"Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God."
-- LIBER AL, I:57
"be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
-- MATTHEW, 10:16
Just as every individual expression of love is unique, there are also any number of ways to symbolize the various archetypes of love, with which strange yarns we then weave out our singular tapestries. The symbols, by their very nature, are not fully definable in words. When artists use the image of a dove or of a serpent in their work they may consciously mean them to represent a multitude of different things, but within a particular culture particular interpretations will tend to dominate the audience's response. In Judaeo-Christo-Islamic cultures, for instance, the dominant view of the serpent is as a symbol of temptation and sin, of the treachery and evil which is let loose in this world. This is distinct from the majority of other human cultures, which revere the serpent as a symbol of immortality and the power of time, of ancient knowledge and the fertility of body and spirit. A hint of this is found even in the Christian gospel, which is not surprising if we consider that the Christian religious system draws far more heavily upon pagan theology than upon Judaism for its foundations. When the book of Matthew refers to the wisdom of serpents rather than to their dangerousness it is utilizing a pagan strata of symbolism as an alternative to Old Testament symbolism, which displays as its dominant view the deadly and deceitful serpent (though of course even trends within the Old Testament itself may reflect the older pagan strata; for instance in Genesis, where a serpent is associated with the Tree of Knowledge, just as it is in the earlier Babylonian mythology, though in the Hebrew Bible the dominant voice perceives this knowledge in purely moralistic terms as a knowledge of good and evil, and not as the more ethically neutral concept of knowledge for its own sake).
Likewise, in the Judaeo-Christo-Islamic cultures, the dove has been seen mainly in a positive light, associated with truth and purity, innocence and the holy spirit. In this case, unlike the serpent, the earliest symbolic references have remained reasonably intact among the so-called monotheists---though in many ancient and widely separated traditions birds relate most specifically to the human soul, or a part thereof, which transcends the death of the physical body. Still, even if we reject the simplistic good vs. evil view of the symbolic dichotomy between doves and serpents, we nonetheless perceive that some sort of dichotomy between these symbols does, in some mysterious manner, exist. From the words of Aiwass we have a clue to help us unveil the enigma; both creatures symbolize love---but love itself is revealed as a bipartite phenomenon.
In LITTLE ESSAYS TOWARD TRUTH Crowley writes that, "Love may best be defined as the passion of Hatred inflamed to the point of madness, when it takes refuge in Self-destruction." This is perhaps an overly dramatic way of putting it; elsewhere in the same work AC compares human beings to atoms and their relationships to molecules, and in this analogy love between people is like the energy absorbed and released in the processes of molecular combination. Here the atoms find refuge not in actual self-destruction, but rather in the temporary submersion of their individual identities into molecules whose attributes differ markedly from those characteristic of the constituent atoms on their own. As love is a psychological as well as a chemical phenomenon we might perhaps define it to include all the mental and emotional energies absorbed or released in any given integration of human psyches.
As we know that many forms of energy express themselves in polarities which we usually label as positive and negative it seems conceivable that love is also an energy with two different modes of expressing itself. Here the ancient Greeks, who bequeathed to us the word 'psyche' itself, provide a few hints; they had not just one, but several words for love, two in particular stand out in this context: Agape, sometimes translated as 'brotherly love', and Eros, translated as 'sexual love'. It seems clear to me that, if Westerners were to assign symbols to these words, the dove would be well-suited to represent Agape, while the serpent is perfectly adapted to be the emblem of Eros. The dove of peace and harmony is a veritable poem of the Holy Spirit soaring through heavenly skies of brotherly love. The serpent of wisdom and delight is a veritable phallus of Lust plunging into hellish cycles of skin-shedding immortality (of course, as with any true interpretation of symbolic interaction, the entire metaphor may be turned completely upside-down: the serpent might represent the spiritual sublimation of personality through the wand of will [cf. Avalon, THE SERPENT POWER, the rods of Moses and Aaron, etc.], while the labial wings and clitoral beak of the dove can scarcely conceal in themselves the wet and waiting cup of Babalon).
Some of these identifications may be borne out by a qabalistic analysis of Crowley's well-known Hebrew formula representing those actions performed by a purposeful will, without lust of result, LAShTAL. The word can be divided into three parts; the first, LA, means 'not' and the last, AL, means 'god'. Each of them adds up to 31. The central element, ShT, means 'to wander'. Thus one may understand LAShTAL as meaning 'not to wander from God' which implies both the singleness of purpose and the selflessness which many qabalists have attributed to the formula. The central ShT is even more interesting in numerological terms. Crowley took the values of the Tarot cards corresponding to Shin and Teth, XX (The Aeon) and XI (Lust), which add up to 31, and used this as the value of ShT in LAShTAL. This 31, added to the two 31's of LA and AL, gives LAShTAL a full value of 93, the number of love and will. It's understandable that Crowley found this relationship quite inspiring. However, if we add in the values of ShT in the ordinary Hebrew fashion we get a value for LAShTAL of 371, which is quite inspiring in its own way. 371 graphically represents the penetration of 7 (desire) into 31 (the negation of God). Also it is 3, a number of Chokhmah (the serpent of Wisdom), and 71, a number of Binah (the dove of Peace). Further it is 37, Yechidah, the highest soul, the symbol of Kether exemplified, and 1, the number of Kether itself. Adding up 3, 7, and 1 produces 11, the number of eternal change, the interactions of Had and Nu. Lastly, and perhaps paradoxically, it is 371, the number of Samael, the prince of the Qlipoth of Chokhmah (and it is 53 times 7, Satisfaction of Desire, the opposite of the ordinary interpretation of LAShTAL!).
When we look more closely at the central ShT we find an even more remarkable correspondence to the dove/serpent dichotomy. As Crowley writes, "ShT supplies the last element; making the Word of either five or six letters, according as we regard ShT as one letter or two. Thus the Word affirms the Great Work accomplished: 5o=6°." Thus we can say that, like love, ShT is a unity with dual aspects. Shin can represent the Holy Spirit, and thus relates to Agape, the dove. Teth means literally 'serpent', and thus here symbolizes Eros, the Lust card in the Tarot.
[A note on some 5o=6° symbolism: the path which links 5 (Geburah) and 6 (Tiphareth) is represented by Lamed, the ox goad which keeps the initiate in equilibrium as he/she travels the path. This Lamed, which brackets the LAShTAL formula, is a powerful formula in its own right---through balanced self-sacrifice we attain the portal beyond the Void; its value is 74, the confrontation (i.e., multiplication) of Yechidah (37) with duality (2). The Lamed path also associates with Ra-Hoor-Khuit because they both mediate between the Sun (Tiphareth) and Mars (Geburah). While Ra-Hoor-Khuit = 463 (the value of the Middle Pillar); and 463 = 370 (both A'aSh, 'creation', and ShLM, 'peace'; also 5 times 74, Lamed in Geburah) + 93, which equation describes a specialized formula of adeptship in this aeon. If Ra-Hoor-Khuit symbolizes the strength of the Adept, and Hoor-pa-kraat represents the silence of the Magister Templi, then, interestingly, the core of Heru-Ra-Ha could be called the Abyss, and we might as well say that Choronzon is a secret name of the Lord of this Aeon!]
It is impossible to end this paper without some reference to Kundalini Yoga. This is the branch of yogic discipline which seeks to arouse and circulate the Kundalini Shakti (literally, 'coiled energy') through the spinal column and subsidiary channels to the entire body. This Kundalini force is often identified symbolically with the serpent, and seems clearly to be "the secret Serpent coiled about to spring" referred to in Liber Al, II:26. But is this the same serpent referred to in verse 57 of the first chapter? Crowley's comment seems to indicate that he thought so, and that "Choose ye well!" is an admonition to practice Kundalini yoga. Perhaps this is so, but I think there is also another way of viewing it. The word serpent is capitalized in II:26, but lowercase in I:57. In II:26 we read, "in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one." This shows that there are two ways to express the Kundalini energy, distinguished by their differing directions of flow. Perhaps we can correspond this dichotomy of the capital 'S' Serpent with the dichotomy of lowercase serpent and dove. Suppose we identify the dove of I:57 with the dove of the O.T.O. lamen, which represents the descent of the Holy Spirit. This descending dove may represent the process whereby the capital 'S' Serpent lifts up his head to unite with Nuit; this expression of Kundalini energy through the spirit is the essence of Agape. If this attribution holds then the serpent of I:57 can be identified with the capital 'S' Serpent when it droops down its head and shoots forth venom; this expression of Kundalini energy through the flesh is the essence of Eros. Once we adopt this perspective "Choose ye well!" becomes not a slogan but rather a call for careful balance (Lamed) in our use of the Kundalini power. We must learn through our experiences in the "House of God" (which are represented by the Tower card of the Tarot) when and how to utilize our Kundalini energy for both spiritual and sexual ecstasy.
Much much more could be written about the symbolism of doves and serpents, and entire libraries remain to be written about love, but I for one would rather experience these things than write about them, and so this present paper ebbs to its end with a long lost love lyric: