The Path of the Serpent Volume One
Psychedelics and the Neuropsychology of Gnosis
Europe has long harboured esoteric traditions dedicated to the pursuit of ‘gnosis’, an experiential knowledge of the divine inner light lying beyond the rule of the stars. These traditions are related both psychologically and historically to Indo-Tibetan tantra. As in the east, at the heart of this western quest for gnosis we find idiosyncratic serpentine figures associated with states of consciousness ostensibly unconstrained by the ego. Foremost among these figures are the ambiguous world-creating Demiurge, the angel Metatron, and Christ in the guise of the white serpent.
The Path of the Serpent is a two-volume examination of this enigmatic imagery and the gnostic lineages that have nurtured it through the millennia. Stemming from the heretical serpent sects of the ancient Near East, these lineages branched westwards via the Kabbalah in its Jewish, Christian, and post-Christian occultist forms. They cultivated a variety of consciousness-altering techniques to scale the serpent’s path, an itinerary of ecstatic ascent leading through the celestial spheres and their microcosmic counterparts along the initiate’s neuraxis.
Historically, the symbolism of this path to gnosis can be traced back to Platonising notions of the cosmic axis and the Chaoskampf mythology of the ancient Semitic civilizations. In this first volume of The Path of the Serpent, Hereward Tilton appeals to the neuropsychology of hypo-egoic states of consciousness to account for the origins and remarkable historical persistence of this imagery. Reflecting upon his self-experimentation with psychedelics, the author documents the recent discovery of the near-critical dynamics of the human nervous system, which maintains an adaptive proximity to a transformative threshold. From this perspective, gnostic serpentine imagery can be interpreted as an interoceptive expression of just such ‘edge of chaos’ dynamics, which constitute a primordial source of order within the human individual, the biosphere, and the wider natural cosmos.