Skip to content Skip to navigation

OpenStax_CNX

You are here: Home » Content » Oneiric Coils: Serpent’s Dream and Pistis Sophia

Navigation

Lenses

What is a lens?

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

This content is ...

Affiliated with (What does "Affiliated with" mean?)

This content is either by members of the organizations listed or about topics related to the organizations listed. Click each link to see a list of all content affiliated with the organization.
  • Rice Digital Scholarship display tagshide tags

    This module is included in aLens by: Digital Scholarship at Rice UniversityAs a part of collection: "Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson"

    Click the "Rice Digital Scholarship" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

  • Ricepress display tagshide tags

    This module is included inLens: Rice University Press Titles
    By: Rice University PressAs a part of collection: "Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson"

    Click the "Ricepress" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

  • Featured Content display tagshide tags

    This module is included inLens: Connexions Featured Content
    By: ConnexionsAs a part of collection: "Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson"

    Comments:

    "The artistic works of Jewish mysticism scholar Elliot Wolfson are examined in Flowering Light. Written by Professor Marcia Brennan, this full-length book captures Wolfson's poetry and painting in […]"

    Click the "Featured Content" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

Recently Viewed

This feature requires Javascript to be enabled.

Tags

(What is a tag?)

These tags come from the endorsement, affiliation, and other lenses that include this content.
 

Oneiric Coils: Serpent’s Dream and Pistis Sophia

Module by: Marcia Brennan. E-mail the authorEdited By: Frederick Moody, Ben Allen

Summary: Chapter Seven of Marcia Brennan's Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson

Figure 1: Elliot R. Wolfson, Serpent's Dream, 2007. © Elliot R. Wolfson.
Figure 1 (graphics1.jpg)

Flowering Light -- buy from Rice University Press. Imagine that you are sitting with a Native American teacher, who gives you the exercise of assembling a ceremonial pipe. You are presented with several individual pipe sections, and you experiment with fitting the various components together. As you try different formations, you realize that the pipe can be assembled in a variety of ways. Each configuration will yield a distinctive implement, and each will accomplish its work in a unique manner. You are then presented with some ceremonial tobacco. As you place the tobacco into the pipe, you realize that the pipe and the tobacco represent distinctive elements of a reciprocal ceremonial structure, one whose typically invisible bonds suddenly become visible as the smoke rises all around you.

Wolfson’s canvas, Serpent’s Dream (2007), loosely evokes this vivid ceremonial imagery through smoky, ethereal forms that are painted in a southwestern, “Native American” palette. At first sight, the painting may appear vertically bifurcated, as a central dividing line seems to demarcate the left and right sides of the composition. Yet when the picture is viewed at close range, this subtle optical barrier dissolves, and the two sides of the painting flow together as a single form. Just as contemplative immersion facilitates such creative transformations, the painting appears to be a kind of shape shifter, a formally unified construction in which distinctive passages become fluidly interchangeable, thereby lending themselves to multiple symbolic arrangements. Recalling the imagery of a medicine dream, the painting displays sidereal shades of red, maroon, orange, and violet, which appear as fluctuating clouds of colored light. Three oval patches of bright emerald green—mysterious elements that suggest a disembodied, primordial gaze—float freely at the center of the canvas.

Just as the shifting surface of Serpent’s Dream resembles a diaphanous veil of open sky, the underlying composition displays internal configurations of interlaced forms. Examining the canvas closely, it is possible to discern subtle traces of a helix structure, a spiraling coil that resembles an uroboros, a twisting serpent swallowing its own tail. Just as the verticality of the snake becomes circular within the swerving conventions of the iconography, the uroboros represents an archetypal image of androgyny.1 Conjoining these associations, the title of Wolfson’s painting, Serpent’s Dream, symbolically evokes this complex coil of interwoven significations.2

With its embedded sense of internal multiplicity and its abstract depiction of the varieties of oneness, Serpent’s Dream displays the paradoxes of an “open enclosure”:3

in time
that measures
fissures & faith
flowering
on dreams
dispersed
 

one is
not one
unless it is
more than one
 

in time
that measures
fortune & fate
flickering
on fury
infuriated
 

two is
not two
unless it is
less than two
 

in time
that measures
foot & face
floundering
on paths
divergent
 

three is
not three
unless it is
more or less three

Like the layered coils of a clay pot, Serpent’s Dream and “open enclosure” can be viewed metaphorically as spiraling configurations that incorporate and disperse flickering forms through porous surfaces of permeable containment. Another of Wolfson’s artworks that engages these themes is Pistis Sophia (2007), an abstract painting resembling a luminous bouquet of scattered, disembodied forms. Painted in bright shades of gold, blue, green, and purple, swirling clouds of mass and light evoke a coupling that is born of three. The title of this painting literally signifies “Faith in Wisdom.” In particular, Pistis Sophia is the name of an ancient gnostic gospel and, as Wolfson points out in Language, Eros, Being, this trope refers to a mythic triad found in the Nag Hammadi text Eugnostos the Blessed. In the latter context, Pistis Sophia represents a mystical image of the divine pleroma that conjoins the presences of the father, son, and daughter. In his analysis of this gnostic imagery, Wolfson notes that “the pairing of son and daughter, the Savior and Sophia, or Pistis Sophia, as she is also called, produced six androgynous spiritual beings in the pattern of the first androgynous man. The twelve powers, six male and six female, beget seventy-two powers, the totality of the six contained in each of the twelve, and each one of the seventy-two powers reveals five powers, to yield a sum of 360 powers, the union of which is called the ‘will.’”4 The erotic union of Pistis and Sophia thus engenders powerful androgynous imagery that incorporates complex mystical and numerological associations, as the coincidentia oppositorum of the bonding of “more or less three” generates exponential spirals of light.

Figure 2: Elliot R. Wolfson, Pistis Sophia, 2007. © Elliot R. Wolfson.
Figure 2 (graphics2.jpg)

Traversing the open boundaries of convergence and divergence, Wolfson’s poems and paintings display distinctive pathways that melt and merge in the disintegrating patterns of oil on canvas or words on a page. Like the distinct indistinctiveness of the pipe and tobacco, the poems and paintings can be seen as offering androgynous visions of interchangeability, protean configurations of dreams that are diaphanously clothed and ephemerally dispersed on smoky coils of burnished light.

Footnotes

  1. For Wolfson’s discussions of the uroboros in relation to kabbalistic thought, see Language, Eros, Being, pp. 67-68, 271.
  2. Along these lines, Wolfson has characterized dreams as transitional, hybrid states that are often marked by the coalescence of opposites. In an analysis of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Habad texts, which themselves drew on earlier kabbalistic thought in their engagement with dream imagery, Wolfson has observed that “the oneiric imagination is privileged, as the way to reach the unknowable and unnameable is through the mental faculty that combines opposites and thus points to the mystery of equanimity, the state of indifference wherein opposites are identical in their opposition.” See Elliot R. Wolfson, “Oneiric Imagination and Mystical Annihilation in Habad Hasidism,” ARC, The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University 35 (2007), pp. 131- 57.
  3. “open enclosure” appears in Pathwings, p. 92.
  4. Wolfson, Language, Eros, Being, p. 157.

Content actions

Download module as:

PDF | EPUB (?)

What is an EPUB file?

EPUB is an electronic book format that can be read on a variety of mobile devices.

Downloading to a reading device

For detailed instructions on how to download this content's EPUB to your specific device, click the "(?)" link.

| More downloads ...

Add module to:

My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks