Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Mystical Perspective on the Biblical Serpent

[Following is an article created for Oracle 20/20 magazine, submitted with the title "A Mystical Perspective on the Biblical Serpent" published in their September 2008 issue under the title created by their editors: "The Power of the Serpent: A Mystical Perspective"]

The traditional theology in both Judaism and Christianity portrays the incident involving the serpent in the Garden of Eden as humankind’s first sin and accompanying fall from grace, for which we have been suffering and seeking salvation ever since. However, viewing this incident and subsequent events in the Bible through the eyes of yogic and Jewish mysticism can yield a very different interpretation, and cast a much different light on our infamous “snake in the grass”.

The motif of encountering in some form or fashion a snake, serpent or dragon can be found in myth and lore transcending time, place and culture, as it is a powerful archetypal figure that resonates deep within. The biblical Hebrew term for this serpent in the Book of Genesis is “nachash”. There is no question in my mind that it is a reference to that same power known in yoga as kundalini/serpent power. Both mystical yoga and Judaism warn against trifling with such a power without proper preparation and great caution, as it is the most subtle, but greatest, power of all manifestation, from which the rest of manifest life emanates. The snake was left to slither at the lowest level of earthly life because it is the primordial power that animates all of life, including life at it lowest forms.

The kundalini is also described in yoga as the feminine aspect of The One dwelling within all manifestation, by which all manifestation is made possible, and through which one can spiritually develop and use as a tool to commune with The One. There is thus also no doubt in my mind that what is called “kundalini” in yoga is the same as what is called “Shechinah” in Judaism, the feminine presence of The One dwelling amidst manifest life. Mystical Judaism informs us that it was this “Shechinah” power that dwelled in the Ark of the Covenant, with whom Moses and the High Priests after him communed; the same power depicted in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which so graphically portrayed its ability to annihilate forces of evil. The connection between this “Shechinah” aspect and the snake aspect is illustrated by the fact that the Hebrew consonants for “Shechinah” are phonetically similar to the Hebrew consonants for the snake, “nachash”, reversed.

The true function performed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden was to act as an agent of The One to complete the task of bringing manifest life as we know it into being, by causing primordial, prototypical, androgynous Man/Woman to be propelled out of the Garden into the life of manifestation and duality as we know it, retaining both the “good” knowledge to remember that all emanates from The One, and the “evil” inclination to forget that and become lost in a sense of separation, the primary root of all evil.

Skipping ahead to the Book of Exodus, we find the figure of Pharaoh representing the ultimate expression of the worldly power of the evil “dark” side of kundalini gone astray. Pharaoh represents the height of a sense of separation, deified as the Be-All-and-End-All, represented by none other than the same serpent embodied in his headdress. Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh was to illustrate, not only to Pharoah, but to the people he had come to liberate, that this ultimate of earthly power of manifestation was not to be deified, but rather to be used as our support to praise and do the work of The One from which it emanated. This power was embodied for Moses not as an ornate headdress as with Pharoah, but rather served as a simple staff/walking stick, depicting it as a tool useful for his ability to function in the world. By no coincidence, the Hebrew word for the snake that emanated from Moses’ staff is none other than “nachash” the same term designated for the snake in the Garden of Eden. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” It is indeed tricky to take the snake by the tail, as Moses did, and convert it back into a walking stick, but that is what is necessary to achieve the mastery of life which leads to the ability to become the perfect humble servant to the Originator of life. And thus, to master life is the same as to master service. True mastery does not lead to an arrogant display of triumphant majesty, as with Pharaoh, but rather to an acknowledgement of an Awesomeness beyond earthly comprehension, and thus to humble service and gratitude, as with Moses.


Jacques said...

Hi there,

Your article is interesting and challenging. I wonder if you would be interested in having your own views challenged a little in the pursuit of further knowledge and understanding.

I frequently take part on the discussion board at
It is a board started by a Christian who underwent a kundalini awakening withing the Christian mystical tradition.

What I find interesting is that by and large the majority of the Christians who post on the forum note a definite difference between their Kundalini experience and their experience of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit is a closer relation to the Shechinah than the Kundalini power.

I'm very sure they would be interested in dialoging with you on these points. What do you think?

Steve Gold said...


Thank you for your post. I took a quick look at the discussion you referred to at The content there is vast, and would take a long time for a thorough sifting through it all. In response to my cursory review, I concur with the description that there are two basic powers of consciousness (and I utilize the term “powers of consciousness” in a very specific way, as distinct from “forces” or “energies”) that aid in spiritual development: what in yoga is described as the ascending power of kundalini shakti and the descending power of grace, which appears to be what the Christian participants are calling the “descent of the Holy Spirit”. While I am open to considering contrary viewpoints, it is my intuition/revelation that the ascending power of kundalini shakti in yoga mysticism and shechinah in Jewish mysticism are virtually identical, both relating to the Divine Feminine/the Divine Mother, both relating to serpent power, as discussed in my article to which you make reference.

It is also important to keep in mind that a source of some confusion is that in addition to the vertical axis of consciousness discussed above, with the origin of the Father at the top and the Mother at the bottom, there is also a horizontal axis of force/energy (as distinct from the powers of consciousness of the vertical axis), which emanates out of the vertical axis, with both the traditions of yoga and kabala describing the male energy/force on the right and the female energy/force on the left. The vertical and horizontal axes intersecting at the region of the heart is what is depicted by the Cross and the Star of David (which is also the symbol for the heart chakra in yoga).

However, at some point, the semantic distinctions for me become fuzzy, as I have always viewed my kundalini experiences as a matter of grace, in which the attraction of the vertical and horizontal male and female results in the movement/merging of the ascending and descending and left and right. It is as if the yearning of the Father above and the Mother below to embrace results in this merging. For me, it is ultimately a matter of the Divine Heart, served by the sharpening of the discriminating faculty of the Divine Mind. It has been my path to not attempt to stimulate or manipulate my kundalini, but rather to engage in earnest practices of spiritual purification/removal of obstacles, to yearn for and allow what is innate and inherent in all of us to unfold and come forward of its own accord. It is ultimately a matter of the yearning/aspiring of the spiritual heart, and surrender to the Benevolence that is greater than the separative self. In that regard, the Muslims have an important message in the name of their religion, as “Islam” means “Surrender”.

What keeps us separate and groping in the dark is the shock of physical birth followed by the stresses of life experience that tend to make us recoil (notice the serpentine reference in “re-coil”, coiling like the sleeping serpent at the base of the spine) and create obstacles, veiling the pure spirituality that inheres in us all. Spiritual practices are intended to help us remove those obstacles and access the Grace that is always available to us, just as the air and sun and rain are available to all without preference.

Om Shalom.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to engage with my questions. These are very powerful realities that make me want to run ahead and embrace them, while also being weary lest I trip and fall. May we all grow in Truth and Grace.

Steve Gold said...


Thanks for your further response. I took the time to look over your blog and I have read several of the entries. You sound like a very earnest person who is doing a lot of seeking and questioning, within the context of a strong basic faith. I feel a great connection and sympathy with you and your struggles. I was especially amused by your confession to be an introvert, and the blog link to introverted Christians. I too, am more on the introverted side, but I feel that introverts have a right to be served and have their needs met too! By their very nature, though, it is hard and somewhat humorous to conceive of organizing introverts so that their needs can be addressed and met. I think most religions do that through the establishment of monastic orders, something interestingly lacking in modern Judaism, although it probably existed in biblical times, among the prophets and their disciples and in communities like the Essenes. Anyway, what you refer to as “Jacob’s struggle” is in Judaism referred to as “godwrestling”.

What to me is most important in personal spiritual development is to attempt to discern what is truly an indispensible core intuition, what I call an “essence” and distinguish that from the layers of dogma, doctrine, and theology that develop over centuries by folks with ego and power issues and other not-so-pure agendas that are inculcated in us in Sunday school and popular traditional religious institutions. My second book directly addresses that, as indicated in the title, IVRI, the Essence of Hebrew Spirituality. I even go so far as to distinguish what I coin “Hebrew Spirituality” as distinct from the religion of Judaism. My conclusion is that many people become emotionally invested in many concepts (many blindly, naively, and unquestionably accepted in childhood) that they then incorporate into their psyches as “core beliefs”, and any questioning of those “core beliefs” is perceived as a threat to their very psychic well-being and identity that they must resist, and even attempt to obliterate. The result is intolerance, persecution, violence and war in the name of religion. But the truth of the matter is that many such perceived “core beliefs” that tend to separate people can be safely abandoned without losing what is the real essence, which is profoundly simple.

Steve Gold said...

Jacques, cont.

In my last response to you, I described a fairly traditional kabalistic take on the vertical male and female power, and the horizontal male and female force. In this scheme, the right side of the kabalistic tree of life is characterized as male, while the left is characterized as female, consistent with the descriptions in yoga of the male and female energy channels.
Well, I am in the middle of reading a book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, which throws some of that analysis into question. He refers to Chochma, the highest sephirah on the right side, traditionally seen as male, as the embodiment of the highest energy of the Female, which he equates with Wisdom. Usually, the left-sided counterpart, Binah, is considered the embodiment of the highest energy of the female. Of course, he appears to be operating from within another framework wherein everything in the world of experience, no matter how elevated or subtle, are seen as all aspects of the Female, even if denoted as Male. From this perspective, Male essence is beyond our ability to perceive, it can only be intuited in a non-perceptual state of awareness. Anything perceived is Female. In the Indian system, Shiva is depicted as a male figure, but he is also considered the embodiment of female energy. So we can get lost in a quagmire trying to understand and ascertain all of the little details and place them into some kind of conceptual framework. In your blog, you hit on an important point: it is the continuous, never-ceasing union of male and female that is essential for anything to exist. The cessation of this constant, on-going union for even a split second would mean the end of relative existence. Existence depends upon both Male and Female; without either one, no-thing is the result. Maybe pornography, in some incredibly distorted, perverted way, is expressing this principle. I always thought that our culture’s obsession with love songs was another manner in which it was subliminally expressing spiritual yearning. Many love songs can easily be recast/perceived as devotionals.

I take great issue with both the traditional Jewish and Christian conceptions of the Messiah and the concept of a happily-ever-after Messianic world-to-come for all of eternity. I think you hit on an important point by noting that Jewish conceptions never included the notion of the Messiah as an incarnation. This Christian conception is actually oddly closer to Indian conceptions of Divine Incarnations/Avatars; and the Christian conception of Transfiguration also is found in Indian conceptions, although also in Jewish antecedents (Enoch being the initial example).

In closing, I request that you read and respond, as you wish and are so moved, to two other entries on my blog: a recent entry of 05/01/11 entitled, “God Speaking, Humans Hearing, and a Nice Jewish Boy Meets Rabbi Jesus”, and an entry under the Articles heading, “O. Two Jewish Sacred Cows: The Messiah and Tikkun Olam”.

All my best, Om Shalom,

Quote of the Week 381 - Heaven

Heaven is all round,

Translated to sound.

--Michael Hedges



Announcing Publication of New Book, DIMENSIONS: Navigation the Spiritual Spectrum

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What a great way to start the New Year, cozying up to a fire, real or imagined, and reading a new spiritually inspiring book, sure to become a classic!

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Grounded in the traditions of Torah and Veda, Steven J. Gold takes us on an oceanic tour of the depth and breadth of spiritual consciousness. Sharing personal stories and insights into various traditional scriptures as examples, he urges us to adopt a spiritual worldview, to “ponder infinity, awake and arise,” to “find your inspiration and follow it.”

“The chapters…are records of what happens when Steve’s right mind, and heart, are given full freedom to wander where they wish. As discoveries and correlations are made, his well-trained left mind and sharp wit give his observations shape and form…” – Brother Shankara, Resident Minister, Vedanta Center of Atlanta

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