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. 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.
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.
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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 we find that " the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts" . We might remember, that in all of scripture only two animals had the gift of speech; Balaam's ass, [ Numbers ] and the serpent. 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. 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 ] 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? 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. When he does this, the rod becomes a serpent [ Exodus ]. When he picks it up it becomes a rod again. 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. In the wilderness Moses strikes the rock with this same rod to create water. This object becomes so. Before we examine some more ominous aspects of the serpent in Jewish scripture we will have to look at Numbers Moses, who had thrown a fit when Aaron made a golden image of the Egyptian goddess of mercy and miners, Hathor.
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 …..
We are informed , in II Kings , that this serpent symbol was so popular that the people continued to revere the bronze serpent until the time of King Hezekiah [ 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? 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.
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 , Isaiah and in the Numbers 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 Where we hear the words:. Perhaps the best citation would be Isaiah 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.
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. 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 16 th 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. 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.
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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 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 BCE, and ancient serpent connection indeed. 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. 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.
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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.
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 vagina. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. This god appeared to the Romans in the form of a snake. 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. 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. 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. Long before even the Celts arrived on Irish shores, probably around 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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 Norse mythology Midgard is conceived of as a gigantic tree, called the World tree or Yggdrasil, around which existed nine realms at different levels.
This tree had its roots embedded in, or resting upon the World Serpent. The Norse go, Loki, troublesome brother of Thor, had three offspring: Fenris the wolf, Hel, who had a house roofed by guardian serpents, and the Midgard serpent, who lives in the sea and is o large it spans the world. The gods decreed that Thor, son of Odin should slay the Midgard Serpent before it grew too terrible and would rule the gods. Thor went out of Asgard and enlisted the help of the giant Hymir. The two went fishing, and when Hymir would not share his bait with Thor.
Thor killed Hymir's largest ox and cut off its head. Thor took the ox head as bait, made a very strong line and a large hook. The Midgard serpent took the bait and Thor drew it to the boat. The serpent glared at Thor and belched poison. Hymir, frightened cut Thor's line and let the serpent loose. As the serpent sank back into the sea, Thor threw his hammer after it. Some versions of the legend say that the hammer struck and killed the serpent, other versions say that the Midgard serpent is still alive and lying in the depths.
There is also an old German myth which tells of a snake called the "great worm" who carried the name of Fafnir. Fafnir had great magical and mystical powers. There are other dragon stories to be found in Europe, and some of them would indicate a dragon of divine powers, but these dragons are not serpentine dragons so we will omit them in this study.
The European dragon usually is portrayed with a thick, long body, scaly skin, four legs, two bat-like wings, wedge shaped heads and long necks. Included in this category are usually found the Wyverns, the 'Faerie Dragons', and sometimes the Hydras. These may, or may not be considered serpents, depending on how wide one is willing to spread the definition of serpent.
When we reach the Americas we find that the gods are anthropomorphic. Therefore, we will find no snake god among the North American Native Americans. We will find many stories about snakes, their wisdom, cunning and danger. In Central America the god reappears. When Moses was busy coming down the mountain with an explanation of values for the Israelites, Native Americans were sculpturing beautiful and mysterious figures on hilltops and dotting the countryside with tall mounds to connect their dead to heaven. Easily one of the strangest and most unearthly Native American sites in North America is the incredible Serpent Mound in the Amish country of southern Ohio.
Possibly constructed by the Adena culture around BCE, Serpent Mound is a narrow band of earth which uncoils over a quarter mile expanse atop a wooded hill. This mound appears, from above, to be a snake ready to swallow a frog. A snake skeleton enshrined leaves little doubt that the mound is meant to be the replica of a snake- the creature of mythic proportions to these early mound builders, as well as indigenous people across the Americas.
This is one of the "effigy" mounds in Ohio. It lies on a plateau overlooking the Valley of Brush Creek, Ohio. This legend tells of a boy named Fast Bird, who was the messenger for his village. On one perilous trip he met an evil serpent. An old woman gave him three special arrow points and he was able to kill the serpent, and go on to become chief. There are other such stories. A Chippewa story tells of a hero, Nanabozho, who lived on the shore of Lake Superior. At the bottom of the lake lived the Great Serpent, along with a number of evil spirits, who were his servants.
Nanabozho decided to kill the Great Serpent after the Great Serpent killed his cousin. He caused the water of Lake Superior to boil, forcing the snake out into the forest, where he fell prey to the arrows of Nanabozho. Before the Great Serpent died he caused a great flood to come upon the whole earth to kill everything.
Nanabozho built a raft and saved mankind and the animals, just like Noah had done with the ark. The Brule Lakota [ Teton Sioux tribe] Sioux never kill rattlesnakes, because there is an old legend about how three brothers who disobeyed the Great Spirit by taking a buffalo hide instead of giving it back to the spirit world.
The Great Spirit turned them into rattlesnakes. As they took up a life as snakes they told their youngest brother to tell the people that they would remain faithful Sioux. So, the Brule Lakota revere their brothers the rattlesnake. The Comanches of south-western USA inherited the worship of the Jaguar god from the Mayan Indians to the south, and they also had a sacred parrot; but hey also believed in great serpent god, who lived in the center of the earth and whose coiling and uncoiling could shake the mountains.
The most divine-like snake story is that which tells of the creation of the natural wonder called the 'Wisconsin Dells'. A great snake wriggled down from his home near the 'big lake' and formed the Wisconsin River as he crawled. When he came to the sandstone ridge where the Dells begin he merely pushed his head into a crevice in the rocks and pushed them aside to form the narrow, winding passage we call the Dells. The amazing thing is, that in spite of the myriad of snakes in south-western US, except for the Comanches previously mentioned, I have found no sound references to the divine serpent in that area.
We do find the reference to rattlesnake being the faithful hound of Coyote, the divine trickster and voice of the Great Sprit. Before we discuss the serpent legends of Central America, we should point out that we do find mentions of divine serpents among Voudon [Voodoo] religionist of the islands of the Caribbean.
Simbu is the very powerful snake god of darkness. Even more powerful perhaps, certainly more widespread, is Dambala, another serpent god. These gods are morally neutral, and will work for good or evil depending upon for whom they are working. An aspect of this serpent spirit in Haiti is the god of the farmers called Dan Petro.
Dambala' wife, Avida, is also an object of worship. Damballa created all the waters of the earth, in the form of a serpent. The movement of his coils formed hills and valleys and brought forth stars and planets in the heavens. He forged metals from heat and sent forth lightning bolts to form the sacred rocks and stones. When he shed his skin in the sun, releasing all the waters over the land, the sun shone in the water and created the rainbow.
Damballa loved the rainbow and made her his wife, Aida-edo. This is an evil god who invades and destroys fishing weirs. It eats the fish inside the weir and kills human fishermen. If we travel only a short distance further south, into Central America, the references are many-fold are rich. Not only do we have the primitive Mayan god Labna , but we also find, at differing ages and places Kulkulcan and Queztalcoatl, and his two similars Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopotchili.
Each of these later manifestations of the feathered serpent are much like Quetzalcoatl, with minor changes or additions. For example, Huitziilpotchili is often called the "trickster" because he loves to play pranks which would normally be considered quite un-godlike. Among the Qiche Maya we find the serpent god who brought civilization and agriculture to the Maya who is called Gucumatz. The god Kulkulcan was one of the major gods of the Maya, and was inherited by the Toltec as equally significant.
Not only was he a god of the four elements, he was also the creator god and the god of resurrection and reincarnation. He may have originated from Toltec myth, where he was a divine hero who taught the Toltec laws, fishing, healing, the calendar and agriculture. His name means. Whether it was imposed on them or adopted by choice, the Maya of Chichen Itza incorporated much of the Toltec culture. Although no absolute connection has been established, the emergence of Kulkulcan.
The legend of the priest-king Quetzalcoatl of Tula and his self-imposed banishment to the east has been frequently linked to the emergence of the Mayan god Kulkulcan and the assimilation of Toltec culture at Chichen Itza. Feathered rattlesnake images are found everywhere at Chichen Itza. This pyramid is often mistakenly called the pyramid of the sun because of its astronomical orientation, but it is clearly dedicated to Kulkulcan, the feathered serpent.
The astronomical detail is interesting, showing the connection of the Great Serpent and the cosmos: There are steps [ the number of days in the solar year]; 52 panels [one for each year in the Mayan cyclical century; 18 terraces, one for each month in the Mayan religious year]. All four sides of the Feather Serpent Pyramid was originally covered by an elaborate facade of stone carvings. These carvings express the main visual messages of the Ciudadela [ sacred city]. The main motif in both the rectangular panels. A quite similar type of feathered serpent head, sculpted in high relief, was also attached to the balustrades of the staircase.
I have personally witnessed the unusual effect of the descending serpents bordering the main stair case. At sundown the light strikes these magnificent serpents so as to make them appear to be alive and slowly descending the stair case. In the ruins of the early Mayan city of Teotihuacan, we find another significant pyramid dedicated to the feathered serpent. Although significantly smaller in size than both the Sun Pyramid and Moon Pyramid, it was one of the most elaborate monuments of the city.
Each of these pyramids, unlike the Egyptian pyramids which were tombs, were solidly filled with rubble, and were, in fact, artificial mountains, on top of which stood a temple to the feathered serpent. All four sides of this Feathered Serpent Pyramid had also been covered by an elaborate facade of stone carvings which included a series of large sculptural heads. Three of the four sides have deteriorated, but the fourth, and principal face, the western, was covered by a platform and the facade is in good shape. The main motif of the pyramid is undulating feathered serpents, depicted in profile and having rattles on the ends of their tails.
The heads of serpents are various deities: Tlaloc, the Storm god, Youalcoat;, a form of Quetzalcoatl, Cipactli, a crocodilian figure, and Xiuhcoatl, or the Fire Serpent. The supreme god and creator of the Maya was Hunab Ku. He is the head of the Mayan pantheon and called 'god of the gods'. Hunab Ku rebuilt the world after three deluges, which poured from a great sky god, who is depicted in the form of a serpent. Even the Mayan war god was seen as a snake charmer. The Aztec god of creation is both male and female, Ometeotl, the creative force, the god of fire and of time, is both father and mother of all.
Ometeotl' four sons are aspects of himself.
Each is associated with a color and a direction. This symbolism can be also found in the Native Americans of the U. The black Tezcatlipoca is the biggest and "baddest" of them all. His direction is north. The white Tezcatlipoca whose direction is the setting sun, is also called Quetzalcoatl. Aztec legends tell of how Quetzalcoatl becomes the sun and rises in the east. When the Aztec replaced the Maya and Toltec as lords of Mesoamerica, the feathered serpent stayed s an important god figure.
The Aztec feathered serpent carried the name Quetzalcoatl. He symbolized the blending of heaven and earth. He is associated with the planet Venus, the wind and breath of life [ cf. Biblical concept of wind, breath of life, spirit connection], the discovery of maize [corn], the invention of writing , birth and renewal. There exist codices which identify Quetzalcoatl with Kulkulcan. It is my contention that the Quetzalcoatl of the Mixtec codices and the Kulkulcan of the Chilam Balam are one and the same. The two highest-ranking priests of the Aztecs ministered, respectively,to the war god and the god of rain.
Both bore the title quetzalcoatl, or "feathered serpent", to elevate their status by association with the great god Quetzalcoatl and the Toltec god-king of that name. One was called "quetzalcoatl priest of our lord" and the other "quetzalcoatl priest of Tlaloc". Neither demanded human sacrifice. It is very surprising how Quetzlalcoatl, who is often called Kulkulcan, Gucumatz, in Guatamala, Viracocha to the Incas, is so wide-spread among all of the cultures of precolumbian Mexico.
And all describe it the same, with only small variations. This god, that tormented Cortez with guilt and remorse, is considered the Christ figure of the precolumbian civilization, since he proclaimed the existence of only one god, and the refusal of sacrifices, which were typical of Mayan and Aztec religions. Interestingly, this indian deity is described as having " white skin, with hair on the face and beautiful emerald eyes". In other words, Quetzalcoatl may have been Caucasian; Viking perhaps [ from ancient memories]? Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl, whose mythical achievements are interwoven with the Great Feathered Serpent, is credited as having infinite knowledge.
He taught his people how to plant the maize and all plant life. Cotton and cacao trees are also attributed to him. Quetzalcoatl legends seem to have spring from Tula, and traveled to the holy city of Cholula, and then in CE they sailed across the Gulf of Mexico to the land of the Maya. Legends said that since the Great God came from the East, when he left he sailed East, amd it was from the East he would return. The tale runs something like this. There lived once in Tula a king called Quetzalcoatl. He had the name and qualities of the ancient feathered serpent, so he was called "Quetzalcoatl Topiltzin, "our prince".
He was totally pure, innocent and good. No task was too humble for him. He even swept the paths for the rain gods so they could come and rain. Quetzalcoatl's cunning brother, Tezcatlipoca, was infuriated by his goodness and, with some friends decided to play a dirty trick on him. They gave Quetzalcoatl a human face and body. As soon as Quetzalcoatl looked in a mirror he felt himself possessed by all the worldly desires that afflict mankind. But Tezcatlipoca wasn't done. He gave Quetzalcoatl wine, which he said would cure his malady. After including getting drunk on cactus wine which cause him to disgrace himself and bring calamities to the Toltec, he knew he must leave his people and go into exile.
When he came to the eastern coast, he wove snakes together to make a raft. Then he sailed eastward and disappeared across the sea. Some say he ascended into heaven and became Venus, the morning star. It was said that Quetzalcoatl would return in the same year he disappeared, the year One Reed. Cortez landed in year One Reed. Quetzalcoatl could transform himself into the shape of a man, and many pictures show him in both guises. His arch enemy was Tezcatlipoca, the god of darkness, which would lead us to connect Quetzalcoatl to the sun, as had Kulkulcan before him.
After one especially difficult battle Quetzalcoatl fled to the eastern shore with the enemies right behind him. He sailed away, making a boat from the bodies of intertwined serpents, promising to return in triumph. When strange ships were seen coming from the east, with pale, shining men, it seemed that the prophecy had come true. It was not Quetzalcoatl, it was Cortes. End of Aztec civilization! The Aztec also saw serpents as controlling the weather, especially the clouds and storms. The Cloud Serpent for the Aztec was Mixcoatl.
This god created weather by conspiring with [having sex with? Coatlique is the mother of the Aztec creation story. She was first impregnated by an obsidian knife and gave birth to Coyolxanuhqui, the goddess of the moon [ again showing the association between the serpent and the moon].
She later gave birth to the fiery god of war who was aided in his efforts by a fire serpent. She provided for all their needs, and at death takes them back into her body. In Mexico, under the Aztec rule of Moctezuma, the second most important person in the ruling hierarchy was Cihyuacoatl, also called Tlacaelel, the snake woman who was seen as the incarnation of the earth and mother goddess who assisted Quetzalcoatl in creation.
She was born on the same day as the emperor, Moctezuma or Motecuhzoma the Great. They had the same father but different mothers. This male character turned down the opportunity to become emperor and went on to serve three rulers as prime minister or Cihuacoatl, literally Woman Snake. In Columbia There is a creator deity of the Chibcha culture named Chiminigagua, who lives as a serpent in a lake of serpents.
In Brazil there is the goddess serpent Iara , who is also know as ' mae d'agua mother of the waters. Even further south the Inca had Chalchiuhtlicue, the serpent mother goddess. She is a goddess of fertility. She is most often depicted with beautiful and magnificent robes, made of shell mosaics and serpent skin edged with small white feathers. The Peruvian Incas had a god called the 'Weeping god'.
This god holds two snakes as part of his cosmic image. This is an enormous, divine serpent with the bill, or complete head of a parrot. This god is the protector of aquatic animals, amphibians, dew and the flowers, and is seen as a friendly god. As a general observation, we might state that most of the serpent divinities found in Central America appear to be benevolent and beneficent. The few exceptions are either tricksters or ambivalent. On the way from the Americas to Asia we can stop off in Oceana. Throughout the circum-Pacific culture zone the great serpent, the cosmic divine serpent, as spouse of the goddess and as a variously manipulated motif in art is a prominent feature.
In the Solomon Islands. Here we find a great serpent got Aguna, who is the paramount god of the area. So important is Aguna that all other gods are considered to be only aspects of her. She is the supreme force and divine influence. The first coconut from each tree is sacred to Aguna. Also in The Solomons we find the great serpent god Kahasusibware,. We are not sure of the relationship between the male Kahasusibware and the female Aguna. On the island of Fiji we hear about a god named Degei. The story is told of how in the beginning, the snake god lived alone, without friends or companions, and the only living creature he knew was Turukawa the hawk.
Although the hawk could not speak she was the constant companion of the god. When the hawk , who was feminine eventually laid eggs which when hatched produced two tiny human beings. Degei nurtured these creatures and taught them how to cultivate bananas and root crops. From there on the story sounds like the story of Adam and Eve. When a person dies, his soul faces a long journey from the sunny land of the living to the cold, misty land of the dead. The chamber was still haunted by his ghost.
Kull managed to seal the chamber. With his eyes open to the threat, Kull swore to continue hunting them across land and sea. Never resting until all the Serpent-Men are dead. Sekhmet Tharn , a sorcerer of the Serpent-Men, set out to conquer Valusia. He re-animated the corpses of Valusian kings and send them to terrorize Valusians.
Kull found himself facing his predecessor King Borna. Destroying him for a second time. Jeesala , daughter of Sekhmet Tharn, attempted to seduce Kull. He turned her down. Sekhmet Tharn then managed to drug Kull. Jeesala attempted to seduce him again and this time succeeded. They had sex right before the eyes of her father. The corrupted Kull took her as his new royal mistress. Under the influence of Jeesala, Kull degenerated into a tyrant. He taxed Valusians heavily and physically abused them.
Soon the people were ready to turn on hin, even his loyal Red Slayers. Brule attempted to reason with Kull and bring him back to his senses. Kull simply strucked him and ordered him to leave. The following a rebellion broke out. Jeesala almost slew Kull through an enchanted mirror, but Brule saved him. Breaking the mirror resulted in Kull regaining his senses.
Jeesala took her true form and revealed that an army of undead kings was marching against the City. She tried to kill Kull using an acid-dart. He dodged the dart, grabbed Brule's spear and killed her. Kull and Brule managed to convince the revolting Valusians to turn their attentions toward the undead army. Sekhmet Tharn appeared and summoned a Kraken to enforce his army. He then tried slsying Kull, forming a corrupted double of the king. Kull slew his evil double and decapited Sekhmet Tharn. With his death, the Kraken also died.
Kull managed to regain the trust of his people. After dreaming of a girl getting killed by Serpent-Men in the City of Wonders, then Serpent-Men replacing his advisors and ambushing him, Kull found the dream too vivid, and thought it was a warning, suspecting the Cult of the Serpent to still be active.
Meanwhile, in the streets of the City, the girl of the dream was killed. An army of Serpent-Men invaded Valusia from the West. Annihilating villages in their path. The Serpent-Men were riding horses, and were equipped with full metal armor, swords, spears, bows and arrows. Kull and his soldiers managed to kill some of the scouts of the advancing army. They then retreated back to the City of Wonders, preparing for a siege.
He revealed to them a weak spot in the defenses of the City, that would serve as a focus point for their attack. Kull anticipated their attack, however, and increased the soldiers guiding the weak spot. This move proved decisive in beating back the invaders. The enraged Serpent-Men blamed Lord Rota for his advice and killed him. The Serpent-Men continued besieging the City of Wonders. There was a plague outbreak within the walls of the City. Kull decided that the victims would be quarantined. One of said victims, Lord Khorata, did not obey.
He convinced a mob of the infected to go into revolt and attack the palace. Kull led the Red Slayers in fighting back and killing the rebels. He then used the infected corpses as catapult missiles, throwing them into the Serpent-Men's camp. Hoping that the plague would spread to the enemy. The Serpent-Men's siege of the City of Wonders lasted ten months. Kull had doubts about his ability to drive them away. A chance encounter with a blind girl changed his mind. The girl did not recognize him, but spoke with admiration of the King's achievements.
With renewed confidence, Kull led the Valusians to victory. The chamber of king Eallal remained sealed. A pair of Valusian conspirators suspected that there was treasure hidden there. They tricked Gonra to pen the chamber for them. Living Serpent-Men emerged from the chamber and attacked them. Gonra fought them bravely but had to retreat.
Kull was alerted by the noise and responded by arriving to the chamber. He faced the Serpent-Men, including one who had assumed the form of Gonra. He managed to kill them all in battle. In death, the Gonra impostor returned to his real form. Kull decided to cleanse the chamber with fire and then reseal it.
This time using brick and mortar to make sure nobody can open it. Their opposition with Kull would eventually lead the Serpent-Men to the verge of extinction. Five centuries following the death of Kull , the Deviants of Lemuria used their advanced technology to conquer much of the Earth. He began serving Father Sert and formed an alliance with the Serpent-Men which led to the creation of the Serpent Crown. Atra intended to use the Crown to overthrow the Deviant rule.
But Set had his own plans. Since the Deviants worshipped him, the Elder God protected them from the powers of the Crown user. Emboldened by the divine protection, Emperor Phraug of the Deviants ordered an attack on the Second Host of the Celestials. The Celestials shrugged off the attack and retaliated with causing the Great Cataclysm. Lemuria was destroyed and Atlantis was damaged by the event. Atra and Phraug were the first casualties of the Cataclysm. Their skeletons were somehow preserved, clutching the Crown, while everything around them was destroyed,  as a warning about pride.
Some of the Serpent Men of Lemuria survived, eventually settling in Hyboria , in the land that would become known as Stygia.
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The Serpent-Men as a whole was destoyed, but remnants of the pre-human kingdom survived, and even came to be worshiped. Those who labelled themselves the last Serpent Men of Lemuria eventually formed the Order of the Serpent on the coast of Stygia, as priests of Set , led by the high priest Amintas and who had the custody of "the living god Set ". Over 12, years ago, Ssith was one of the Serpent-Men serving the Elder God Set  and a great warrior, attracted the attention of the time traveler Kang the Conqueror who challenged him to a duel.
Kang won and Ssith agreed to serve him. Kang took him to Chronopolis. Ssith served as one of the Anachronauts , warriors who traveled through time when Kang tasked them with missions. There lay only one city, Yanoga. When he was twenty years old, a shipwrecked Conan of Cimmeria was captured by the slavers of the ship Ouroboros , led by a Serpent Man wearing a human skin to pass as their captain.