The Theosophical Society in America

A Serpentine Path

Printed in the Winter 2014 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Gardner
, Amy. "A Serpentine Path" Quest  102. 1 (Winter 2014): pg. 27-31.

By Amy Gardner

AmyGardnerHearing about Helena Petrovna Blavatsky for many years, I admit to envying her relationships with various masters. Despite being suspicious of those who claim to be gurus, I would welcome some higher being from a transpersonal plane to help me see beyond my limited worldview into Truth. Though I recognize that HPB's psychic and cerebral gifts far exceed mine, there is surely a wise one uniquely suited to tutor someone at my level of development. It seems completely logical that in pairing up with some more modest mentor, I could, like HPB and her adepts, contribute something relevant to life at this historical moment. 

Seeking to realize the connection with such a being, I have lately taken a moment during evening meditation to imagine meeting a spirit helper. I visualize befriending a great soul who would embrace me as an acolyte or apprentice. This saintly being would facilitate a shift in my way of experiencing reality and convey thoughts nuanced for our time. In turn, I would share these beneficial ideas with the world. 

Coincidentally, after ruminating on finding a secret teacher for several weeks, my friend Edward casually asks, "Would you like to take a meditative journey to meet your spirit guides?" 

Astounded, I wonder to myself, "Am I that transparent? How does he know about my private despair and longing?" Within a moment I reply, "How about Friday night?" 

Edward is an incredibly grounded seventy-two-year-old doctor of metaphysics who looks like a healthy fifty-something. Happily retired, he now makes a little extra income as a qigong instructor, history enactor, and lecturer. He listens more than he talks. When he speaks, his deep, resonant voice transports his audiences to distant realms. 

I completely trust him to prepare the somewhat elaborate conjuring ceremony, recite the proper mantras and invocation, take me to the meeting place, gently hand me over to my spirit guides, and bring me back whole. 

So when we meet in my living room without as much as a candle or a black tablecloth, I am a little disappointed. But I settle into my wooden chair across from Edward and close my eyes. In his low, soothing voice, Edward begins a guided meditation that starts with emptying my mind and body of thought and tension. From my feet through my scalp, he uses his voice to lull me into relaxation. Breathing fresh air into every vessel of my being, I become calm and alert. After a quiet pause, Edward invites me to take an inner journey.  

We go to the foyer out the front door, where I see his spotless white Cadillac. We get into the car, back out the driveway and into the street, and proceed north. A couple of miles up the road, Edward turns down an old road overgrown with grasses. The grass opens up to sand, and soon we see the ocean. We park at a turnaround and get out of the car. The sky is blue and filled with white gulls cawing above our heads. The shoreline waves ebb and flow rhythmically. We leave our shoes at the car and walk north into the salty damp breeze. My feet leave depressions in the cold, wet sand as we progress along the water's edge. 

Soon we encounter a hidden path into the trees. Edward beckons me deeper into the shady forest. The forest becomes dense with long vines and ancient trees. Dew clings to the leaves, and the place smells fecund as we trample fallen leaves into the earth. After a few moments the darkness lifts as we come upon a glade that opens to an ancient stone temple. The building is round, with seven colored steps that lead up to a door to an upper chamber. 

The first step is red. When I step onto this platform red light rises up my body from my feet through my crown. Waiting here, fully imbued with red, I experience the unique energetic vibration of this color. After a few moments, I step up onto the orange step. Again, orange light beams up my entire being and out through my head. I take it in until Edward tells me to go to the third step and feel the yellow surge as it permeates my body from my feet through my scalp. I go to the fourth step, and green light seeps up my feet through my head into the ether beyond. At the fifth step, I stand in an upsurge of blue light. At the sixth, indigo light blasts through my feet and up beyond my head. Finally, I reach the top, violet platform, and violet light rushes through me. Feeling a strange, luminous clarity, I approach the stone door, and it opens with a groan.  

My eyes grow accustomed to the purple glow inside the sanctuary. The room shines with the glow of a violet ring of fire. Edward stands outside the violet fire and turns away so as not to disturb my encounter. "You will step through the fire into the ring. Once you are there, take a moment to make your request. You probably came with an intention but you can ask for anything. Then wait. Something will happen." 

Alone now and a little uncertain what to do next without Edward's guidance, I step through the violet flame into the ring at the center of the temple. "Thank you for listening," I say silently. "I am here to meet my spirit guide." 

Immediately a large variegated snake appears in the ring. I am speechless. I want to evolve, commune with the ethereal planes, but instead I conjure this evolutionary throwback. Snake, sensing my disappointment, seems to try to impress me by slithering into a figure eight, a great ouroboros, then a coiling spiral. Seeing that the shape-shifting does nothing for me, Snake draws me into its mind, and as one creature we squeeze through a tiny gap in the marble floor. 

Caught unaware, I gasp as we descend into the bowels of the temple. Here the dark cells and small plank beds conjure up some dismal past reeking of mortification of the flesh. I can sense the disenchantment of interred acolytes who lost touch with life in the glade. Like an eerie medieval novel, the chambers and religious relics thrill and repulse me. I want to investigate, but Snake undulates onward. 

Continuing on through the basement, we brush against occasional tree roots that reach down and slowly break apart the dank, dripping stone foundation. Eventually we find a long tunnel that leads to a mossy stream. We enter the water at the bank, and it carries us into the sea. 

Rolling with the waves, we reach a drop-off into dark blue water. We swim along the rocky ocean shoreline into deep-sea lava sculptures and underwater caves. Light streams down from above as we swim up along the underwater cliffs, higher and higher until we break through the surface of the water and fly. 

As we soar upward, I take in the view. The sky above and sea below are pristine blue. The azure waters grow lighter toward the beach. Beyond the shore I see the forest and the roof of the temple in the dale. Higher we fly until, off in the distance, island formations enter the scene. Out of curiosity, we detour back to the island to explore this world in miniature. Before slithering into the cove, we rest and warm up in the sun along with hundreds of other colorful flowers, birds, and sea creatures. We all inhale the humid air and drink in the sun's bright rays through our peculiar bodies. 

Then I hear Edward: "And now it is time to say goodbye. Thank your guide and . . . " 

Of course Snake and I are still out on some tropical island in the ocean. Quickly we fly across the sea, dive through the waves, swim down into the lava caves, through the tunnel, past the subterranean cells, and up through the floor into the violet circle of fire. 

"Step through the fire and the temple door will open for you," instructs Edward. I jump through the flame and look back, but Snake is gone. 

Edward continues, "Now stand on the violet step, feel the color drain from you back into the temple step." Slowly I walk down each temple step as the violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red drain from my body into their respective steps.  

We walk away from the temple into the dark and clammy forest until the sky breaks through and the ocean appears once again. We walk along the beach, back to the white Cadillac. Looking out for one more breathtaking view, we get back into the car, spin around the cul-de-sac and drive back along the dirt road. We get back on the main drive and return to my house, where we park and walk back through the front door into the foyer. 

Back in my living room, Edward asks if anyone showed up at the temple. I feel a little apprehensive about telling him that my spirit guide is of the earthly realm. The guide that is crawling into my consciousness has remained relatively unchanged since before the dinosaurs. 

"Yes," I say looking at the floor. "My spirit guide is a giant snake, a serpent, a terrestrial, aquatic, and flying creature with geometric markings like a magic carpet." As I speak, I feel like I am just about as far from progressing along the evolutionary continuum as a human can get. 

Edward senses my confusion and nods while he looks at me silently. Soon he says, "You have to explore what snakes mean to you." Considering the common associations with the Bible's Satan and Freud's sexually repressed Victorian dreamers, I am a little embarrassed to talk about anything.  

Wanting to change the subject and regroup, I move into host mode. "Would you like to stay for dinner?" 

"I have to get home," he says. We smile and say goodbye. He gets into his white Cadillac"this time on the earthly plane"and drives away. 

Alone with my memories of the trip, I realize that I have a lot of preconceived ideas about snakes that tilt toward the negative: Satan, temptation, seduction, venomous strikes, knowledge of good and evil. I have trained myself to consider associations such as transformation, rebirth, and eternity, but these are not my first ones.  

Less than a hundred miles away from my house, Hopi people secretly revive the sacred Snake Dance. Certainly the spirit of Theosophy demands that I investigate my prejudice and explore the complexity of the symbol that animates so many religions. No true Theosophist would ignorantly reject a being that appeared during meditation. 

Over the next few days, I start to remember my actual experiences with snakes. As a child, I enjoyed shocking my friends by catching striped garden snakes in my suburban neighborhood in Minnesota. In school, some of the more annoying kids would play off my last name, calling me "Gardner Snake." Out in eastern Arizona, I went into an abandoned farmhouse and met a rattlesnake blocking the threshold as I tried to get out. Some time ago, my family realized we share our property with a stealthy seven-foot-long gopher snake that appears on cool autumn days. Despite their unfortunate reputation, I have never had a negative encounter with a snake. 

I have seen snakes sidewinding across the land, coiling in a spiral, and raising their upper bodies to get a better view. My mouse, rabbit, and gopher populations are in check because of these carnivores. Despite their obvious benefit to the ecosystem and their reclusive ways, people in my village seem to go out of their way to squash the creatures as they quietly warm themselves on the road at dawn. What is it that my people are afraid of? 

I decide to consult HPB's Secret Doctrine to better understand the multivalent reality of Snake. Within her vast exploration of the symbol, I am especially alert for those references that intersect with my experiences and the intuitive insights that arose through my meditation. 

The idea that strikes me first is the Serpent's role in navigating dualism. I have struggled to find some metaphorical truth in the idea that my human ancestors ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and thereby discovered good and evil or duality in general. Certainly attaining knowledge of the world requires one to observe reality from afar to understand causes and effects. Through observation, I have come to know that the beneficial aspects of snakes come with fangs. When I notice something slithering near my feet or hear the warning rattle, I instinctively jump away, then investigate the facts. 

Yet the gifts of analysis, scientific discovery, judgment, and so forth lead to alienation from the whole. We learned to think scientifically through dissociating. Snake continues to receive blame for the human ability to act as "separator of the ONE into various contrasted aspects" (Blavatsky, 2:246).  

But I am beginning to learn that differentiation is a tool, not the whole truth. Snake as the dark and the light coexisting is a wisdom teaching that I am noticing in my daily observations and interactions with the world. Are cheap abundant foods, freeways, and automatic tellers all "good?" Are fossil fuel depletion, global warming, and mortality all "bad?" Positive and negative aspects come as two ends of the same stick. HPB says as much when she focuses her gaze upon the entwined snakes of the staff carried by gods who travel between death and life. Such domains may not be as differentiated as they seem. 

That the Serpents were ever the emblems of wisdom and prudence is again shown by the caduceus of Mercury, one with Thot, the god of wisdom, with Hermes, and so on . . . The Serpent has ever been the symbol of the adept, and of his powers of immortality and divine knowledge. Mercury in his psychopompic character, conducting and guiding with the caduceus the souls of the dead to Hades and even raising the dead to life with it, is simply a very transparent allegory. It shows the dual power of the Secret Wisdom: the black and the white magic. (Blavatsky, 2:327) 

Snake reminds me to perceive the connection between opposites: earthly and heavenly, material and ethereal, positive and negative. The cure for what ails a person or society is also a poison. Wealth and poverty writhe together. High-tech labor reducers and complexity coevolve.

Navigating the truth of the one in the many requires the ability to discern the whole of a conundrum. It is a delusion to imagine life with only one aspect of a duality. Neither good nor bad, the Serpent connects what humans pull apart.

In human nature, evil denotes only the polarity of matter and Spirit, a struggle for life between the two manifested Principles in Space and Time, which principles are one per se, inasmuch as they are rooted in the Absolute. In Kosmos, the equilibrium must be preserved. The operations of the two contraries produce harmony, like the centripetal and centrifugal forces, which are necessary to each other "mutually interdependent" "in order that both should live."  If one is arrested, the action of the other will become immediately self-destructive. (Blavatsky, 1:366) 

In my pursuit of perfection, of being "good" or successful, how often have I unwittingly sent my world out of balance? Despite my apparently inconsequential life, I know that my anxious pursuit of knowledge, justice, and making a contribution continually disturb some cosmic equilibrium. Struggling to conceal my dark side"my ordinary humanness and creaturely condition"I become self-destructive. The process is so apparent now.

As the days unfold, I realize that this mysterious visitor has inspired me to burrow into and deeply experience the formerly mundane world around me. Instead of wanting a particular outcome, I am rediscovering the astonishing quality of life in its raw revelation. The occult secrets that I aspire to know crawl around naked in the garden and the grocery store. Toads, dragonflies, hawks, trees, and even traffic jams pulsate with shocking vitality.

Weeks later, I notice that my need to meet a tutor, guru, or adept has thoroughly passed. The longing for a relationship with someone smarter than me is gone. I no longer bemoan my limited worldview or seeming irrelevance in an age of disposables, drones, and iPhones. The obsession with making some worthy contribution or changing the outward reality does not grip me. The world around me has become strangely fascinating. I am alive and aware.

Tonight, while I am reviewing my story, the summer monsoons hit my home. Great torrents of rain destroy the gardens, flood the subterranean shade structures, and return my orderly paradise to chaos. I write now by candlelight, listening to the hail pound the skylights. In my mind, I hear Snake hiss, then mock with forked tongue at the notion that I could create a landscape that could defy the reality of creation and destruction.

The rain eases up as the darkness descends. In the distance, bright jagged lightning continues to strike at the Sandia Mountains. Electricity has gone untethered. I put on my rain gear and walk into the deep water out my front door. Yes, I am wary, because her den has flooded too. Snake could be anywhere.


Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine. Two volumes. N.p.: Theosophy Trust, 2006; metaphysical/The_Secret_Doctrine_Vol_1.pdf;; accessed July 31, 2013.

Amy Gardner has a passion for exploring world religions, mythologies, and symbols. When she is not building, sculpting, and gardening, Amy makes her living as a writer. She lives with her partner in Corrales, New Mexico.