[Carl Jung on the Serpent, Sympathetic Nervous System, Human Bodies and Diseases]
Whenever the snake symbolism appears in dreams, then, it is always representative of the lower motor centers of the brain and of the spinal cord, and our fear of snakes denotes that we are not fully in tune with our instinctive lower centers; they still contain a threat to us.
This comes from the fact that our consciousness, having a certain amount of real freedom of will, can deviate from the inexorable laws of nature which govern man, from our own laws which are organically formed in the structure of the lower brain surface.
Inasmuch as we have ethical freedom we can deviate but we do it with fear; we have a certain idea that something untoward will happen to us because we are instinctively aware of the power of those lower centers.
Since they are connected with the sympathetic nervous system which rules all the important centers of our bodies-digestion, inner secretions, the functioning of the liver and kidneys and so on-a serious deviation means upsetting the functioning of those nervous systems and we eventually risk a grave disturbance in our glandular organs or in our blood circulation.
A certain thought can arouse your heart so that it beats faster; it can produce such an acceleration that there may even be a sort of hypertrophy of the heart.
These disturbances can go as far as to cause diabetes, or skin diseases; or it can cause such a lowering of self-defense through the blood that one becomes open to all kinds of infection.
One of the most psychogenic diseases is angina, a disease of the heart.
Of course you can say I am a psychotherapist and therefore think that everything is psychical, but you also hear these facts from specialists on internal diseases; many people have the idea that those diseases are of psychical origin.
So this lower nervous system is a constant threat, a sword of Damocles, and we are-and we ought to be-instinctively careful, always a bit afraid lest we might deviate too far.
Those people who are completely identical with consciousness are often so unaware of the body that the head walks away with them, so they lose control of the body and anything can happen to it: the whole system becomes upset.
The brain should be in harmony with the lower nervous system; our consciousness should be in practically the same tune or rhythm.
Otherwise, I am quite convinced that under particularly unfavorable conditions one can be killed.
Whenever you have an argument with yourself, whenever you are making a decision, in order to be far-reaching enough you should consider the reaction of the serpent, of the lower brain centers; nothing can be decided definitely, nothing can be definitely argued if that answer is overlooked.
One should always wait for the answer.
Those people are wise who say: “It seems to me one could decide in such and such a way, but I want to sleep on it.”
For in sleep, consciousness is extinct and there you have a chance to become acquainted with the reaction of the serpent.
Certain negroes, for instance, would say they must discuss a matter first with their serpent; they try to find out whether what they are going to do is really built upon the pattern, the fantasies, of the laws of nature.
So it is very characteristic that after the chapter where the anima has a lot to say, we should have a chapter where the snake turns up.
And that is why the anima is represented as a woman above and snake below; there is a Latin verse about it, not exactly a snake in this case but another cold blooded animal, a fish: Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne, which means that the woman who is beautiful above ends with a fish’s tail.
You see, that symbolism comes from the fact that the anima is a semihuman function on one side; through her head she denotes that she has connection with human consciousness, but below she extends into the spinal cord and into the body.
Our unconscious is surely located in the body, and you mustn’t think this a contradiction to the statement I usually make, that the collective unconscious is everywhere; for if you could put yourself into your sympathetic system, you would know what sympathy is-you would understand why the nervous system is called sympathetic.
You would then feel that you were in everything; you would not feel yourself as an isolated being, would not experience the world and life as your own private experience-as we most certainly do inasmuch as we are conscious persons.
In the sympathetic nervous system you would experience not as a person but as mankind, or even as belonging to the animal kingdom; you would experience nothing in particular, but the whole phenomena of life as if it were one.
Of course you can only get hints of such an experience, as, for example, you experience the mood of a crowd or of a place as if you were in everything that constitutes the
situation; you feel the mood of everybody and swing into it together with the crowd.
That would illustrate it to a small degree.
Also on account of the possibility of such extension you must necessarily assume that such awareness would be without time.
You would need time in order to transfer your head consciousness to a distance and into everybody, while the kind of perception in the sympathetic system needs no time; it is at the same time everywhere.
But you see, this collective unconscious, in spite of its being everywhere, or in spite of its universal awareness, is located in the body; the sympathetic nervous system of the body is the organ by which you have the possibility of such awareness; therefore you can say the collective unconscious is in the lower centers of the brain and the spinal cord and the sympathetic system.
Speaking accurately, this is the organ by which you experience the collective unconscious, which means as if there were nothing but you and the world-whether you are the world, or extend over the whole world, or the whole world is in you, is all the same. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 749-751.