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Fordham, M. (1964). The wisdom of the serpent, by J. L. Henderson and M. Oakes. New York, Braziller, 1963. pp. xxiv + 262. $6.00.. J. Anal. Psychol., 9(2):188-189.

(1964). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 9(2):188-189

The wisdom of the serpent, by J. L. Henderson and M. Oakes. New York, Braziller, 1963. pp. xxiv + 262. $6.00.

Review by:
Michael Fordham

This volume is one of a series called Patterns of myth, edited by Alan Watts, of which each volume is designed to be “primarily an anthology of texts and images” commented upon not by encyclopaedic but by more imaginative minds. In this volume, the second of a group of three sharing the common heading of Myth and experience, Maud Oakes provides the anthology and Henderson the commentary.

Henderson starts from the axiom that the experience of death in dreams and myths never “stands alone as a final act of destruction” but is part of a cycle of death and rebirth which enters into the theme of initiation. After the first three chapters, which cover the general theme, there follows a “Personal encounter”, in which a patient's dreams are discussed. She seems to have been a schizophrenic who recovered in hospital and was afterwards analysed. The last three chapters are concerned with initiation as “Spiritual education”, “Psychic liberation”, and “Resurrection and rebirth in the process of individuation”.

Henderson has clarified the relation between forms of initiation and the rebirth cycle, and in the process of doing so contributes some original suggestions which might have been elaborated with benefit. He follows those who use the idea of masculine and feminine principles hypostatized as “the masculine” and “the feminine”, and when discussing social aspects of the myth this is often justifiable and illuminating.

In the longer anthology, myths are grouped together, though drawn from various cultures, so as to illustrate Henderson's main themes. In sum, they show that whatever the region there are similarities and they therefore reflect archetypal structures and processes.

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