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The Divine Serpent

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« on: April 08, 2007, 04:26:04 am »

THE DIVINE SERPENT IN MYTH and LEGEND

[AS OF JUNE 1999] Robert T. Mason, Ph.D., D.D.

The Mythic Beginnings

Since the very beginnings of time, on every continent of this earth where humanity has worshipped divinity the serpent has been recognized and accepted as a god. From Africa's steaming jungle to the icy wastes of northern Europe; from the fertile crescent to the deserted outback of Australia the serpent has been worshipped, feared and adored. Serpent mythology is arguably the most widespread mythology known to mankind.

We will be dealing with language that is found in myth and legend any discussion of a divine serpent, so we should take time to explain the use of the myth in religious and legendary arenas before we begin. When we examine the history of truth or knowledge in the history of mankind we are faced with the fact that the 0origin of myth lies in the Greek concept of muthos [ muthos] , which as the definition of truth or knowledge predates the use of the Greek word Logos [lpgos], from which we derive our word logic. Myth for the early human usually referred to those realities which were known by experience, be it archetypal , unconscious, or based upon the cultural and ritual beliefs of human civilization. An esteemed 'egg-head' mathematical scientist , Albert Einstein once said; " Knowledge is experience; anything else is just information".

In this article the word "myth" will be defined as a story of forgotten or vague origin, basically religious since we are dealing with the concept of divinity, which seeks to explain or rationalize an important aspect of the world or a society.

Furthermore, in the context of this article, all myths used are, or have been at some stage, actually believed to be true by the peoples of the societies that used or originated the myth. This definition is thus clearly distinguished from the use of the word myth in everyday speech which basically refers to an unreal or imaginary story. Myth, as used herein, is also distinctly different from an allegory or parable which is a story deliberately made up to illustrate some moral point but which has never been assumed to be true.

Originally myths were not expressed in verbal or written form because language was deemed inadequate to convey the truth expressed in the story. The myths were enacted, chanted, painted, costumed, danced, sung and imagined, sometimes in hypnotic or hallucinatory states. In this manner the creative energies and relationships behind and beneath the natural world were brought into the conscious realm The myth was believed to not only to tell about but to create a chain from the metaphysical world to the physical one.

Later in historical time myth becomes connected to and often identified with another Greek concept, that of legend, which stems from the Greek Legion or Logos

[logos] which meant word or language. Myth then became a written form. And Mythos/Logos is the activity of human consciousness which translates or transfers the underlying forms and powers from the unconscious to the conscious, from the dream world to the world of activity.

In our 'modern' world we have so discounted the power and reality of the myth, denigrating them to the level of 'fairy tales' that we have lost contact with our ground. We don't know who we are, and so we don't know how to act. We have thrown out the 'baby', our orienting myths of origin with the 'bath water', non-useful and unnecessary data which often accompanied these myths.

Joseph Campbell is quoted as saying: " Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration for whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation."

I believe that there could be nothing more absurd than to think that our modern scientific methodology could ever eliminate the poetic and mythic, for science is closed against certain dimensions of the real which only myth and the poetic can attain. It is the height of absurdity to imagine that scientific 'knowledge' exhausts reality !

I would like to use a collective definition composed of many theories which meet my criteria for mythology framed into a single paraphrase: Myths are stories, usually, about gods and other supernatural beings. They are often stories of origins, how the world and everything in it came to be in illo tempore [Eliade]. They are usually strongly structured and their meaning is only discerned by linguistic analysis [Levi-Strauss]. Sometimes they are public dreams which, like private dreams, emerge from the unconscious mind; they more often reveal archetypes of the collective unconscious [Jung]. Myths are symbolic and metaphorical, and they orient people to the metaphysical dimension, explain the origins and nature of the cosmos, and on a psychological plane, address themselves to the innermost depths of the human psyche. Some of them are explanatory, being prescientific attempts to interpret the natural world ( such as the shedding of snake skin). As such, they are usually functional and are the science of primitive peoples. Religious myths are sacred histories and are distinguished from the profane. But, all tell of the truth told by human experience which cannot be explained by normal use of language. It was that great scientist, Albert Einstein, who said " Science without religion is lame; Religion without science is blind."

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The myth in any primitive society, that is in the original living form of the myth is not a fairy tale but a reality lived. Myths are human experience, and when myths are narrated it is not usually the speaker who speaks but the wisdom of the forefathers speaking through him. The principal role of the shaman was the myth holder and narrator.

In the theories of the eminent Swiss psychologist, Karl Jung, the fantasies of the collective unconscious stem from the actual experiences of ancient ancestors, and the development of prehistory as a serious field of study is of considerable importance to the creators of myth. Certain facts exist in human history, and these are most often found hidden in myths. I have even been led to muse on the fact that the usual depiction of the double helix representing DNA is remarkably similar to the ancient depiction of the serpents guarding the world tree, a figure still found in the caduceus.

In Jung's view, the snake, as a chthonic and at the same time spiritual being, symbolizes the unconscious. In particular, according to Jung, the symbolism of the snake's has sudden and unexpected manifestations and painful or dangerous intervention in human affairs often has frightening effects. Crucial to the understanding of the serpent as a libido symbol is a consideration of the biological characteristics of the actual creature. Jung stresses the fact that the snake is a cold- blooded vertebrate and with that fact alone the true psychic rapport that can be established with practically all warm-blooded animals comes to an end. Like the Gnostics of early Christianity who identified the serpent with the human medulla and spinal cord, Jung regards the serpent as the psychic representation of the profoundly unconscious functions which are governed by these organs. I think that perhaps this is why the serpent is so often seen as a divine creature, a sort of god which lies behind all human functioning.

The mysterious dynamism of the snake, its extraordinary vitality and its seeming immortality through the periodic rejuvenation of shedding the old and appearing new each year must have instilled a sense of awe and invoked a powerful response in our earliest ancestors, the Neolithic agriculturist. The snake was consequently mythologized, attributed often with powers that could control the entire cosmos. Everywhere we find the snake, or its representation, the spiral, on primitive pottery. Vases show forth gigantic snakes winding over the whole universe, or over the sun, moon and stars; elsewhere the snake appears below a growing plant or coils above the belly of a pregnant woman. The snake was the symbol of energy, spontaneous, creative energy, and of immortality.

Respect and worship of the serpent by humans has been obvious from the time that both humans and serpents co-habitated the earth.

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One must consider, for example, not only the serpent's seeming immortality but also its ability to periodically desquamate the integument covering its entire body without bleeding, illness or infection and immediately replete a new body covering. In accomplishing this 'miraculous' function the serpent liberates itself from scars, dermatoses and ticks. Such ability is beyond the scope of human efforts. This early connection between the serpent and healing becomes a permanent facet of serpent worship.

The wonderful ability of the serpent to shed its skin and so renew its youth makes it the master of the secret of death and rebirth. The moon, waxing and waning is the celestial body capable of this same ability. The moon, long associated with the life-creating rhythm of the female, and therefore of time itself becomes the lord of the mystery of birth and death and the serpent id the earthly counterpart .

In early rites of initiation where the candidate was seen to die and be reborn, the moon was the goddess mother and the serpent the divine father.

If we summarize what we expect to find about the divine serpent at the onset rather than an the conclusion of this work it would look like this:

The Serpent is emblematical;

1. Of wisdom… [Biblical: "be ye therefore wise as serpents "Matt 10:16]

2. Of subtlety…[Biblical: " Now the serpent was more subtle than an

beast of the field" Gen. 3:1]

The Serpent is symbolical;

1. Of deity: Plutarch et al

2. Of eternity: forming a circle with tail in mouth

3. Of renovation and resurrection: the old becomes young [skin shedding]

4. Of guardian spirits: Greek and Roman temple altars

The Early Years

Even before the Sumerian legends we can find vases with a gigantic snake winding over the whole universe, or over the sun, moon and stars. The snake can also be found below a growing plant or above the belly of a pregnant woman. The snake is thus seen as a symbol of energy and life.

In some of the very earliest of figurine artifacts which have been found we have the fecund goddess with large belly and pendulous breasts, all of which are indicating fertility connotations. Almost always accompanying these figurines, either on the figurine itself or on associated material, we find the spiral. The spiral is one of the most widespread of the symbols of the goddess. It appears in American Indian, Asian, African, Australian and European art, most often as a coiled serpent. In some early Middle Eastern coins and plaques we see spiral designs around the heads of gods. This is usually regarded the symbol of superhuman life.

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In Babylonia as in Egypt the maze is also seen a representing the mystery surrounding the serpent. Also early ritual dances are thought to have imitated the tracks of the serpent in motion, chthonic gods in serpentine form. Also snakes were often seen coming out of holes in the ground, thus perhaps from the Underworld.

When we come to Sumer we meet the most famous of the mythic epic story of o`lden times, the Gilgamesh Epic. Among other pieces to be found in this tale of a search for the meaning of life is the tale of the plant of eternal life. According to the story, Gilgamesh was told that the plant lay at the bottom of a certain lake. With much effort, he dove to the bottom, retrieved the plant and brought it to the surface and the shore. While Gilgamesh was resting, before eating the plant and becoming an immortal, a snake came along and ate the plant. The end result was that the snake became immortal, and Gilgamesh went home to die.

Early Sumerian and Akkadian artifacts show pictures of a tree or pole which is called the "axis mundi ", or the world axis. It is intended to be the center and support of the world. Guarding this tree or pole is a snake or pair of intertwined snakes. We can see here the beginnings of the association between the snake and the rod which we will see later in the Bible and the caduceus. Also, in Sumer, we have a cylindrical seal which has on it the mythical date palm with its two fruits, life and enlightenment. This tree is copied again in the book Genesis in the Jewish scripture. This tree is guarded by a serpent. Again, this is duplicated in the Bible.

In these early Sumerian/Akkadian myths we meet Etana, the chosen king, later a demi-god, who must find the tree which stands at the center of the earth. This tree is the home of an eagle, who has devoured the young of the serpent who guards the tree. The serpent appeals to the Father god, Shamash, for justice, and Shamash shows the tree how to help the serpent capture the eagle. There exists an early Akkadian seal [ca. 2350BCE] showing the serpent in human form enthroned with the caduceus emblem behind him and guarding him.

According to one theory, all primordial serpents of myth are derived from a Sumerian arch-serpent in subterranean waters, whose name was Zu. This old Sumerian serpent-god, whose other name is Ningizzida, is the ultimate archetype of the lord of the watery abyss from which mortal life arises and to which it returns. We might note that among the Celts the underworld serpent, Sucellos, represented the same dark power. Later, we meet the great serpent by the name of Tiamat, also named Papohis [ later to be found as the Biblical Leviathan]. In the beginning there were only the mingled waters of Abzu, the abyss of sweet water and Tiamat, the serpent of salt water oceans.Abzu and Tiamat were the parents of the first Babylonian gods, Lahmu and Lahamu, who were the grandparents of the great gods Anu and Ea.

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Tiamat was Chaos and was focussed on destroying the world. I find that a common theme in early comogonies is that to bring Cosmos out of Chaos, some organizing agent, usually light and speaking are necessary.

Marduk, to save Babylonian army, and the country, must slay Tiamat and cut him in half. When he does this, he creates the sky from her [Tiamat is female] top half, and earth from her bottom half. This story is echoed in the Norse tale of Odin.

It is in Persia that we first meet the great sky serpent Azhi Dahaka, the creator of all the planets in the sky. Early Mid-eastern myths not only see the serpent as lord of the sky and earth, he is also a lord of waters. Dwelling in the earth, frequenting springs, marshes and other water streams, the serpent glides with a motion of waves. The phallic suggestion is immediate, as it was in the initiation rites. Likewise a dual association of fire and water attaches to the lightning of the serpent strike, the forked appearance of the tongue and the lethal burning of the poison.

The early, pre-Canaanite Phoenicians had a serpent god which was called the Basilisk. This has been considered an early phallic god, common in ancient religions. An interesting note is that the work basilisk is where we got the later word a temple of the phallic god, and eventually a type of church, the basilica. St. Peter's Basilica in Rome carries a remembrance in the form of a phallic ball on top of the structure.

The basilisk, though usually considered a serpent, does not always have clearly defined anatomical features. To look directly at a basilisk is to die, so it is impossible to picture them accurately. It is almost always an icon of fear. This ability to kill with a glance is shared by the gorgons of Greek mythology, who may be the ancestors of the basilisk. The only way to kill a basilisk was the way Perseus slew Medusa, by use of a mirror-like object in which the reflection could be viewed.

The Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, writes of the basilisk; " The basilisk serpent has the same power, to kill with its gaze. It is a native of Cyrenaica, not more than 12 inches long. It routs all snakes with its hiss, and moves its body forward in manifold coils like other snakes".

In the Middle Ages, the basilisk became identifies with the cockatrice, a serpent mentioned occasionally in Isaiah and other Hebrew scriptures. When we enter the modern period, and Medusa becomes a innocuous decorative motif, the basilisk immigrates to the United States and becomes identified with different American snakes, most especially the rattlesnake. One of the first rattle snakes seen by European explorers, a tropical variety known as the "Mexican West Coast rattlesnake" was given the scientific name "crotalus basiliscus", or basilisk snake.

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There exists a lovely Elamite painted bowl which shows the guardian serpent of the World tree coiled up the trunk. There are clear similarities to the divine Sumerian or Akkadian serpent.

In other early legends, all primordial serpents are derived from the Sumerian Arch-Serpent which dwelt in the subterranean waters, or chaos. In Greek legend, Apollo took over the Delphic oracle by killing a serpent already there, at the earth's navel.

It is not unusual for us to find that in later ages, especially among Semitic and Indo-European peoples, the dragon [ Greek drakon = serpent] or cosmic serpent is seen as a symbol of chaos.

It is this chaos, or serpent which must be overcome to create order and maintain life in any meaningful way. We will see this in our discussion of Biblical texts.

In that land we now call Turkey, Iraq and Syria we find peoples sometimes referred to a Hurrians . These people set up a short-lived but powerful kingdom called the kingdom of the Mitanni. It is known that Egyptian pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty married Mitanni princesses. These people were Aryan peoples, and they brought many of the Indian gods and goddesses to the area. One main god was the serpent god Indra, who became very popular. The Hurrians were related to and supplanted by, the Hittites, who adopted the Hurrian gods.

We find, for example, Illuyankas, the serpent god and Hedammu, the serpent who loved Ishtar and was her divine servant. These were powerful and popular Hittite gods. We cannot help but wonder what influence these people had on the Egyptian and Israelite peoples with whom they came in contact, and what influence the serpent gods of India, transferred and transformed here would have later.

AFRICA

Egypt

When we come to the snake as a divinity in Egypt we need look no further than the great crowns worn by the divine Pharaoh. No matter which crown, the Blue crown, the informal crown or the great double red and white crown we examine we will find the snake god of Lower Egypt present. Even when the vulture god of Upper Egypt is missing, the asp, or Egyptian cobra, is there. The serpent, in Egypt, has a varied career, the Uraeus, or cobra, and other mythical snakes are all considered quite differently. The spinal cord was symbolized by the snake and the and the Uraeus serpent coiled upon the foreheads of the Pharaoh represented the divine fire which had crawled serpent-like up the tree of life.

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The Uraeus, or asp, is a benevolent guardian god, a tutelary god of the delta region of Egypt. This is probably where this snake was most often found. Even today the swamp-like areas of the Nile delta is home to the Egyptian cobra. This snake was also connected to the god Horus, and therefore with the living Horus, who is seen incarnate in the Pharaoh. The Uraeus rules by day, and therefore is also connected to the sun god Ra, who is also a god of Pharaoh. It is not an accident of history that the legendary Cleopatra chose to be joined to the Egyptian cobra, the asp, by being bitten by the serpent. She is identifying the goddess Isis, whom she represented, to the sacred Uraeus who was her protector and who would lead her into eternal life in the western land.

When we come to night and darkness, the crocodile becomes supreme. Ra , the sun god of Heliopolis is diminished. The solar ship has entered the realm of night and encountered darkness. The crocodile, in Egyptian legendary, is seen as an aspect of the serpent rather than a separate creature. There are places in the world where the great saurians are not seen as serpents, but as a completely separate genus of creature. The Americas would serve as an example of this, but in Egypt and other Africa nations which were influenced by Egypt, the crocodile is a serpent, no matter in what form it is depicted.

In the original Egyptian creation story we find a serpent and the primordial egg, which contained the " Bird of Light" . In Chapter 175 of the Book of the Dead we find the prophecy that when the world returns to its original chaos, the hidden aspect of the supreme god, Atum, will become the new serpent. There is a text I found in the "Coffin Texts" [ I.161 ff] which contains Atum's description of himself:

" I am Atum, the creator of the Eldest Gods,

I am he who gave birth to Shu,

I am that great he-she.

I am he who did what seemed good to him,

I took my space in the place of my will.

Mine is the space of those who move along

like those two serpentine circles" [ emphasis mine]

Later in a debate, which can be found in "The Book of the Dead, [chapter 175] which takes place between Osiris and Atum, [ described here as the "High God", we find Atum's description of the end of all, when " Then I will be what will remain, just I and Osiris, when I will have changed myself back into the Old Serpent who knew - no man and saw no god."

Also, in the Book of the Dead, in the Eleventh section of the Tuat, we find the story of how the boat of Afu Ra [the sun god] passes the territory of the town of Sais. "The region to the left of the god is one of fire, and close to the boat stands Horus who is working magic with the sake-headed boomerang which he holds in his hand, Before him stands the serpent god, called 'Seth-heh', i.e. the 'eternal Seth'.

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Before the boat is the great serpent Ankh-neteru, and twelve amikhiu gods, taking hold of the tow line, enter this serpent at the tail, and drawing the god in his boat through the body of the serpent, bring him out at his mouth.

During his passage through the serpent Afu Ra is transformed into Khepera [ the ancient god associated with the creation of the world] and is now towed into the sky by 12 goddesses."

The Egyptians also adopted the ancient Persian god Azhi Dahaka, the sky serpent who formed all of the observable heavenly planets. So, in one sense powerful gods of both light and darkness are seen as serpents. This may have some connection to the linking of the snake to the moon in the mythological and psychological areas.

This identification is intensified because of the waxing and waning of the moon, demonstrating the death of the old and the rebirth of the new and forever young.

One of the chief powers of this darkness is the serpent god Apep, who tries to swallow the sun ship. Apep [or Apepi or Apophis] is the great primordial serpent who lived in the waters of the celestial Nile [ the Milky Way] and is considered the serpent of chaos and destruction. A mighty struggle took place and when the sun appeared in the east the next day prayers of thankfulness were offered that Ra was triumphant and the sun would continue to shine. Just imagine what chaos a solar eclipse would cause !

The serpent Apep is seen in two other forms, or traditions. The first was most likely the crocodile and was called Typhon, or dragon. Two other serpents divinities mentioned in Egyptian mythology are Nehebkau, a serpent with human arms and legs. This fearful god, once he was tamed by Ra, became his faithful servant. The other serpent god is Am-Mut, the 'eater of souls'. The other, and more extensive is as Set, or Seth, or Sethos. This is a half-crocodile, half -human creature who becomes important in the Egyptian pantheon. The serpent Typhon is the youngest son of Gaea and Tartarus in Greek legend. He was taller than any mountain, and had great wings, eyes of fire , hands made of dragons, and a lower body compsed of vipers. He and Echidna gave birth to Hydra, Cerberis, Chimera and the Nemean lion. The Egyptian Typhon was a more simple serpent lord.

Again, it is important to note here that the dragons we have included in this study are only those dragons which are seen as serpentine. The classic European dragon which looks more like a mammal with wings, like the Griffin, are excluded. The Egyptian and Chinese dragon concepts depict them as serpents, as does the Greek. [ I will speak more of dragons when I write of the Asian serpents]

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Perhaps the most fearsome aspect of Set can be seen in the famous weighing of the soul picture in the Book of the Dead. Sitting beside the scales, waiting to devour the sinful soul of a condemned person is a half crocodile, half jackal or hyena creature who is identified as Set. It was Set, as the brother of Osiris, of course, who slew Osiris.

Set becomes a powerful god in the Egyptian ' two kingdoms'. The cult of Amun, later Amun-Ra lasted about twenty dynasties, the cult of Osiris was very short-lived, although Osiris was venerated for a long time.

The Isis cult lasted into the Christian era as an active mystery cult. But, the original priesthood of the serpent god, Set, in ancient Egypt survived for twenty-five recorded dynasties (ca. 3200-700BCE) It became one of the two central priesthoods of predynastic times, the other being that of HarWer (Horus the Elder).

Unification under both philosophical systems, one in Upper, and one in Lower Egypt, resulted in the name of the empire being called the 'Two Kingdoms' and its Pharaohs wearing the famous 'double crown' of Horus and Set. The vulture ( early hawk and cobra/asp).

Set was originally a stellar deity, perhaps the cyclical counterpart of the solar Horus. But, later, the cults of Osiris and Isis recast Set as an evil principle. Set did return, for a short time during the XIX and XX dynasties, as the patron of Pharaoh, but by the XXV dynasty a new wave of persecution by priests of Osiris led to the final destruction of the Set priesthood.

When the Egyptians abandoned the mines in the Timma Valley ( about nineteen miles north of the Gulf of Aqaba) during the Egyptian decline of the twelfth century BCE, the Midianites converted the local temple into a Midianite shrine. In the makeshift Holy of Holies of the shrine, modern excavators have found only one religious object. They found a molded copper serpent with a gilded head, the ancient symbol of life and fertility of the Middle East. This would indicate that the Midianites had a serpent god or goddess in their pantheon. Again. We see echoes of Biblical stories here.

Before we leave Egypt we must briefly mention two other aspects of the divine serpent; Nehebu-Kau is the great snake under the world and upon which the world rests, and there is a winged serpent found in hieroglyphs which may be the ancestor of our Mesoamerican Quetzalcoatl.




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Central and Southern Africa

Traveling further south in the African continent we find the great serpent

"Anyiewo' who comes out to graze on rain and whose refection is the rainbow. This is found in the Ewe tribe.

The strange, stone-age Dogan people of central Africa have a divine being named Lebe. Lebe is the first member of those creatures called the living dead, and he lives as a serpent.

In Dahomey, the Fon people have a great serpent god who is seen as a rainbow named Danh, the son of Mtawu-Lisa.. This serpent encircles the whole world with his tail in his mouth, representing unity and wholeness. This god, also called Da orders the whole cosmos. Da has a dual nature rather than a female-male identity. When he appears in the rainbow, the male is the red part of the rainbow, the female the blue. Above the earth Da has 3500 coils, called asa-xasa, and the sme number of coils beneath the earth; together the support the world. Da is the name given to this god in action, Mawu-Lisa is the name given the god in thought. This god was exported to Haiti and Surinam.

The Fon legend says that the world was created by Nana-Buluku, the one god, who is neither male nor female. This god gave birth to twins, Mawu and Lisa and it is they who shaped the world, and control it still. Mawu, the female, is the moon and Lisa, the male, is the In the beginning, before Mawu had any children, the rainbow serpent, Aido-Hwedo, already existed, and this great serpent assisted in the creation. For example, all the mountains were formed from the serpent's dung. Later, because Aido-Hwedo cannot stand heat, the oceans were created for him to live in. And there Aido-Hwedo has remained since the beginning of time, with his tail in his mouth [ this tail-in-mouth representation is common]. Nana-Buluku charged the red monkeys that live beneath the sea to keep Aido-Wwedo fed, and they spend their time forging the iron bars that are the serpent's diet. When the monkey's supply of iron eventually runs out the serpent will be so hungry that he will start to chew his own tail. Then his writhings will be so terrible that the whole earth will tilt, and then slip into the sea, and that will be that !

In what is now Zimbabwe, there is the legend of the creation of humanity. The first man, Mwuetsi [ moon] was created by Mwari, the high god. He was given a wife, Massassi, who gave birth to all the plants of the world. Then he we given Morongo, who bore goats, cattle, sheep, humans. On the fourth night Moromgo warned Mwuetsi not to sleep with her, but he did so anyway. She then gave birth to snakes, scorpions, lions, and all other creatures which harm man. After this the Great Serpent became ruler and husband of Morongo and fathered a great tribe.

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In the land between the present Union of South Africa and Zimbabwe there lives a people called the vhaVenda, who have a god who is a white crocodile. This crocodile is viewed as a serpent divinity of great strength and great wisdom who watches over the peoples. This divine serpent creature is identified with the vhaVenda chiefs, who may be his sons.

Perhaps the most impressive architecture in ancient Africa, excepting Egypt, would be the royal city of Benin in Nigeria. The most prominent feature of this architecture is the form of the serpent. Early artifacts found in this area also display the serpent motif.

There is a famous legend told among the tribes of central Africa. The tale concerns two unmarried men, one too mild and one too bad-tempered to find wives.

One day they met the great rock python. Moma. After a gesture of extreme kindness towards her she rewarded him with a wife, the most wonderful wife in the whole village. The bad-tempered man was given the same opportunity, reacted insultingly toward the serpent goddess and was rewarded with an ugly, nagging, abusive wife.

The Middle East

Before leaving Africa we journey back to the Middle East to spend some time examining the Hebrew attitude toward the divine serpent. To do so we will use the best source available, the Jewish Holy Scripture. When the Hebrews emigrated from Egypt during the XIX dynasty they took with them a caricature of Set and gave him the title Satan from the hieroglyphic Set-hen which was one of this god's formal titles.

We first meet the serpent in the Jewish Scripture in the Book Genesis. In Genesis 3:1 we find that " the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts" [1]

We might remember, that in all of scripture only two animals had the gift of speech; Balaam's ass, [ Numbers 22:30] and the serpent.[Genesis 3] This was a God-given gift. We might certainly ask why these two beasts, among all the rest, are singled out for such a distinction. In the case of Balaam's ass the message is clearly God's, what about in the case of the serpent?

It should be noted, from the beginning, when one carefully examines Biblical passages regarding serpents, that you will never find anyplace where serpents are specifically called evil creatures. Rather, the snake is used as a symbol for everything from the Devil to the highest order of angels; from lying to wisdom. This symbolism is common to the Bible and should not be taken as a literal judgment about the snake. The Bible uses the dove, for example, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit and this does not mean that doves are holy birds.

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The Bible uses many Hebrew words to describe the snake: akshub means a coiled serpent, epheh is a hissing, probably venomous snake, Livyathin [ Levaithan] is the sea serpent , nachash, a hissing serpent, pethen, a twisting snake, probably the asp, seraph, the burning serpent, shephiyphon, a snapping serpent, the adder, tsepha or tsiphoniy is the toungue thrusting snake. We might compare the Greek words for snake: aspis, drakon, echnida. Herpeton [ from whence we get the classical name for the study of serpents, herpetology, and ophis which gave a name to an early Christian sect.

But, to continue with the Biblical picture, the ass was given speech to deliver the 'word of God'. Can we assume that the snake had the gift for any other reason? We find here the serpent guarding the tree of life and knowledge just like he did in Sumer. There are too many similarities in the tree and the serpent to be accidental.

It is evident to me that the account of the "fall of man" from Eden was adapted by biblical writers from pre-Judaic polytheistic traditions in which a divine and omniscient serpent, representing the female creative nature , was pitted against the created order of a male oriented divinity. It is for this reason that the serpent is stressed as demonic, in spite of the fact that the Genesis authors are compelled to harmonize their account with those of the surrounding peoples, and therefore must write that the serpent is a creature of God, and "more 'subtil' (sic) [ Genesis 3:1] than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made."

Here we might suggest that the serpent saves humanity by putting it in touch with nature; death is recognized as a function of all nature, including humanity, and this knowledge is necessary for new life to begin. This would bring Jewish legends into more equivalent to other Near East traditions.

In Genesis the serpent is not only sentient of God's prohibition against partaking from the Tree of Knowledge; it knows why God will enforce that command; it knows the gift of the Tree of Knowledge, as if it possessed that gift.

The deific aspect of the serpent is further underscored by the punishment imposed upon it by God: "upon thy belly shalt thou go……..". Does this mean that before punishment the serpent had legs or even wings?

We next meet the serpent in Exodus 4:3,4 and Exodus 7: 10-12. In these

passages the snake, presumably the Egyptian asp, is connected to a rod. Aaron's rod. When Moses doubts that he is really hearing the voice of Yahweh, he is asked what he is holding in his hand and when he replies that he is holding a rod, he is

commanded to throw the rod down on the ground. When he does this, the rod becomes a serpent [ Exodus 7:1-16]. When he picks it up it becomes a rod again.

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This association between serpent and rod is a very ancient one. Later when Aaron throws his rod down before Pharaoh, it becomes a snakes. Pharaoh recognizes this magical association, as do the Egyptian priests, who also change their rods into serpents. However, to demonstrate the superiority of the Jewish god, Aaron's snake ate the Egyptian snakes.

Again, when Moses sets the plagues upon Egypt, he does so by stretching forth this serpent/rod. When Moses parts the sea for the passage of his people, he again does so with the assistance of this powerful rod/serpent. In the wilderness Moses strikes the rock with this same rod to create water. This object becomes so

"sacred" that it is one of the objects for which room is made in the Ark of the Covenant.

Before we examine some more ominous aspects of the serpent in Jewish scripture we will have to look at Numbers 21:9. Moses, who had thrown a fit when Aaron made a golden image of the Egyptian goddess of mercy and miners, Hathor

[ Exodus 32: 19-20] claming that God condemned such terrible action, himself makes and puts on a pole a copper, or brass serpent, claiming that God had ordered him to make and display this image to cure the people from snake bites.

" Yahweh sent fiery serpents [ seraphim] among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses we have sinned by speaking against Yahweh and against you. Intercede for us with Yahweh to save us from these serpents. Moses spoke for the people, and Yahweh replied, ' make a fiery serpent and use it as a standard. Anyone who is bitten and looks at it will survive. Moses then made a serpent out of bronze and raised it as a standard ….. [ Numbers 21: 6-9]


We are informed , in II Kings 18:4, that this serpent symbol was so popular that the people continued to revere the bronze serpent until the time of King Hezekiah [719-691 BCE], who, according to the record "broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it ".

Here we see not only the divine power of the serpent, but also the connection with healing which pervades this part of the world. This action by Moses might show his Midianite heritage or the universal recognition of the divinity of the serpent, but it certainly shows a different Moses. One might ask how can a 'jealous God' condemn the golden calf and approve the 'brazen serpent '? What is it about the snake that commands such loyalty?



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Perhaps we can find a hint as to the position of power in Judaism when we discover that one of the most powerful of the heavenly creatures may have serpentine connections, the Seraphim.

We find in Isaiah 14:29 a description of the highest of all of God's angelic

creatures, the Seraphim. The word 'seraph' [of which Seraphim is the plural] can be translated " fiery serpent". Therefore there must be significance that the word used for serpent in Isaiah 14:29, Isaiah 30:6 and in the Numbers 21:8 description of a serpent, is the word "seraph" Could it be that these "fiery serpents" stood highest in the hierarchy of angelic beings? There is no doubt that the Hebrew 'shrpm' refers to serpents.

Judeo-Christian tradition, however, comes down very hard on this serpent concept, perhaps as a part of the conflict between the ancient maternal gods which underlie and support early matriarchal tribal traditions and the later paternalistic nomadic traditions. Where early traditions depict the serpent as one of the favorite theriomorphic forms of gods and goddesses, it becomes with the "fall" of Adam and Eve the infernal enemy of the so-called "one true God."

The most fearful creature in the Bible is that creation called Leviathan. We have many mentions of Leviathan in the Jewish scripture. Basically, he appears like a chaos which underlies the order of creation or like a dragon which threatens order and creation. Perhaps we should point out that Leviathan is a female and her male counterpart is Behemoth. We find a lengthily poem about Leviathan in Chapters 40 and 41 of the Book of Job, and a wonderful hymn about Leviathon in Psalm 74. Where we hear the words:

"…it was you [God] who crushed the head of Leviathan

who left him as food for the seafaring men". [1]

[ Translation from the Tanakh: Jewish Publication Society]

Perhaps the best citation would be Isaiah 27. In this passage Leviathan is described as the 'elusive serpent' and 'Dragon of the sea'. This latter description can be translated [ and we find it so in the Tanakh] "The monster which the Lord vanquished of old; the embodiment of chaos, or perhaps the forces of evil in the present world.

The Leviathan appears in more than one religion. In Canaanite mythology and literature, it is a monster called Lotan, the 'fleeing serpent', the coiling serpent, the powerful with seven heads'. It was eventually killed by Baal. The Leviathan is also the Ugaritic god of evil.




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In Christianity, St. John did draw a comparison between Jesus on the cross and Moses' snake on the pole, saying that both were lifted up upon a pole for the salvation of mankind, and I have in my possession copies of art work showing a crucified serpent with the thorn-crowned face of Christ.

Christians were taught to see the brazen serpent of Moses as divinely authenticated type of the crucifixion, and an image of saving faith. There is some indication that there existed early Gnostic Christian sects, especially Ophitic sects

[ from ofis, serpent] which utilized both nakedness and serpent-worship as part of the 'love feast' [ agape] worship service.

In Christian tradition Philo of Alexandria, for example, is so impressed with the serpent's ability to rejuvenate itself, as well as its ability to kill and cure ( an ability he saw as indicative of the positive and negative cosmic powers that rule the world) that he saw the serpent as "the most spiritual of animals".

In early Gnostic Christianity there were several systems of though which found room for serpent worship. The basic idea of these systems was that the origin of evil coincided with the idea of creation itself. The god of the Old Testament , called the Demiurge [ demiurgos], created the world not from nothing [ ex nihilo], but by engulfing a quantity of light of the infinite true Father. This light, the Spirit, he lured, conjured or ravished downward into Matter, where it is now trapped. This was the first descent of the serpent.

The second descent of the serpent was a voluntary down-coming, to release the spiritual forces; and the Bible story of the serpent in the garden is an account of this appearance. The serpent in this account caused the male and female, Adam and Eve, to violate the commandment of the Demiurge, and so commence the work of redemption. Yahweh struck back by delivering to Moses an impossible set of moral laws, to which the serpent then replied by coming down as the redeemer and taking up residence in a mortal Jesus.

German coinage of the 16th century, especially the German golden Thaler , shows a theme, common among iconography, which shows Jesus on the cross, on the obverse, compared to a serpent , on the reverse , both depicted on a cross or on a tree, both lifted up. Thus, the serpent's role as healer is expanded to included resurrection.

In Book X of Paradise Lost, John Milton demonstrates a vivid example of Christianity's tendency to concentrate all other gods into a generic, serpentine form.



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I am led also to wonder whether the hood of the snake which is commonly seen as a protective shield over saviors in other religions [ cf. The Buddha] might not be similar to the halos found over the heads of Christian holy people? Certainly the symbols appear to be so similar as to bring up a doubt as to coincidence as the answer.

This image was often found in the Middle Ages and is seeing a reemergence in the twentieth century. But, basically the serpent's identification with evil is the one which caught the Christian imagination, and it was the dragon image which caught on. In Revelation 12 we find the story of the war in heaven. In this war, Michael, and his angels, fight the dragon. This dragon is identified as 'that serpent of old that led the whole world astray, whose name is Satan or the Devil'.

This identification was also picked up in Islam. There is an Islamic myth about the garden of Eden and the serpent. It seems that Paradise, or Eden, was guarded by a peacock who was very wise and kept Satan out. Satan, in this myth called Iblis, wanted to get into paradise to get revenge on Adam, because it was Adam's being placed first which resulted in Satan being expelled in the first place. The peacock was too wise. So Satan (Iblis) had the serpent carry him back into paradise hidden in his mouth.

But, with the exception of Wadd, a pre-Islamic moon god of the Minaean tribe and state of Southern Arabia, in Islam there was little room for myth. Some of the old Arabian legends were retained, but the basic philosophy was anthropomorphic monotheism.

When he considers the place of the serpent. Carl Jung appears like the Gnostics of Christianity who identified the serpent with the human medulla and spinal cord. Jung regards the serpent as the psychic representative of the human functions which are governed by these parts of the body.

The serpent would correspond to what is unconscious and incapable of becoming conscious, but which, as the collective unconscious seems to possess a wisdom of its own and a knowledge that is often felt to be supernatural.

In that area of civilization which flourished between Asia Minor and Europe we see the serpent goddess prominent in the Minoan culture of Crete. In a repository in the second Palace of Knossos ( @ 1600 BCE) we find many statues of the goddess Ariadne, a large busted woman, wreathed in snakes, and a similar goddess in many other burial and temple sites on Crete. There is a connection between Ariadne and Dionysus as that goes back to 5250 BCE, and ancient serpent connection indeed.



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This goddess was supposedly the daughter of Minos, the founder of the Minoan civilization and brother to the Minotaur.

She depicts the benevolence and sacred power of the life force. Ariadne is definitely a very important goddess of fertility. And in that she may be a local aspect of Ishtar or Astarte who has become identified with serpents.

EUROPE:

Greece

In Greece, Zeus, the father of the Greek pantheon of gods is one of the few Greek gods who never appears attended by a snake. But, the Olympian Zeus known as Zeus Meilichios assumes the form of a serpent to attend the spring rites of the mother-goddess Earth. Zeus, as a serpent coiled with Rhea, who had also taken the form of a snake. The snake from then on becomes the symbol of earth and water.

Ophion, one of the Greek Titans means literally "serpent". It is claimed that Zeus took the form of a serpent to escape from the murderous aggression of his father, Chronos.

It is said that Zeus became unquestioned father of the gods by his conquest of Typhon, the serpent of the cosmic sea, just as Yahweh conquered Leviathan in Biblical lore. The resemblance of both of these victories to that of Indra, king of the Vedic pantheon is, to me, beyond question.

In Greece, Cecrops, [Kekrops], the founder of Athens and of all Greek civilization, supposedly sprang half-man, half- serpent from the Greek soil. In Athens, the temple of the city guardian, Athena, contains serpents as divine presences. Athena, herself, bears a serpent on her shield, ad is often identified with that creature of the gods.

In Greece, as we have briefly mentioned earlier, a great snake, named Python which lived at the center of the world, and held it together, guarded and controlled the shrine of the oracle Gaia at Delphos [Delphi] in the period of time before Apollo became the patron of that oracle. Python was the child of Gaia, and had been born

of the slime and mud that was left on the earth by the great flood of Deucalion. No one dared approach this divine beast and the people asked Apollo for help. He came down from Mount Olympus and killed Python, using his silver bow and golden arrows. After this, he was known as the Pythian Apollo.

The term 'Delphos means womb, and Delphos was considered the womb of the world. Also, the oracle was situated in a cave, and the Greek word for cave is also the word for ****. This great snake, then, somehow is connected with the very birth and source of life of the world. The sibyl or Pythia told prophecies after inhaling volcanic fumes from the center of the world guarded by the divine Python.

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There was a serpent shrine at Epirus, dedicated to Apollo, but in effect a pre-Hellenic Aegean shrine. The snakes at this shrine were said to be the descendants of the great Python of Delphi.

Also, in Greece, we find the Medusa Gorgon, the Goddess of Righteous Wrath. In some traditions she was a serpent of the Libyan Amazons and represented female wisdom. In other traditions she was an Anatolian Sun Goddess. This Medusa is very similar to the destroyer aspect of the dark Egyptian goddess Nieth. She was also one member of the triple personae of the North African goddess An-Ath. She was imported by the Greeks as patroness of Athens, and her fierce visage was embossed on Athena's shield. We find the best statues of Medusa at Corfu.

In Greece we also discover the cult of Dionysos, the god of wine and the vine. Dionysos was born to Persephone, daughter of Ceres, and Zeus , and was born in the form of a serpent.

This serpent-god is, therefore, half brother to Apollo. After being slain and swallowed by two Titans sent by Hera, Dionysos is reborn in human form.

The Greek Daemons [daemonae] were the invisible divine beings which were assigned by Zeus to every god and every important human being as sort of a guardian angel creature to give good advice and lead them properly. The Daemons

( from which, of course we get our word demon) could appear as a handsome young youth or as a wise serpent.

It is Greek mythology which gives us the most memorable heavenly divine serpent. By heavenly, I mean literally, since I am speaking of the constellation Draco or the Dragon. One only has to look at this constellation to realize that this "dragon" is a serpent in every aspect. Draco is the pet of Zeus. Cadmus was trying to find his sister, Europa. who had been kidnapped by Zeus. After Cadmus slew Draco, he was told by Athena ( who understood serpents and their powers) to plant the dragon teeth into the soil. An army arose, who fought a great war until only five men were left. With these five men Cadmus founded the famous Greek city of Thebes. Then Cadmus married Harmonia and assumed the Illyrian throne. .

Zeus transformed them both into serpents and demanded serpents as offerings. Zeus immortalized Draco by placing him in the sky. I could also be pointed out that the largest of all the stellar constellations is also a serpent, the Hydra, a lengthy string of stars.

The Greeks had additional serpent deities and demigods. The Chimera, for example had a serpent for one of its three heads.

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Finally, in Greek mythology, we find the serpent guardian figure from Sumerian or Akkadian times. A great and wise serpent, called Ladon, guards the tree of the golden apples of the Hesperides. This mythic tree is guarded by an immense horned serpent which coils up around the tree , rising from a cave in the earth. Herodotos documents winged snakes as divinely appointed guardians of the spice-bearing trees of Arabia.

Coiled snakes are found on much of the best ancient Greek jewelry. After the goddess Demeter initiates Triptolemus into the mysteries of Agriculture, he spreads the wisdom on his chariot drawn by serpent servants. Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft, is dressed in serpents. The Hydra, a mythic monster, is essentially a serpent.

Rome

In Roman ruins we discover the remnants of Etruscan culture in a strange figure, the Chimera. This creature has the body of a lion, the head of a goat sticking up from its back, and a snake for a tail.

Appearing in both Greek and Roman mythology is The god of healing, Aescepulus or Askepulus. This god appeared to the Romans in the form of a snake.

It is written that Aescepulus learned the art of healing by watching snakes.

This might be a good place to include a snake symbol which was Greek, Roman and is in constant use today, the caduceus, or to give it its original Greek name, the Kerykeion [Kurkhion]. The caduceus, which is recognized internationally as the symbol of medicine, began as the token of Hermes, the Greek messenger of the Greek gods, and god of healing. This winged tipped, snake entwined rod is reminiscent of the very early Sumerian and Akkadian tree of life and knowledge guardian images. Jewish mythology linked the snake and the rod in the Aaron stories. It is interesting to note that the snakes of the caduceus are intertwined much like the intertwining of snakes in mating. This twisted intertwining, bearing as it does the connotation of sexual congress is the common symbol used to depict the DNA helix.

This symbolic rod was then carried by the Roman Hermes , Mercury. It was also carried by Roman soldiers during a flag of truce. The serpents may come from the tradition that Sesculapius, the god of medicine appeared during a plague in the form of a serpent. Romans, like most ancients, not only believed that snakes held the secret of eternal life, since they shed their skins and appeared new each year, but they also believed that snakes as being able to search out health-giving medicinal herbs. Thus, this combination of rod, wings and snakes represented speed, authority and peace. The caduceus is still the common symbol of the medical profession.

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In Roman mythology the familiar spirit of protection for a place is often depicted as a caduceus, reminiscent of the guardian spirit of the Sumerian/ Akkadian guardians of the world tree.

There is not much of a legendary divine serpent presence in southern Europe. We do find a legend of a dreadful god-like snake Erensuge which lived between the Pen de Orduna and the caves of Balzow and Montecristo. This dreadful monster attracts humans with his breath and then devours him. It would seem that this legend refers to a snake not a dragon. He carries the Basque name Herren-surge, and he has seven horrible heads.

In the mountainous country of Georgia there exists the myth of Mindia, the snake-eater, a member of the mountain tribe of the Khevsurs. When Mindia was taken prisoner as a youth he noticed that his captors ate snake meat from which they derived supernatural powers. One day, he is so hungry he eats a piece of the snake meat and acquires great physical and intellectual powers. When he finally escapes, he takes the practice back to his tribe. These people recognize that snakes are stronger and wiser than humans.

As we travel further North in Europe the snake god is not so powerful, perhaps because snakes were less common. Welsh had a giant red serpent spirit called Dewi. The Balts revered a serpent called Zaltys who was the lover of the sun-goddess, Saule. The Norse did have a snake demi-god called the World Serpent, and other serpent gods, which we will discuss separately.

Celtic

In Celtic legends there is probably none better known than the tale of Saint Patrick ridding Ireland of its snakes. This tale is often told, and too often taken as literal truth. In fact of matter, Ireland never had any significant serpent population, and one tiny snake still makes it home among the shamrocks.

The tale of Patrick and the serpents must be taken as allegorical, and refers to the conflict between good and evil, between Christian sanctity, represented by Saint Patrick, and pagan non-Christian gods, who would, in early Christian eyes represent evil. The serpent is also seen as a frequent symbol of the attributes of the Celtic version of the War God.

However, it should be noted that in that great illuminated Celtic masterpiece, The Book of Kells, the illumination of St. Matthew's account of the crucifixion of Christ "then there were crucified with him two thieves", we find the cosmic self-consuming, self-renewing serpent.

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Long before even the Celts arrived on Irish shores, probably around 3000 years ago, Ireland was pantheistic. God was to be found in everything and nature was the Church. The Irish paganism was probably female in character. Goddess worship and consecrated priestesses would have been the norm of worship. When it was decided to unify Ireland under the Christian rule, this strong bastion of paganism had to be defeated. The first thing was to draw the lines; Paganism must be evil if Christianity was to be the good. Therefore, we must identify paganism with the evil forces of the universe. What better than Satan, that wily old serpent ? Also, the Irish people had a tradition of bawdiness, and the focus on female goddesses and priestesses ran contrary to current Christian tendencies.

There are few good sources for the serpents that Patrick "drove' out of Ireland. The bloody cult of Crom Cruaich in County Caven demanded human sacrifice to a serpent deity and the dismantling of that cult may now be remembered as " snakes being driven out of Ireland".

Sex, often associated with snakes was part of the picture. Patrick, the epitome celibate monastic priest-bishop is given the task of 'driving out' the snake of acknowledged feminine spiritual power, and introduce the concept of Original Sin, and the power of the Church.

One serpent was allowed to remain. A giant water serpent, now called the Lough Derg Monster was tricked by Patrick to stay at the bottom of Lough Derg until La Luain, which the snake understood as Monday, but, in Irish language can mean the Apocalyptic Last Day. So the snake is confined for ever and a day, and the lake is a pilgrimage site.

Pre-Christian, pagan gods were very popular in early Ireland, and continued to be popular in any place where Celtic influence was felt. They were often called the 'old ones'. Usually they were nature gods.

The early, nature, gods could not be directly attacked without creating a terrible back lash, so the Christians chose that ancient foe, Satan in the form of the snake as the enemy. So, we have set the stage for the drama of the conflict between "good" and "evil" , between Saint and Satan, between Patrick and snakes. Celtic mythology informs us of the expected result. Patrick's mission in Ireland, then, was to put a male name on Celtic worship.

One version of the legend would see Celtic paganism as female centered. Goddess worship, consecrated by priestesses had been the order in pre-Christian Ireland. There was the cult of Anu has deep roots in Celtic memory by the time of Patrick. Brigid took her place, and the serpent, the acknowledged feminine spiritual power was driven out, and original sin was introduced.

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Saint Patrick is often represented in iconography as standing upon a snake. He does not appear to be crushing the snake as supported by it. One must remember that Patrick died under the care of Saint Brigid at Sahhall, ( now Saul in County Down). Brigid can be viewed as a personification of the Triple Goddess. She is deeply associated with fertility and healing, and so is the snake symbol.

When St. Patrick ' drove the snakes out of Ireland', he did not banish the serpentine dragons, but commanded that they remain in the waters which they inhabited. Later, during the medieval times, dragons gradually left the water and became land-dwelling creatures. With this migration the dragon slowly lost its serpentine characteristics and became more animalistic, looking more like lions, griffins, etc. An example of this transformation is the wyvren.The wyvren has metaporphicized into a creature looking somewhat like a cross between a winged lion ( the front half) and a serpent ( the back half). It acts like a creature with both animalistic and serpentine characteristics.

Norse:

When we journey further north in Europe and examine Norse mythology, we find that Odin was the first of the three gods ( or the son of the first god ] exposed from the ice licked by the cosmic cow. His universe was upheld by the "World Ash, Yggdrasil" whose shaft was the pivot of the revolving heavens.

There is a Norse legend which says that from the beginning Odin had a thirst for knowledge and wisdom [ much like the Biblical Solomon] and he questioned all living things to learn. He learned most from his uncle Mimir, who guarded the well of knowledge, but he had to sacrifice an eye for the privilege of drinking from the well. Odin, who was fond of the poetic arts, went to great lengths to acquire that talent. Odin put himself into bondage who lived in an underground cave. After drinking a potion, which gave him poetic artistry, he found that he was trapped in the cave. Knowing, with his great wisdom, that only the serpent had sufficient wisdom to escape, Odin changed himself into a wise serpent and slithered through a hole in the cave, whereupon he changed back into a man. Odin ever after honored the serpent.

On top of this great tree sat an eagle, and the great cosmic serpent gnawed at its roots while guarding it. We seem to have here similarities with ancient Babylon !

The serpent, or worm, that eats its own tail was seen by Viking culture as a symbol for the natural forces of land , sea and sky. Ouroboros was and is the name given the Great World Serpent, encircling the earth.

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The word Ouroboros encompasses many cultures, beside the Norse legends. For example, there is the serpent or dragon gnawing at its own tail. From this we see the symbolic connection to the returning cyclical nature of the seasons; the oscillations of the night sky; disintegration and re-integration; the Androgyne; life and death. Born from this symbolic concept, there are many different cultures which share this serpent symbol. The serpent Jormungand from the myth of Yggdrasil, is just one. I might be helpful to remember that the Ouroboros is what Carl Jung would refer to as an archetype.

The most famous divine serpent in Viking or Norse mythology was Jormungand, the son of Loki. Loki was the closest thing the Teutons have to a Satan. The Vikings imagined the world completely surrounded and supported by the Great Divine World Serpent, Jormungand . There is another serpent, Nidhogg, one of the serpents at the base of the world-tree, who will devour the bones of the whole fallen humanity.

There is an old Norse tale which tells of Thor combating this great serpent, called the Midgard Serpent. Midgard [ middle-world] is the realm where human bengs live. Midgard, the Earth, was created from the flesh of the primeval giant Ymir. In
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"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
Elphias Levi

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« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2007, 01:33:10 pm »

One could only wish that Robert Mason Phd could have integrated the Bock saga material before writing his paper, thus showing in full focus the serpent as the symbol of the Alfather, the breeder, the sperm-system/information-system and hence the belief system flowing from from that which was expressed in "serpent" or "Ouroborous".  In reading through it I was struck by the connections he COULD have made.
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Thus ye may find in thy mental and spiritual self, ye can make thyself just as happy or just as miserable as ye like. How miserable do ye want to be?......For you GROW to heaven, you don't GO to heaven. It is within thine own conscience that ye grow there.

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« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2007, 05:14:36 pm »

Hi Rocki

"that only the serpent had sufficient wisdom to escape, Odin changed himself into a wise serpent and slithered through a hole in the cave,"


Hmmmhhh...perhaps this is a metaphor
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"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
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« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2007, 05:46:41 pm »

If you read back through the paper with the understanding that EVERYTHING is a metaphor, you are left with, "what are the stories trying to say?".  Realizing that all history of this type has had to be couched in these terms to survive "present politics" throughout time, you are left with myth which began as history.   Just understanding this  makes it easier to approach something as unique as the Oera Linda and Bock saga ring bells as you read....
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Thus ye may find in thy mental and spiritual self, ye can make thyself just as happy or just as miserable as ye like. How miserable do ye want to be?......For you GROW to heaven, you don't GO to heaven. It is within thine own conscience that ye grow there.

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« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2007, 02:29:31 am »

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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2007, 03:08:46 am »

So who are the protagonists in the sexual scene above...?  I have seen smaller pictures of the above golden piece but have never seen it so clearly.
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Thus ye may find in thy mental and spiritual self, ye can make thyself just as happy or just as miserable as ye like. How miserable do ye want to be?......For you GROW to heaven, you don't GO to heaven. It is within thine own conscience that ye grow there.

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« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2007, 01:15:35 am »

Sorry, I forgot:

http://www.omda.bg/engl/HISTORY/letnitza_treasure.htm
http://www.spellintime.fsnet.co.uk/Folklore_Section_Background.htm
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« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2007, 12:09:14 pm »



On the first link you provided the piece is identified as a scene of "hierogamy".

I looked it up and found this:

8. What is "hierogamy"?

"Hierogamy" comes from the Greek word "hieros" which means "sacred" and from "gamos" which means "marriage". Although according to esoteric doctrine, it refers to marriage to the Lord's Anointed, it can be applied, generally, to all Christians who enter into the kind of marriage which is sanctified by the Bride/Bridegroom typology of the Bible.

Principally, hierogamy is a symbolic (or platonic) marriage which focuses on the unity of soul which is manifested in the Blessed Trinity and which is meant to be imaged in the earthly family.

Hierogamy comes from a custom of the Early Church which required the bishop to be "a husband to the widow, and father to the fatherless". As Christ's representative, he was their "kinsman-redeemer" (see the book of Ruth)."

The above scene appears to me to be an older man straddled by a younger man, with another man standing behind.  Or are the circles on the chest signifying breasts?

Your second link says:

Divine Marriage
Sexual union between the goddess daughter and the hero son. The mother of the gods stands beside them.

Interesting....Must be breasts!
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Thus ye may find in thy mental and spiritual self, ye can make thyself just as happy or just as miserable as ye like. How miserable do ye want to be?......For you GROW to heaven, you don't GO to heaven. It is within thine own conscience that ye grow there.

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« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2007, 05:02:28 pm »

Hello Unknown,
I was wondering if you could elaborate on the 'Serpent and the Egg' deity?
I will share a picture with you from my private collection, it is copyrighted as all my pictures are but it seems to fit here as a visual for the Egyptian piece on 'page 8'.


"In the original Egyptian creation story we find a serpent and the primordial egg, which contained the " Bird of Light" . In Chapter 175 of the Book of the Dead we find the prophecy that when the world returns to its original chaos, the hidden aspect of the supreme god, Atum, will become the new serpent. There is a text I found in the "Coffin Texts" [ I.161 ff] which contains Atum's description of himself:

" I am Atum, the creator of the Eldest Gods,

I am he who gave birth to Shu,

I am that great he-she.

I am he who did what seemed good to him,

I took my space in the place of my will.

Mine is the space of those who move along

like those two serpentine circles" [ emphasis mine] "





Would you call this a match?......I.
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« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2007, 07:29:52 pm »

Hi ideopraxist

What is that a picture of? It sort of looks like a rock that has been split open, almost like a fossiled snake egg.

I found this article interesting:

http://altreligion.about.com/library/weekly/aa071603a.htm

The Secret language of symbols


The Egg and the serpent - Part two of three
The philosophical or cosmic egg is another nearly universal symbol. Alchemically, the egg is a symbol of the cosmos, as it is in a multitude of folk legends. In Hindu cosmology, it is the source of the universe. The egg as a container of the universe is found in many ancient religions. The egg symbolizes birth and potential. It contains within a miniature sun, and it features prominently in solar mythology. The gods Vishnu, Phanes, and Mithras, are all "egg born" solar deities. Another solar entity, the rooster, is also born of an egg.

The serpent plays an important role in every culture. It is a dual role, as a symbol of wisdom and of evil. A snake is a lowly creature who cannot leave the ground, making it an obvious symbol of base desires and material entrapment. As a sexual symbol, the snake can represent the energies of the universe, or base human desires and lust- traditional pictures of dragon slayers are allegories to conquered material desires such as these, as are many human/monster hybrids. However,as even the lowest serpent sheds its skin and renews itself, it is a token of resurrection. As a symbol of spiritual power, the serpent represents the awakened self.

The serpent is most often related to sexual energies, which can be harnessed for spiritual purposes, or when abused, can overwhelm the spirit. Serpents depicted symbolically on a vertical axis nearly always represent sexual energy- the twin serpents of the cadeceus, the kundalini serpents, the alchemical crucified serpent, and the serpent of Genesis are all symbols of the sexual nature of man. In the Judeo-Christian allegorical story of Adam and Eve, the serpent represents the dual nature of sexual energy, which can either entrap or release the spirit. It is this serpent who guards the mythical tree of life and immortality featured in mythology the world over, where it serves as both a protector of the aspirant and an obstacle to the uninitiated.

One of the most recognizable serpent symbols is the Ouroboros. The ouroboros is found in alchemy, in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Gnostic texts, in Norse mythology, and even Aztec icons. The ouroboros is a serpent swallowing its own tail, and usually describes a circle, although a lemniscate shape is also common. It is a symbol of eternity, rebirth, and resurrection. It is often colored dark and light to illustrate the victory of the spiritual nature over the material.



« Last Edit: October 16, 2007, 07:35:08 pm by unknown » Report Spam   Logged

"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2007, 11:06:09 pm »

RE: "A snake is a lowly creature who cannot leave the ground, making it an obvious symbol of base desires and material entrapment. As a sexual symbol, the snake can represent the energies of the universe, or base human desires and lust- traditional pictures of dragon slayers are allegories to conquered material desires such as these, as are many human/monster hybrids."

Ths serpent has always represented the Al-father, the sperm, the "wisdom-water", wisdom and the King.   The above is only the recent spoutings of the church/politic/control-system trying to disolve the ancient knowledge.....  By the same token, the egg may just represent the "Il-matar" the consort of the Al-father and the mother of us all.
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Thus ye may find in thy mental and spiritual self, ye can make thyself just as happy or just as miserable as ye like. How miserable do ye want to be?......For you GROW to heaven, you don't GO to heaven. It is within thine own conscience that ye grow there.

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« Reply #11 on: October 16, 2007, 11:30:52 pm »

Perhaps you should read the whole article, before being so judgemental. It also says it represents spirtual awakening and wisdom.
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« Reply #12 on: October 17, 2007, 05:24:47 pm »

Unknown,
Thank you for the quick reply, the picture is not a broken rock. 'just a very hard to get picture' . it is the serpent and the egg 'I think' but in another form than the one you present as the snake totally wraped around the egg. it is the snake with the egg to the left, outside of the coil. I am trying to tie some loose ends for myself another being the snake in the form of a swastica, the four tails hooked or semi hooked together. have you ever seen or heard of it at all?
The picture I show here is mabe hard to see also, but if you save it to your pictures you could blow it up.




Hope this helps towards a good study....I.
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« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2007, 02:30:00 pm »

It looks like this,



Can you trace it, I didnt find it in any of the symbols.....I.
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« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2007, 09:32:07 pm »

I don't think I ever saw a swastika composed of snakes, the one above looks quite ordinary to me.

What is the interest in this particular symbol?
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"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
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