Certain forms, shapes, patterns and mythic images arise spontaneously in human consciousness with such consistency that Carl Jung called them ‘archetypes’. One of the most compelling is the two snakes coiled around each other, an ancient symbol known to mythologies around the world and often called the Cosmic Serpent; and of course instantly recognisable today as the double helix pattern of DNA.
Here is the oldest recorded version, of the Mesopotamian Ningizzida, dated around 4000 years ago:
Like the legendary spirit beings of the Australian Aboriginal Dreaming, Ningizzida could take different forms, sometimes appearing with a human head and usually associated with fertility and the underworld. But the intertwined serpents have been made famous in many pantheons, as we see with the Greek Caduceus, which was gifted to Hermes by Apollo. In this story, there is a connection also to prophecy and deep insight, as Apollo was famous for having slain Pytho, the serpent oracle worshipped by the priestesses of Delphi before the patriarchy took over (again). Hermes and Mercury, his Roman counterpart, delivered messages between the gods and the mortals, flitting about with their winged sandals and combining flight with the earthy symbol of the snake, just as did Quetzlcoatl, the Mesoamerican feathered serpent. Serpents in general are often also associated with a tree of life, such as the one we supposedly had to leave behind when humanity was expelled from the garden of paradise. And of course there is Kundalini, the yogic power risen up along the spine, which looks like another version of that power of transcendence bursting forth towards the heavens, having been raised from the earth below our feet as it is in the Caduceus:
When modern science discovered the double helix, we perhaps unwittingly tapped into some of these threads too; the shape now encodes the way our physical bodies develop, building new individuals according to a model both predetermined and open to adaptation. The code courses through our bodies, carrying life through the generations, almost magically giving pattern to the way we grow from an impregnated egg, through a tadpole phase, until our organs and limbs differentiate and eventually we are born with an emergent consciousness (hopefully).
The snake itself is an obvious symbol of rebirth, since it sheds its skin in a way that looks decidedly refreshing. As a totemic symbol, it connotes danger as well as life, an inhumane lack of morality as well as wisdom, a sense of being in touch with the earth and being beyond human reason all at once. Meditation upon the intertwined serpents, the double helix, or whatever shape this mythic symbol appears for you can be both liberating and shocking, just as it can be when it comes unbidden to our dreams. For me, the snake teaches the spiritual discipline of holding a straight spine while meditating, as well as resisting the rising of fear when faced with crisis. These themes came together in a very powerful and striking dream, which awoke me to the ongoing power of ancient symbols to awaken us to our greater potential and our capacity, more important than ever today, to depend our connection with the earth.
I will be presenting on Archetypes of Nature in a lecture to the C G Jung Society of Melbourne on Friday 16th of March, then offering a workshop on the same theme on the following Sunday 18th. Here we will get to participate in certain exercises I have discovered tap into the power and spirit of our beautiful, precious earth, our more-than-human world, and take away some simple rituals designed to keep us in touch with the ecomythic that is everywhere, all the time.
I will be posting on new exercises and events, as well as ecoretreats on the beautiful south coast of NSW where I live, at www.naturecalling.org