Its symbolism as both helpful and harmful

October 19th 2012
We are told in Genesis that the serpent was ‘more crafty than any other wild animal.’ It was the serpent that persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey God’s orders and eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But in the book of Exodus it is written that, on God’s orders, Moses had a bronze snake made and that those who looked at this snake were healed. And when Jesus sent his disciples on a mission, he said to them, ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ So he used the snake as a symbol for wisdom. In the same way, in India, sages are often called nagui, ‘snakes’. So, depending on the situation, the snake is represented as either helpful or harmful. How can we explain this apparent contradiction? Because the snake incited Eve and Adam to taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it has become a symbol for knowledge. And yet, knowledge is neutral. It is good or bad according to how it is used. The most educated people can be the greatest benefactors or the greatest criminals. Knowledge is power. Those who use their knowledge for evil are linked to the dark aspect of the snake; they are black magicians. And those who use it for good are linked to its light aspect and are white magicians.