Snakes – Agents of the Devil or the Divine?
For some, the sight of a snake strikes intense fear within. For others, snake symbols are interwoven with spiritual traditions. Sadhguru discusses snakes, their association with Patanjali, the Father of Modern Yoga, and their appearance in spiritual lore.
Q: Namaste, Sadhguru. I would like to know about the origin of saint Patanjali and about his physical structure – why is he associated with a snake?
Read in Telugu: పాము దేనికి ప్రతినిధి? దైవానికా, దయ్యానికా?
Sadhguru: The snake is one creature that is sensitive to certain types of energies. If you have read the book Mystic’s Musings, we spoke about the Vishuddhi Chakra and the snake. If you create a certain type of energy, a snake is the first creature to get drawn to it.
Patanjali depicted as half-snake is just symbolism. The snake is a symbol for kundalini, so as an expression of love from people who experienced him in a very powerful way, they put Patanjali’s head and body on the snake because he is not any different from that fundamental force within you. The man is so intricately involved with the life process, they said the very fundamental force is him. At least half of him is that. He simply was not different from the fundamental force that is the basis of taking you beyond your physical limitations, that force which can take you to a sphere of enlightenment. So they gave him a half-snake body as an acknowledgement of who he is – he is not an outside force, he is an inside force. That is how deeply he can get involved with your life.
Fear of Snakes is Unfounded
Wherever I go, snakes won’t leave me. It is very difficult to make people understand, because they have a paranoia. How many people that you know died of snake bite? None. Then why do you have such a fear? How many people that you know died of an automobile accident? So many people, but though it is such a dangerous thing, you still get into one. The fear of snakes is unreasonable. Your knowledge about snakes and fear of snakes are inversely proportional. The more you know about them, the less you fear them. The less you know about them, the more you fear them.
When I lived on a farm, there were over 20 snakes – quite large ones usually. Generally, they were either Russell’s vipers or cobras. They were all over the place. I was living in a room which was something like 12 by 24 feet, and when I slept in the night, they liked to snuggle up into the blanket and they could be anywhere, you know? If I move suddenly, they will also move suddenly. So I developed a way of sleeping where, if I had to make one move, I was very conscious of what was next to me. Very slowly, I would roll over. Otherwise, if you get up suddenly, you will not get up!
This is the only creature in the world where even if it is in the wild, if you keep yourself in a certain way, you can just take it in your hand – simply like that. It will come into your hand without resistance. It will not do anything to you. But if you just change your thought process, it could bite you. If you are meditative, it will just come and snuggle up with you, and there will be no problem at all. But if you are in a state of agitation, it cannot stand you. It wants to pull the plug for you!
Most of the Indian snakes are non-poisonous. And they are among the most beautiful creatures on the planet. Most snakes do not even have fangs. They just have a saw-like cartilage which cannot bite you for nuts. Fear of snakes is just absurd. Except a handful of snakes, they cannot do anything to you. They are terrified of you. The moment they see you, they run. But you are terrified of them too. This fear is absurd and exaggerated.
Snake Symbolism and Spirituality
Medical organizations often have two snakes entwined around a staff as a symbol. This is also a yogic symbol: two snakes meeting at six different places, and at the top is a symbol for Ida and Pingala going through the Sushumna.
The symbolism of snakes and the spiritual process in India are deeply intertwined. It is actually so in every part of the world, because wherever people became aware, they naturally recognized the sensitivity of the snake to a certain type of energy, to meditativeness. It is just that priests and pandits have given a lot of bad press to the snake for ages.
Even if you look at Christianity, they are talking about how a snake wrongly tempted Eve to eat the apple, and a lot of trouble happened because of that. It depends from which end you look at it. The snake tempted Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge, which you are desperately trying to do with your children! That is why you send them to school. That is what the snake did. And it is because of this that life happened. It is only because the snake induced Eve into eating the fruit of knowledge, life happened on this planet, according to the story. What is wrong with that? The snake put some sense into this dumb couple who did not know what to do with each other. They did not know anything about anything. According to the story, you and I are here today only because the snake put some sense into them.
Only if you are anti-life, you think the snake is an agent of the devil. If you are for life, the snake is definitely an agent of the Divine. Someone who induced life on this planet, would you call him an agent of the devil or Divine? Anybody with a little sense, with some zest for life, would naturally say it must be Divine. Only somebody who is making the very life process into an evil process would make a snake into an agent of the devil.
A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower February 2009.