Perception is a strange thing; it is unique to the individual yet at the same time is heavily influenced by our surroundings and society. Over the years my personal perspective is something I have struggled with again and again. It’s a ‘compatibility’ thing, very much to do with how I relate to the world. The way we relate to the world is heavily influenced by language. Language is not only a form of communication, but it shapes our very world – through ideas, beliefs, taboos and laws. In this age of materialistic reason – language has adopted a very grounded perspective on reality. Thus everything can be easily defined; the edges between what is possible and not possible show the believed stark contrast on reality. There is an attraction to this; it helps us feel in control – and it allows us to create clearly defined meanings to life.
Yet – that is a view I have never really been a part of. Eventually I discovered that my thinking process is far more symbolic than literal. Maybe this is true for many people. At any rate, this has always caused me to look deep into reality and seek any and all hidden subtexts. It was therefore only a matter of time before I found that there is a whole body of knowledge out there which functions in this very manner; buried within the symbolism of the worlds history, myths and religions is a view on reality that is very different to contemporary beliefs.
I begun this Symbolism series with the intent to show those new to this idea exactly what symbolism is, where it can be found and how it can be interpreted. In the previous part I hinted at the vast and hidden knowledge buried within ancient history.
How Deep is this Rabbit Hole?
There are literally hundreds of books and articles out there on this very subject. In recent decades a growing body of information has been collected, based upon a certain idea. This idea has been born from the modern day clash between modern thinking and the ancient shamanic thinking. The shamanic traditions of the world are older by far than any other tradition. Unlike those stereo-types depicted in Hollywood, the shamanic way is based within reality and possesses a deep understanding of the human psyche – an understanding which is deeper by far than what we have in modern society.
The shaman is concerned with a ‘different’ level of reality. In the shaman perspective everything in existence is ‘language’ – unlike ‘western’ understanding – the shamanic view is that language is visual. That language itself comprises literally everything. This is the ancient Logos, it is “The Word” from the Christian Bible and the Tao from Eastern philosophy. Once this key fact is uncovered, an entirely new perspective on symbolism unfolds.
As I mentioned, the Western mind holds a very rigid view on language, this titan-like grip solidifies our Ego. Language aids us in self-identification because it enforces our relationship with society. We think in terms of labels. As such – as a society – we have become far more concerned with the map than we have with the territory. Most people are aware of the problems of associating too heavily with semantic meanings of words and labels; it causes us to stop looking at the reality behind those words and labels.
The shamanic way is about dissolving the map and our dependence upon words – so that we may directly experience reality. This is the reason for consumption of various psychoactive plants, just as it is the reason for the many rituals which induce one into a trance. It causes the dissolution of the Ego.
Once the Ego has dissolved, the barriers of language collapse. The dissolution of the Ego is also the aim of Eastern traditions. When this occurs, one no longer attaches to their identity. The old labels which we cling to disappear, and one is left naked facing themselves and reality. If one is so inclined – it is possible to learn great truths about yourself and reality. Without the barriers and labels language creates, one gains the ability to see their true personal motivations. Here it is impossible for the Ego to hide behind justifications, logic, and excuses – because the language to create them doesn’t exist. In short one gains the ability to see right from wrong – to clearly comprehend the distinction between “Good and Evil”.
When under the influence of these trances, one literally enters ‘another world’. This is a world of visions…a world where ‘spirits’ and reality talk to the individual through visual representation – the shamanic visual language. As with dreams, when in a trance it is common to perceive symbolic meanings and images. One specific image that appears to be common to many peoples and cultures all across the world, and throughout time is the snake.
When asked what the snakes are the shamans invariably reply with ‘The snake is wisdom’, or ‘Knowledge’ – and that this reality itself is built upon that knowledge. But why do people from cultures all over the world see snakes? One theory is that the human brain has an instinctual fear of snakes, and thus when in an altered state, images of snakes are offered up. Yet this theory does not seem to fit the experiences of many who report these visual snakes to be beneficent and overwhelmingly comforting. So we find ourselves having to return to the shamans idea – based upon thousands of years of accumulated wisdom – that these visual snakes may indeed represent knowledge.
Uncovering the Symbolism
Jeremy Narby proposed an interesting theory in his book ‘The Cosmic Serpent’. Narby, an anthropologist with many years experience with the tribal Amazonian cultures, stumbled into the visual snakes on his own psychoactive experience whilst trying to understand the shaman ways. Years later and after much research, he uncovered many historical records from cultures all around the world referencing snakes. In each case the snake would represent ‘knowledge’ – or on occasion a twisted rope ladder (much like coiled snakes). This fact held true, even for those cultures, such as the Australian Aborigines who were separated from the rest of the world for 40,000.
The unavoidable question then, was where were these cultures obtaining this idea? In many cases that answer is lost in antiquity. In other cultures that answer can still be found – often hidden in shamanic knowledge and vision. As the shamans would say; the snakes are always there because they represent the knowledge upon which reality is built.
The ancient Caduceus is a prime example of the snake representing wisdom or knowledge. This symbol has been dated back over four thousand years!
As with other ancient representations of the snake of knowledge, it is often intertwined, or has two heads, or comes in pairs. There is another ‘symbol’ that is very similar.
Could the snakes of ‘knowledge’ represent the DNA helix? Jeremy Narby and many others certainly seem to think so. The shamans have always claimed to have been in communication with the spirits, where they obtain information about the nature of reality. Could the shamanic psychoactive plants and ritual which induce an altered state of consciousness, be moving the individuals point of awareness down to the molecular level?
Certainly it is known that the psychoactive experience provides knowledge or awareness very different from ‘normal’ everyday states of consciousness. But scientifically little is known about consciousness, and almost nothing is known about how and why psychoactive plants modify consciousness in the manner they do.
The Origin of Knowledge
So with the above in mind, it is possible to sit quite comfortably with the idea that the snakes do indeed represent knowledge. From there it isn’t too much of a leap to believe – based upon the drawings, and representations from visions made by hundreds of people and many cultures – that the snake could represent DNA. If this is true – and it certainly feels true. Then suddenly many things click into place.
DNA is the ultimate source of knowledge, DNA is often described as language. Thus it could be the ‘invisible’ linguistic knowledge which the shamans claim reality itself is built upon.
If we take this symbolism as a key – we can use it to unlock deep meaning from many of the ancient myths and religions. Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge (a psychoactive plant?) because she was tempted by the serpent. This was called the Fall, in the Christian Bible, God said of this event; “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, to prevent his putting out his hand and taking also from the tree of life, eating, and living forever –”
With that in mind we can interpret the symbolism as this: Mankind ate of the forbidden fruits (the psychoactive plants were forbidden, just as they are still illegal today), from this experience man gained tremendous insight – standing in stark naked realization of himself, in dissolution of the Ego, he clearly learned right from wrong – he knew Good and Evil. For this ‘God’ punished him with exile. Or another way of interpreting; once man gained knowledge – we Fell from being at one with nature, and began the slow entrance into the realms of authoritative knowledge and reason.
Take a look at a few images of the Tree of Knowledge, or the Yggdrasil Tree – the World Tree. Often it is depicted with a snake (serpent) coiled around its roots. Could this be the tree in Eden? Psychoactive experiences are induced by plants, could this be the Forbidden Fruit?
Remember, as clearly highlighted in the first part of this symbolism series; these myths and religions were originally great knowledge and understandings encoded into the form of symbolism. Over the millennia the symbolism was lost to the general populations, and thus the meanings were forgotten. Instead the stories were interpreted in literal manner, just as they still are today. But once we find the key to the original symbolism the ancient wisdom once again can be unlocked…
If you are interested in this subject, the following documentaries are totally recommended, especially the first one “Other Worlds”, however it does need a small plugin before it will work.
Other Worlds – A Documentary on Shamanism, Ayahausca and its implications.