12. THE SERPENT OF SALVATION
We have said that, according to the Gnostic interpretation of Genesis, the creator god imprisoned Adam and Eve in a world of misery and gave them a subservient soul. The bible says that after eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve hid themselves, ashamed by the mistake they had made. God arrived in paradise and called Adam with these words: “Where are you?” He appeared to be acting like a master calling his servant. When he didn't find him, he seemed to be saying: “Where are you? Where have you hidden yourself? What have you done? Why are you not here working?”
This creator god created Adam and Eve incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, between the uncreated kingdom and the created one. He also created them ignorant of their origin and their destiny.
Why did he create them like this? According to Gnosis, the creator didn't want man to know his true origin. This world was created against the will of the Unknowable God and this was something the creator did not want man to know. He didn't want them (and still doesn't) to know the Spiritual situation in which they were living, who they were or why they had been created. He wanted them to remain ignorant and still does so to this day. This is why he forbade them to eat from the tree of knowledge. Because it would “open their eyes”, wake them up and make them notice who they were and where they came from, the situation they were in and what they had to do. It would make them aware that Eden wasn't paradise, but just the opposite.
In his book “La franc-maçonnerie”, Father Leon Meurin describes the Gnostic interpretations of the earthly paradise and the Serpent of Genesis, and the following ideas come up: Jehovah does not want man to know his origin or his great destiny. He forbids all contact with the higher world. He wants man to be a reflection of him, the creator, and not a reflection of the Supreme God.
But man did wake up, and he did become aware of good and evil. How did he manage to do this? The Serpent of temptation in Eden fed him the forbidden fruit which opened his eyes. According to Gnostics this Serpent is Lucifer, the Messenger of Light. This is the meaning of the word Lucifer: Bearer of Light. Lucifer took the form of a serpent to wake man up. He is a Messenger of the Supreme God, the Unknowable God. He is a Messenger of the True God who came into this imperfect, inadequate and wretched world to wake up and liberate man, to show him his true situation and what his great destiny could be like. For this reason, those who follow the orders of the creator god consider the serpent to be something malicious and satanic and in all this confusion liken it with satan.
On the other hand, Gnostics see the Serpent Lucifer as a saviour, someone who came to save man, a Messenger of the True God. This Serpent of Enlightenment which brought Gnosis, Gnostic truth which allows the authentic and true nature of things to be seen in this world of confusion, came to liberate man. Lucifer is the true liberator of man. He came to liberate man from the tyranny of Yahve, from the tyranny of the creator god. He brought the real knowledge that in itself can free man and help him to escape from this satanic world and return to the world from which he came.
This Serpent is, for Gnostics, the Serpent of Salvation, the Serpent which opened the eyes of man, which offered him the apple of emancipation to help him wake up and free himself from this world of misery and impure matter.
The creator wanted to create man like the other living beings, incapable of distinguishing between good and evil but the Serpent's actions woke them up and liberated them. According to Gnostics, this knowledge, this Gnosis which the Serpent Lucifer brought to man, undoubtedly caused a great cosmic disturbance in the creation. This is how powerful this knowledge is. Gnosis causes changes in those who receive it, in those who listen to it because it is not common or current knowledge, it is liberating knowledge.
There is an interesting book written by Ernst Bloch called “Atheism in Christianity”, which gives a good synthesis of this whole aspect of Gnostic thought, the aspect related to the Serpent of Liberation as a Messenger of the True God.
Gnostics of later times, at the beginning of Christianity, who came to be known as Christian Gnostics or Gnostic Christians, regarded Christ as the Serpent of Genesis. This was because Christ, much later than the events in the earthly paradise, came carrying a liberating message, just like the Serpent. A message which frees man from this impure world. These Christian Gnostics believe that it was this knowledge which allowed man to make contact with the other world, the one opposed to the demiurge: the unknowable world of the True God.
Christ, the bearer of this message, this Gnosis, has been likened to the Serpent of Genesis, who returns to Earth for a second time to help humanity. The first coming was Serpent Lucifer and the second was Christ Lucifer. According to christian Gnosis, when Christ came to the world, it was his second time, since the first time was in the earthly paradise. In both cases it was, actually, Lucifer, the Messenger of the Unknowable. In both cases, the message was the same: Gnosis that disturbs, causes changes, wakes up and liberates those who listen to it. For Christian Gnostics, the Serpent is Christ, the Saviour who came to this world twice.
There is a Gnostic diagram of a crucified serpent, hammered onto a cross, which further shows the Gnostic identity between the Serpent of Genesis and Christ. There are myths which state that the cross on which Christ was crucified was made of wood from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
There was a time when all this knowledge was written down and passed on. But this period lasted until the “conversion” of Constantine and the reinforcement of the roman church as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Since then, books and documents about Gnosis have been forbidden, persecuted and destroyed. Very few of these texts remain.
Origen, for example, described a Gnostic diagram in which you can clearly see a serpent dividing the two worlds, the created world and the uncreated world. Although no-one likes this dualism, this is how reality is and has to be accepted. Gnostics know that another extremely perfect world exits, which has nothing to do with this one. Origen was able to have access to these Gnostic diagrams and books, to all this information, in order to later criticize it, as did Saint Augustine, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Irenaeus of Lyons, Epiphanius and many others.
But now, most of the original Gnostic texts no longer exist and have been destroyed. These critics of Gnosis distorted all the information from the original Gnostic texts, taking sentences out of context to make them look ridiculous, among other cunning strategies. But none of this matters now. Primordial Gnosis is always present, although there are many who are not aware of it. In the different circumstances in which it has appeared openly in the world, it has always been the same Gnosis, although with different historical and cultural connotations. Although forbidden and persecuted, Gnosis never disappeared and never will disappear. It will always stay within the reach of those who deserve it. The more it is persecuted, the more it gathers strength.
As well as Bloch's book, there are other interesting books which describe these aspects of ancient Gnosis, in which Eden's Serpent of Salvation is referred to. One such book is “Adan, le dieu rouge”, by Robert Ambelain; another is “Gnostics and their Remains” by C. W. King, the latter having been written in the nineteenth century.
There is one interesting piece of information about the Serpent of Genesis in the book “The Refutation of All Heresies”, written by Hippolytus, a great persecutor of the Gnostics. In this book, Hippolytus comments on and criticizes some of the words of Celsus, which to him are horrifying. It is about the part of Celsus in which he states, referring to the events in the earthly paradise, that just as the creator cursed the serpent when it destroyed his plans and ruined his work, so must the creator be cursed by every man who has woken up. Just as the creator cursed the Serpent of Salvation, so the creator himself will be cursed as long as he exists, by every Spirit liberated from his clutches. Hippolytus, horrified, observed that even though he knew that Gnostics likened the creator god with satan, had never imagined that they would also curse him.
In fact, in the few Gnostic books rescued from the flames, we see that the creator god is sometimes called satan. Gnostic tradition refers to the demiurge as “satan, the creator of the world and man”, “satan and his demons, creators of the world”, and other such things.
> Continue reading next chapter: Cain, the Immortal