Na-Hash the Serpent

Ain Soph – The Unknown God

Chapter 24

Fred Mayers

Genesis III, v. 1.

– “Now the Serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made,” (English R.V.)

“Na-hash.” A careful examination of this word would provide us with a great amount of information respecting the real nature and construction of the Hebrew language, information of a kind of which only occasional scraps are obtainable from any of the academical text books, and information which, if it had not been withheld by those who possessed it, might have prevented most of the misunderstanding of the language, and the mistranslations resulting from that misunderstanding. No doubt, there were very good reasons why Providence permitted the withholding of the information in earlier periods of human mental development: there are some things in the -verses we are at present considering, which even to-day, the present writer does not think it wise to explain openly. He gives the reader the means of discovering the full truth for himself,- and leaves it at that. There is every reason to believe, however, that the time has now arrived when the information should be in the possession of all whose duty it is to expound the Bible to mankind.

Rather fuller technical particulars than usual will be helpful here, especially to readers who already have some knowledge of Hebrew, but we will endeavour so to present them that anyone of ordinary intelligence with a little patience and thought will -be able to grasp their meaning and importance. We have already made many references to these matters in our previous chapters. but their importance to all Bible students is sufficient excuse for any repetitions.

The basis of the Hebrew language is the “sound” and the sign” values attaching to the alphabetic letters. These are most carefully selected and logically graded in certain relationships with one another. The change of any letter in a –Hebrew word is quite sufficient to indicate the nature of the change intended in the meaning of it. (This statement needs some qualification in the case of later Hebrew writers who had -lost the knowledge of the “sign” values of the letters, and who often exchanged letters for one another, and “vowel pointing” for letters, so long as the word retained approximately its traditional pronunciation. When that is done the hieroglyphic significance of the language is destroyed. We are, however, not concerned with those writers, but with the writer of Genesis, and he, in any case, well knew the hieroglyphic content of every word he used.) The following examples will serve our purpose :-

1) “aleph,” our “a.” This is the simplest of all linguistic sounds, a mere audible breathing. It appears to be a basic, original “vowel” of all languages. It “symbolises” the beginning, or the potentiality of anything. In Hebrew grammar it stands for the first person singular when it is prefixed to a verb.

(2) “he” (“hai.”) This letter is the same as our aspirated “H.” It adds emphasis, force, life, to any sound it is attached to; therefore, it is used as the symbol of “Life.”

(3) “cheth.” We do not use the sound of this letter in English, but it is common in Scotland (a legacy from Gaelic) in such words as “loch,” and also in German as in “ich,” “nicht.” It sounds like a strongly aspirated “H” with a faint suggestion of the “K” sound in it. It seems to be half-way between the pure vowel sound “H” and a fully pronounced “K.” It signifies “Life” combined with “effort” of some kind to express itself outwardly. It is “life” showing itself in “activity.” work,” “striving” of some kind.

(4) “ayin.” The sound of this letter is also not found in English or in any ‘Western language. It seems to be neither a distinct vowel nor a consonant-just a deep, soft, guttural sound that does not pass one’s lips. It approaches most nearly to the “a” sound, but it is an “a” that is born in the throat and never finds utterance. In use it generally coalesces with another letter, merely giving the other letter a somewhat guttural sound. One could not imagine. this sound being the symbol of any form of “life” or “activity,” and quite appropriately it is used only to symbolise what is “material,- “ physical,- “ “low-down,” “degraded, etc.

The reader will notice that in the above four letters or signs there is a clearly perceptible correspondence between the nature of the sounds themselves and the significations attached to the letters. This “correspondence” gives us a valuable clue to the nature of the Hebrew language-and possibly to all very primitive languages.

We may also mention two or three “consonants” before leaving this subject. There are two letters which are “Signs” of two kinds of movement :-

(i) “Resh.” The pronunciation of this letter is similar to our English “R.” This is the “sign” of direct, forward or straightforward rectilinear movement (in either a literal or figurative sense)-simply motion or mutation to or from any place or state. We have made many references to the meaning of this sign in previous chapters, so need say no more.

-(ii) “Shin” or “sin.” This letter has two distinct sounds. If it is pointed with a dot over it, on the right, it sounds as “sh.” In this case it is the sign of “relative movement,” i.e., movement which is controlled or kept in certain relationships with some point or point-such as the elliptical or rather egg-shaped orbit of a planet; a spiral, etc. If the letter is pointed with the dot on the left, it is sounded as “S,” practically the same as the -letter “samech. This letter “samech” (“S” as in Sam) the hieroglyph of which was originally a serpent with its tail in its mouth, represented a “circle” (a line with no beginning or ending) a “cycle,” a “globe,” a “sphere of activity,” “eternity,” an “environment,” and similar ideas. The “Sin” symbolised -similar ideas in movement, such as the circular movement of a fly-wheel on its axis, or any “enclosing” movement. There arc, of course, many forms of movement which combine both direct and relative movement. For instance, there is that of the “screw,” in which the screw advances as it turns; or that of a “pendulum,” or the “tides,” relative and alternating to and fro; there are also “wave” movements. A very typical example of the combination of “sh” and “r” is the ordinary Hebrew word for “snake” or “serpent”: “sheretz.” In that word “Sh” (relative, in this case “sinuous” movement) is followed by “R” (“direct” movement) and the “determinative” sign “tz,” thus denoting that the sinuous movement produced the progressive direct movement which is distinctive of all snake-like creatures. The word also shows clearly that the serpent (in Hebrew) got its name from its “movements.” (We mentioned in an earlier chapter that the Mosaic writer classified all living creatures according to their type of movement.)

In every case when we speak of “movement” we intend the – – word to mean, not only movement in time or space, but equally mental or spiritual movements of a “corresponding” nature.

We will just make a reference to one more letter :- “nun,” our “N.” This letter in Hebrew is symbolic of “produced being,” i.e., of anything which is given a definite existence; a being; a personality; an individuality, etc. “N” is also the distinguishing sign of “passive” verbs, i.e., of something done to -the “subject,” not by it.

We selected the above sign-letters for special notice because they provide us with the information we need in order to understand correctly the meaning of the word “Na-hash,” and that is the one word in the whole of Genesis, that it is most important that we-should understand correctly.

We shall find that Na-hash was a “serpent” exceedingly insidious and subtle,-but not a serpent in the sense that old theologies led people to understand. It was no creeping reptile of the earth, but something inherent in every human being. If the writer of Genesis had been concerned with a reptile, he could have used the ordinary name for one mentioned above. There would have been no need for him to have created a new and carefully-thought-out “hieroglyphic” name.

The “serpent,” however, as a religious symbol had been in use thousands of years before the time of Moses, as there is abundant evidence to prove. It was actually an object of worship in ages when it was only too easy for any symbol to become idolised. But in very ancient times-(times which, in the evolution of mankind, corresponded to the state of “Adam” before the change was wrought in his being which was described in our previous chapter)-it was not a symbol of “evil.” It was the symbol of what Genesis describes as the “formative” activities of “Ihoah Elohim.” It was frequently pictured as a serpent with seven heads. A study of very ancient symbology reveals, as one might expect, ideas often differing considerably from those of the Hebrew writer; but at the same time they often reveal an astounding grasp of great cosmic facts. The writer of Genesis views “Creation” as a six-fold manifestation of the Divinity. The ancient Naacal “seers” conceived it as the operation of the seven great “planetary” principles. The serpent was their symbol of the Universal “Living One,” and the seven heads represented the seven principles through which the Cosmic Life found expression. The only essential difference between the ancients and the Mosaic writer was that the ancients-(like most moderns described as “Creation,-’ what Genesis calls “formation.” The Mosaic writer went farther back-to the spiritual origins of all the “formative” processes that have produced the Universe, and so he has given us the only truly scientific “Cosmogony” that the world has ever received.

But “Na-hash” was something quite unconnected with the Creation ; we are not told that it was ever “created,” “formed,” or “made” like other things. All that was created was described as “good” or “good to the utmost.” Na-hash simply appears on the scene, and the story is silent as to “how” or “whence.” All we are told is that is was “subtle” beyond anything in the whole range of animated creatures. It was,- in fact,- not any “creature” or “being” but an “activity.” Let us see what the name “Na-hash” means in the light of the notes given earlier in this chapter. The root of the word is “hash” or “chash.” We explained that “cheth” denoted “life” seeking some outlet; some means of expressing itself; some unrestrained, instinctive impulse to activity of some kind.

The “sh” being the sign of “relative” movement (relationship), relates this “impulse” to self-expression, to the inmost being of Adam. It forms the focus or central point of his being, toward which it seeks to draw everything: it denotes activity centred in “self’ and working for the “Self.”

The “n” prefixed to the root gives the word an application to something “individualised.” We saw in our previous chapter that the provision of “Aisha” for Adam brought about a consciousness of himself as an “intelligent being” (Aish). He -realised his own “individuality.” (It was still a spiritual, not -a physical being.)

“Na-hash,” then, is the activity of the very basic element of human personality- “Selfhood.” It does not act as a “moral” -force. It has no “bias” either to what is morally “good” or to what is morally “evil.”

In all sentient creatures, as we know, there is what we call the “instinct of self-preservation.” This was necessary, not only to ‘work for the preservation of the life of each separate creature, but also for the continuation of the species. In the human kingdom, every human being is a “species” in himself, -i.e., an individual Soul. So when the “human” soul was developed, this same “instinct” continued to work, in an intensified and more individualised way. In the animal it is a quite impersonal force ; in man it becomes very personal indeed. It forms as it were a vortex, like a whirlpool which draws into itself all it can grasp. It is a “passion ever seeking satisfaction of some kind. It is the potential root of self-love, self-seeking, selfishness; a blind, unconscious force.

Science tells us how “spontaneous combustion” may arise from the heat and gases in moist vegetable matter, and so cause –a destructive fire. Genesis tells us how, in a similar spontaneous way, passion. cupidity, envy, covetousness, and all they lead to,- arise in the human heart from the workings-the insidious, subtle, “serpent-like” workings-of something that -m itself is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the individuality,” and without which, man could never become a “moral being” or the “likeness” of God. When “Adam” be comes aware of his “Selfhood,” he also becomes aware that ideas, impulses, emotions and desires arise in the workings of his own mind and feelings. He knows that · they are “his own,” a part of himself.

This inner life is very attractive to him; it “fascinates” him; it appears to him as a thing of beauty, something to love and cherish. How could it appear otherwise to him? He him-self was the work of God! Every faculty he possessed was a gift of God! He had never known anything evil or sinful, because hitherto the “Will” of God had always guided and controlled all his activities! Now God had given him “Aisha,” “WILL” of his own to exercise. As God was the giver, “Aisha” must be a “good” gift! God had made him “good”; so naturally, the ideas and desires that arose in him must be “good!” Evil fruit could not grow on a good tree!

We put the matter in that way merely to suggest to the reader what we ourselves, were we in the position that the Adam was at this point of the story, might have thought. We do not for a moment suggest that Adam either thought things out in that way, or could have done so. As a matter of fact, he would have been as void of thought on the subject as a baby is of high philosophy. He was “conscious” of his possession, his new faculty, but until he exercised it-and only to the extent that he exercised it could he have any “experience” of it,- or any idea whatever of its possibilities, either for good or evil. All that he had “experienced” was the result of God’s Will in action-he could learn nothing from that about the nature of “evil.” God had pronounced all that He had done as “good,” but until Adam learnt from experience what “evil” was, be knew nothing of any moral distinctions. The mature ‘‘man ,, of the XXth century AD is the inheritor of a thousand ages of unconscious and conscious thought and experience; “Adam” was himself the “zero” point of human development. He was just where every baby born into the world is, morally and intellectually. at the moment if is born. Every baby is “human spirit” coming into physical manifestation; it is not void of “Will” and “Idea,” even from its first hour on earth; it has-though unconsciously-an “idea” of its need for food, and it has the “Will” to get it instinct tells it how to get it. And note this carefully :-that first baby impulse was for “something for Self.” Thus “Na-hash” begins its work very early indeed in every human “Will” and continues it in an ever-widening sphere of life-until the “evil” potentialities inherent in it become known through their results and become abhorrent to the soul; then they are crushed by the same “Will” grown “wise” through sad experience.

Do we call the baby a “sinner” when it clutches its mother’s breast with its tiny fingers? Or when it is a little older and we may have occasion to say: “Baby must not touch the tea-pot, it will burn him,” but baby thinks he would like to do so-and does,- do we accuse him of wilful “disobedience” to a Divine “command,” of “rebellion against the high powers in Heaven?” That is what unimaginative theologies have said of Adam.

What we wish to make perfectly clear is that in the whole of this Genesis story there is nothing that is not perfectly “natural”; and that it is all repeated in the life of every’ human being-also that it was all quite foreseen by God and necessary to His purpose. What is perfectly “natural” cannot be “evil” or “sinful”; if it were, no responsibility whatever could attach to man for the “sin of the world.”

What man is “by nature” God made him; and God said He had made man “good.” Yet we know that “evil” and “sin” do exist: experience tells us of “evil,” and “conscience” tells us -of “sin.” What we forget is that neither “Adam” nor we ourselves began our existence with “experience” or “conscience.” “Conscience,” indeed, only manifests its existence after we have done wrong: it is the awakening of “moral perception” through “experience” of “evil.” We could not perceive anything as evil or sinful were not our inmost nature “good” and spiritually perceptive of anything that was contradictory to that “goodness.” What is not “good” is unnatural. The awakening of conscience is the birth of our moral and spiritual life in our physical-plane existence. It is the first step in the “realisation” of the “Likeness” of God in our earthly lives.

“Na-hash” contained all the possibilities of evil as well as good, but it was a necessity, and the basis of moral being. Evil and Sin have come from some of its workings and have been the tragedy of mankind: how much more have they been the tragedy of the Heart of God!

Yet “Na-hash,” as we have said, was in itself neither evil nor good. It was really a force working to protect and further everything that seemed to be in the interests of the “Self.” It just worked in and for the “Self.” When Adam was in the state of a universal spirit the activities of Na-hash” did not appear: but when Adam enters the physical state of being they appear at once and are centred in the physical personality, because being of a concentrative nature they are necessarily “materialistic.”

There is one word in this verse which we have omitted to explain. It is the word translated “subtle” in our English Bible: “a-room,” It is a word which brings up some very interesting points, but as it is very closely connected with the word in verse 10 translated “naked,- “ we will deal with it when explaining that verse.

There are, however, a few little matters of interest that we may mention while we are discussing the “Serpent”:-There are many references to the “serpent” in the Bible and in every case there is something mysterious in what is related. For instance, in Isaiah VI, verse 2, we have the familiar passage beginning: “Above Him stood the Seraphim, each one had six wings . . . .” Then in Isaiah XIV, verse 29, we read: “Rejoice not Philistia-all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken ; for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a basilisk (an adder), and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Again, in Numbers XXI, verse 6, we read: “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit them”-followed by instructions to Moses to make a “fiery serpent” and put it on a standard that the people might see it and be healed; and how Moses made a “serpent of brass.”

It may surprise those who know and read only the English Bible to learn that the “six-winged Seraphim,” “Seraphim m’ophphim,” the “seraphs” who sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, the Seraph who took the live coal from the Altar and touched the lips of Isaiah with it to “cleanse” them, the “fiery flying serpent” of Isaiah XIV, verse 29, the “fiery serpents” of Numbers XXI, and the symbolic “serpent” of brass”* made by Moses-all are given the same name, “Seraphim.” This curious identification of “high angels” with “fiery serpents,” gives us something to think about. But these do not exhaust the different uses that the “serpent” symbol has been put to.

In the “Airjana Vaega,” a scripture of the Ancient Zoroastrian religion-by far the purest and most spiritual of all the very ancient religions that we know anything about, and which ante-dates Genesis, by how many centuries or millennia no one can say-there is another “serpent” story. It tells us that the “serpent Dahaka” was the creature by which “Ahriman” destroyed the “first created land” of “Ormuzd.” “Dahaka,” we are told, had “three heads, three jaws, six eyes, and a thousand senses.” “Ormuzd” and “Ahriman” have been very crudely and incorrectly taken as equivalent to the old conceptions of “God” and “Satan” in Hebrew and Christian thought. They have also been considered as dual “Gods”: “Ormuzd” as the God of Light and Goodness, and “Ahriman” as the God of Darkness and Evil-eternally antagonistic to one another, and each seeking supremacy. That is quite a false idea. Zoroastrianism was purely monotheistic. It taught that the Creator, “Ahura Mazda,” was “One” Eternal Spirit. Ormuzd and Ahriman were two universal principles, polar opposites in their working and purpose, but both proceeding from the One Supreme God.

*In II Kings XVIII, verse 4, the “brazen serpent” made by Moses,- and which became an idol, is called “ne’hashtan.” The word “Na-hash” is also the word for ‘copper, or “brass” (also sometimes for “divination” or “magic,” which clearly shows the symbolic nature of the name.

Ormuzd represented the principle that works towards the spiritual, and Ahriman that which works towards the material. God needed both of them for His purposes. We hope that our -earlier chapters will have shown that the material, physical universe was as necessary to God as the Spiritual world for the realisation of His cherished dream of “Mankind,” although the physical universe is “temporal,” a thing of time and space, while the Spiritual is eternal. For the material universe to be brought into existence at all, it was, obviously, necessary for a time at least, that the “Ahriman” forces should be permitted to overcome the “Ormuzd”-spiritual forces-which would otherwise have prevented all materialisation of any kind in any sphere. When the material universe has been formed, and “Adam” becomes physical “men and women,” both the forces remain at work: Ormuzd ever seeks to draw men towards the spiritual, while Ahriman seeks to hold him to the earth and the earthly. Both are continually necessary and they work in every plane of human life, physical, mental and moral. Ormuzd works for the ideal, Ahriman for the practical. Neither is good alone would make men utterly impracticable, other worldly” visionaries; Ahriman alone would make men utterly materialistic, hard and soulless. Working, however, in true balance with one another they produce sane beings, healthy in mind, body and soul. “Dahaka” was the Ahrimanic force which, in producing the physical universe, put an end to the sojourn of man in the spiritual “Eden” of Ormuzd.

It is not difficult to see how this ancient story harmonises -with the Genesis narrative; but the true counterpart to the “Serpent Dahaka” in Genesis is not “Na-hash” but “Cain.” We cannot, however, deal with the story of “Cain and Abel” here.

There is just one thing in which all the “Serpent” legends agree; that is, in every case the “Serpent” is a symbol of an inward “Life Principle,” which works in an infinite variety of ways, sometimes creatively, sometimes destructively.

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