Handmaiden of the Snake
...at the still point, there the dance is - T. S. Eliot
The concluding twenty-first card of the Tarot is called The Universe and also The World. It is astrologically associated with the planet Saturn, but really represents the conjunction of all the archetypal influences. It is a card of culmination and totality. Twenty-one is a prime number and is made of three sevens added together. Seven is the number of initiation and wisdom, and is connected to the female mysteries. The dancing figure shown in the card is not female only but is androgynous. She is the unification of the masculine and feminine polarities, the Anima Mundi (Queen of the World). Like the bi-sexual Mercury, or Gnostic Christ, she is also surrounded by the four sacred beasts. The tetrad of animals imply the four great stars of Antares (Scorpio), Aldebaran (Taurus), Regulus (Leo) and Fomahault (Aquarius), which make a perfect cross in the heavens. Naturally they also hearken to the four biblical Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who in turn were clever cryptic analogues for the cardinal points of the zodiac, and for the four modalities of human consciousness. Within the psyche, the selves of Emotion, Intellect, Sensation and Intuition seek ultimate unification. When this rare state is achieved we are able to transcend our base ego identities and realize true psychic selfhood. Carl Jung termed this process "Individuation" but, long before modern savants, the ancient Gnostics, Alchemist and Diviners were themselves conversant with every nuance of the coniunctio oppositorum (mergence of opposites). The Magi of old expertly employed the art of paronomasia, making a composite image suggest a myriad other symbolically related aesthetic, philosophic and metaphysical concepts. They were especially adroit when it came to depicting the great "Chemycal Wedding" (hieros gamos). Some of their favorite motifs were the union of a sun and moon, a circle and square, or a marriage of a king and queen. To our ancient forefathers even the mundane physical act of marriage between man and woman was to be understood as a simulacra for the unification of psychic states.
Man’s knowledge (Logos) then encounters a woman’s relatedness (Eros) and their union is represented as that symbolic ritual of a sacred marriage which has been the heart of initiation since its origins in the mystery-religions of antiquity - Joseph L. Henderson (Ancient Myths and Modern Man)
The ancients also frequently employed the motif of the sacred dance to connote the tension, interplay and final resolution of opposites. We see many gods and deities with their legs "squared" in the same posture as the card's figure. Shiva, Krishna, Kali, Herne and Odin have been depicted thus, and in the Major Arcana itself cards 1, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, and 20 all feature three-four (or square and triangle) geometry. Moreover, it is no coincidence the there are 22 cards in the Major Arcana. This number, the mathematical formula for a perfect circle, when divided by the prime number 7, gives the "irrational" creation ratio of Pi (3.14). The dancing hermaphroditic figure surrounded by a wreath and four animals is very ancient indeed. The Greek philosopher Iamblichus wrote that he had personally witnessed such an image, along with 21 others, all exact duplicates of the Tarot Arcanum, on the candle lit walls of an underground grotto beneath the great Sphinx. This subterranean sanctum, he reported, long predated his time and was accessed by priests of the highest order.
The esoteric letter of this card is Tau which corresponds to the English letter "T." Many scholars see this letter as representing the stauros or cross. Indeed it does relate to this because the card itself, when understood astrologically, can be positioned at the Spring Equinox, the point where the Celestial Sphere "crosses" with the line of the Ecliptic. The Dancer's legs suggest this cross, which makes her body represent the coming forth of Spring. She is nature reborn. In the days of the Stellar Cults she would have been identified with the stars of Virgo the Virgin, which are seen in the sky just before the dawn of the new sun in Aries, and also with Cassiopeia and Andromeda, the chained goddesses who find final release and freedom. The letter "T" however, also connotes the head of the bull, which itself was a device relating to the fallopian complex of the female generative system. The "vesica" shape of the wreath all around the dancer also makes reference to conception, generation and birth. Geometrists know that from a vesica piscis (the fish shape between two interlocked circles), all other forms and ratios can be derived. It is the ultimate geometric and aesthetic symbol of creation. When studying the imagery of this card one is reminded of the beautiful incantation recorded by Apuleius:
I am nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are - (The Golden Ass)
In the Thoth Deck, the imagery of card 21 is suggestively different. We still see the female goddess figure and encompassing circle, but we also see the scene dominated by a great coiling uroboric serpent. The two figures seem to be ecstatically dancing together through the starry cosmos. There is great significance to this proximity of goddess and snake. Their rapport encapsulates the relationship between the Nagual and Tonal (Castaneda), Nuith and Hadit (Crowley), the Prolific and Devouring (Blake), Sophia (spirit) and Logos (mind) and stillness and vibration.
Jane Ellen Harrison demonstrated over half a century ago that in the field festivals and mystery cults of Greece numerous vestiges survived of a pre-Homeric mythology in which the place of honor was held, not by the male gods of the sunny Olympic pantheon, but by a goddess, darkly ominous, who might appear as one, two, three, or many and was the mother of both the living and the dead. Her consort was typically in serpent form...Joseph Campbell (Occidental Mythology)
In Eve’s scene at the tree…nothing is said to indicate that the serpent who appeared and spoke to her was a deity in his own right, who had been revered in the Levant for at least seven thousand years before the composition of the Book of Genesis - Joseph Campbell (Occidental Mythology)
...in the Near East the primordial serpent is described as feminine, and we may suspect that in this region the myth did indeed become a metaphor for the conquest of matriarchy. But its universality suggests that there is yet a deeper, psycho-spiritual meaning behind it - Ariel Guttman and Kenneth Johnson (Mythic Astrology)
The reason why the serpent has since become a symbol and portent of evil directly concerns its age old association with power women, with matriarchies and with the mysteries of sacred science and healing. The ancient word for woman was mesta from which we later derive mystery. The word secret comes from secretion which infers the female menstrual cycle. Unlike in today's world, the women of past civilizations were not considered "victims" of their bodies and biology, but were rather revered as living portals to, and receptacles of, sublime cosmic and terrestrial mysteries. The subsequent ages have seen erotic infatuation and limbic obsessiveness replace veneration and alliance.
In prehistoric Ireland and Egypt women were at the center of spiritual and secular life. They were initiators and healers, queens and governors. Because they were keepers of secret wisdom, and because their bodies were conspicuously in harmony with celestial cycles, the hieroglyph for women was the serpent or cobra, called Ophion, Knepf or Uraeus. Like the jackal, cat and hawk, etc., the serpent was an attendant of the priestess. It was a symbol of royalty and no pharaoh was seen without his cobra crown. To ancient astronomers and architects the serpent stood for the knowledge of the stars and dimensions of the human body. It also represented the mathematical formulae Pi and Phi (3.14 and 1.618) upon which the entire creation rests. The Celtic Druids referred to themselves as "adders" and the Grecian Pythagoras' name actually means "I am the Python." King Arthur was called Pendragon or "Head of the Dragons," implying that he was the head of the cult of initiators of his time. The Maya and Inca people of South America referred to their god as the "Feathered Serpent," while in the Old Testament God is referred to by Moses as Jehovah Nissi, or "Lord of the Serpents." In the Gospels Jesus remonstrates with his disciples telling them to be "as wise as serpents." Christ, himself, was called the son of a "carpenter," but this word comes from naggar, meaning serpent-priest. The Gnostics believe Jesus to have been married at Cana, a word which also means serpent, as does the regional name Canaan. Throughout the Hellenistic Age the sacred female oracles were known as "Pythonesses."
Delphi was also known as Pytho, because before the coming of Apollo the site was haunted by a monstrous serpent, or dragon, the Python - David Fideler (Jesus Christ, Sun of God)
The serpent energy is definitely one of the most primeval archetypes and in all ancient cultures was intimately connected with the mysteries of the divine female - Crompton
Then the Female Spiritual Principle came in the Snake Instructor, and it taught them saying..."with death you shall not die" - (The Hypostasis of the Archon)
In the Orient the serpent is a symbol for the Kundalini. In this aspect it is the Nagayuna, the subtle vivific force which, in the awakened individual, traverses the spine through 7 subtle centers called Chakras. Yogis and ascetics who purge and prepare themselves through meditation can awaken this "serpent" energy (called Mezla), and by concentration can direct it wherever they choose. The highest mystics and magicians are able to bring the focus to the coelum empyreaum (crown chakra) thereby fully activating the pineal, pituitary and hypothalamus glands. At this time it is believed that the meditator finds release from the rounds of birth and death and is able to transcend time and space. Because this Nirvanic state is not achieved through any linear methodology or technique, and because it involves rigorous mental, physical and psychological skills and adaptations, the serpent became a favored symbol for the phenomena, until the advent of Judeo-Christianity when it, along with women and nature, was denigrated as evil.
As long as humanity kept records of its existence, serpents were used as emblems of the intelligence of God. In ancient times and as widespread and diverse as Australia, China, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Babylonia, Sumeria, Egypt, India, and Central America, serpents were feared and worshipped as gods for thousands of years...To this day, serpents or dragons signify divine heritage and royalty in many Asian countries, while in the West the serpent represents wisdom and knowledge…Among nearly all ancient peoples the serpent was accepted as the ultimate symbol of wisdom or salvation - Tony Bushby (The Secret in the Bible)
The Hebrews follow the Babylonians in confusing the Uraeus Serpent with the serpent of death - Gerald Massey (Egypt Light of the World)
The curse in Genesis on the woman, that she should be at enmity with the serpent, is obviously misplaced: it must refer to the ancient rivalry decreed between the sacred king Adam and the Serpent for the favors of the Goddess - Robert Graves (The White Goddess)
Today the serpent still finds usage as a working symbol for evolution, creativity, mental acuity and secret knowledge. In ancient days when the serpent was shown near a circle or sphere it was the act of conception which was implied. In the Book of Genesis, for instance, the mystery of conception was symbolized by the Tree, the Apple and the Serpent. The simple truth behind this contorted fable is that for age upon age, before the patriarchal hegemonies, the act of conception was frequently depicted by a wriggling cobra with open hood (the sperm) "biting," or "tempting" another to bite, an egg or apple (the ovum). This later became the "ring and the rod" motif (as used by stage magicians), and is the reason why in today's marriage ceremonies a round ring is placed on a finger.
Another seminal correspondence of the serpent was the constellation Draco, that crosses the entire northern sky and whose head approaches the circumpolar region which, in the Stellar Epochs, was known as the Aaru, or the Garden of Eden, and later as Hesperides, Arcadia, Avalon and Camelot, etc,. Within the circumpolar circle lies the Great Bear constellation, Alpha Draconis, Polaris, and the seven major stations of the Pole. A Magician's wand is a device representing the Pole, and the stations were commemorated in the Semitic Menorah (7 turreted candelabra) and by the reference in the Epistles of the seven "Churches." We derive the mythic image of the serpent (Draco) and the Tree (the Pole) from this celestial phenomenon. The serpent of the sky was, therefore, seen as a protector, a guardian before the shrine of sacred knowledge. Later, in their more exoteric myths, the Greeks denigrated the symbol of Draco into the evil Hydra, and the Christians followed suit creating Leviathan and the dragon with seven horns, etc,. Under their hands the serpent and dragon became evil coveters of secrets, deceptive and malign presences to be loathed and overcome with might and violence. And the same held true for the power women whose totem was the serpent. The Liliths, Salomes and Delilahs, who challenge the prophets are demonesses, while the mother-denying, dragon-slaying, witch-burning patriarchs are heroes doing God's work.
The retouching by the Greeks, like that of the Semites, tended to efface the figures or falsify the meaning of the mythos; and the astronomical facts are of a thousandfold more important than all the petty embellishments of irresponsible fancy...Perhaps the worst perversion of the true mythos made by the Greeks was in their treatment of the polar dragon - Gerald Massey
In their desire to appear highly intellectual, scientific and mathematical, the Greeks, probably about the time of Alexander the Great, adopted the solar nomenclature, thereby turning ancient zodiacal symbolism topsy-turvy and making it sheer nonsense - Cyril Fagan (Astrological Origins)
The imagery of Arcanum 21 also has fascinating Kabalistic correspondences. The two little wands or batons which the Dancer holds refer to the Pillars of Mercy and Severity on the so-called Tree of Life. The body of the Dancer is, therefore, the central column or Pillar of Equilibrium. She is Maat (who was often depicted as androgynous), Shakti, Sophia, Cybele, and Rhea, the Shekina (Feminine Daemon) leading the way through the vale of tears and the gates of death to the holy of holies. Interestingly, the Tarot cards which are assigned to the central column on the Tree of Life turn out to be the three main female cards of the Major Arcana (Empress, Temperance and Universe). Threeness is itself one of the main goddess numerals, for long before the Christian Trinity there was that of Kore, Demeter and Hecate. The Dancer holds her two batons in a manner reminiscent of the Magician (Tarot card 1). The way they are divided by her body and her hands suggest not only mitosis (chromosome division), but also the stands of DNA. In the context of the Magnum Opus, which the Tarot vividly pictorializes, they represent time and space which the Dancer has transcended. Her dance is a microcosmic emulation of the entire journey and maturation of the Fool (humanity), from his uroboric slumber to his psychological and spiritual awakening. Figuratively speaking, we do not evolve on a static circle but on a spiral, from lower phylogenetic and ontogenetic states to higher, from division (the two batons) to wholeness (the vesica). The life-dance toward our personal Quaternity follows the pulse of the music of the spheres, to which our heartbeats and breath are perfectly attuned.
When you create harmonics of sound, it reminds your body of something. It reminds your body of light, of deep, cosmic love, and of other worlds…It seeks and accesses a frequency that it has been longing for, which the sound has reminded it of…This frequency is connected to the evolution of the helixes within your body. Sound is a vehicle or conduit to connect you to the higher chakras outside of your body because you do not have a way of accessing them logically - Barbara Marciniak
Like the Pharaoh, who united upper and lower Egypt, the awakened human unifies the four quarters of his or her own being. The seeker after the truth of himself endures "crucifixion" upon his own Golgotha and rises from the tomb, crowned and sceptered. Figuratively speaking, he learns to ride rather than run from the dragon that once was his direst adversary. Like Perseus he learns to look right into the eyes of Medusa without turning to stone. In turning toward his nightmares and fears he transmutes them into dreams, visions and treasures for himself and the world. He yearns for nothing for he sups ever on the nectar of truth and of innocence. His is the wand of energy, the cup of love, the sword of intelligence and the coin of abundance.
And I shall destroy everything I created. The earth will again appear as primordial ocean…I am everything that remains…after I have turned myself back into a snake that no man knows – Hermann Kees (Der Gotterglaube im alten Aegypten)
When this Trump falls for us in a divination style reading, or is one of our significators, it means that very long cycles are coming to an end in our lives. We are concluding energetic, emotional, mental and material cycles, and must be ready to turn from external roles to the center of ourselves, and commune with our innermost being in order to recuperate and process, reflect and relinquish. Only after such a spell can we truly be prepared for the dance of tomorrow. The card falls when the universe beckons us in a certain direction which may, or may not, be congruent with our present destination. Though it is certainly a sign of forthcoming bounty and success, it can also be a warning of inflation and exaggeration, of desires and projects which are grandiose and wasteful. In general, the Universe card asks us to pull back from the canvas and see the bigger picture of what is happening to us and around us. It implies that there are powerful forces at work and major lessons to be learned. It cautions us to remember that we think and do now will be the foundation of the future life to come, for better or for worse.
In ancient societies the role of the high priestesses was not only to counsel and forecast but to heal and initiate. In the palmyriums of the eastern lands, particularly, these soror mystica (mystical sisters) would lead their neophytes through profound rituals of purgation and catharsis. It is no coincidence, therefore, that at the moment of the resurrection of Jesus and Lazarus (as at other key events in the Biblical drama), women are present. However, those who were relegated to the level of startled, impotent bystanders in the orthodox canon were, in fact, the dunameis (agents of awakening) of the earlier Ecclesia. After passing through their various mystery school convocations and rites the adepts would be able to rule over themselves or over kingdoms with majesty and mastery. The Pharaohs were predominately male but, as the symbolism clearly shows, they officiated for the feminine principle, known as Maat (Balance) or Sophia (Wisdom). The title of "Pharaoh" derives from pharos nous, meaning enlightened mind. As the title implies, they were realized beings, and were androgynous, not on a mere genital level but on a psychic level.
For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven - (Gospel of Thomas)
It is therefore incumbent on the male magician to cultivate those female virtues in which he is deficient…It will then be lawful for a magician to invoke Isis, and identify himself with her; if he fail to do this, his apprehension of the Universe when he attains Samadhi will lack the conception of maternity. The result will be a metaphysical and – by corollary – ethical limitation in the Religion which he founds. Judaism and Islam are striking examples of this failure - Aleister Crowley (Magick in Theory and Practice)
The later anthrocentric religions preserved exoteric semblances of such rites and philosophies but gradually did away with the actuality. They deposed the females from their office and replaced the language of the goddess with that of the gods. By cunningly prohibiting "graven images" the orthodox mythographers deconstructed the importance of the image of goddess and exalted, instead, the word of God. They rescripted the role of the goddesses, priestesses and heroines to make them appear mere consorts or emanations, or even as seducers and deceivers, of the male gods, heroes and kings.
They have taken my light from me, and my power is dried up. I have forgotten my mystery which heretofore I was wont to accomplish...I am become as a demon apart, who dwelleth in matter and light is not in him - Lament of Sophia (from Pistis Sophia)
Beware the woman, too, and shun her sight, Who in these studies, does her self delight - Juvenal
(The Sixth Satire)
For some reason best known to themselves, the translators of the Bible have carefully crowded out of existence and smothered up every reference to the fact that Deity is both masculine and feminine. They have translated a feminine plural by masculine singular in the case of the word Elohim – Aleister Crowley (Liber 777)
But despite the artifice and expurgation not only the Gnostics and Diviners but many Christian scholars continued to teach the real truth, some more expressively than others:
The Lord Jesus united in himself the division of our nature, that is, male and female...For in Him there is neither male nor female, although it was in the masculine sex that He was born of a Virgin - John Scotus Erigena (Periphyseon)
And God designed the Earth to be our nurse; also, as the winds round the axis that stretches through her. To be the guardian and maker of night and day, first and most venerable of all the gods that are within the heavens – Plato (Timaeus)
She is the forethought of all. Her light is like his light. This was the first though, his image. Together this now was the source of the All. It is the unbegotten virginal power which is Source – (The Apocryphon of John)
It was Rudolf Bultmann, the German Biblical scholar, who cited certain passages in the Gospels...as interpolations of Sophia herself, put into the mouth of Christ - Caitlin Matthews (Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom)
I believe that most of what was said of God was in reality said of that Spirit whose body is Earth – George Russell (The Candle of Vision)
The very word Genesis means the genes of Isis, or the generation of Isis. The word church comes from the goddess name Circe, and the very design of churches reflect the mysteries of the female. The flowing robes worn by the clergy are to simulate femininity, while Baptism was a rite in which a person was symbolically returned to the uterine waters of the mother. A nave in a church comes from the word navel, which implied womb. Both the Mass and Eucharist are based on ancient rites in which a white wafer or cake baked from the clay of the Nile was given to a devotee to represent the ovum (the cauldron or chalice of all life). These round cakes were called "Mesta," from the word meaning woman. The Eucharist was performed long before the advent of Christianity, and was under the custodianship of the female thaumaturgists. The intake of the wafer and wine symbolizes our communion with the inner female, the Sophic Principle who is the actual guide toward Individuation. As Eve was mother to the world, so is the inner Anima the mother of our higher self.
The female is to be regarded as having been separated from the male, in order to reproduce the male in a superior form – Aleister Crowley (Book of Lies)
The Dancer of Arcanum 21 is Sophia Stellarum, the Lady of the Stars. Her dance through the zodiac epitomizes the journey of all life she has birthed. As Eve she can be reason for the fall, but as Sophia she is the reason for our return. The Fall was not from heaven but from nature, from our symbiotic rapport with the Universal Order. The return will not be to god but to goddess. Our homage is due, not to a wrathful Jehovah at a burning bush, but to a compassionate Gaea beneath a luminously verdant Tree of Life.
By violating the natural order we have proven beyond all doubt the truth of the passage in Omar Khayyam's Rubyiat that we ourselves contain both heaven and hell. Our inner dichotomy is, however, so systemically unbearable that we have collectively projected our phrenic scission onto the external world and devised the myriad labyrinthine religious and philosophical fallacies to help us continually avoid remedying our existential disease. In our noetic and ideological delirium we do not seem to care that our once beauteous, immaculate planet is poisoned by our dark thoughts and actions, that it is desecrated daily through our chronic neglect and abuse.
Our exile has not only been from the Goddess, but also from Nature. It is not surprising, considering that most Westerners live apart from their environment, protected by concrete roadways, consuming machine-processed foods and filled with media information to the detriment of the experience of our own senses. The seasons go unnoticed, we seldom touch the earth, eat fresh food or observe the world personally...The sacred is a forgotten dimension in our society which we ignore at our peril - Caitlin Matthews
We have fashioned outlandishly complex and cumbersome epistemologies to further enslave and estrange us from the organic temple of reality. We exhaust our minds learning and gaining knowledge, but become great only in connivance and indifference. What the diviners of old could encapsulate in 22 humble pictographs we seem unable to comprehend through a lifetime of intellection and abstraction. We reign over a new earth but, like power-crazed despots, succeed only in despoiling, subduing and eviscerating our charge. As our present age testifies, our insatiable urge to vanquish and desecrate propels us headlong, not to the gates of heaven, but to those of oblivion.
It is time men realized their oneness with Mother Earth and rescued her from lifelessness so they also can save themselves from death. But what oneness can we have with the earth, when we have no such oneness, no such relationship with ourselves - Vladimir Soloviev
The message of Arcanum 21 is that there can be no ritual dance or final rapturous oblation awaiting those who so diligently neglect their custodianship and sovereign duty, for those who, while musing endlessly on the curse of Adam and sins of Eve, seek union with the elusive god at the center of their psychosis, instead of with the goddess lying so vividly before their voracious, haunted eyes.
Oh humanity!...cries the Dancer...how prepared and early you are for your weddings...for all but one!
She gently took the self-forgetting soul by the hand...and showed him all the experiences in the universe, all manifestation, bringing him higher and higher through various bodies, 'till his lost glory came back, and he remembered his own nature. Then the kind mother went back the same way she came, for others who also who have lost their way in the trackless desert of life. And thus is she working, without beginning and without end. And thus through pleasure and pain, through good and evil, the infinite river of souls is flowing into the ocean of perfection of self-realization - Swami Vivekananda (Raja Yoga)
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