Lessons from Serpents and Goats
Life’s stories, heeded, have their lessons. Writing this next manuscript educates me about my own stories, yet another zen whack!
Most accounts of the Garden of Eden creation story leave out the details of the Serpent.
The Old Testament tells how the Serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit from the one tree from which God forbade them to eat, The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You know the story. The Serpent appears and tells Eve it is okay, she’ll become wiser, as goddess? Eve succumbs and then feeds the fruit, which some translations say is a pomegranate, to Adam. God finds out and throws them both out of paradise, cursing them all in various ways. Many medieval paintings depict the Serpent with a woman’s head.
What isn’t told is the story from The Zohar, a 13th century Cabalistic amplification of the Old Testament. In this version, the tempting Serpent is Lilith, Adam’s first wife. Adam co-habitated with her until he was given a soul, that in-between of spirit and matter that we incarnate to develop. At that point, Lilith flies off. In this story, she is always out there, ready to cause trouble with her anger and her sexuality.
But Lilith is also described as the undifferentiated “soul of all the beasts of the field and every living creature that creepth”. As such she can talk with plants and animals. As the instinctual level of our being, she refuses to be suppressed. When we ignore this level, we pay a high price in the health of our bodies and of our planet.
I learn a great deal about Lilith from my goats. In the last years we have Swiss alpine goats with their long, crescent horns. Each day they walk with me, as many as nine of them, a few as four, and they teach me the ways of the land. They are a little dangerous. To walk with them, you need to develop mindfulness, a present-in-the-moment quality, paying attention to where you are, where they are, what else might be present. Twice I have been flattened by a 130 pound goat joyfully gambling down a narrow trail— because I was lost in thought. It is like a zen master’s whack.
No, to walk with goats, you need to develop awareness of who is where and what they are up to. The herd has needs, and it is up to you to be sensitive to those needs: the need to stay together, to be protected from predators, to find food, and last, but certainly not least, to have fun. If you try to subordinate a goat, like if you try to subordinate Lilith, you are in trouble. They will fight you and figure out how to win. It is where they get their bad name — like Lilith! She who refuses to be subordinated! I think of the Earth today— and climate change. We will not subordinate Nature. If we continue try, she will win.
On the other hand, when you befriend a goat, and are a good goat citizen, they readily accept you into the herd.