Right now I am deeply engaged in research, and I have found myself revisiting old research along the way. Today, whilst working on the final edits for my forthcoming book Circle for Hekate, I found myself re-reading sections of The Cosmic Shekinah, which I co-authored with David Rankine (Avalonia, 2010). I thought I would share this snippet with you, in which we discussed the serpent as a symbol and icon associated with The Shekinah.
For those readers unfamiliar with the The Shekinah, it might come as a surprise to find that she is a female divinity who is present in The Bible (Old Testament) and who is sometimes described as “The Wife of God” (being the “God” of Abramaic religions).
“The Shekinah is first hinted at as the unnamed Wisdom Goddess of the books of the Old Testament, as well as being named in apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical books from the latter part of this period, spanning a thousand years from the seventh or sixth century BCE through to the third or fourth century CE. Whilst it has been suggested that the Shekinah was simply a hypostasis of God’s glory, personifying his qualities, the traces found in these ancient writings make it clear that she was much more than this.” (From The Cosmic Shekinah, d’Este and Rankine)
Stele of Qudshu – showing her with flail and snake, standing on a lion.
(Wikipedia Commons, Rama)
She is the Serpent …
The relationship between the Shekinah and the serpent is significant, particularly in light of the ambivalent nature of the symbolism associated with serpents in different cultures. Considering other wisdom goddesses, the serpent motif recurs with a number of them. For instance the Canaanite wisdom and mother goddess Asherah was known as the lady of the serpent (dāt batni). The serpent motif is of course a common one in many cultures, and it is the serpent that tempts Eve to gain wisdom in the Book of Genesis, a course of action sometimes equated with initiation into wisdom.
Images of the Egyptian goddess Qudshu, who was associated with Asherah, frequently show her holding serpents. There are sixteen or so Egyptian plaques from the New Kingdom (sixteenth-eleventh century BCE) showing Qudshu (also called Qadesh)[i] standing on a lion, holding lotuses in her right hand and a serpent in her left hand.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the Greek goddess Hekate (who has parallels to the Shekinah as world soul, source of souls and many other motifs) also had snake symbolism associated with her on numerous occasions, including in the Greek Magical Papyri (C2nd BCE-C5th CE) and as the wisdom goddess of the Chaldean Oracles (C2nd CE).[ii]
The Gnostic goddess Edem, a form of Sophia and hence also associated with wisdom, bears what is probably the strongest serpentine imagery. She is depicted as being half human and half serpent; and as we will show, this is undoubtedly derived from earlier sources such as the Greek mythical Echidna or the Egyptian goddess Isis-Hermouthis. In the creation myth as told in the second century BCE Book of Baruch, the third of the twelve angels created by Edem was Naas (‘snake’), who equates to the serpent of wisdom on the Tree in the garden of Eden, again emphasising her very strong relationship with serpents.
[i] The Religions of Israel, Zevit, 2003:323.
[ii] See Hekate Liminal Rites, d’Este & Rankine, 2009:141-2.
(From The Cosmic Shekinah, by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine, Avalonia, 2010)