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The figure of the serpent carries symbolic significance in many religions and cultures, from the protective uraeus serpent depicted on the Egyptian pharoah's double crown, to the serpent who achieved and came to represent immortality in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, to the crafty serpent in the Garden of Eden. While some cultures revere the serpent as an emblem of life, healing, or even immortality, others revile it as a symbol of temptation, evil, or the devil himself. Thus the serpent is a ubiquitous and ambivalent symbol.
The Thoth Tarot depicts the serpent in Key XI, Lust, in which Babalon rides on the back of the Beast. In the Book of Thoth, Crowley writes, "At the top of the card is shown an emblem of the new light, with ten horns of the Beast, which are serpents, sent forth in every direction to destroy and re-create the world" (p. 95). In Key XVI, The Tower, the serpent is depicted as the lion-headed, crowned serpent familiar from Key XI, who shares the top of the card with a dove bearing an olive branch. According to Crowley, "[t]hese represent the two forms of desire; what Schopenhauer would have called the Will to Live and the Will to Die" (pp. 108-109).
The Book of the Law contains numerous references to the serpent or snake:
- "Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy for ever. Nuit! Hadit! Ra-Hoor-Khuit! The Sun, Strength & Sight, Light; these are for the servants of the Star & the Snake" (II: 21).
- "I am the Snake that giveth Knowledge & Delight and bright glory, and stir the hearts of men with drunkenness" (II: 22).
- "winged snake of light," here linked with Hadit (III: 38)
- "I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy" (II: 26).
- "Swift as a trodden serpent turn and strike!" (III: 42)
- "But to love me is better than all things: if under the night stars in the desert thou presently burnest mine incense before me, invoking me with a pure heart, and the Serpent flame therein, thou shalt come a little to lie in my bosom" (I: 61).
- "Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will. 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" (I: 57).
- "Burn upon their brows, o splendrous serpent!" (I: 18)
- Crowley, Aleister. (1993). The Book of Thoth. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser.