The Creation Myth and the Structure of Desire
This essay is a reflection on a few of the primary symbols from the biblical story of the Garden of Eden as seen through an archetypal lens. I focus on four specific symbols:
- the Garden of Paradise/the Wilderness
- the Serpent
- the Forbidden Fruit,
for which I will offer an archetypal analysis and psychological interpretation of the way in which they structure our unconscious creation myth. With any symbol it is important to keep in mind that it has both a subjective personal dimension and an objective archetypal or mythological dimension. Both dimensions of meaning are relevant in any analysis of the symbol, and both have psychological and spiritual currency.
A good place to start this analysis is to revisit the outline of the myth.
The basic structure of this myth then is something like this:
The story of the Garden of Eden is a theological use of mythological themes to explain human progression from a state of innocence and bliss to the present human condition of knowledge of sin, misery, and death. According to the Genesis account (2:4–3:24), God created Adam from the dust of the ground and then planted the Garden of Eden with the “tree of life” and the forbidden “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” at its centre. God tasked Adam with tending the garden and naming the animals therein and gave him the single command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Lacking a helper for his work, Adam was put into a deep sleep while God took from him a rib and created a companion, Eve. The two were persons of innocence and lived unashamedly without clothes as husband and wife. However, an evil serpent in the garden deceived Eve, who ate of the prohibited fruit and gave some to Adam. With newly opened eyes, they recognized their nakedness and donned fig leaves as garments. Immediately God saw their transgression and proclaimed their punishments—for the woman, pain in childbirth and subordination to man and, for the man, relegation to an accursed ground with which he must toil and sweat for his subsistence. God clothed them with animal skins and then cast them out of the paradise garden, posting an angel armed with a sword of fire there to prevent their return.
Adam and Eve exist in a state of innocent (childlike) bliss in the Garden of Eden, wherein all their needs are met, and they do not know or experience any suffering. The only moral injunction they need to follow is not to eat from the tree of knowledge, which, of course, they do. In so doing their eyes are opened and they recognise “their nakedness”. This has a few unfortunate consequences: they are expelled from the Garden, take on the burden of suffering, and are barred from eating from the Tree of Life, i.e., they are now condemned to mortality and the experience of death.
On the upside they know something they didn’t know before. They now know right from wrong, so there is an evolution in consciousness.
Recently a student of mine had an experience that symbolically echoed this myth and in reflecting on this I recognised the following simple archetypal structure in the myth. Before I unpack this for you, understand I am not suggesting that this is all these symbols mean, or even that these are necessarily their primary meanings. Rather I am suggesting that the following interesting and illuminating archetypal structure is contained and evident in the ambit of these symbols and their relational structure in the myth.
The Garden of Paradise symbolises a status quo. A certain situation that is, if not without any issues, still ideal or idealised in some sense. It is the state of bliss that we enjoy when we are ignorant of a certain truth or knowledge that once we know it is disruptive. It symbolises the containment we once felt in the world (the garden) when were children and the “burden of knowing” was carried by our parents, teachers, and our elders. When the home we once lived in, think of the home you were born into for example, was “perfect”, where you felt safe, contained, “at home”. It could also be a bed, a room, a space, your body, a relationship, a physical space, a place of worship, nature, an environment. The topos or locus, physical or symbolic, within which the subject experiences communion with divine as a benign presence, innocence, security, beauty, or transcendence. The Garden is ordered, curated, and predictable. It can surprise and delight us on occasion, but it doesn’t overwhelm us. The mysterium tremendum is held at bay and does not overwhelm us. The garden constitutes a Temenos that contains and protects us from the terror of the mysterium tremendum.
The wilderness is where we are we find ourselves have been ejected from the Garden,
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
The symbol of the wilderness in its biblical context is of a place where the symbolic structure and the Law break down, Cultivation, curation, and care by the Father are absent, or at least not readily present, in the wilderness. We have left the side of the Shepard and are left to fend for ourselves. “The voice of one crying in the Wilderness” It is a transitional space when we have left our Father’s home but not yet necessarily come home to ourselves.
“God”, of course is a tough nut to crack in the game of symbolic hermeneutics. For the purposes of what I am going to propose though, “He” is best thought of as a supreme personal value, an overarching belief, which informs and governs your value system and morals. An overarching meta-myth or value. The nom du père (name-of-the-father) from Lacan.
The Serpent is a little more intuitively accessible. We all get a sense of who and what the serpent is. The serpent is not without wisdom, on the contrary it is said of the serpent that it “….was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” And this wisdom not without value, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”  But as a mythological character, and as lays out the Edenic myth it can lead us into temptation, “and he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’, ”  and dire consequence. 
The serpent as a symbol might be thought of as libido itself, the fiery energy and impulse of desire.
The Forbidden Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge is apparent object in the myth. Or at least its object is for Eve to taste the Forbidden Fruit and thereby commit the first heretical act. So, the Forbidden Fruit is the object of desire, that which illuminates, at least to the extent it bestows knowledge and abolishes ignorance. And sampling it has dire consequence, permanent expulsion form the Garden.
Armed with these reflections, let’s classify our four symbols in the following fashion:
- God as the deep structure of meaning, value or belief.
- the Garden of Paradise or the Wilderness refers to our relative psychospiritual location.
- the Serpent is the character (NB, not object) of our desire.
- the Forbidden Fruit is the object of desire, i.e., its symbolic form.
What I am proposing is that by reflecting on these the character of these four symbols we might learn something about the structure of our own personal creation myth.
A) a woman in her early thirties.
- Lives in the Wilderness, expelled from the Garden.
- Her own immaculate image.
B) a man of middle-age.
- Locates himself in the Garden of Paradise.
- Pleasure and power.
Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the examples. A lot of reflection and self-insight allowed the two subjects in the examples above to arrive at these seemingly simple formulations. Identifying the structure, one’s own creation myth in this fashion illuminates a central subjective motif, telos, and orientation, which, once done, will afford you greater self-understanding and consciousness. It is axiomatic in these types of psycho-educational exercisers that your primary aspiration should be truth rather than “virtue”. Don’t be invested in looking good to yourself, or anyone else, the real virtue here is honesty. It is the essential ingredient and character necessary to make progress in any self-reflective endeavour, most especially one that attempts to illuminate hidden areas of the psyche or soul.
The Primal Wound
Building on the above we can use this structure to reflect on our “primal wound”. As the name suggests, this idea refers in the field of depth psychology to an early and lasting psychological wounding or trauma, typically related to the parents. It is also sometimes referred to as the experience of “castration” which is, at least in the Freudian framework, the form of the primary wound. This refers explicitly to the “castrating father”, but more broadly and accurately to the infant’s initial recognition of the hard cap or limit to the satisfaction of their desire.
How can the symbols and their structure, as detailed above, illuminate this question?
These symbols also reflect something about the structure and essence of our core beliefs and desires. This juxtaposition should illuminate our typically quite opaque primal wound. I won’t go as far as to say it makes it fully explicit, which would be too strong a claim, but it does, or should, if you have been able to authentically identify these symbols in your own psychic economy, offer some insight.
To do this, let’s slightly reframe and carefully reconsider the relationship of the 4 symbols slightly:
- God in the myth, or the supreme meaning in our analytical usage above can also be framed as expressing our cardinal value or belief. This is the transmission of a spiritual truth from “the Father” and also expresses what Freud called the Superego’s position.
- Our relative locale in the Garden or the Wilderness speaks to the presence and our fidelity to this guiding principle in 1.
- The character of our desire is an expression of instinct, the body and is anti-spiritual and anti-symbolic, it is the antithesis of spiritual culture and gives voice to that which has not fallen under the jurisprudence of the supreme meaning or value.
1 to 3 is the structure and character of the primal wound.
4. The symbolised desire is an expression of the dissonance (wounding) of 1- 3). It is a synthesis or symbolisation of that dissonance and attempts to bridge the gap opened up by this dissonance.
Although it is speculative and also to some degree draws on data not available in this analysis, applying this analytical method to the two examples provided above, we get something like this. In the case of A) one might speculate that narcissism compensates an infantile sense of helplessness/impotence, which would be the character of the primal wound. In the case of B) greed and gluttony compensate the unmet need for meaning, which would be the basic character of the primal wound.
Happiness vs. Meaning and the structure of desire
There is another potential use of this analytical tool that I would like to highlight for you. It is worth reflecting on the two consequences of obtaining and ingesting the forbidden fruit, which, within the symbolic framework I have suggested, is the object, or “object cause” if you prefer, of your desire. The two consequences that are I suggest essentially linked are: illumination and consequent expulsion for the garden.
In thinking about this, and notwithstanding the narrative framing in the biblical story, i.e., expulsion from the Garden of Paradise as a punishment imposed by a wrathful God, we recognise two highly identifiable and universal psychological axioms. Now whether we should infer from this that God baked his wrath in perpetuity, or rather consider the biblical story as allegorical of an archetypal structure I will not propose to judge. Either way, the structure is as follows.
The object of our desire is always forbidden! At least psychologically speaking. 😊And this status of being forbidden is precisely what makes it desirable.
As John Milton sardonically put it in the Devil’s Advocate (1997),
Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He’s a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do, I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It’s the goof of all time. Look but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, don’t swallow. Ahaha. And while you’re jumpin’ from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He’s laughin’ His sick, fuckin’ ass off! He’s a tight-ass! He’s a SADIST! He’s an absentee landlord! Worship that? NEVER!
As you well know, a desire obtained is a far cry my dear friends from the sweetness of the one just out of reach.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell. 
In “eating” the forbidden fruit I come to know something I did not know before. Knowing this, I am expelled from the utopian state I previously existed in the Garden of Paradise. I now recognise my containment as containment, my symbol as mere symptom. I am ready to spit on that which heretofore I considered sacred. In eating the forbidden fruit, I crack open the symbolic structure which previously held me so securely, lovingly, and benignly. I expose a certain malevolence, malignancy, and verdigris, previously absent or unseen in my utopia.
What, one may reasonably ask here, is the answer to this archetypal conundrum of our desire? Are we forever fated to be the racing greyhound who dare not catch the (mechanical) hare? The answer to this question exceeds my capacities, so I will not pretend to know. More modestly though, what I can point out is it’s a perennial trade-off between happiness and meaning, between satisfaction and desire. We trade one in at the expense of the other. I leave you with one of my favourite dialogues between Daniel Linderman and Nathan Petrelli from the classic TV series, Heroes.
There comes a time when a man has to ask himself whether he wants a life of happiness or a life of meaning.
I’d like to have both.
Can’t be done. Two very different paths. To be truly happy, a man must live absolutely in the present, no thought of what’s gone before and no thought of what lies ahead. But a life with meaning, a man is condemned to wallow in the past and obsess about the future.
I’ll leave it there and hope you find this mythological/archetypal lens of some value in identifying the structure and character of your own creation myth.
Until we speak again,
 Out of respect for the student’s privacy and given the recent nature of the incident I cannot share the events of the story even anonymously, at this time.
 Terrible mystery. “the mysterium tremendum (“mystery that repels”), in which the dreadful, fearful, and overwhelming aspect of the numinous appears,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/mysterium-tremendum-et-fascinans
 a temple enclosure or court in ancient Greece : a sacred precinct
 Genesis, verses 3:23-24.
 Mathew 3:3
 Mathew 10:16
 Genesis 3:1
 “Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent. And stings like a viper.” Proverbs 23: 31-32
 William Shakespear, Sonnet 129, a favourite sonnet of my late teacher the 19th Duke de Chatillon.
 Heroes S1E1, 2006, Tim Kring,