Updated: Sep 6
The Private Journal of Mr.Muliebris, 27th of --, --9
"One day my good and loyally married friend Mr. S-- told me that in his dreams a temptress was tormenting him with her snakes, and, as his wife slept beside him, she was arousing in him emotions he was ashamed to name. He asked what I knew, as a man of learning.
I told him that serpents are the twisting divine symbols of fertility and healing, intertwined with lustful impulses and the chaos of the underworld. The serpent has been venerated since the beginning of our time, I said, and frequently features in creation myths. The first men at the dawn of man in the Mountain of the Gods, 70,000 years ago, carved their rituals upon a snake-shaped rock and left arrow heads beside it.
Many African and Australian peoples celebrated the divine Rainbow Snake. The Mesopotamians, the Sumerians and the Babylonians worshipped it; the Hindus have Manasa Devi, a goddess of snakes worshipped for fertility, prosperity and a cure for snakebites. A snake stole Gilgamesh's immortality and in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, the Ancient Egyptians venerated Ouroboros, who perpetually eats its own tail, symbolising the eternal return, I said. The Gorgons of Greek myth were snake-women; Medusa, who turned observers to stone, was the most famous sister of them all. It was Genesis that fashioned the serpents into something low and cunning and equated them with temptation, damnation and original sin.
I told him that these legends slip and slide through our myths and history as sinuously as real serpents.
As for the temptress, I told him of the malevolent daemon Lilith, who first appeared to the Mesopotamians three thousand years before Christ as a storm goddess, and kept serpents and other animals as her familiars, and later slithered into Jewish lore as a lustful night demon, perhaps brought back by the Hebrews living in Babylon, transforming herself into Adam's first wife. She lived on through the centuries, famously wound into lore as a familiar of snakes by the Pre-Raphaelites.
Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.
The rose and poppy are her flower; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! as that youth's eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.
-- Lilith, Noted on the Royal Academy Exhibition, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Collected Works, 216, 1868
"But what shall I do about her?" cried Mr. S--.
I told Mr. S-- that when I was young and living in Africa, a pair of hooded cobras had taken up residence in our house's septic tank, which led to some Freudian encounters in the bathroom, until the local villagers came with their sticks and chased them away. 'Leave a stick by your bed,' I suggested. But in his dream that night the stick became a snake, and slithered onto his bed, and then it twisted upon itself and became Lilith, eyeing him with an unmistakeable intent. My plan had not worked.
"And in any case, I do not want to chase Lilith away," Mr. S-- told me. "I think she is telling me something." I counselled him that Shakespeare could be a guide to dealings with the snake, and that patience might be called for.
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't. (I.v.60-64)
-- Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 5
The next day, over a strong coffee, Mr. S-- said that during that night Lilith had taunted him by twisting hither and thither, demanding to know whether he yearned for her, and he had said no, and as Lady Macbeth had counselled he had pretended innocence. Yet his body betrayed him, and the daemon Lilith laughed at him and was gone. His patience, he said, was nearly exhausted.
I told him that Jung said that, 'The snake is the symbol of the great wisdom of Nature, for the too direct way is not the best way; the crooked way, the detour, is the shorter way,” and that perhaps his dreams were counselling him to listen to his instincts.
The next day Mr. S-- told me that his wife had left him a note on the mantelpiece in which she said she had met a man called Typhon, that they had been having an affair for some months, and she had run away with him. Mr. S-- said that perhaps he knew all along.
That night Lilith snaked her way into my dreams, and she has not left them since.
I think she is telling me something."
NB. Ophiolatreia means snake worship.