The biblical story of Adam and Eve has always troubled me. It is a story, a teaching, with many pieces that have always felt incongruous in my heart. Maybe I am wasting my time, but lately I have been trying to reconcile myself with it after realizing that there might be some intellectual and psychological layers begging to be explored.
Are you ready for a meaty long-read? Continue on!
The story goes that Adam and Eve live blissfully in the newly created Garden of Eden with never a worry, a want, or a need that might disturb them as long as they obey the ONE rule: Do not under ANY circumstance pick/eat any fruit off of the beautiful tree at the center of the Garden, the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they eat/pick the fruit off of this tree, all hell will break loose and they will be kicked to the curb by the “parent” God, destined to die. A dangerous warning and a fatal rule to be broken.
So then the serpent comes along that lives in the Garden of Eden along with Adam and Eve. The serpent convinces Eve that the warning was without merit; surely you will not die – the knowledge of Good and Evil is but knowledge, and God wants to keep this knowledge from you. What knowledge could be bad? He convinces her that the command given by God was not worth obeying; that only good should come from eating of the tree, of humans having knowledge of good and evil.
Of course we all know how it ends. Eve is persuaded by the logic of the serpent, eats of the tree, and also gives the fruit to Adam, who eats without comment or complaint. Suddenly, “their eyes were opened.” They realize their nakedness; they feel ashamed and hide from God. They feel fear. Then God exiles them for disobeying the ONE rule, forever making them labor for their food and survival, giving pain in childbirth, and sentencing the serpent to forever crawl on his belly and eat dust. Basically, a harsh existence for all three parties involved. God was NOT kidding around!
While reading the story, I am struck by mixed feelings; feelings that should be wrestled with.
Here are four themes and conclusions we take from our human origin story that I felt needed reexamination in order to get to a deeper meaning:
- That it’s Eve’s fault that they ate the apple and were forever exiled – separated – from the Garden of Eden, God, and the offering of effortless existence. This creates feelings of misogyny and hatred towards women. Why did Eve have to question God’s authority and not Adam? “Couldn’t she just be happy with obeying?” (And all the other antithetical statements you can think of that men have said to women, portraying them as the scapegoat for this mess we’ve gotten everyone into.)
- That the snake is a literal representation of Satan; that he was sent to distract us from walking on our path with God. The snake was deliberate in this attempt to sway us from our path and that he intended to make us sin and succeeded. Therefore, we are all flawed in nature, as mankind has “fallen” from our path with the creator. We are all sinners and need to be redeemed.
- That God created Adam and Eve, presumably out of love, yet also sentences them to die after they break the one rule. Doesn’t make sense to me. Oh wait – the Old Testament God didn’t know about mercy and loving kindness??
- That the pursuit of knowledge is a sentence to “death.” That knowing Good and Evil is a bad thing. That our creator would prohibit us from wanting/attaining or striving for additional knowledge.
Before we delve into each of these four subjects within the story, we should revisit some other symbolical inferences that I believe we were meant to intuit within the story itself.
Serpents / Snakes in Mythological and Symbolical History
The references of snakes or other serpentine creatures in our past, both symbolically and literally, from the Bible to Mesoamerica, are way too numerous to list out. As a general rule, the ‘snake’ – as we humans experience it – is a creature that lives below foot. Snakes are largely unseen, burrowing around and sneaking in the grass, and as a result they are synonymous with any lurking ‘threat’ to our well-being; snakes have such a deep connection with danger and death in our collective consciousness. There are anthropologists that posit that snakes were such a superior threat to our ancestors’ survival that they have been burned into our base brains as an ingrained fear from the beginning of time.
However, snakes are also symbols of creation, healing, and wisdom – and this is much more prevalent in our history and mythology, in my honest opinion, than the outright evil as we understand it from the Adam and Eve parable. The Rainbow Serpent from Aboriginal Australia comes from under the ground and forms the Earth – a creator god that exists from within and is associated with water and the rainbow that arches over the world. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered winged serpent from Mayan/Aztec lore, associated with learning, knowledge, the Milky Way, the cosmos, and the boundary between heaven and Earth. Ningizzida, the ancient Sumerian fertility god. The Egyptian snake goddess Wadjet, known as the all-seeing eye of wisdom and vengeance, who is depicted as the crown of Egypt on the pharaohs and other deities. Not to mention the Hindu ‘Kundalini’ energy – Sanskrit for “coiled up” – in reference to the energy channels within the human body that pass through the chakras, which brings awakening and leading to altered states of consciousness.
None of these historical references to serpents or snakes seem to be overtly ominous or treacherous. Unless we consider another metaphor…
Chthonic, from the Greek khthonios, which means “in, under or beneath the earth.” Otherwise known as subterranean. In Greek mythology, this word was primarily associated with deities and gods from the underworld – those who were literally subterranean.
However, when all of the above is considered, I see the clear association of the snake with living underground or underfoot – subterranean. What else is subterranean? What else burrows beneath, is mysterious, and cannot be seen from without and only from within?
Perhaps the serpent in the Adam and Eve story is a symbol for a subterranean concept. Something that is housed within, unseen; yet is powerful enough to convince us, persuade us, reason with us, that the path away from God is not only safe – it’s preferable. An idea.
After considering the concept of “unseen” and subterranean forces that exist within, we cannot dismiss the concept of duality inherent with Adam and Eve. Obviously male and female, but perhaps Eve was the always the one destined to lean towards the serpent, as the feminine energy is more inclined towards the ‘subterranean’ aspects of human nature. For female, there are associations with Yin energy, the Moon, emotions and imagination, and Mother Earth. As opposed to male, which are themes of Yang energy, the Sun, willpower and strength, and Father Sky.
As such, I think it appropriate to ascribe the ‘snake’ to the female within the story, who associates strongly with unseen energies at work: the womb as a source of creation, emotion, imagination – the subconscious. Likewise, the male is ascribed to the force we experience: willpower, strength, the light we see, and the visual, tangible energies at work – the conscious.
Garden of Eden
Gardens symbolically represent something tangible that we sow, that we plant, that we put effort and intention into. That we nurture. Jesus mentions many metaphors about fruit in the New Testament; implying that we are spiritually working towards the fruit of our labors. That we are the grapes on the vine.
To me it seems that the Garden of Eden really represents an effortless ‘blossoming’ of the spiritual fruits – or the culmination of what it means to be in connection with God. In this way, to live outside the Garden of Eden is to live outside of God, outside the natural order. I think it is natural to consider that Eden is more of an ‘inner garden’ than an actual place.
Ego & the Tree of Good and Evil
Finally, the forbidden tree. Lately it occurred to me that the real downfall that lies within the Tree of Good and Evil is the idea that Good and Evil can be judged by anyone other than God – who is infinite and unknowable and who is both everything and nothing.
I lean towards the idea that there is really no ‘good’ or ‘evil’ – that they are subjective concepts in the end. Something that is amazingly good can be amazingly bad to someone else. There is no label of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ outside of the experience of the Self.
When the Ego takes hold of your life, then you see that it is not unreasonable to judge Good and Evil for yourself. When you are living isolated in your mind, being dictated by the inner monologues of Self and how your experience is affecting YOU and only YOU, then you are drowning out the voice of God. The voice of the subconscious and the multitudes; you are choosing a life of Self over the Source.
We bit the apple of conscious Self and Ego.
The Fruit of Duality.
So now that I’ve laid out the main pieces of symbolism, let us re-define the previous points and unpack them.
That it’s Eve’s fault that they ate the apple and were forever exiled – separated – from the Garden of Eden, God, and the offering of effortless existence. This creates feelings of misogyny and hatred towards women. Why did Eve have to question God’s authority and not Adam? “Couldn’t she just be happy with obeying?” (And all the other antithetical statements you can think of that men have said to women, portraying them as the scapegoat for this mess we’ve gotten everyone into.)
I believe Eve was the symbol of the subconscious, very interconnected to subterranean concepts and ideas. She – or the subconscious – would be the more obvious target for gaining influence over our lives. The subconscious is the more powerful of the two brain states, so if you are able to get through to the subconscious, then you get results. The act of the snake – or the ‘creative / subterranean forces’ – in influencing Eve is no fault of Eve’s; she is the symbol of the subconscious being influenced, which in turn then influences the Conscious (Adam). All of our conscious lives are a result of subconscious influence. In this way, Adam could not protest to the act, as it was already decided. The Conscious mind can only deal with the subconscious actions after or as they happen.
Perhaps Adam and Eve were working as two pieces of the whole mind, and the way in which they influence each other is the story of how our subconscious affects our day to day lives.
That the snake is a literal representation of Satan; that he was sent to distract us from walking on our path with God. The snake was deliberate in this attempt to sway us from our path and that he intended to make us sin and succeeded. Therefore, we are all flawed in nature, as mankind has “fallen” from our path with the creator. We are all sinners and need to be redeemed.
After acknowledging that Adam and Eve are just the two parts of the mind that co-exist dependently, what the hell is the serpent? Well, I think he is a piece of God, if we are also acknowledge that good and evil do not exist. The snake is symbolic of a rogue idea, and most likely, in my mind at least, the result of the existence of the Self.
I know what you are thinking. If living in the Garden of Eden is living in sync with the Source, and living out of the Garden is a state of Ego and Self, then how did the snake – an agent of the Self – get within the Garden of blissful living?
I imagine that within our Garden of Eden, in a state of effortless sync with the Source, you are not without stray thoughts. Stray concepts. Stray ideas. If you are in sync with the Source, then you are in sync with everything that is, and that includes everything that we might classify as ‘bad’ or evil.
Like our lives today, we have stray thoughts all over the place. Some are conscious, some are subconscious. They come from everywhere and seemingly out of nowhere. If you are in your inner Garden of Eden, in sync with all that there is, I can’t imagine that we would be immune to stray thoughts, regardless of where they come from. Like someone who is playing “devil’s advocate,” stray thoughts are sometimes a pathway to a new perspective, or a new way of looking at things.
But the problem, and the warning, of the Adam and Eve story is how the mind made the decision – first the subconscious, then the conscious – to act on this stray thought. A thought that was presented rather ominously – through the snake – yet seemed to make reasoned, logical sense to the mind. A thought that was reasoned out logically and scientifically. Then the mind made the decision, not from a place of God, but from a place of Self. The Self wanted to taste Good and Evil. The Self wanted to know more. The Self was the decision maker in the end, ignoring all previous warnings from God. It was a Selfish act, not a selfless act.
In this way, I often feel that Satan is a stand-in for Ego, the Self, and other selfish actions.
That God created Adam and Eve, presumably out of love, yet also sentences them to die after they break the one rule. Doesn’t make sense to me. Oh wait – the Old Testament God didn’t know about mercy and loving kindness??
In acting from the Self, in a selfish manner, the mind then kicks God out as a result of the act. God does not do any punishing, as God is not a ‘being’ in the sense we believe Him to be. God, in my sense, is just the infinite Cosmic Field that we interact with through the subconscious. And in choosing acts of Self, or selfishness in Ego, we are choosing a path away from spirituality; away from the ultimate inner sanctuary of spirit and heart, a place of implacable love and effortlessness in existence –the Garden of Eden. In this way, the Self chooses a path towards suffering and pain. A path away from infinite love.
It is not God’s choice then that we are destined to die – it is our own. He only served the warning that to live outside the Garden was to implicitly walk towards a path of Self and Ego.
Here in this context, we see that the warning of God was ignored blatantly when we bit the fruit of Ego – in spite of the uneasiness of the spirit – because it seemed like a reasonable action. It seemed logical that giving more knowledge to the Self was beneficial to our lives. In our real world context this makes sense to us. But in the spiritual context, I surmise that it does not.
Giving more power to the Self reasoning and Ego just takes us further away from the selfless, infinite love of the Source. The Ego and Self are present whether we want them to be or not, in stray thoughts that infiltrate our lives and minds constantly. But our choice of whether or not to listen to them, and to heed the warning, determines our fate of whether or not we live in the Garden or not.
That the pursuit of knowledge is a sentence to “death.” That knowing Good and Evil is a bad thing. That our creator would prohibit us from wanting/attaining or striving for additional knowledge.
After much reflection, I don’t believe the Tree of Good and Evil was ever an attainment of knowledge. It was the illusion of the attainment of knowledge. And by biting the fruit from the tree, we gave credence to the illusion, making it real – acting as if there are different types of knowledge in the world, some more worthy than others.
Something I have recently come to terms with in my own spirituality is the idea that all knowledge that there is to know exists within the Cosmic Field, and to access it we only need to desire it, and act from a true place of humility, gratitude and selfless, no-strings-attached love in order to receive it and understand it.
In this way, if you are living in the Garden, in sync with the Source, then you already have access to the knowledge of Good and Evil in the first place.
The erroneous thought that this knowledge exists outside of the Source is the true “fall” of the story. If you trust and accept this knowledge through the Source, and not seek it through the Self, then you would know this knowledge anyway.
The existence of the Self serves to push us to our biological imperatives, provide a unique experience of our life, and adds a lens of personification on reality. It does not, however, serve to be our guide in our knowledge. Our knowledge must first come through the fingerprint of the Source that surrounds us.
Adam & Eve is a beautiful story that, to me, illustrates the beauty of the Source, and being connected to All there is. It perhaps also serves as a reminder of the hard life that exists before you when you stumble and erroneously fall prey to the illusory thought that true knowledge exists outside of yourself, and that there is a black and white Evil and Good to be seen, weighed and determined in our world.
I lean towards the belief that all separation is an illusion, and to draw lines in your life of good and evil, us and them, you are inevitably pushing yourself away from recognizing your universal Self – that part of you that is intertwined with all of life and all that exists. Our integral nature – that of non-duality. Eden.
The moment that you give the reins over to the Ego and believe that there is Good and Evil to be found in the fruit, then your life will be dictated by your own microcosm of influence, your own affectations. Yet if you experience the Ego for what it is – only a lens of a voice on our reality – and move your intention on to more selfless, infinite love, then you will find your way to Eden.
Ignore the thoughts that conflict with your heart, and you will find your way home.
All of our minds have the potential of acting from the Self erroneously and “sinning” in the way described in the parable, but we should always listen to the internal, small voice within that carries the warnings of the spirit.
We are not fallen; we only have the potentiality of falling away from our true home – the heart, and the Garden within. We can always fall back – it is inevitable once we invite the Source in and usher the saboteur Self out.