Dream of a Ten-Year-Old Girl of a Snake with Eyes Sparkling Like Diamonds ~Presented by Marie-Louise von Franz
A snake with eyes sparkling like diamonds chases me in a forest or in my bedroom.
This dream frightens me so much that I no longer dare move in the bed, because even when awake, everywhere in the room I see the glowing eyes of the snake that wants to bite me.
Ms. von Franz:
As is evident from the text, the dream has often recurred.
When a dream appears with such forcefulness, we have to conclude that it will be of central importance for the dreamer’s psychology, indeed, that the situation here depicted will perhaps govern her whole life.
Already among the primitives, recurrent dreams are accorded a very special importance.
Now, the difficulty in the interpretation of this dream lies in the fact that it does not really have a plot or activity, but only contains one single image; therefore, we are not able to apply the usual dramatic schema (exposition, statement of the problem, peripateia, lysis or catastrophe).
In fact, the dream takes the form of a vision, of an apparition, which is also confirmed by the fact that the dreamer still sees the snake “even when awake”—we would say half-asleep.
She does not dare move in the bed, “because even when awake, everywhere in the room I still see the glowing eyes of the snake that wants to bite me.”
Thus, the image appears so intensely that, like a vision in the waking state, it is even able to interrupt the continuity of waking consciousness.
So we have only the image of the snake by which to orient ourselves, an image which, as you know, is so enormously widespread in all religions and myths of the world that, frankly speaking, I was able to draw only very general conclusions regarding the situation of the dreamer.
A few details of the description, however, may perhaps show the path to the particular way in which the dreamer reacted—that is, the emphasis on the gaze of the snake, the eyes, described first as sparkling like diamonds, then, in a gradual increase of its evil character, as glowing, and, by the final sentence, that the snake “wants to bite her.”
As far as the snake in general is concerned, it nearly always belongs to the chthonic-female element of religions, indeed it very often is its embodiment proper.
In dualistically oriented systems, therefore, it often stands in opposition to a bright, male, spiritual world, from whose perspective it represents the demonic-evil.
Through the story of Paradise, the snake has, as it were, taken this meaning for the whole Christian world.
Philo of Alexandria in particular, probably under Persian influence, contributed to this snake symbolism and to the development of the devil concept.
For him, however, it is at the same time also the most spiritual animal, of a fiery nature and of great velocity.
Through its ability to shed its skin, it is even immortal.
But in other cultures, too, the snake plays the role of the primal enemy of the upper world of the gods: the Midgard snake, together with the Fenris wolf, threatens the gods in Asgard by creating a flood.
In Greece it is Gaia, the earth goddess, who creates half-snakes, the Titans, who storm Olympus and wrestle with Zeus.
Simultaneously, she is the mother of Echidna (snake), of the Sphinx, Cerberus, and others.
Leviathan, too, the antagonist of Jehovah, is a snake, a dragon at the bottom of the sea.
In the Mithras cult, the snake is the animal opposed to life that, together with the scorpion and the ant, absorbs the life-giving effect of the bull sacrifice.
It is the antagonist of the lion, the damp, cold, dark animal in contrast to the animal of the heat of the sun.
It devours the vital force of the sacrificed bull, or it wraps itself around a Kratér (vessel), with the lion facing her.
It stands in a similar opposition to the lion as it does to the eagle, which is the sun-bird and spiritual principle.
Thus, an eagle sits on top of the Germanic world tree, but a dragon dwells below, while the squirrel Ratatwiskr (bearer of discord) transmits mutual insults.
In Indian mythology and in fairy tales, the races of the snakes and eagles are eternal enemies, and seek to destroy each other.
Once, the snakes outwitted the eagles, which then had to serve them, but the eagle Garuda, Vishnu’s mount, stole the soma, the drink of immortality that he was supposed to obtain for them.
A North American fairy tale recounts that a child-stealing witch seizes the hero Tsoavits, but an eagle leads him back again.
At this, the witch seeks help from her grandfather, the giant snake, but is devoured by him on the spot. “Ever since all witches have been snakelike.”
The snake is also closely related to the basilisk or dragon, whose defeat signals the beginning of nearly every heroic legend.
I will mention only Heracles and the lernaic snake, and Siegfried and the Christian St. George, both modeled after him.
In wanting to help the bright upper world to achieve victory, indeed by embodying the new sun himself, the hero stands in opposition to the snake.
It is because of this that two snakes—sent by Hera, the evil Great Mother—already threaten Heracles in his crib; later she sends him fits of madness, during which he even kills his own children.
A snake also steals the herb of immortality, obtained with great difficulty, from Gilgamesh, while he is inattentively bathing in a pond.
The hero Philoctetes, too, a figure identical with Heracles, is bitten by a snake in the foot because of the curse from the nymph Chryse, whose love he did not requite; he slowly wastes away from the wound.
In a very similar way, the son god Re is poisoned, according to an Egyptian hymn, by a venerable worm, formed out of his own saliva and laid in his way by Isis, who is enraged at him.
She then heals him only after he discloses his name to her, but his power remains broken.
Apollo also had to first conquer the python in Delphi before he could create his oracles there.
Strangely enough, such prophetic abilities often arise out of defeating a dragon, just as Siegfried understands the voices of the birds after having eaten Fafner’s flesh.
As far as the especially numerous snake and dragon fights in Greek mythology are concerned, it should be pointed out that matriarchy had ruled in the Aegean culture before the Indo-Germanic populations of the Greeks invaded it about 2,000 b.c., and that the cults of the Great Mother, later worshipped as Cybele, Agdistis, Mountain Mother, Artemis of Ephesus, and so on, stem from this time. (As a matter of fact, we know about the free status of women in Crete.)
This Great Mother was often depicted together with a snake.
The shield goddess Athena, too, is pre-Greek, and often the snake is her companion (compare Phidias’s depiction).
Hence, for the Greeks, overcoming the snake means at the same time overcoming the goddess of the ground, overcoming the unconscious reemergence of the pre-Greek layer, which in the postclassical period broke through again in the mysteries of Cybele, Sabazio, the Phrygian Mother goddess, and others, and which has inundated the whole spectrum of Mediterranean culture.
It is quite clear from this compilation of images that the snake symbolizes the vital, instinctual, and drive stirrings in man, his unconscious dark side in contrast to brightness, to the conscious side of his nature.
Scientifically speaking, the snake has only a cerebrospinal nervous system, and so represents all the stirrings originating in this sphere.
In various Gnostic systems it is identified with the human spinal cord, proof that already then one was aware of these correspondences.
This is a direct parallel to the Indian Kundalini snake in Kundalini yoga, climbing up and down in the spinal cord.
In the contexts previously described, the snake plays the role of an evil demon, hostile to light, and represents a dark, ambiguous deity of the depths.
But this is only one side of its being; at the same time it is also a god of healing and salvation.
In the mysteries of Sabazios it represented the highest deity: according to the testimony of Clement of Alexandria, a snake was pulled through the abdomen of mystics.
Arnobius also testifies that a golden snake was drawn through the clothing of the initiated.
The snake ritual signifies the mystical unification with the deity, toward whom the mystic is in a feminine position.
Similarly, the snake is the animal accompanying and, in earlier stages, personifying Asklepios; according to Artemidorus, its appearance in dreams of the sick signals healing and the return of vital power.
A Grimm fairy tale shows particularly well how strongly it is associated with the mysterious vital power of a human being: a child who eats with a snake thrives until his mother slays the snake.
From this moment on the child, too, loses weight and wastes away until he finally dies.
Likewise, Porphyry writes in the biography of his revered teacher, Plotinus, that the latter’s disciples had observed by his bedside, a few days before his death, how a snake came out of Plotinus’s mouth and left; the master died shortly thereafter.
For these reasons the appearance of a snake at the sickbed can also mean death.
It was also generally assumed that the souls of the dead would live on as chthonic snake gods, as inhabitants of the underworld where they became guardians of a treasure.
Thus, snakes were ritualistically worshipped in holes and crevices in the ground in the Asklepieias of Ptolemy and Hygieia.
At the so-called Arrhetophorias, obols and cakes in the form of a snake or phallus were sacrificed in crevices in the ground.
An erect snake made of granite was found in the pits.
Thus the snake becomes the guardian of the secret treasure, and very often also the possessor of the herb of life (compare the Indian fairy tale in which it wants to have the soma potion) with which it can reawaken the dead.
A Greek saga recounts that the hero Glaucus, sitting next to the corpse of his murdered friend Polyeides, catches sight of a snake, which he slays.
Thereafter a second snake appears, fetches an herb, returns, and reanimates its dead friend.
At this they disappear together and leave the herb for Glaucus, who revives his friend Polyeides with it.
This motif emerges in identical form in the Grimm fairy tale “The Three Snake Leaves,” and in numerous other fairy tales.
When the snake, as I mentioned in the beginning, steals the herb of life from Gilgamesh in a moment of inattention or unconsciousness, this somehow belongs to this same sphere.
The snake arrives there, attracted by the scent of the flower that Gilgamesh had fished up from the bottom of the sea along with the herb, and, one is almost tempted to say, takes back what is hers.
Perhaps you recall the dream series that was discussed at the end of last winter, in which a boy dreams that he is searching for a transparent stone and that a lion, also wanting the lapis, appears at that moment—similarly, the snake is also a lover of stone or the herb of life. (Incidentally, in that series, a white snake with black crosses on its back appears in a dream directlypreceding the former, a symbolically depicted soter snake, the serpens mercurii, which dwells in the earth.
And earlier still, it was the spring, the water of life, with which it is identical.)
The snake is not only the guardian of the stone or herb, however; it is essentially identical with it, or contains it in itself.
The Indians believe that the cobra carries a diamond in its head; and an Indian fairy tale recounts that a snake daily brings a scholar a gold piece for reading to it from spiritual works in a garden, until the old man’s greedy son hits the snake on the head and breaks the jewel inside; the snake kills the son in revenge and disappears, lamenting: “Woe,
who has shattered my jewel?”
The particular reason why I presented this fairy tale is because such an association may resonate in the expression of our dream text: “eyes sparkling like diamonds.”
As already suggested, the snake and its relation to the lapis play an essential role in alchemy.
Thus, a text from the Musaeum Hermeticum says: “A terrifying dragon lives in the forest who lacks nothing; when it sees the sun’s rays, it forgets its poison and flies so dreadfully that no living animal can resist and not even the basilisk is its equal. Whoever knows how to kill it wisely . . . will escape all dangers . . . and its poison turns into the ultimate medicina.
Suddenly it swallows its own poison by eating its own poisonous tail.
It is forced to complete all that within itself.
Then a magnificent balsam will flow forth from it.”
A thought parallel to this is that the gold is already present in the initial situation, but that it is either old and sterile or compositum; this gold is dissolved in a type of aqua fortis,
which corresponds to the snake.
Yet, the whole process is something taking its course within itself, which is why it is also said that a punctum igneitatis exists in Mercury himself through which that (immanent) dissolution happens.
I do not want to go into this alchemical problem here any longer, but to address instead a source of alchemical symbolism, the concepts of the Gnostic sects of the Ophites and Naassenes.
Ophis is Greek for snake.
Likewise, Naas is the Hebrew word for snake.
The Gnostics gave themselves these names in saying “that they alone could grasp the depths of God.”
Thus the snake is the deus absconditus, the dark, deep, incomprehensible side of God.
The so-called Perates, too, especially elaborated on the theory of the snake.
“The primeval power originating from the father, the logos, is a snake; so are the stars, but they are the evil snakes. This is why Moses shows the perfect snake to the children of Israel. . . . Whoever sets his hopes on it will not be destroyed by the snakes of the desert, that is, the gods of creation. This all-encompassing snake is the wise logos of Eva, this is the mystery of Eden, this is the river that flows out of Eden.”
This explains the meaning of the words “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”
The snake is the “great beginning,” of which it is said:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”
What is made by it is life.
The snake stands for vital power, as we have seen.
Eve originated through it; Eve is life.
This Eve is the mother of anything alive.
The evil materia, however, in contrast to the logos, is also, in the final analysis, a snake.
At first, it is the water to the Perates, flowing around the world as in a ring; it is Kronos.
They say of it: “It is a power bright as water, and no creature can escape this power, Chronos; it is the reason why each creature is doomed to perish; it is the water of Styx.”
One can view the battle of these two snakes in the sky: “The logos is the constellation of the dragon; to the right and left of it are the crown and lyre. In front of the dragon kneels that pitiable man, Heracles. Behind his back the evil master of this world, the constellation of the snake, draws nearer so as to steal the crown from him. The bearer of the snake, however, keeps them together and prevents it from touching the crown.”
Here again, the snake is aiming at what is most valuable.
The main ritual of the Perates, the evening meal, proceeded as follows: they piled loaves of bread on the table and summoned the snake that, as a holy animal, was cared for
in a container box.
The snake came near and slithered on top of the loaves.
Through this the breads were consecrated.
Each member kissed the snake on the mouth and prostrated himself before it.
Thus logos is present in the form of the snake at the Lord’s Supper.
It is Christ both as logos and as snake.
The rituals of the Sabazios mysteries, mentioned earlier, also belong to this area; they are the coniunctio with the divine logos.
But in other cultures as well, the snake is the savior of the logos: Quetzalcoatl, the god of the Toltecs, is a winged snake, the son of the “cloud snake,” who appears as the bearer of culture and savior.
Upon Tollan’s fall, he again disappears in a lake in the form of a snake.
According to the Gnostics, the evil snake, too, was not evil originally, but became so as follows: Justinos recounts that on his journey west, Heracles had united with a virgin,
half snake, half human (cf. Herodotus), in order to regain his stolen horse.
Elohim likewise is said to have united with a virgin half-snake and half-human, called Eden or Israel, and to have procreated with her twelve paternal angels and twelve maternal ones.
He then leaves her and returns to the upper, good god.
Out of her sorrow at having been left, she then becomes that evil power, hostile toward God.
Her servant, the angel Naas (snake), later brings about the crucifixion of Christ; Christ, however, left Eden his body on the cross, with the words: “Woman, behold thy son!”28
But these are the very words Christ spoke to Mary when he entrusted John to her.
So John is, as it were, the body, the mortal part of Christ! Strangely enough, in medieval art John, too, has the characteristics of a snake. In a picture of Quentin Matsys, he holds a communion cup containing a small dragon, which he consecrates.
In the great division of the cosmos, shared by nearly all Gnostic sects, there are three realms, and always right at the bottom there is the snake leviathan,the ouroboros, reappearing in alchemy.
But the latter is Eve, that is, life. Leviathan is the master of this world, of whom it is said in Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
Alchemy also knows—besides the tail-eater who unites the opposites in itself—the image of two snakes uniting, a fleeing and a wingless one (see also the contrast eagle—snake). ~Marie Louise Von Franz, ~Children’s Dreams, Pages 240-248.