Adam and Eve is one of my personal myths. At times of uncertainty and transition in my life I find myself doodling apples, and snakes in trees. Perhaps this is my own internal snake telling me to take a bite of the experience before me, so that I might be naked and present enough to be embodied in the world around me.
After reading James Hillman’s “Oedipus Revisited” I want to attempt to move outside of the Oedipal paradigm—as Hillman suggests we do—by taking Adam and Eve as my mythic model. First I will define what Hillman means by stepping outside of the Oedipal paradigm and then I will attempt a treatment of my myth.
In chapter 7 of “Oedipus Revisited” entitled “Psychoanalytic Blindness”, Hillman describes a psychology that emphasizes a subjective awareness founded in the story of childhood (Hillman 137). He discusses how using the myth of Oedipus we have created a culture bent on blindly digging for the truth as our definition of being conscious. The minutia of our individual past becomes the goal of analysis. Hillman posits that we might be able to escape this subjectivism and become embodied in the world around us: If we look to other myths for our models and goals for psychology, “our sufferings and pathologies would be less about ourselves.” (Hillman 140)
Like Oedipus Rex, Adam and Eve is a separation myth. It can be used to describe the point of a child’s awakening to self. There is a moment of departure from the ouroboric state of merged parent and child, as the two become conscious of their nakedness, and are expelled from Eden, separated from God. In this myth the self is still created during separation. The self, as separate from other, unfolds first from desire for the fruit, and then more consciously at the eating of the fruit. Yet this myth, with all its similarity to Oedipus, is in practical terms quite different. It is a journey not of analysis and childhood obsession, but of desire, experience and embodiment.
The process of individuation from the garden begins with a conversation. Eve and Snake talk about the nature of knowledge, and the tree where it can be found. Snake describes the awakening to the knowledge of good and evil. This idea of awakening entices Eve. She wants to know. Eve is given a kind of knowing in her conversation with Snake, she is told about the dialectic of opposites.
Is Snake an external force older than the two that is trying to play out some greater scheme against God? Snake may be like Parvati to Siva in the game of dice, an aspect that has become separate. God chooses to be blind to his/her nature for the sake of the chaos that is the game. Historically it is likely to be a remnant from some older myth. Perhaps it is one of the many underworld snakes (Chevalier, Gheerbrant 847), or the serpent that guards the tree of life for some pre-Hebraic goddess (Walker 387). This serpent energy is charged with maintaining cosmic balance, keeping soul and spirit equally present (Chevalier, Gheerbrant 845). It is enticing Eve to become conscious of her physical self. Snake is often seen as Satan, lurking in the underbrush trying to delude the two, and mess up God’s plans (Becker 264). My favorite hypothesis is that Snake is really Lilith, the true first woman, who is said to sometimes appear in the form of a snake (Becker 105). Lilith is acting as Eve’s shadow, the unconscious motivator, helping Eve to activate the creative physical forces that she could not achieve on her own.
Either way Snake and Eve are in alliance. The conversation between Eve and this unconscious entity spawns a feeling of desire in Eve that she cannot put aside. She feels compelled to act, to eat the fruit, and in the process to break the rule God set for the two. Her desire motivates her towards separation, as the child’s engagement with the world around them turns their focus away from the primary parent. She is driven, but not yet fully conscious. She does not know good and evil because she has not experienced it herself. She has only heard about it from another.
The type of fruit born by the tree of knowledge is not known. The common belief is that it is an apple tree, but this is never stated. It could be a fig, a cherry or even a pomegranate. I wonder about the fruit, because each of these fruits has a different eating experience. The apple can be picked and freely bitten into, where it is important to be conscious of the cherry’s pit. A fig should be split open before eating, as there are often insects that have found their way into the center. A pomegranate is hard work and each seed must be pulled out separately.
The process of eating the fruit would impact the experience of awakening. Was it an instant transformation as the crisp apple crunched between teeth, finished by the time the tartness reached the back of the tongue, or was it an hour long process of awakening, seed by seed, like an act of meditation?
Each one of these fruits has a separate symbolic origin. The apple can be found in stories about knowledge (Chevalier, Gheerbrant 35). The fig is known as the symbol of female sexuality (Walker 484). What all of these fruits have in common is sensual experience. Fruit means taste, touch, smell, and sight. Eating fruit brings focus to the body. It nourishes, and provides enjoyment. The fruit is enticing. Eve could not stop her physical desire. She ate of it and was transformed.
Is the fruit magic, or is it the experience of satiating desire that creates the transformation? We know that when she has finished eating she is conscious of her nakedness, conscious of her body in the world. Magic fruit would hold the miracle of consciousness within it, like the transformative experience of a psychedelic mushroom. Eat it, and the chemicals of the brain transform. You are conscious on a different plane. What if it was not the fruit itself but the experience of defiance that created the transformation? Eating the fruit was an act of self-creation. If desire for the fruit is the motivation for change than eating the fruit is the epiphany that comes with experience. Eve knows good and evil because she is using her own judgment to choose her actions.
The act of eating the fruit transforms the two from unconscious nakedness, to conscious nakedness. Nakedness already exists. Being aware of it is the change that has taken place. The two are suddenly in their bodies where before they were merged with pure spirit, Eden. In their bodies they are aware of the world outside and around them. Identity forms as the child takes its first steps away from the parent to explore the world around it.
So consciousness is corporal, the experience of physicality, of the vulnerability of nakedness, of others in the world who might see, of sensuality and danger. The first awakening to the separate self is an awareness of the body. Later after the expulsion this nakedness will be felt as physical need, physical power, embodiment that requires enduring the pain of life, feeling life and being in it with all of the desires and experiences that life brings, including death.
This process is linear. There is only moving forward. You cannot return to the innocence of unknowing. You cannot return to Eden. In an analytical environment there would be no digging up the past. The analyst would have to aid the patient in moving forward into knowing. The work would require intuitive leaps spawned by desire towards forbidden fruit. There would need to be visualization exercises exploring embodiment. The analyst would have to hold the space for the vulnerability of the naked soul. The goal would be integration of the conscious embodied individual into the painful but exciting cycle of human life.
Becker, Udo. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols. Trans. L. Garmer. New York: Continuum, 1994.
Chevalier, Jean and Gheerbrant, Alain. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. J. Buchanan-Brown. London: Penguin Books, 1996.
Hillman, James. “Oedipus Revisited.” Oedipus Variations: Studies in Literature and Psychoanalysis. Woodstock: Spring Publications, 1995.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1988.