Snakes in Trees: Mythology in Abel and Cain
Ever since I was a kid, I've loved mythology. The stories we tell to make sense of the world around us, I've always been a big fan of them. Who we are, where do we come from, where are we going, and what happens after that? The answers to those questions are so much fun to explore. There's a lot of similarities (humankind being formed from dust, mud, or clay is not uncommon) and a lot of differences (Jesus turns water into wine, Xipe Totec flays himself to feed humanity). All of it holds interest for me.
So, that informs my writing and filmmaking. My first attempt at crowdfunding and producing a short film, Modern Prometheus, has many subtle references to Voodoo. A recent "fake commercial" I produced for the Channel 101 screening series includes references to Greek Mythology.
Now, with Abel and Cain I'm doing some Mythology mashing. There's an obvious reference here in the title and the names of the characters Abel and Cain. Also, Lilith and Rachael are very deliberately chosen names. The names Abel and Cain conjure images of brotherhood, betrayal, and jealousy. They also call back to the dawn of humanity and the Garden of Eden. There was a tree there.
And that tree, The Tree of Knowledge (of Good and Evil), is kind of a big deal in terms of the Christian creation mythology. Eat from the tree and get expelled from paradise. That's how the story goes. Eat from the tree and then comes Abel and Cain and then comes sin and murder and art and science and creativity and good and bad all around.
That's not the only tree we've got in mythology, though. Norse mythology has trees aplenty. There's Yggdrasil, the world tree, the tree that connects the heavens and the Earth. The first man's name in Norse mythology, Ask/Askr, also means ash tree. Then, in the rebirth of the world that follows Ragnarok (that's the Norse version of the Apocalypse but with more Gods being eaten by giant wolves and snakes), the only two human beings to survive do so by hiding out in a magical forest (more or less).
Trees touch the sky and reach deep into the ground. They give life and offer shelter. Even when it comes to evolution, our ancestors came down from the trees (pardon my extreme oversimplification). Trees are a primal symbol of life and our connection to the world (and worlds).
Snakes also figure into the story about the tree in the Garden of Eden. A snake tricks the first woman into consuming the fruit of the tree, and so humanity is expelled from paradise into a world of pain and war and joy and children and poetry.
I am specifically using the ouroboros, though. The snake consuming its own tail, a symbol of infinity and rebirth and the eternal cycle of life. The idea of the self-consuming snake appears in ancient Egyptian mythology, the writing of Plato, and alchemy. Of the ouroborous, which he identified as an archetype, Carl Jung said: "He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites...."
We can go back to Norse mythology and the story of Jormungandr, the world serpent, a snake that grew so large he encircled the world and grabbed his own tail. When he lets go, the world will come to an end (that Ragnarok thing).
That is what informs the logo, the ouroboros around that Celtic knot-styled tree. That is just a little bit of where mythology is directly informing Abel and Cain.
I didn't even get around to talking about the eye.
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