of good and evil, can be explained within the concept of the trinitarian Self. The serpent as a symbol is employed in connection to both Christ and the devil, and to heaven and earth, whilst the tree is unambiguous in symbolising the developing Self. Discussing the alchemical Mercurius in the Ripley "Scrowle" Jung writes:

Mercurius appears as a snake in the shape of a Melusina descending from the top of the Philosophical Tree ("tree of knowledge"). The tree stands for the development and phases of the transformation process, and its fruits or flowers signify the consummation of the work. In the fairytale Mercurius is hidden in the roots of a great oak-tree, i.e. in the earth. For it is in the interior of the earth that the Mercurial serpent dwells. [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 372]

The Cosmic Serpent is also in chthonic form in the myth of triple-rooted Yggdrasil - "And the dragon gnaws from beneath" - the tree on which Odin sacrifices himself to himself. But then again the snake can be depicted as the crucified one on the Cross, appearing as such in medieval times as well as "in dreams and fantasy-images of modern people" [30], which associates the symbol with the suffering individual himself. In Memories, Dreams and Reflections, the snake of Jung's midlife fantasy is for him "an indication of a hero myth". This jumble of serpentine symbolism can be separated into three categories: those appertaining to the earthly or chthonic regions, those indicating humanity or the middle stratum and those of a higher or celestial disposition [31]. This formulation is a counterpart to the three levels of the arborial growth and transformation, through the trinitarian strata of Nature, Man and God. The Kabbalistic sephiroth tree is composed of three triads united in the tenth quality, the core of which is both the Messiah and Metatron, the Cosmic Man. The Divine Monarch is intertwined with the cosmic blueprint, uniting man with God.

The archetypal longing for the Perfect Man then finds its focal point in the concept of the Divine Monarch and messianic prophet. Jung likened the Primordial Man of alchemy with the cosmic Adam Kadmon, incarnated in Adam, Gayomart of Persian mythology and Metatron in the Zohar. In Gnosticism, as elsewhere (according to Jung), "he is connected with the question of creation and redemption". Like Adam, like Christ, who are incarnations of the macrocosm, so the "true man" of the alchemists is the incarnation of "astral man" and the sky-man for the Essenes. It is this state of cosmic wholeness, of original purity, which can save the individual and society from material and spiritual enslavement. The hero has to fight the serpent in order to release man from his fallen state, often pictured in mythological terms as securing the fruit from the Cosmic Tree after combating the monster-guardian. Mystically it is in the form of the three temptations of Christ and Buddha (who found enlightenment in spiritual harmony with the Bodhi-Gaya, the Tree of Wisdom) by the Evil One. Arnold Toynbee in A Study of History writes of the psychological transformation of the barbarian as he struggles with his own psyche:

The barbarians' ubiquitous master-myth describes the hero's victorious fight with a monster for the aquisition of a treasure which the unearthly enemy is withholding from mankind. This is the common motif of the tales of Beowulf's fight with Grendal and Grendel's mother; Siegried's fight with the dragon; and Perseus' feat of decapitating the [serpent-haired] Gorgon and his subsequent feat of winning Andromeda by slaying the sea-monster who was threatening to devour her. The motif reappears in Jason's outmanoeuvering of the serpent-guardian of the Golden Fleece and in Heracles' kidnapping of Cerberus [the snake-haired, three-headed guardian of the underworld]. This myth looks like a projection, onto the outer world, of a psychological struggle...for the rescue of Man's supreme spiritual treasure. [32]

Heracles is the archetypal hero who struggles against the serpent: Hera, the mother of the three-bodied serpentine Typhon, sends three snakes to his cot to kill him in childhood; he fights the nine-headed dragon, the Hydra; and retrieves the three golden apples from the Tree of the three Hesperides [33], guarded by Ladon, the three-headed golden dragon, believed by some to be the brother of the serpent who guarded the Golden Fleece.

If the serpent is the symbol of the Perfect Man, why does it appear in malevolent guise, to seduce, pervert or hamper man in his growth to towards his divine goal? [34] Taking the stated symbolism of the tree as the developmental Self and the serpent as the cosmic pattern, the hero is attempting to realise his own self-development through the correct ego-self axis. Growth here is the key word. The seduction of the pattern is instant fruition, as in the Garden of Eden, the desire "to become as gods" without the pain of transformation - Christ on the tree-symbol, the Cross [35]. Adam and Eve are denied access to the trees of Knowledge and Life because they eat of the fruit [36], but begin the history of restoration by progenerating three sons [37]. The union of the tree with the serpent is of three developing stages, hence the inversion leading to evil - disordering - is represented by the seduction by the lower element. The sect of the Perates worshipped a Trinity of Father, Son and Matter, with the Son represented as a serpent who moved freely upwards and downwards between the other Two.

The Old Testament contrasts the powers of good and evil obtained from the serpent in the competition of spiritual prowess between Moses and the Egyptian magicians at the court of Pharaoh. The Egyptians manifested serpents from their staffs in like response to Moses' miracle. The serpent of the Lord (which will lead to freedom) devoured those of the Egyptians (which represent the force of slavery), a theme restated in the Book of Numbers 21:6-9:

Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit the Israelites so that many of them died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and you. Plead with the Lord to rid us of the snakes." Moses therefore pleaded with the Lord for the people; and the Lord told Moses to make a serpent of bronze and erect it as a standard, so that anyone who had been bitten could look at it and recover. So Moses made a bronze serpent and erected it as a standard, so that when a snake had bitten a man, he could look at the bronze serpent and recover. [38]

This story is probably the reason for the worship of the bronze serpent-god in the Temple at Jerusalem, interpreted by the later Christians as the antenatal symbol for the coming Christ, and must have contributed to the serpentine mytholgies and cosmologies of the Gnostics: the Orphite sect used live snakes at their communion rite, later to be replaced by golden replicas.

The alchemical symbolism of the adept's transformation towards the realisation of perfection is related in a vision of Zosimos of Panopolis, a third century Gnostic:

In short my friends, build a temple from a single stone, like to white lead, to alabaster, to Proconnesian marble, with neither end nor beginning in its construction. Let it have within it a spring of the purest water sparkling like the sun. Note carefully on what side is the entrance, to the temple, and take a sword in your hand; then seek the entrance, for narrow is the place where the opening is. A dragon lies at the entrance guarding the temple. Lay hold upon him; immolate him; strip him of his skin, and taking his flesh with his bones, separate the limbs; then laying the limbs together with the bones at the entrance of the temple make a step of them, mount thereon, and enter, and you will find what you seek. The priest, that bronzen man, for he has changed the colour and has become the silver man; and, if you will, you will soon have a golden man. [Collected Works vol 13, par 87] [39]

The transformation is accomplished in a triple staged progression, from lower to higher, using the dragon as the means of Self-development; the realisation of the pattern of the perfect man. [40] It is this archetype which is the most potent driving force for the individual person and the course of human history, and is the paradigm of the the pre-existent ideal which is both at the alpha and omega of psychic evolution. However, the cultural adaptions of the pursuit of this pattern give rise to the variations of messianic expectation: although the drive towards perfection is universal [41], the historical, teleologically-driven developments differ from lineage to lineage. The advent of Jesus in Palestine couldn't have happened in Northern India, just as Prince Gautama would have been out of place amongst Jewish millenarian radicals. They embodied differing aspects of the trinitarian cosmic Man; the monotheism of Persia-Palestine had a different metaphysical focus than that of man-centered path of liberation followed by Buddha and his Indian contemporaries Mahavira and Gosala. Even amongst these three exponents of radicalised Upinashadic thought there was a difference of emphasise: the Jains hold to a very ascetic discipline, rejected by Shakyamuni, and the message of Gosala was more cosmically-based. [42] The transplantation of the Christian message in China in the nineteenth century gave rise to the messiah-warlord, Hong Xiuquan, whose spiritual adventures are, nevertheless, of the standard Taoist variety. His Taiping (Heavenly Peace) Rebellion (1853-1864 established the Kingdom of God in Nanking) [43] bore the name and tradition of previous Taoist millenarian uprisings stretching back two millennia and centering on the coming of the Perfect Man, who would harmonise the macrocosmic, heavenly trinity with the internal counterpart. Synchronistically, at the same time the Meiji Restoration was underway in Japan (culminating in 1868), driven in large measure by the antinomian millenarian movement ee ja nai ka [44], and Baha Allah in Persia declared himself the Messiah (1863) not to mention the eruption of utopian and millenarian groups throughout the Americas, Europe and Korea.

If archetypal structure is simply the result of imbedded existential behaviour, and man has never been perfect, how can a pattern of perfectibility be formed? Surely, we have a drive which pre-exists the birth of homo sapiens, which must lend itself to metaphysical speculation in order to comprehend the daemonic drive from the earliest times? Jung, quoting Hippolytus, draws the two elements together, "Thus, they say, the perfect race of men , made in the image [of the Father] and of the same substance, is drawn from the world by the Serpent, even as it was sent down by him".

The relationship of the Tree and the Serpent could also be symbolic for that of the psychologist and theologian/metaphysician [45]. To understand the hieros gamos of the two parts of the Self one requires the knowledge of both disciplines, and to progress matters further there cannot be a simple subsumption of one by the other. Rather, the Third Term is called for - in this case I name it Neojungianism.


[1] Quoted in Collected Works vol 9ii, par 72, footnote 19.

[2] For example, "More and more people then begin to look round for exotic ideas in the hope of finding a substitute, for example in India. This hope is delusory, for though the Indian symbols formulate the unconscious just a well as the Christian ones do, they each exemplify their own spiritual past." [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 271]; "The historical development of our Western mentality cannot be compared in any way with the Indian. Anyone who believes that he can simply take over Eastern forms of thought is uprooting himself, for they do not express our Western past, but remain bloodless intellectual concepts that strike no chord in our inmost being. We are rooted in Christian soil. This foundation does not go very deep, certainly, as we have seen, it has proved alarmingly thin in places, so that the original paganism, in altered guise, was able to regain possession of a large part of Europe and impose on it its characteristic pattern of slavery." [ibid. par 273]

[3] On the biological level although we can talk about, say, the eye as phylogenetic everyone inherits certain coloration and distinctive shape. In discussing biological makeup we must take into account both the common structure of the body and the individual racial and familial mutations and adaptations. Applied to the psyche the inference is that we must be dualy aware of its unchanging nature, on the one hand, and (as Kafka was want to say) on the other hand its development within that common structure.

[4] see Analytical Psychology - Its Theory and Practice, page 51, Jung C G, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1968.

[5] pxliv, W Y Evans-Wentz, editor, Oxford University Press, 1960 (3rd edit. 1957).

[6] Multiple Man, p366, A Crabtree, Grafton Books, London, 1988.

[7] "We have now to show that the tree-spirit is often conceived and represented as detached from the tree and clothed in human form, and even as embodied in living men or women. The evidence for this anthropomorphic representation of the tree-spirit is largely to be found in the popular customs of European peasantry." The Golden Bough, J G Frazer, p125, Papermac, London, 1987.

[8] This imagery is also used by the Blessed John Ruysbroeck (14th century Dutch mystic) when describing the spiritual climb to apprehend Christ: And he must climb into the tree of faith, which grows from above downwards, for its roots are in the Godhead. [The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, I:26] from the katha-Upinashad: Eternal creation is a tree, with roots above, branches on the ground; living in all things and beyond whom none can go; that is Self. and from the Bhagavadgita: Downward and upward, Its branches bending, Are fed by the [three] gunas, The buds it puts forth, Are the things of the senses, Roots it has also, Reaching downward, Into this world, The roots of man's action. In 1998 a woodhenge was discovered on the coast of East Anglia, England with an upturned oak stump as the centre piece. The dating of the henge to about 4,000 years ago coincides with the last phases of Stone Henge, which, it is now postulated, was a centre for shamanistic practice. Through this inversion the shaman's source of being is in Heaven, directing life his life towards spiritual fulfilment on the earth, and back to Heaven. See also Collected Works vol 13, pars 410-414.

[9] The Sumarian serpent god, Ningizzida, was the deity of both serpents and the Tree of Life.

[10] "Taken on average, the commonest associations to its [the tree's] meaning are growth, life, unfolding of form in a physical and spiritual sense, development, growth from below upwards and from above downwards, the maternal aspect (protection, shade, shelter, nourishing fruits, source of life, solidity, permanence, firm-rootedness, old age, personality, and finally death and rebirth." [Collected Works vol 13, par 350].

[11] Other symbols of the immutable Self are the sea-monster or fish, aqua permanens ["..the tree has a special connection with water... (CW vol 13, par 408)] and, of course, stone: "The attributes of the [Philosopher's] stone - incorruptibility, permanence, divinity, triunity etc." [CW vol 13, par 127].

[12] For the eastern church, with its doctrine of theosis (the deification of the creature through divine grace), mystical union with God is not reserved for the hermit or cenobite, but is attainable by the ordinary communicant leading a Christian life. And at the heart of this mystical, theological anthropology is the apprehension of man in the image of the Trinity; an interrelated vision of the whole church as a Trinitarian icon. This internal trinity is, according to Dionysius the Areopagite, the means of the spiritual ascent to divine union through the three levels of purification, enlightenment and union;

[13] Collected Works vol 9ii, par 313.

[14] Although Mercurius can be displayed in different forms (serpent, tree, stone), the spiritus is primarily thought of as serpentine. Just as purusa is reflected in the highest of the three gunas, sattva, so the pre-existent Self will be reflected in the highest level of growth of the developmental Self, producing a unified symbol. The combination of duality and triality gives the totality of the hieros gamos. "In alchemy, Mercurius is symbolized by the tree as well as the dragon. He is notoriously "duplex", is both masculine and feminine, and is made one in the hierosgamos of the chymical wedding." [Collected Works vol 13, par 315]. "God himself dwells in the fiery glow of the sun and appears as the fruit of the philosophical tree and thus as the product of the opus, whose course is symbolised by the growth of the tree. " [ibid. par 404]. In ancient China, where the connection of the tree to serpent and the tree as man holds good, it was believed that ancient pine trees were transfomed into dragons - the completion of millennia of growth. [China and Japan, Myths and Legends, pp 166-167, D A Mackenzie, Studio Editions, London, 1986].

[15] See Jung and the Trinitarian Self, Analytische Psycholgie, July 2000, Brabazon.

[16] "Just as the man Jesus became conscious only through the light that emanated from the higher Christ." [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 120]

[17] In Aion Jung elucidates his theory of the split in the Christian psyche between Christ and Antichrist, maintaining this is a unique development in the God-image of the West in the Christian aeon. However, the line of eschatological religious thought which ends with Christianity begins in Persia, in Zurvanism. Ahura Mazda is the Zoroastrian Lord of Light whose forces battle with those of Ahriman, the Evil One, throughout human history. Good and Evil are two separate forces which will fight a decisive war at the end of time. There was a split in Persian thought, which prefigured that in Christianity, between an eternal struggle of two equal forces and a final denouement of total victory of Good over Evil. As Christ was the second Adam, so Zoroaster was the second Gayomart, who struggled against the three-headed dragon Azhi Dahaka. This serpent was temporally defeated by Atar, the son of Ahura Mazda, and banished to the bottom of the sea from whence he would return at the end of the world, as in Revelations.

[18] One of the themes in Christian mystictism is of the Mystical Marriage with Christ, e.g. St Catherine and St Theresa, and the soul spoken of in the feminine.

[19] "These are the hidden logia which the living Jesus spoke and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote"

[20] In the Shadow of Man, revised edition, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1988.

[21] Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung C G, Ark edit., London, 1984.

[22] "This [the wisdom and supernatural knowledge of the collective unconscious] is the treasure which the snake (or dragon) guards, and also the reason why the snake signifies evil and darkness on the one hand and wisdom on the other." [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 370].

[23] see footnote 14. Jung mentions on several occasions the quaternal nature of some of the teachings of the Naassenes, in particular the four rivers of Eden. However, three are grouped together as sensory functions with the fourth as the mouth bringing sustenance to the inner man and the vehicle of prayer. [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 311].

[24] The New God-Image, pp xvi-xxi, Edward F Edinger, Chiron, Illinois, 1996.

[25] "The most widely distributed variant of the symbolism of the Centre is the Cosmic Tree, situated in the middle of the Universe, and upholding the three worlds as upon one axis" writes Eliade, and later "The assimilation of the ritual tree to the Cosmic Tree is still more apparent in Central and North Asiatic shamanism. The climbing of such a tree by the Tartar shaman symbolises his ascent to heaven." [Images and Symbols, p44-45, Princetown University Press, 1991].

[26] The modern development of Bonaventure's mystical trinitarianism - exemplified in the theology expounded by Karl Rahner in The Trinity (1970) - argues in favour of a double Trinity, "economic" and "essential" or "immanent". In this way God can be detached from temporality (the "essential" nature of the Godhead in itself) and at the same time fully embroiled in it (the "economic" - ordered - means of historical salvation). Following in this train of thought, Professor R Panikkar of the University of California published a short exposition of a universal approach to the Trinity in 1973 - The Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man, Darton, Longman & Todd, London - using an homologisation of brahman, the world soul, with God immanent.

[27] A History of Religious Ideas vol 3, p193, footnote 24, Mircea Eliade, University of Chicago Press, 1985.

[28] There were thought to be six angels in God's inner court in Jewish/Christian angelology - see Early Christian Doctrines, p95, J N D Kelly, A&C Black, London, 1985 (5th edition).

[29] The feminine nature of the tree symbol can be discerned by its connection to the goddess, in the form of the three Norns (beneath Yggdrasil), the three Hesperides, and the three Marys beneath the Cross.

[30] Collected Works vol 9ii, par 130, footnote 40.

[31] Varuna, the supreme god of Vedism, hailed as the King of Serpents, was the creator of the three realms of earth, air and heaven. The ancient Egyptian snake goddess, Uto, later became Mut, the three-headed goddess in the Book of the Dead - the heads being of a pakhet, a human, and a vulture.

[32] p133

[33] The Tree of Life of the Navaho Indians is a stalk of corn guarded by female spirits. The Blessing Path is from the bottom to the top of the stalk passing through both its male and female parts.

[34] In Hinduism the three serpents, Bhujangas, Pannagas and Uragas, bestow the truth on the worthy but also actively deny it to the unworthy.

[35] In a 15th century woodcut the Cross was depicted as a combination of three trees, cypress, pine and cedar, which grew out of Adam's body: probably linked to the Triphysites of the time, who believed in a triple-natured Christ. The Ur Queen of Heaven, Inannna, was hung from a stake in the underworld for three days and resurrected by the serpent god Enki.

[36] The Gilbert Islanders' mythology relates the Tree of Matang and the sexual disobedience of their ancestors, whilst the Masai of Tanzania believe their ancestress was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit by the serpent.

[37] The prototype for the Chinese imperial incarnation can be found in the myth of the Cosmic Man P'an Ku, the parent of the three gods of Heaven, Earth and Mankind. In Greek mythology the same theme is found in the three serpent sons - known as the ancestors - of the father god Zeus, and in Zoroastrianism the Sayoshant, the Saviour, is actually three succeeding brothers (sons of Zoroaster).

[38] Frazer relates in The Golden Bough how the natives of Issapo, in the island of Fernando Po, annually hung the skin of a cobra from the top of the highest tree which was touched by all the infants who were born in that year to place them under the serpent god's protection.

[39] An interesting observation from Laurens van der Post regarding Jung and the triple construct, "He [Jung] built the house at Bollingen itself in three stages, and in the last stage...he built, high up, a place for his own unique retreat and contemplation....This retreat became Jung's inner sanctuary; a holy of holies within the natural tabernacle which Bollingen was for him." [Jung and the Story of Our Time, p247, Penguin, 1978].

[40] The Cosmic Man of the Naassenes - the Gnostic serpent worshippers - was also triadic: Kaulakau (higher Adam), Zeesar (upper flowing Jordan), and Saulasau (mortal man). Indeed, Jung's pseudonymic author of Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, Basilides of Alexandria, taught the triple-natured Sonship ascending from earth to heaven.

[41] "To strive after teleiosis in the sense of perfection is not only legitimate but is inborn in man as a peculiarity which provides civilization with one of its strongest roots. This striving is so powerful, even, that it can turn into a passion that draws everything into its service." [Collected Works vol 9ii, par 123].

[42] This trifurcation of religious tradition can be observed elsewhere: at the same time that St Augustine was preaching salvation through God's Grace alone, Pelagius extolled moral virtue as the Christian soteriological path, and Priscillian of Avila taught a gnostic-oriented cosmic Christ (a tradition traced by Henry Chadwick in Priscillian of Avila, p99, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1976 reaching down to the Christian alchemists).

[43] see God's Chinese Son, J Spence, Flamingo, London, 1996.

[44] see Patriots and Redeemers in Japan, G M Wilson, University of Chicago Press, 1992. Wilson actually uses the theory of synchronicity to explain the combined action of the four differing groups involved in the transformation of feudal Japan.

[45] And by Jung's own admission his theory of archetypes has a history stretching back to Plato, Philo Judaeus, Irenaeus and Augustine. [Collected Works vol 9I, par 5] - metaphysicians all.

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