The restoration of Salome's vision The serpent

In Jung’s second vision of Elijah, Salome and the serpent, the figure of Elijah drops out of view, and the serpent and Salome, who played small roles in the first vision, move into the foreground. Jung is now leaving ascent and the mountain ranges of Elijah to descend into Salome’s alluring world, the “Eros” side. This is much different from Elijah’s world of intelligence and knowledge, or the “Logos” side (which became Jung’s conversations with Philemon, now available to the public with the recent publication of The Red Book). Jung is entering the place of his fears and “suspicions” in his pursuit to penetrate the incest barrier, conceived of as an obstruction to self knowledge, and to make contact with the deepest libidinal well springs of his mind.

Jung says that the unconscious hero takes shape once again, this time in the huge black snake. With the punctuation of the snake the vision becomes more primal, and culminates with the snake playing a major part in the “primal scene of Western religion” - the crucifixion of Christ (Miles, 2001). Mythology is full of the relationship between the hero and the snake, and Jung recites them endlessly in Symbols . For example, a northern myth says the hero has snake eyes. Many other myths depict him being worshipped in the form of a snake, and others say he transforms into a serpent after death. “The hero who sets himself the task of renewing the world and conquering death personifies the world-creating power which, brooding on itself in introversion, coiled round its own egg like a snake, threatens life with its poisonous bite, so that the living may die and be born again from the darkness” (1956: 543). The hero is himself the snake, the sacrificer and the sacrificed. The presence of the snake, then, points to the idea that this vision is going to be another hero story (Jung, 1989: 89). The serpent also points to the serpent force that will enable Jung to expand his consciousness into other worlds.

The snake symbolizes the dead, buried, chthonic hero; but since the hero, once deceased, is back in the mother, the snake also stands for the Mother of Death in conjunction with the hero, the entwining animal connected to her earth aspect. The serpent also relates to the seductive function of the anima, another negative aspect of the Great Mother in the male psyche, although related to the Oedipal period. The Zohar cites the serpent as a symbol of the sinful, destructive Lilith, Queen of the Succubi: “The female of Samael (the devil) is called Serpent, Woman of Harlotry . . .” And it is this dark feminine element that leads psychological movement astray into the shadows, into the dead and wrong places, into concretization - and for Jung, into a love affair with Spielrein. Lilith made his thoughts real, made them come into being, and put him on a false track. After all, it was Lilith in her form as serpent who tempted Eve to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

Just before emerging from his confrontation with the unconscious, Jung felt compelled to write an overblown, petrified tract which he entitled Seven Sermons to the Dead. Sermon VI provides a vivid description of Lilith as serpent anima, and most certainly amplifies the meaning of the serpent in Jung’s visions:

The daimon of sexuality approacheth our soul as a serpent. It is half human and appeareth as thought-desire.

The daemon of spirituality descendeth into our soul as the white bird. It is half human and appeareth as desire-thought.

The serpent is an earthly soul, half daemonic, a spirit, and akin to the spirits of the dead. Thus too, like these, she swarmeth around in the things of earth, making us either to fear them or pricking us with intemperate desires. The serpent hath a nature like unto woman. She seeketh ever the company of the dead who are held by the spell of the earth, they who found not the way beyond that leadeth to singleness. The serpent is a whore. She wantoneth with the devil and the evil spirits; a mischievous tyrant and tormentor, ever seducing to evilest company. The white bird is a half-celestial soul of man. He bideth with the Mother, from time to time descending. The bird hath a nature like unto man, and is effective thought. He is chaste and solitary, a messenger of the Mother. He flieth high above earth. He commandeth singleness. He bringeth knowledge from the distant ones who went before and are perfected. He beareth our word above to the Mother. She intercedeth, she warneth, but against the gods she hath no power. She is a vessel for the sun. The serpent goeth below and with her cunning she lameth the phallic daemon, or else goadeth him on. She yiel- deth up to the crafty thoughts of the earthly one, those thoughts which creep through every hole and cleave to all things with desirousness. The serpent, doubtless, willeth it not, yet she must be of use to us. She fleeth our grasp, thus showing us the way, which with our human wits we could not find.

With disdainful glance the dead spake: Cease this talk of dos and daemons and souls. At bottom this hath long been known to us.

(1965: 388-389)

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