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Chalice and serpent

The snake and the chalice, the former logo of the Guild has a significant history and symbolism. In 1936 a group of Christian clergy and laity began to form the Guild with a tremendous interest in bringing psychological work into their pastoral care. Initially the group started with the name: ‘The Guild of Pastoral Psycho-Therapy’. In the snake therefore, we have that first embodiment of psychotherapy claimed by physicians under their umbrella of the Caduceus with its winding snake. Deeper still, the snake is a symbol of psycho-spiritual transformation, exemplified by the Greek physician Aesclepius, where the snake symbolised the healing of soul and body.

The snake expresses the principle of homeopathic medicine, for the patient is treated with the poison that is causing his disease. The venom of the snake’s bite represents the deadly and the healing aspects: will it kill or will it cure? This incorporates the tension between two opposites, an essential quality of Jungian psychology. The Guild tries to hold these opposites of religion and psychology in its own special chalice formed by its membership.

The chalice symbolises the great womb of life. The opposites meet in all their variety and fecundity and are contained until they transform. It is the female and maternal giving birth to life. The snake is that symbol of regeneration because it casts away its old skin, burnt in the fiery tension between opposites, and a new form emerges. The chalice is a repeated image in Judaeo-Christian religious feeling from which the Guild originates. In the great sung Psalms of David from the Jewish tradition we hear that “my cup runneth over” – intimating that the tension of feeling within the chalice has so moved the heart that the transformed substance overflows into life bringing meaning. In the New Testament Jesus says: “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of …?” In this response to the sons of Zebedee the chalice represents the fullness of being expressed by Christ and he asks if this quality will be present in the two young men to take up that religious life. Will it poison them or cure them? The poisoning and the killing, the healing and the curing, are the opposites, symbolised by the snake and contained in the cup that will bring its own nemesis.

Moving from the Judaeo-Christian tradition the snake is the symbol of the regenerative life force of the feminine Shakti power or Kundalini in the Eastern Yogic tradition. It uncoils from the lower part of the body and moves up the spine. So when the snake moves its head above the edge of the chalice in the logo, it starts its journey upwards, from its matrix in the feminine darkness of the womb-like chalice, uniting the opposites of Earth and Heaven. The snake and the chalice are the psyche’s mystery where Jung’s dynamic vision of the uniting of opposites takes place and the appearance of the true Self. As Ibn’ Arabi, the great Islamic mystic says, “Those who know themselves know the Lord.” All those who want to know that Self, that Lord, of whatever religion, enter the chalice and go through many transformations. In this way the new logo is revealed: a vision of centred unity and a “Window on Eternity.”