The Burning Serpent

Image

 

Rachel writes:

Below is the picture and text for our title card, The Burning Serpent.  As with the other cards in the deck, and our approach as a whole, the basic meanings are rooted in the Lenormand tradition, in which Snake (as card 7 is usually called) is primarily a card of danger, and specifically an enemy.  There is an interesting secondary meaning, that of a smart or manipulative woman.

The text then goes on to explore dimensions and possibility of the image, including the power of snakes worldwide.  The reason I am showing it here is because of something interesting that has just happened to open up yet another level of the picture for me.  A friend of mine, who is a scholar of Judaism and Ancient Israel, wrote me that the seraphim, who guarded the inner sanctum of Solomon’s Temple, were depicted as–flaming serpents!

Some people assume that when an artist creates an image, and a writer writes about it, that this is the last word on the subject.  But in fact an image is a living thing.  It changes as we learn and experience the world.  A couple of years ago, I wrote of the Tarot, “The one thing I can say for certain is that you will never come to the end of it.”  We can say the same for any oracle deck, for images–especially images grounded in a tradition, as we have tried to do here–reach beyond our conscious plans for them.
72dpi-7-Burning Serpent

 

Enemy, betrayal, danger. A smart, possibly manipulative woman. Spiritual transformation, rebirth or restoration. Ancient wisdom, intuition.

This is the title card for this deck, and one of the first images. It has many complexities, fitting for an animal that seems to compel people’s imaginations and stir deep reactions all over the world. Beyond the facts of snakes—poison, shedding skin, healing properties, visions—just the very sight of them seems to touch something very deep in the human psyche.

Maybe as evidence of this power, the traditional meanings for card 7 can vary widely. Some say it represents a woman, though even here the meanings range from duplicitous to trustworthy. The woman might be cold, unemotional, for snakes, after all, are cold-blooded. Others see snakes as danger, or betrayal, but not necessarily from a woman. Some see the snake as a warning to be on your guard, to watch carefully. Snakes usually strike suddenly, often before we’ve even seen them. The negative meanings would get emphasized with the Fox, or the Mice.

There is a modern meaning, minor but fascinating in the way it demonstrates one of the ways that the Lenormand tradition adapts to new things. Because snakes rarely appear stretched out—even when they move they look more like a wave than a stick—and most often are seen curled or sinuous, they can indicate anything in curved form: a journey over a winding road, a twisting path, the intestines or intestinal diseases, pipes, or wires and any objects or systems that use them.

As stated above, for many the main meaning is a woman, most often someone not to be trusted. She may represent the third person in a love triangle. The twisting movements of a snake suggest cunning. And yet, some see the woman as older and wiser, maybe because snakes are thought of as carriers of ancient wisdom (see below). The surrounding cards can help guide us through this winding—snake-like—path of contradictory meanings. You also might wish to make your own choices of just what this card means for your own divinatory practice.

In the Grand Tableau, if the Burning Serpent appears near the client, especially underneath or to the right, it warns of betrayal, jealousy, or sabotage. Beware the snake in the office. Again, the Fox increases the danger, though if Fox appears before the Serpent its cunning may uncover the threat before it strikes.

72dpi Fox Snake Page 54

The association of a duplicitous woman may derive from Eve, whom many see as allied with the cunning serpent in the garden to deceive Adam and bring about humanity’s downfall (the Bible story does not actually say that). Other traditions, however, see the snake as the Goddess’s familiar, even her consort. A famous figure from pre-Greek Crete depicts a fierce goddess holding a writhing snake in each hand. In modern times Marie Laveau, the famous “Voodoo Queen” and card reader, was sometimes painted with snakes wrapped around her. The Ancient Sumerians depicted the primordial being, out of whose body the world is made, as a female serpent named Tiamat. For the Norse peoples, a great snake wound around the world, holding it together until the final destruction.

Voudon (Voodoo) cartomancers are not the only people to hold snakes. Some Pentecostal Christians handle poisonous snakes to demonstrate God’s protection. There may be more to this practice than an expression of faith. The venom of certain snakes can induce religious visions and states of ecstasy. The crown of the Pharoahs displayed a snake head at the forehead, the place of the third eye.

This intense history of snakes in mythologies all over the world suggests we can add ancient wisdom or intuitive truth to the usual meanings.

Snakes shed their skins to grow. The image of a renewed creature emerging from an old worn-out casing suggests renewal, trans- formation, even immortality. More practically it can mean leaving something behind that no longer suits you.

Some snake venom has healing properties, as well as the power to induce visions. The Greek god Asclepius, god of healing, received a staff with a snake around it from his father Apollo, god of the Sun. Asclepius used his staff to heal people, primarily through dream visions. And of course, two snakes wound around a stick form the caduceus of Hermes. Thus, the Burning Serpent becomes linked to card 1, Hermes the Messenger, as well as the other fiery card, the Flaming Tree.

72dpi Hermes Snake Tree Page 55

With so much possibility, so much meaning, what of the Burning Serpent image itself? The actual snake in the picture is a Hudson Valley garden snake. Robert described to me how his wife, a professional gardener, made friends with such a snake. I also have a snake living in the stone steps outside my back door. I consider it a blessing for the home.

Robert has drawn the Serpent in a stone structure based on an altar from Ancient Israel. In the days of the Temple the priests performed “burnt offerings,” animals sacrificed for their life energy to travel up to the heavens. Though in practice these sacred barbecues fed the large caste of priests and their helpers, supposedly God was seen to have accepted the sacrifice when the body was “consumed utterly,” that is, nothing left but ash. Thus, one of the meanings of the card might be a sacrifice that liberates a person (say, giving up a hated job), or offering something in a spiritual vow, especially to avert a danger. When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with bone cancer. Unbeknownst to me, my parents swore to be kosher if God would spare me. When the surgeon opened me up he discovered a large calcium deposit rather than the metastasized cancer everyone had expected. My parents kept their vow for the rest of their lives.

72dpi Phoenix Page 56

Because the serpent is an animal of regeneration and renewal, the Burning can be compared to the act of shedding a skin that has become too tight, making it impossible to grow or change. Thus, this Serpent in the deck that bears his name becomes like the Arabian Phoenix, the mythical bird that dies in flames—consumed utterly—only to come back to life from its own ashes.

In the introduction we looked at Lenormand’s beginning as The Game of Hope, and therefore part of the long tradition of “race games.” One of the very oldest of such games comes from Ancient Egypt, and was called Mehen. The name, and the shape of the board—a segmented snake—came from a mythological snake said to wrap around the Sun god, Ra. And wouldn’t the heat of the Sun make Mehen a Burning Serpent?

72dpi Mehen Page 57

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The Heart from the Burning Serpent Oracle Book

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Here is another excerpt from The Burning Serpent Oracle by Rachel Pollack

Rachel writesI wanted to share this with people because the card of The Heart is one of those that I think epitomizes the layered approach I’ve tried to take in the book.  And because Robert’s image is so strong and compelling.  The text begins with key words for the card, drawn largely from the Lenormand tradition, followed by an exploration of what lies behind those words, including some of the ways The Heart works with other cards in combination, one of the things I love most about Lenormand reading.  Then comes an exploration of meanings of the fundamental image, what a heart means in the world.  And here I had some fun, thinking of all the wonderful expressions that use the word “heart.”  On a deeper level we consider that the Lenormand set of cards has a “heart” but not a “head,” and what that means.  Finally, we go a step further by delving into Robert’s image, with its hints at mystical meanings.

72dpi Heart Page 142

24. THE HEART

Love, heart-felt emotions. Desire, happiness. Seat of the soul, wisdom of the heart. Most versions of card 24 show a traditional heart icon surrounded by flowers, most often roses. A few depict a literal heart, that is, the organ that pumps blood. Most, however, stress emotions, not physiology.

Because the heart image symbolizes love—possibly the most recognized icon in modern society—the card is one of the most positive in the deck. It represents love, happiness, kindness, deep feeling. We might compare it to the Bouquet (and the flower cards in general) but with a significant difference. The Bouquet sends messages, and thus it influences the cards around it, softening the difficult ones, strengthening the happy ones. A heart is vulnerable. It takes in influences. Positive cards will likely satisfy the Heart’s desire for love and connection. Negative cards may hurt the Heart, even turn it against itself. The meaning can become envy, jealousy, and other kinds of pain we all know, when someone we love doesn’t love us back.

For romantic love the strongest combination is Man, Heart, Woman, for then the two people look at each other across the offeredHeart. If they turn away from each other (Woman, Heart, Man), there may be an obstacle to love. If the Heart is closer to one of the two people, with negative cards around the other, it can signify unrequited love.

72dpi three cards Page 143

Romance is the most obvious meaning for the Heart, but the card can mean any deep affection. Who has not seen the “I [heart] ___” bumper stickers? New York City began this most successful of modern advertising slogans when it was trying to overcome an image of crime and violence. With the Gold Ring we get an engagement, with the House on the Hill, and/or the Girl and Boy, we get love of family. With the Jumping Fish, love of money, with the Moon, love of honor. We humans can “heart” almost anything. In medical issues the meaning is obvious—the heart and the cardiovascular system. With good cards we can assume a healthy heart, with the Dead Tree or the Scythe, the client might get his or her heart checked.

Think of all the phrases that use the word “heart.” Heart’s desire. Heart and soul. The heart of the matter. Listen to your heart. Speak from the heart. Heart of gold or heart of stone. A courageous person doesn’t lose heart (the word courage actually derives from cor, the Latin for heart). A merciful person has a heart. Our heart can be in our mouth—unless, of course, we come with heart in hand. When two people speak honestly they have a heart- to-heart. And is there anything sadder in life than a broken heart?

The heart is in the center of the body (only very slightly to the left). The “heart chakra,” to use a term from spiritual anatomy, is also in the center of the body. The heart forms a border between the body’s lower functions—movement, digestion, sexuality—and the higher activities of speech, thought, and perception. Have you ever read an obituary that says the person died of “heart failure?” A nurse told me once that they put that on the death certificate when they don’t know what happened, because in fact we all die of heart failure. Your heart stops pumping and you are dead.

The heart represents true feeling, true thought. “You can’t fool your heart.” It is not an accident that Lenormand contains a Heart card, but not a Brain, or even a Head.

The Ancient Egyptians, and the Greeks after them, considered the heart, not the head, as the seat of thought. The Buddhists say that consciousness is in the heart, and the Sufis that it’s the place of true intelligence. The mind can be fooled but “the heart doesn’t lie.” Thus, card 24 can mean the truth of something, understood at a deep level, or despite appearances. Listen to your heart.

The heart feels for others. The heart acts like a kind of opening, the place where we allow others to enter us. The phrase “bleeding heart,” spoken so contemptuously by those hard-hearted people who value toughness over compassion, originally referred to images of Mary, mother of Jesus, bleeding in sorrow for her son, and for all the world’s pain. The heart icon, so immediately familiar to us, comes from the medieval cult of Mary.

St. Mary displaying the Immaculate Heart

In the Hebrew Bible, when God instructs Moses how to build the Ark, He tells Moses not to look only at a man’s skills, but whether he has chochmat lev, wisdom of the heart. And don’t we say of a book or a movie that unless it has heart it can be beautiful but mean nothing?

In the picture a hand holds out the Heart, as if to offer it, or sim- ply present it. When someone approaches us with complete honesty we say he comes “heart in hand.” If the Heart appears to the right of card 1, Hermes the Messenger, where Hermes holds out the caduceus, as if they offer something to each other, then the Heart may be healed, or there may be a message of honesty and deep feeling. If the Cat-‘O-Three-Tails appears to the left of the Heart they still hold something out to each other, but now an offer of love may meet a hostile response. Another possibility—a fetishistic relationship.

The Heart in its hand appears in the sky, above a medieval city in the mountains. The setting may suggest the stronghold of the knights dedicated to courtly love, a tradition that idealized love of a lady as a spiritual practice. Many of our romantic images of love and devotion come down to us from this tradition. The great Sufi poets, such as Rumi or Hafiz, speak of love in similar ways.

A rosebud grows from a heart in this image of the  Philosopher’s Stone, L’Agneau’s Harmonic Mystique,1636

A rosebud grows from a heart in this image of the
Philosopher’s Stone, L’Agneau’s Harmonic Mystique,1636

A rose grows from the Heart. This is a Sufi image of divine love. The alchemists have used it as a symbol of the Philosopher’s Stone of transformation. For Christians it represents the unconditional love of Mary. Before that, however, the rose was sacred to Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love and passion. When we offer our love to someone we may do so with roses. This connection be- comes emphasized with other flower cards, such as the Bouquet, or the Garden, or Lillies, but also the Key, with its rose-shaped bow, and the rose patterns in the sky. For don’t we speak of love as finding the key to someone’s heart?

Aphrodite/Venus from an alchemical  text, Viatorium, 1618

Aphrodite/Venus from an alchemical
text, Viatorium, 1618

You can order the book and deck by going to

The Burning Serpent Oracle on Indiegogo

Rachel’s and Robert’s Interviews with the Examiner.com

Rachel and Robert just completed three interviews with the Examiner.com, about the making of The Burning Serpent Oracle.  You and see them here:

 

1. http://www.examiner.com/article/igniting-the-serpent-part-1-rachel-pollack-on-transforming-a-traditional-oracle?cid=db_articles

 

2. http://www.examiner.com/article/igniting-the-serpent-part-2-robert-place-and-envisioning-the-oracle?cid=db_articles

 

3. http://www.examiner.com/article/igniting-the-serpent-part-3-robert-place-and-the-power-of-personal-vision?cid=db_articles

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72dpi Burning Serpent Book Cover

A Five Card Reading on Choosing a House

This is an excerpt from The Burning Serpent Oracle by Rachel Pollack

You can order the book and deck by going to

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We do not need to build a reading around an issue card, even when that card is obvious. It can be interesting to see if such a card shows up in a short reading. Here is an actual reading done for a woman trying to decide between two houses. Both were possible, and she and her husband had made offers on both, to keep them in play, but now they had to decide. This reading, as are any des- cribed in this book, is shone with the explicit permission of the client.

Usually, with either/or choices we would do a few cards for each and compare them. This time I decided to see if a single line would give us direction. As she mixed the deck I wondered, would the House On the Hill come up? Might it take the center spot, as the Issue card? Instead, it turned up as the final card, a happy re- sult, and similar to the made-up reading above. The center card, in fact, revealed the true issue, which was where her heart was.

72dpi House Reading

As with the imaginary clients above, take a moment to see how you would interpret these cards. The reading begins with problems. The Mountain indicates ob- stacles, difficulties in the whole process that cannot be dodged or avoided. The Anchor next to it indicates that the problems will continue for a while, and will prove hard to resolve. The ship of this great new stage of her life is not going anywhere, at least not right away. This is not surprising. Anyone who has ever bought a house will know what a long process it can be. I realize that some people reading this might say “Wait a minute—isn’t the Anchor a positive card, a symbol of hope?” The answer, of course, is yes, but the meaning of each card in a reading depends heavily on the cards around it, and in relation to the Mountain, the Anchor quality of permanence indicates that the problems continue. What we can say, however, is that the Anchor tells her not to give up hoping for a good result.

The Anchor might suggest that things will take time to work out, but it also leads to the Heart, and after that her luck changes— Red Clover—and she gets the House at the end. The Heart is the center of the reading, and thus the core of the issue. Which house does she really want? Which one does she love? When I put these questions to her she smiled broadly, and it was clear she knew the answer.

There is a hint that in fact the obstacles are partly the result of her making the choice harder than it needs to be. The arms of the Anchor point both left and right, and thus show her a choice. “If you want your luck to change, Anchor yourself in feelings and not the obstacles.” The hand that holds the Heart comes from the right, as if to offer the Heart to the Anchor. Some people might object that good luck, the prime meaning of the Red Clover, does not come from emotions, but simply hap- pens. And yet, many people have experienced seemingly random turns of good luck when they commit themselves emotionally to something. Also, when we find it hard to choose, and try to keep open too many alternatives, we may create more problems for ourselves. What can seem like luck might be just allowing things to move ahead.

As the last card, the House On the Hill represents the happy outcome of getting the house she wants. Like all cards, card 4 carries a variety of meanings, such as the self, or good health. But it also can mean an actual house, and that is the case in this reading. As noted in the fantasy reading above, this version of the House is less grand, but warmer, than older versions. I des- cribed this to the client, and the idea of it having a mysterious fairy tale quality. She grinned and said that the house she wanted, the house of her heart, had a stone pathway very much like the one in the picture.

This reading illustrates the slogan at the beginning of this sec- tion of the book: The reading does not come true. It becomes true. The cards here do not reveal an inescapable chain of events. They show her a path to make something happen.

You can order the book and deck by going to

The Burning Serpent Oracle on Indiegogo

The Burning Serpent Oracle is on Indiegogo

The Burning Serpent Oracle is on Indiegogo

72dpi Burning Serpent Cover  and Deck

The Burning Serpent Oracle campaign is live on Indiegogo.

You can preorder the book and deck here: http://igg.me/at/burningserpent

We have actually met our initial goal, and in under 24 hours!!  We are so grateful to everyone who’s joined us so far.  However, this does NOT mean the campaign is over.  Far from it.  We are continuing to our final day of April 24, to make sure that everyone who wants this deck and book can pre-order their copy, so that as soon as it arrives we can send it out to them.  And the extras continue!  We also plan to add some new ones, so check back.