Slithering Through the Stories of Ancient Snake Deities: Serpent Gods of Ancient Mythology

Slithering Through the Stories of Ancient Snake Deities: Serpent Gods of Ancient Mythology

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Serpent and their symbols are found in the myths and legends of countless cultures around the world. These animals often have a negative connotation, but not always. There are even cases of snake deities ruling over important aspects of ancient religions.

Jormugandr – the Child of Loki and a Giantess

In Norse mythology, Loki’s secret marriage with the giantess Angrboða resulted in three children: the goddess Hel, the Fenris wolf, and the Midgard serpent Jormugandr. Loki kept the existence of his children secret for as long as possible, but they grew so big and so quickly that they could no longer stay hidden in the cave where they had been born.

Eventually, Odin saw Loki’s offspring while sitting on the magic throne Hlidskialf and he feared their power. Odin wanted to get rid of the possible threats, so he gave Hel dominion over Helheim and power over all the dead (except the chosen slain) and he cast Jormugandr into the great sea. There the serpent grew larger and larger, until he encircled Midgard like an Ouroboros biting its own tail. In “Valhalla”, J. C. Jones illustrates the scene in the following manner:

“Into mid-ocean’s dark depths hurled,
Grown with each day to giant size,
The serpent soon inclosed the world,
With tail in mouth, in circle-wise;
Held harmless still
By Odin’s will.”

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Thor and the Midgard Serpent

One day, Thor and Tyr went to visit the giant Hymir. When the host watched Thor devour two huge oxen for dinner, he concluded that he would have to go fishing the next day. Thor decided to accompany his host and provide a helping hand, but he was asked to secure his own bait. Therefore, the thunder god slew Himinbrioter (“the heaven breaker”), his host’s largest ox. He chopped off the ox’s head, put it in the boat and began rowing.

As they were going further and further out to sea, the giant told Thor that they had long passed the usual fishing ground, but the god paid no attention to him. Hymir pointed out that they might be in danger should they come across the great Midgard Serpent far out at sea. Thor ignored him and kept rowing until he figured they had to be right above the great snake.

"Thor in Hymir's boat battling the Midgard Serpent" (1788) by Henry Fuseli.

Thor purposely aimed for Jormugandr when he baited his hook with the head of the ox. While the thunder god was busy with his hook, the giant fished two whales which he imagined would suffice for breakfast. Then, Thor once again ignored the suggestion of his host to return while he waited a little longer for Jormugandr to take the bait. The giant did not like the idea, but he had to comply. Soon, Thor felt a jerk and pulled as hard as he could.

A terrible storm started out of nowhere and, judging by the resistance of his prey, Thor understood that he had caught the Midgard Serpent. Trying to get Jormugandr out of the water, Thor’s braced feet went through the boat and, finally, after a lot of struggling, the head of the Midgard Serpent appeared at the surface. Thor took his hammer and got ready to hit the snake, but the terrified giant cut the fishing line in order to prevent the boat from sinking.

Jormugandr dropped back to the bottom of the sea, while the angry Thor dealt Hymir a blow with his hammer for making him lose his prey. The blow knocked the giant overboard and he had to swim ashore and wait for Thor to bring the boat with the two whales back to the beach. Once they met, they took the whales and the boat and returned home to eat.

This story is one of the most loved mythological episodes by Norsemen and there are numerous artistic depictions of it.

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The Hindu Nagas

In Hindu mythology, snakes have a high status. Snake gods are known as the nagas. These deities appeared in the form of large snakes or as half human and half snake. “Naga” is usually the male term, while the female version of the word is “nagi”. In symbolism, the snake represents rebirth, death, and mortality because of its shedding of its skin and thus being symbolically reborn.

Hoysala sculpture of a naga couple in Halebidu.

Ophion and Wadjet

Greek mythology also talks about serpent deities. One example is Ophion, whose name actually means “serpent”. Ophion was said to have ruled the world with Eurynome before the two of them were cast down by Kronos and Rhea.

In Egyptian mythology, the snake goddess is Wadjet. She was the protector deity of the city of Dep and also believed to be the protector of kings and of women in childbirth. Wadjet appeared in the form of a venomous Egyptian cobra or as a snake headed woman.

Two images of Wadjet appear on this carved wall in the Hatshepsut Temple at Luxor. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

As it can be seen, snakes have not always been associated with evil - as they are in Christianity. On the contrary, these beings were often symbols of power and, as deities, they could also offer protection to those who worshipped them.

Ancient Mesopotamia Edit

Ancient Mesopotamians and Semites believed that snakes were immortal because they could infinitely shed their skin and appear forever youthful, appearing in a fresh guise every time. [2] The Sumerians worshipped a serpent god named Ningishzida. Before the arrival of the Israelites, snake cults were well established in Canaan in the Bronze Age, for archaeologists have uncovered serpent cult objects in Bronze Age strata at several pre-Israelite cities in Canaan: two at Megiddo, [3] one at Gezer, [4] one in the sanctum sanctorum of the Area H temple at Hazor, [5] and two at Shechem. [6]

In the surrounding region, serpent cult objects figured in other cultures. A late Bronze Age Hittite shrine in northern Syria contained a bronze statue of a god holding a serpent in one hand and a staff in the other. [7] In sixth-century Babylon a pair of bronze serpents flanked each of the four doorways of the temple of Esagila. [8] At the Babylonian New Year's festival, the priest was to commission from a woodworker, a metalworker, and a goldsmith two images, one of which "shall hold in its left hand a snake of cedar, raising its right [hand] to the god Nabu". [9] At the tell of Tepe Gawra, at least seventeen Early Bronze Age Assyrian bronze serpents were recovered. [10]

United Arab Emirates Edit

Significant finds of pottery, bronze-ware and even gold depictions of snakes have been made throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Bronze Age and Iron Age metallurgical centre of Saruq Al Hadid has yielded probably the richest trove of such objects, although finds have been made bearing snake symbols in Bronze Age sites at Rumailah, Bithnah and Masafi. Most of the depictions of snakes are similar, with a consistent dotted decoration applied to them.

Although the widespread depiction of snakes in sites across the UAE is thought by archaeologists to have a religious purpose, this remains conjecture. [11]

Judaism Edit

Gnosticism Edit

In Gnosticism, the biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden was praised and thanked for bringing knowledge (gnosis) to Adam and Eve and thereby freeing them from the malevolent Demiurge's control. [12] Gnostic Christian doctrines rely on a dualistic cosmology that implies the eternal conflict between good and evil, and a conception of the serpent as the liberating savior and bestower of knowledge to humankind opposed to the Demiurge or creator god, identified with the Hebrew God of the Old Testament. [12] [13] Gnostic Christians considered the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as the evil, false god and creator of the material universe, and the Unknown God of the Gospel, the father of Jesus Christ and creator of the spiritual world, as the true, good God. [12] [13] They were regarded as heretics by the proto-orthodox Early Church Fathers. [12] [13] [14]

In Africa the chief centre of serpent worship was Dahomey, but the cult of the python seems to have been of exotic origin, dating back to the first quarter of the 17th century. By the conquest of Whydah the Dahomeyans were brought in contact with a people of serpent worshippers, and ended by adopting from them the beliefs which they at first despised. At Whydah, the chief centre, there is a serpent temple, tenanted by some fifty snakes. Every python of the danh-gbi kind must be treated with respect, and death is the penalty for killing one, even by accident. Danh-gbi has numerous wives, who until 1857 took part in a public procession from which the profane crowd was excluded a python was carried round the town in a hammock, perhaps as a ceremony for the expulsion of evils. The rainbow-god of the Ashanti was also conceived to have the form of a snake. His messenger was said to be a small variety of boa, but only certain individuals, not the whole species, were sacred. In many parts of Africa the serpent is looked upon as the incarnation of deceased relatives. Among the Amazulu, as among the Betsileo of Madagascar, certain species are assigned as the abode of certain classes. The Maasai, on the other hand, regard each species as the habitat of a particular family of the tribe. [ citation needed ]

Eva Meyerowitz wrote of an earthenware pot that was stored at the Museum of Achimota College in Gold Coast. The base of the neck of this pot is surrounded by the rainbow snake (Meyerowitz 1940, p. 48). The legend of this creature explains that the rainbow snake only emerged from its home when it was thirsty. Keeping its tail on the ground the snake would raise its head to the sky looking for the rain god. As it drank great quantities of water, the snake would spill some which would fall to the earth as rain (Meyerowitz 1940, p. 48).

There are four other snakes on the sides of this pot: Danh – gbi, the life giving snake, Li, for protection, Liwui, which was associated with Wu, god of the sea, and Fa, the messenger of the gods (Meyerowitz 1940, p. 48). The first three snakes Danh – gbi, Li, Liwui were all worshipped at Whydah, Dahomey where the serpent cult originated (Meyerowitz 1940, p. 48). For the Dahomeans, the spirit of the serpent was one to be feared as he was unforgiving (Nida & Smalley 1959, p. 17). They believed that the serpent spirit could manifest itself in any long, winding objects such as plant roots and animal nerves. They also believed it could manifest itself as the umbilical cord, making it a symbol of fertility and life (Nida & Smalley 1959, p. 17).

Mami Wata is a water spirit or class of spirits associated with fertility and healing, usually depicted as a woman holding a large snake or with the lower body of a serpent or fish. She is worshipped in West, Central, and Southern Africa and the African diaspora. [ citation needed ]

African diasporic religion Edit

In Haitian Vodou, the creator loa Damballa is represented as a serpent, and his wife Ayida-Weddo is called the "rainbow serpent." [17] In West African mythology, Ayida-Weddo is believed to hold up the sky. [18] [19] Simbi are a type of serpentine loa in Haitian Vodou. They are associated with water and sometimes are believed to act as psychopomps serving Papa Legba. [ citation needed ]

Ancient Egypt Edit

Ancient Egyptians worshipped snakes, especially the cobra. The cobra was not only associated with the sun god Ra, but also many other deities such as Wadjet, Renenutet, Nehebkau, and Meretseger. Serpents could also be evil and harmful such as the case of Apep. They were also referenced in the Book of the Dead, in which Spell 39 was made to help repel an evil snake in the underworld. "Get back! Crawl away! Get away from me, you snake! Go, be drowned in the Lake of the Abyss, at the place where your father commanded that the slaying of you should be carried out." [20]

Wadjet was the patron goddess of Upper Egypt, and was represented as a cobra with spread hood, or a cobra-headed woman. She later became one of the protective emblems on the pharaoh's crown once Upper and Lower Egypt were united. She was said to 'spit fire' at the pharaoh's enemies, and the enemies of Ra. Sometimes referred to as one of the eyes of Ra, she was often associated with the lioness goddess Sekhmet, who also bore that role. [ citation needed ]

North America Edit

Indigenous peoples of the Americas such as the Hopi give reverence to the rattlesnake as grandfather and king of snakes who is able to give fair winds or cause tempest. Among the Hopi of Arizona, snake-handling figures largely in a dance to celebrate the union of Snake Youth (a Sky spirit) and Snake Girl (an Underworld spirit). The rattlesnake was worshipped in the Natchez temple of the sun. The Mound Builders evidently reverenced the serpent, as the Serpent Mound demonstrates, though we are unable to unravel the particular associations. [ citation needed ]

Mesoamerica Edit

The Maya deity Kukulkan and the Aztec Quetzalcoatl (both meaning "feathered serpent") figured prominently in their respective cultures of origin. Kukulkan (Q'uq'umatz in K'iche' Maya) is associated with Vision Serpent iconography in Maya art. [21] Kukulkan was an official state deity of Itza in the northern Yucatan. [22] In many Mesoamerican cultures, the serpent was regarded as a portal between two worlds. [ citation needed ]

The worship of Quetzalcoatl dates back to as early as the 1st century BC at Teotihuacan. [23] In the Postclassic period (AD 900-1519), the cult was centered at Cholula. Quetzalcoatl was associated with wind, the dawn, the planet Venus as the morning star, and was a tutelary patron of arts, crafts, merchants, and the priesthood. [24]

South America Edit

Serpents figure prominently in the art of the pre-Incan Chavín culture, as can be seen at the type-site of Chavín de Huántar in Peru. [25] In Chile the Mapuche mythology featured a serpent figure in stories about a deluge. [ citation needed ] Lake Guatavita in Colombia also maintains a Cacique legend of a "Serpent God" living in the waters, which the tribe worshipped by placing gold and silver jewelry into the lake. [ citation needed ]

Cambodia Edit

Serpents, or nāgas, play a particularly important role in Cambodian mythology. A well-known story explains the emergence of the Khmer people from the union of Indian and indigenous elements, the latter being represented as nāgas. According to the story, an Indian brahmana named Kaundinya came to Cambodia, which at the time was under the dominion of the naga king. The naga princess Soma sallied forth to fight against the invader but was defeated. Presented with the option of marrying the victorious Kaundinya, Soma readily agreed to do so, and together they ruled the land. The Khmer people are their descendants. [26]

India Edit

Snakes, nagas, have high status in Hindu mythology. Nāga (Sanskrit:नाग) is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very large snake, found in Hinduism and Buddhism. The use of the term nāga is often ambiguous, as the word may also refer, in similar contexts, to one of several human tribes known as or nicknamed Nāgas to elephants and to ordinary snakes, particularly the Ophiophagus hannah, the Ptyas mucosa and the Naja naja, the latter of which is still called nāg in Hindi and other languages of India. A female nāga is a nāgīn. The snake primarily represents rebirth, death and mortality, due to its casting of its skin and being symbolically "reborn". Over a large part of India there are carved representations of cobras or nagas or stones as substitutes. To these human food and flowers are offered and lights are burned before the shrines. Among some Indians, a cobra which is accidentally killed is burned like a human being no one would kill one intentionally. The serpent-god's image is carried in an annual procession by a celibate priestess.

At one time there were many prevalent different renditions of the serpent cult located in India. In Northern India, a masculine version of the serpent named Rivaan and known as the “king of the serpents” was worshipped. Instead of the "king of the serpents", actual live snakes were worshipped in Southern India

(Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 1). The Manasa-cult in Bengal, India, however, was dedicated to the anthropomorphic serpent goddess, Manasa (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 1).

Nāgas form an important part of Hindu mythology. They play prominent roles in various legends: [ citation needed ]

    (Aadi shesha, Anantha) on whom Vishnu does yoga nidra (Anantha shayana). is the king of Nagas. poisoned the Yamuna river where he lived. Krishna subdued Kaliya and compelled him to leave the river. is the queen of the snakes. is half Brahmin and half naga.
  • A snake is commonly depicted around Shiva's neck. the great sage and author of the Yoga Sutras was said to be the embodiment of Adi Shesha, the divine serpent who forms Vishu's couch. It was rumored he transformed into a giant snake while teaching his students from behind a screen. is an important Hindu festival associated with snake worship which takes place of the fifth day of Shravana (July–August). Snake idols are offered gifts of milk and incense to help the worshipper to gain knowledge, wealth, and fame.

Different districts of Bengal celebrate the serpent in various ways. In the districts of East Mymensing, West Sylhet, and North Tippera, serpent-worship rituals were very similar, however (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 5). On the very last day of the Bengali month Shravana, all of these districts celebrate serpent-worship each year (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 5). Regardless of their class and station, every family during this time created a clay model of the serpent-deity – usually the serpent-goddess with two snakes spreading their hoods on her shoulders. The people worshipped this model at their homes and sacrificed a goat or a pigeon for the deity's honor (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 5). Before the clay goddess was submerged in water at the end of the festival, the clay snakes were taken from her shoulders. The people believed that the earth these snakes were made from cured illnesses, especially children's diseases (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 6).

These districts also worshipped an object known as a Karandi (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 6). Resembling a small house made of cork, the Karandi is decorated with images of snakes, the snake goddess, and snake legends on its walls and roof (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 6). The blood of sacrificed animals was sprinkled on the Karandi and it also was submerged in the river at the end of the festival (Bhattacharyya 1965, p. 6).

Among the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya, there exists a legend of snake worshipping. The snake deity is called "U Thlen" (lit: Python or large serpent) and it is said to demand human sacrifice from his worshippers. Those who can provide the Thlen with human blood, are usually rewarded with riches, but he would shame those who cannot provide the needed sacrifice. The subject of the Thlen is still a sensitive subject among the Khasis, and in recent years, in some rural areas, people have been killed in the name of being "Nongshohnoh" or Keepers of the Thlen, the evil snake God.

As kul devata also nagas are worship at many parts of India including Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. In Madhya Pradesh a village Sironja Gadariya in KATNI District people worship naga as a god of their ancestry. They are mainly brahman who worship Shiva also. They are descendants of bharadwaj saga and using Surname Dwivedi. In this village people are worship naga dev in every ceremony like birth, marriage, and any other small and special events. They also claim that even a real serpent mostly cobra living with them but never harm any one. They consider that they are their ancestors who are cursed due to some wrong deeds.

Finally another tradition in Hindu culture relating to yoga brings up kundalini, a type of spiritual energy said to sit at the base of the human spine. The term means "coiled snake" in Sanskrit roots and several goddesses are associated with its vitality, including Adi Parashakti and Bhairavi. [27] [28]

China Edit

Eight dragon kings who assembled at the gathering where Shakyamuni preached the Lotus Sutra, as described in the sutra. Kumarajiva's translation of the Lotus Sutra refers to them by their Sanskrit names: Nanda, Upananda, Sagara, Vasuki, Takshaka, Anavatapta, Manasvin, and Utpalaka. According to the "Introduction" (first) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, each attends the gathering accompanied by several hundreds of thousands of followers. [29]

Korea Edit

In Korean mythology, Eobshin, the wealth goddess, appears as an eared, black snake. Chilseongshin (the Jeju Island equivalent to Eobshin) and her seven daughters are all snakes. These goddesses are deities of orchards, courts, and protect the home. According to the Jeju Pungtorok, "The people fear snakes. They worship it as a god. When they see a snake, they call it a great god, and do not kill it or chase it away." The reason for snakes symbolizing worth was because they ate rats and other pests. [30]

Japan Edit

Matsura Sayohime (松浦佐用姫) was a legendary heroine in Japanese Buddhist mythology. As recounted, she was born to Lord Kyōgoku after he and his wife prayed to the Bodhisattva Kannon. After her father's death, Sayohime was too poor to sponsor a memorial service for him to raise funds, she sold herself to a man named Gonga no Tayu, who (unbeknownst to Sayohime) intended to sacrifice her to the snake deity of his village in place of his own daughter. When presented to the snake, Sayohime read from the Lotus sutra, enabling the deity to achieve enlightenment and shed its monstrous form. The deity then returned Sayohime to the care of her mother. [31]

In Australia, Austronesian Australoid religions tell of a huge python, known by a variety of names but universally referred to as the Rainbow Serpent, that was said to have created the landscape, embodied the spirit of fresh water, and punished lawbreakers. The Aboriginal peoples in southwest Australia called the serpent the Waugyl, while the Warramunga of the east coast worshipped the mythical Wollunqua. [ citation needed ]

Ancient Rome Edit

Serpent worship was well known in ancient Europe. The Roman genius loci took the form of a serpent. [ citation needed ]

In Italy, the Marsian goddess Angitia, whose name derives from the word for "serpent," was associated with witches, snakes, and snake-charmers. Angitia is believed to have also been a goddess of healing. Her worship was centered in the Central Apennine region. [32]

A snake was kept and fed with milk during rites dedicated to Potrimpus, a Prussian god. On the Iberian Peninsula there is evidence that before the introduction of Christianity, and perhaps more strongly before Roman invasions, serpent worship was a standout feature of local religions (see Sugaar). To this day there are numerous traces in European popular belief, especially in Germany, of respect for the snake, possibly a survival of ancestor worship: The "house snake" cares for the cows and the children, and its appearance is an omen of death and the lives of a pair of house snakes are often held to be bound with that of the master and the mistress. [ citation needed ] Tradition states that one of the Gnostic sects known as the Ophites caused a tame serpent to coil around the sacramental bread, and worshipped it as the representative of the Savior. [ citation needed ] In Lanuvium (32 km from Rome) a big snake was venerated as a god and they offered human sacrifice to it. See Plutarch, Parallela Minora XIV, 309a and Sextus Propertius Elegies IV, 8.

Ancient Greece Edit

Serpents figured prominently in archaic Greek myths. According to some sources, Ophion ("serpent", a.k.a. Ophioneus), ruled the world with Eurynome before the two of them were cast down by Kronos and Rhea. The oracles of the ancient Greeks were said to have been the continuation of the tradition begun with the worship of the Egyptian cobra goddess, Wadjet. We learn from Herodotus of a great serpent which defended the citadel of Athens. [ citation needed ]

The Minoan Snake Goddess brandished a serpent in either hand, perhaps evoking her role as source of wisdom, rather than her role as Mistress of the Animals (Potnia Theron), with a leopard under each arm. [ citation needed ] It is not by accident that later the infant Herakles, a liminal hero on the threshold between the old ways and the new Olympian world, [ citation needed ] also brandished the two serpents that "threatened" him in his cradle. Although the Classical Greeks were clear that these snakes represented a threat, the snake-brandishing gesture of Herakles is the same as that of the Cretan goddess. [ citation needed ]

Typhon, the enemy of the Olympian gods, is described as a vast grisly monster with a hundred heads and a hundred serpents issuing from his thighs, who was conquered and cast into Tartarus by Zeus, or confined beneath volcanic regions, where he is the cause of eruptions. Typhon is thus the chthonic figuration of volcanic forces. Amongst his children by Echidna are Cerberus (a monstrous three-headed dog with a snake for a tail and a serpentine mane), the serpent-tailed Chimaera, the serpent-like water beast Hydra, and the hundred-headed serpentine dragon Ladon. Both the Lernaean Hydra and Ladon were slain by Herakles.

Python, an enemy of Apollo, was always represented in vase-paintings and by sculptors as a serpent. Apollo slew Python and made her former home, Delphi, his own oracle. The Pythia took her title from the name Python. [33]

Amphisbaena, a Greek word, from amphis, meaning "both ways", and bainein, meaning "to go", also called the "Mother of Ants", is a mythological, ant-eating serpent with a head at each end. According to Greek mythology, the mythological amphisbaena was spawned from the blood that dripped from Medusa the Gorgon's head as Perseus flew over the Libyan Desert with her head in his hand. [ citation needed ]

Medusa and the other Gorgons were vicious female monsters with sharp fangs and hair of living, venomous snakes whose origins predate the written myths of Greece and who were the protectors of the most ancient ritual secrets. The Gorgons wore a belt of two intertwined serpents in the same configuration of the caduceus. The Gorgon was placed at the highest point and central of the relief on the Parthenon. [ citation needed ]

Asclepius, the son of Apollo and Koronis, learned the secrets of keeping death at bay after observing one serpent bringing another (which Asclepius himself had fatally wounded) healing herbs. To prevent the entire human race from becoming immortal under Asclepius's care, Zeus killed him with a bolt of lightning. Asclepius' death at the hands of Zeus illustrates man's inability to challenge the natural order that separates mortal men from the gods. In honor of Asclepius, snakes were often used in healing rituals. Non-poisonous Aesculapian snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. The author of the Bibliotheca claimed that Athena gave Asclepius a vial of blood from the Gorgons. Gorgon blood had magical properties: if taken from the left side of the Gorgon, it was a fatal poison from the right side, the blood was capable of bringing the dead back to life. However Euripides wrote in his tragedy Ion that the Athenian queen Creusa had inherited this vial from her ancestor Erichthonios, who was a snake himself. In this version the blood of Medusa had the healing power while the lethal poison originated from Medusa's serpents. [ citation needed ] Zeus placed Asclepius in the sky as the constellation Ophiucus, "the Serpent-Bearer". [ citation needed ] The modern symbol of medicine is the rod of Asclepius, a snake twining around a staff, while the symbol of pharmacy is the bowl of Hygieia, [34] a snake twining around a cup or bowl. Hygieia was a daughter of Asclepius.

Laocoön was allegedly a priest of Poseidon (or of Apollo, by some accounts) at Troy he was famous for warning the Trojans in vain against accepting the Trojan Horse from the Greeks, and for his subsequent divine execution. Poseidon (some say Athena), who was supporting the Greeks, subsequently sent sea-serpents to strangle Laocoön and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. Another tradition states that Apollo sent the serpents for an unrelated offense, and only unlucky timing caused the Trojans to misinterpret them as punishment for striking the Horse. [ citation needed ]

Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great and a princess of the primitive land of Epirus, had the reputation of a snake-handler, and it was in serpent form that Zeus was said to have fathered Alexander upon her tame snakes were still to be found at Macedonian Pella in the 2nd century AD (Lucian, Alexander the false prophet) [35] and at Ostia a bas-relief shows paired coiled serpents flanking a dressed altar, symbols or embodiments of the Lares of the household, worthy of veneration (Veyne 1987 illus p 211).

Aeetes, the king of Colchis and father of the sorceress Medea, possessed the Golden Fleece. He guarded it with a massive serpent that never slept. Medea, who had fallen in love with Jason of the Argonauts, enchanted it to sleep so Jason could seize the Fleece. [ citation needed ]

Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day. Among other things, the Celtic goddess Brigid was said to be associated with serpents. Her festival day, Imbolc is traditionally a time for weather prognostication based on watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bríde,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground. [36]


Apophis (also known as Apep) is the Great Serpent, enemy of the sun god Ra, in ancient Egyptian religion. The sun was Ra's great barge which sailed through the sky from dawn to dusk and then descended into the underworld. As it sailed through the darkness, it was attacked by Apophis who sought to kill Ra and prevent sunrise.

On board the great ship a number of different gods and goddesses are depicted in differing eras as well as the justified dead and all of these helped fend off the serpent. Ancient Egyptian priests and laypeople would engage in rituals to protect Ra and destroy Apophis and, through these observances, linked the living with the dead and the natural order as established by the gods.


Apophis never had a formal cult and was never worshiped, but he would feature in a number of tales dealing with his efforts to destroy the sun god and return order to chaos. Apophis is associated with earthquakes, thunder, darkness, storms, and death, and is sometimes linked to the god Set, also associated with chaos, disorder, storms, and darkness. Set was originally a protector god, however, and appears a number of times as the strongest of the gods on board the sun god's barque, defending the ship against Apophis.

Although there were probably stories about a great enemy-serpent earlier in Egypt's history, Apophis first appears by name in texts from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) and is acknowledged as a dangerous force through the Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE), especially, and on into the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 BCE) and Roman Egypt. Most of the texts which mention him come from the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE), including the one known as The Book of Overthrowing Apophis which contains the rituals and spells for defeating and destroying the serpent. This work is among the best known of the so-called Execration Texts, works written to accompany rituals denouncing and cursing a person or entity which remained in use throughout ancient Egypt's history.


Apophis is sometimes depicted as a coiled serpent but, often, as dismembered, being cut into pieces, or under attack. A famous depiction along these lines comes from Spell 17 of The Egyptian Book of the Dead in which the great cat Mau kills Apophis with a knife. Mau was the divine cat, a personification of the sun god, who guarded the Tree of Life which held the secrets of eternal life and divine knowledge. Mau was present at the act of creation, embodying the protective aspect of Ra, and was considered among his greatest defenders during the New Kingdom of Egypt.

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Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson reprints an image in his book The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt from the tomb of Inerkhau at Deir el-Medina in which Mau is seen defending the Tree of Life from Apophis as he slices into the great serpent's head with his blade. The accompanying text, from Spell 17 of the Book of the Dead, relates how the cat defends Ra and also provides the origin of the cat in Egypt it was divinely created at the beginning of time by the will of the gods.

Mythological Origins

According to the most popular creation myth, the god Atum stood on the primordial mound, amidst the swirling waters of chaos, and began the work of creation. The god Heka, personification of magic, was with him, and it was through the agency of magic that order rose from chaos and the first sunrise appeared. A variation on this myth has the goddess Neith emerge from the primal waters and, again with Heka, initiate creation. In both versions, which come from the Coffin Texts, Apophis makes his earliest mythological appearance.


In the story concerning Atum, Apophis has always existed and swam in the dark waters of undifferentiated chaos before the ben-ben (the primordial mound) rose from them. Once creation was begun, Apophis was angered because of the introduction of duality and order. Prior to creation, everything was a unified whole, but after, there were opposites such as water and land, light and dark, male and female. Apophis became the enemy of the sun god because the sun was the first sign of the created world and symbolized divine order, light, life, and if he could swallow the sun god, he could return the world to a unity of darkness.

The version in which Neith creates the ordered world is similar but with a significant difference: Apophis is a created being who is given life at the same moment as creation. He is, therefore, not the equal of the earliest gods but their subordinate. In this story, Neith emerges from the chaotic waters of darkness and spits some out as she steps onto the ben-ben. Her saliva becomes the giant serpent who then swims away before it can be caught. When Neith was a part of the waters of darkness, as in the other tale, everything was unified now, though, there was diversity. Apophis goal was to return the universe to its original, undifferentiated state.


Order vs. Chaos

One of the most popular literary motifs of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt was order vs. chaos which can be seen in a number of the most famous works. The Admonitions of Ipuwer, for example, contrasts the chaos of the narrator's present with a perfect 'golden age' of the past and the Discourse Between a Man and his Soul does the same on a more personal level.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find the Apophis myth emerging during this period because it epitomizes this motif. The gods, the forces of order, enlist the aid of humanity to defend light against darkness and life against death in essence, to maintain duality and individuality against unity and collectivity.

The personality of an individual was highly valued in Egyptian culture. All the gods were depicted with their own characters and even lesser deities and spirits had their own distinct personalities. The autobiographies inscribed on stelae and tombs was to ensure that the person buried there, that specific individual and their accomplishments, would never be forgotten. Apophis, then, represented everything the Egyptians feared: darkness, oblivion, and the loss of one's identity.


Overthrowing Apophis

The Egyptians believed that all of nature was imbued with divinity and this, of course, included the sun which gave life. Eclipses and cloudy days were concerning because it was thought the sun god was having problems bringing his ship back up into the sky. The cause of these problems was always Apophis who had somehow gotten the better of the gods on board. During the latter part of the New Kingdom era, the text known as The Book of Overthrowing Apophis was set down from earlier oral traditions in which, according to Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch:

The most terrifying deities in the Egyptian pantheon were evoked to combat the chaos serpent and destroy all the aspects of his being, such as his body, his name, his shadow, and his magic. Priests acted out this unending war by drawing pictures or making models of Apophis. These were cursed and then destroyed by stabbing, trampling, and burning. (108)

Long before the text was written, however, the ritual was enacted. No matter how many times Apophis was defeated and killed, he always rose again to life and attacked the sun god's boat. The most powerful gods and goddesses would defeat the serpent in the course of every night, but during the day, as the sun god sailed slowly across the sky, Apophis regenerated and was ready again by dusk to resume the war. In a text known as the Book of Gates, the goddesses Isis, Neith, and Serket, assisted by other deities, capture Apophis and restrain him in nets held down by monkeys, the sons of Horus, and the great earth god Geb, where he is then chopped into pieces the next night, though, the serpent is whole again and waiting for the barge of the sun when it enters the underworld.

Although the gods were all-powerful, they needed all the help they could get when it came to Apophis. The justified dead who had been admitted to paradise are often seen on the celestial ship helping to defend it. Spell 80 of the Coffin Texts enables the deceased to join in the defense of the sun god and his ship. Set, as noted earlier, is one of the first to drive Apophis off with his spear and club. The serpent god Mehen is also seen on board springing at Apophis to protect Ra. The Egyptian board game mehen, in fact, is thought to have originated from Mehen's role aboard the sun barque. Along with the souls of the dead, however, the living also played a part. Egyptologist Margaret Bunson describes the ritual:

The Egyptians assembled in the temples to make images of the serpent in wax. They spat upon the images, burned them and mutilated them. Cloudy days or storms were signs that Apophis was gaining ground, and solar eclipses were particular times of terror for the Egyptians, as they were interpreted as a sign of Ra's demise. The sun god emerged victorious each time, however, and the people continued their prayers and anthems. (198)

Each morning the sun rose again and moved across the sky and, watching it, the people would know they had played a part in the gods' victory over the forces of darkness and chaos. The first act of the priests in the temples across Egypt was the ritual of Lighting the Fire which re-enacted the first sunrise. This was performed just before dawn in defiance of Apophis' desire to snuff out the light of creation and return all to darkness.

Following Lighting the Fire came the second most important morning ritual, Drawing the Bolt, in which the high priests unlocked and opened the doors to the inner sanctum where the god lived. These two rituals both had to do with Apophis: Lighting the Fire called upon the light of creation to empower Ra and Drawing the Bolt woke the god of the temple from sleep to join in defending the barque of the sun against the great serpent.


Rituals surrounding Apophis continued through the Late Period, in which they seem to be taken more seriously than they were previously, and on through the Roman Period. These rituals, in which the people struggled alongside the gods against the forces of darkness, were not particular only to Apophis. The festivals celebrating the resurrection of Osiris included the entire community who participated as two women, playing the parts of Isis and Nephthys, called on Osiris to wake and return to life.

At the king's Sed Festival, and others, participants played the parts of the armies of Horus and Set in mock battles re-enacting the victory of Horus (order) over Set (chaos). At Hathor's festival, people were encouraged to drink to excess in re-enacting the time of disorder and destruction when Ra sent Sekhmet to destroy humanity but then repented. He had a large vat of beer, dyed red, set down in Sekhmet's path at Dendera, and she, thinking it was blood, drank it, became drunk, and passed out. When she woke, she was the gentle Hathor who then restored order and became a friend to humanity.

These rituals encouraged the understanding that human beings played an important role in the workings of the universe. The sun was not just an impersonal object in the sky which appeared to rise every morning and set each evening but was imbued with character and purpose: it was the barge of the sun god who, throughout the day, ensured the continuation of life and, at night, required the prayers and support of the people to ensure they would see him the next day.

The rituals surrounding the overthrow of Apophis represented the eternal struggle between good and evil, order and chaos, light and darkness, and relied upon the daily attention and efforts of human beings to succeed. Humanity, then, was not just a passive recipient of the gifts of the gods but a vital component in the operation of the universe.

This understanding was maintained, and these rituals observed, until the rise of Christianity in the 4th century CE. At this time, the old model of humanity as co-workers with the gods was replaced by a new one in which human beings were fallen creatures, unworthy of their deity, and utterly dependent upon their god's son and his sacrifice for their salvation.

Humans were now considered recipients of a gift they had not earned and did not deserve, and the sun lost its distinct personality and purpose to become another of the Christian god's creations. Apophis, however, would live on in Christian iconography and mythology, merged with other deities such as Set and the benign serpent Sata, as the adversary of God, Satan, who also worked tirelessly to overturn divine order and bring chaos.

Serpent Gods of Aztec Mythology

In ancient civilizations, gods and goddesses played an important role and the ancient Aztecs were no exception. Deities are known to take on a variety of different forms. In this article, you will encounter the serpent gods of the ancient Aztecs, including Chicomecoatl , who is known as “seven snakes.”

During what is known as the Middle Culture period, the Aztecs worshipped the goddess of maize, Chicomecoatl, who was sometimes referred to as the “goddess of nourishment.” The female personification of corn is seen through this goddess that is also called ‘seven snakes.’ There are three forms of the goddess that exist: young girl carrying flowers, woman that brings death with her touch, and a mother that uses the sun as a shield.

September was an important month for the worship of the goddess. However, it was very unlucky for the young girl chosen to represent Chicomecoatl, as she was sacrificed. The priests would decapitate the girl and then collect her blood, which was then poured over a figurine of the goddess. The dead body was flayed and the priest would keep the skin to wear.

“The Mother of Gods” in Aztec mythology is responsible for giving birth to the moon, stars, and the god of the sun and war , Huitzilopochtli. When she takes the form of the ‘grandmother,’ Coatlicue is referred to as ‘Toci,’ but as the ‘lady of the serpent,’ the goddess is called Cihuacoatl. Coatlicue has many celestial connections , referred to as the “Mother of the Southern Stars” and “Goddess of Life, Death and Rebirth.”

A woman wearing a skirt of snakes and a necklace comprised of human hearts, hands, and skulls is what represents the goddess. Claws decorate her feet and hands. Two serpents facing one another are what make up her face. A myth states that after her head was cut off, the blood that came out of her neck created the form of two large snakes.

Known as the ‘snake woman,’ Cihuacoatl was a fertility goddess, who represented motherhood. The goddess had a special link to midwives and was worshipped in the sweatbaths where midwives practiced. Sometimes, she appears as a young woman, while other depictions show has as an old woman with the face of a skull that carries spears and shield of a warrior. Interestingly, childbirth was often compared to warfare and when a female lost their life in childbirth, she was honored in the same manner as a fallen hero.

With connections to the Milky Way, stars, and the heavens, Mixcoatl was the god of the hunt, whose name also meant ‘cloud serpent.’ With a black mask over his eyes and ‘candy cane-like’ stripes painted on his body, Mixcoatl was the offspring of the fertility goddess and the patroness of midwives, Chihaucoatl.

Snakes in mythology

Snakes have been in religion, mythology, and history since time began.

Adam and Eve is the first story we know of where a snake is present in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3 we read about how Eve was tempted by the serpent who felt that the forbidden tree wouldn’t kill Eve but would open her eyes and be as a god knowing good and evil. After partaking of the succulent fruit her eyes did indeed open and she then encouraged Adam to also partake of the fruit. Soon thereafter they discovered they were naked and got busy creating some clothing out of fig leaves. The serpent in this bible story represented Satan and his desire to thwart God’s plan.

Later in Moses ‘s story in Exodus 4:2 God turned Moses’s staff into a snake and back. Later when Moses and Aaron appeared before the pharaoh Aaron’s staff turned into a snake, the Pharaoh’s sorcerers countered by casting down their own rods and similarly turned them into snakes. Aaron’s snake then proceeded to swallow the sorcerer’s snakes/rod.

Caduceus or the magic wand of the Greek god Hermes, messenger of the gods, inventor, conductor of dead and protector of merchants and thieves. In the 17 century A.D. Hermes became linked with alchemy. Since the caduceus was the magic staff of Hermes and alchemy it soon became known as the staff of medical profession which was a case of mistaken identity since it actually stood for commerce.

The Staff of Asclepius is the actual symbol of healing. It is a serpent entwined rod held by the Greek god Asclepius associated with healing and medicine. Since the staff look so similar many mistake them as the same.

Medusa was a monster in Greek mythology. She is one of the Gorgon sisters and the only mortal daughter of Phorkys and Keto. Once a beauty with golden hair and fair skin served as a priestess of Athena she was devoted to a life of celibacy but she fell for Poseidon and married him. Athena punished Mudusa by turning each golden lock of hair into a venomous snake, her eyes turn in blood shot orbs, and her creamy skin turned a greenish tinge. Knowing she was repulsive she fled to Africa where she wandered dropping young snakes from her head which is how Africa became a hotbed of venomous reptiles. She turned whomever she gazed upon into stone. Deliverance came to her as death, by the hands of Perseus.

Snakes in movies are a commonplace. Who can forget the Harry Potter films where snakes are a common theme. It started in the first film when Harry talks to and mistakenly releases the friendly snake from the zoo. Then we meet the huge Basilisk that haunted the halls of Hogwarts. Later we find out their is a snake language called Parseltongue, which is a rare ability, where humans can talk to snakes. Finally we meet Nagini who is Voldemort’s pet snake who was actually a horcrux.

Snakes are everywhere. Remember Kaa from the Jungle Book?

New 2016 The Jungle Book…creepy

Ouroborus is an ancient Greek symbol depicting a serpent or even a dragon eating it’s own tail. Originated in Egyptian iconography but Ancient Greeks adopted the symbol. It symbolizes introspection, eternal return, or constantly re-creating yourself. Of course it also symbolizes the infinite cycle of nature of creation and destruction or life and death.

The first known appearance is in the Book of the Netherworld which is an ancient Egyptian Funerary text in the tomb of Tutankhamen in 14th century B.C.

In Norse mythology the ouroboros is the serpent “Jörmungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda, which grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth.”

In India the ouroboros is used to describe Kundalini energy. “Different spiritual traditions teach methods of “awakening” kundalini for the purpose of reaching spiritual enlightenment. [1] Kundalini is described as lying “coiled” at the base of the spine, represented as either a goddess or sleeping serpent waiting to be awakened.”

Any way you look at it snakes are interesting, creepy, have a slithering stronghold through history.

Stories of Ancient Deities (The Serpent Gods and Immortality)

Besides Adam and Eve, the other important denizen of the garden of Eden was the serpent. He is given qualities which rival and surpass those of Adam. Even Genesis concedes the point when it asserts that “the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that God had made.” The Haggadahdescribes the serpent as tall, two-legged and with superior mental powers. He was lord over all the beasts of Eden: “God spoke to the serpent, ’I created you to be king over all the animals. I created you to be of upright position.’” In the Haggadah there seems to be little doubt that he walked like a man.

In Genesis, the serpent was severely punished for his role in the downfall of Adam and Eve. His fate was henceforth to crawl on his belly. In this way, Genesis implies that at one time the serpent was a legged creature and lost his limbs as a result of the eating of the forbidden fruit. The Haggadah is more explicit and plainly states that “his hands and feet were hacked off.”

In appearance, the legged-serpent must have been a fearsome creature, dominating all the animals as well as Man. In fact, when Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, they wore “shirts of skin.” But since Adam and Eve were vegetarian during this period and Man was not allowed to eat meat until after the Deluge, these “skins” must have been those sloughed off by the reptiles. Many ancient sources verify this.

Ancient Jewish legends indicate that the clothes worn by Adam and Eve were not only made of reptile skins but that they protected them from predators: “When they wore the coats, Adam and Eve were told, all creatures on earth would fear them.” The serpent skins were symbolic of the ruling race, and not only reminded Adam and Eve of their origin but also acted as a talisman to protect them from wild creatures.

[Comment: Even today we still wear reptile skins – snakeskins, alligator skins, crocodile skins – many of which are quite expensive and set the wearer apart from the general multitude. And the serpent, primarily the cobra, was highly revered in such ancient cultures as those of Egypt and India.]

The notion of the serpent as evil is a fairly recent one, for it is one that developed during the early Christian era. In actuality, the Biblical serpent is often connected with godly knowledge, healing and immortality. The Hebrew word for the creature who tempted Eve is “nahash” which is usually translated as serpent but literally means “he who solves secrets.”

Even in ancient Greek the word serpent posed problems in translation. In the Septuagint, the early Greek version of the Old Testament, the serpent is called “drakon.” In ancient Greece the word “drakon” was used for all large fearsome creatures such as serpents, large reptiles, and other terrifying animals. Thus the term “drakon” carried over through semantic channels to the association of a large winged, legged serpent as dragon in Western literature and culture.

[Comment: Today the Greek currency is called a “drakma.” It would be interesting to investigate the etymological source for this modern term.]

In all probability, the dragons and other fabulous creatures of mythology are but distorted forms of the serpent-god. It is a semantic problem fostered by man’s revulsion in linking his ancestry to a saurian god. Two streams of understanding seem to have contributed to the legend of the serpent as evil and repulsive.

The first is the master-slave relationship. Man replaced the Anunnaki as workers and began to perform all the menial and distasteful tasks. The memory of this domination by cruel and merciless reptiles was further exacerbated by the descent of the Nefilim in the days before the Deluge. These space men intermarried and lived among Mankind, and both Scriptures and Sumerian sources reveal that they were a barbarous and cannibalistic race.

By the time of the advent of the Deluge, Man had come to despise and even to persecute these saurian offspring . Ancient sources strongly suggest that anyone showing signs of serpent-god ancestry was hunted down and destroyed.

The second major factor in the evolution of the idea of them as evil was the enmity between Enlil and Enki. When the lands were reclaimed after the Deluge, Enlil saw to it that his sons were placed in charge of the lands of the Middle East and that Enki’s sons were allotted foreign lands such as Egypt and the Indus Valley. The sons of Enki returned to the Middle East, however, and his oldest son Marduk seized control of Babylon and claimed the coveted title of “fifty.”

Enki is remembered as the creator and benefactor of Mankind and is associated with godly knowledge, healing, and immortality – exactly the qualities attributed to the serpent in the garden of Eden. Thus, the Biblical “Fall of Man” takes on the character of a confrontation between Enlil, the Elohim of the Old Testament, and Enki, the usurper serpent-god.

[Comment: Curiously in the book The Stellar Man by John Baines, the duplicitous Archon of Destiny, who tricked Moses and subsequently thereby became the usurper of power on this planet from the more “people-friendly” former Archon ruler, was known by the letter Y. Does this Y refer to Yahweh and therefore to Crown-Prince Enlil?]

The same conflict is seen in the Tale of Adapa when Enki prevented An (Enlil later came to represent An as he became the senior god) from tampering with his creation. There are echoes of this dissension in the Third Book of Enoch, when this Patriarch was to be given godhood and immortality. The “angels” representing the older order protested that God was revealing divine secrets to Man. They remind him that “did not the primeval ones give you good advice when they said ’don’t create man’?”

To the conservative and older gods, man was considered to be an inferior animal, for time and time again he is criticized for his sweaty and dirty mammalism. In the Third Book of Enoch man is scorned by the minor gods or angels who characterize him as “mankind born of woman, blemished, unclean, defiled by blood and impure flux, men who sweat putrid drops.” This disgust of the angels towards their sweaty and hairy mammal cousins is reiterated throughout the Old Testament where this dislike is masked under the imagery of the “weakness of the flesh.”

The Anunnaki delighted in their reptilian appearance – their sleek, lustrous, and gleaming bodies – and mammal traits were repugnant to them. From an objective point of view, the elegance and beauty of the reptile form has much to recommend it. It is difficult to see how physical repugnance to these creatures developed.

The problem of revulsion is a difficult one, and better left to psychoanalysts. It seems largely to be a learned experience, a result of what we are taught when we are young. On the other hand, the lingering memory of the brutish and barbarous treatment by the reptilian ancestors may exist in our subconscious and contribute to the dislike of reptiles.

[Comment: Again we can single out another difference between the cultures of the Ancient Greeks and Hebrews. In Greece the gods and goddesses were considered to represent the ultimate in physical beauty and perfection. And as has been noted earlier, one of the primary reasons for the creation of Judaism in the first place was a rebellion against all things Greek. Thus, this revulsion to Saurian Gods may have originated at the same moment in time when Moses and his priests had to deal with the consequences of his pact with the “evil” Archon, ultimately leading to the Judaic religious traditions and this notion of the “repulsiveness” of anything reptilian.]


In ancient legends, Man seems to always achieve some sort of “knowledge” yet he loses immortality. It is as if the two are mutually exclusive.

Adam gets “knowledge” but is banned from the garden and from partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life. So it is with Adapa, who is given “knowledge” by Enki but is cheated of the drink and food of life that would have made him immortal. Many of the adventures of Gilgamesh are attempts to achieve immortality. He is denied a trip up to the heavens to plead to the gods for long life. He is then refused it when he reaches Utnapishtim, his grandfather. He finally obtains the magical plant that heals and extends life, but it is stolen from him by a serpent, no doubt an imagery of the serpent-gods.

In world mythology, the serpent has been the symbol of long life, of cure and regeneration, and of immortality. Serpents have everywhere been associated with healing. For example, the Mayan Chilam Balam relates that the first inhabitants of Yucatan were the Chanes or “People of the Serpent” who came across the water from the East with their Leader Itzamna who was called the “Serpent of the East.” He was a healer and could cure by laying on of hands and even revived the dead.

[Comment: Even today, the symbol for the American Medical Association contains the image of a coiled serpent around a pole. As for Itzamna, that is undoubtedly the Mayan name for Crown-Prince Enlil, whose son Prince Nannar led the first expedition of Anunnaki (or Olmecs) from southern Africa to the Americas. Nannar was known to the Mayans as the legendary Quetzalcoatl, the flying serpent god. For additional information, see The Lost Realms by Zecharia Sitchin.]

In the Old Testament, the role of the serpent as healer is illustrated in the incident of the “brazen serpent” or “seraph” which was raised on a pole and became a cure for the ailments of the tribes during their Exodus from Egypt.

The duality of knowledge and immortality, as represented by the two trees in Eden, is not generally found in ancient sources. Aside from the brief references in the Tale of Adapa , ancient literature concentrates on man’s efforts to achieve immortality and extended life. The symbolic tree of life and the magical food and drink were popular subjects among the various cultures of the Middle East and often appear in their art forms.

The opposite is true of the Old Testament where immortality is all but forgotten, and the emphasis is on the sins of man caused by his downfall when he achieved knowledge. An exception is found in the pseudepigraphic document called The Life of Adam and Eve , which narrates episodes in the life of Adam and Eve after these two left Eden.

Dated to the First Century AD, it is available in both Greek and Latin versions. It provides a little known even of Adam’s attempt to obtain some of these rejuvenative remedies. According to the text, Adam was old and sickly and near the end of his life. He requested Eve and his son Seth to return to Eden for the “oil from the tree of mercy” with which he might be anointed, relieved of his pain, and have his life extended. At the gates of Eden, they are met by the angel Michael who refuses the plea of Seth with the argument that the magic elixir is not for man.

The Hebrew concentration on a view opposite that of the ancient secular traditions would suggest that the emphasis on “knowing” by the early priesthood was a deliberate deviation, in order to force on their people a doctrine of “original sin” and the “fall of man” and thus achieve a large degree of control over their minds and behavior.

The search for regeneration, a form of immortality, has been a common theme of ancient literature and mythology. It is a sub-theme in the Gilgamesh Epic where, after telling his grandson that the gods had refused him immortality, Utnapishtim has compassion for his grandson and in order not to let him return empty-handed, he is informed of a magical plant that restores youth and vitality and where to find it.

[Comment: And we have been looking for “the fountain of youth” ever since!]

Thus on his return home, Gilgamesh follows the directions of his grandfather and manages to obtain this magical plant. He decides, somewhat unwisely, not to partake of it immediately but rather to take it back to the city of Uruk and there share it with his friends. This turns out to be a mistake, for when Gilgamesh stops by a pool of water to bathe, the plant is stolen from him.

In order to wash the grime from his long journey, Gilgamesh decided to take a much needed bath. He foolishly leaves the magic plant on shore unattended. As he is bathing, and much to his consternation, a snake or “seru” smelled the fragrance of the plant, came up through the water and carried it away. As the serpent left, it threw off its skin. In this way, the story represents the regenerative ability of the serpent to extend its life by shedding its skin periodically.

In man’s search for the panacea of long life and vitality, science has yet to provide the answer. As a natural process, regeneration is not very developed in man and the higher mammals, being capable of regenerating only hair, skin, nails, liver, and certain other tissues. It is much more pronounced in the lower animals, for example, salamanders and lizards which can replace their tails, lobsters and crabs which can grow new limbs, and the flatworm which will form a number of new individuals when it is cut into pieces.

While regeneration has been forbidden by the gods throughout the ages, veiled references are often found in the literature. When the snake stole the magical plant of Gilgamesh and immediately shed its skin, it was demonstrating a form of immortality. Shedding of the skin has in this way entered the theology of the Hebrews and Christians in the form of the rite of circumcision.

As part of the covenant between Abraham and his god, and later reinforced by being repeated many more times to his descendants, he is told,

“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between me and you.”

Just as the serpent achieves long life through sacrificing and leaving off part of himself, so man may also be saved by ritually sacrificing part of himself. The rite of circumcision also served as a perpetual reminder to man that his true origins lay in the serpent-god creator and that he existed at the forbearance of these gods.

[Comment: While wishing to avoid the often heated argument about the pros and cons of circumcision, it should be noted that while this was perhaps the original intent of the custom, many of the later Christian cultures of Europe rejected this practice, which has by now all but disappeared from modern European life. Among the Jews andMoslems it is still universal, as is it is also among many of the traditionally animist peoples of Africa. It is also still quite commonplace in the United States, although more from a cultural than a religious tradition. Elsewhere in the world, the custom of male circumcision is practically nonexistent.]

Of those who achieved true immortality and joined the gods, only two are recorded in the ancient literature. The gods made it clear that it was not granted lightly. Utnapishtim is one of the few who was given immortality.

After the Deluge, Utnapishtim and his wife were taken up into the space ship where Enlil placed him through a ritual process:

“Hitherto, Utnapishtim had been but a man, but now Utnapishtim and his wife shall be unto us gods.”

He was sent to live “at the source of the two rivers where Shamash rises,” in the land of Dilmun. Unlike his counterpart, Noah did not achieve immortality. The gods of the Old Testament were much more jealous and uncompromising gods.

One of the Patriarchs before the Deluge achieved this distinction. It is passed over cryptically in Genesis which states that “Enoch walked with God. Then he vanished because God took him.” Nonetheless, the three apocalyptic books of Enoch provide the full story – details which were omitted from the Bible.

Enoch was not only made immortal but also deified so that he became second in power to the chief deity himself. This unusual metamorphosis was done in order to provide an objective magistrate who could preside over the trial of the Nefilim who had been accused of committing all sorts of crimes on Earth.


Longevity among the ancients is proverbial. The name of the Patriarch Methuselah has been synonymous with an extra long life span. If the ancient records, both religious and secular, are to be believed the antediluvian Kings and Patriarchs enjoyed an unusual long life span. These claims are so consistent, and even allowing for exaggeration, one is forced to concede that there must be some truth in them. Tacitly, modern man is beginning to take these claims seriously, for today he is toying with the possibilities that aging can be brought under control, even reversed, and that life spans can logically be extended to a remarkable degree.

Theories of aging currently studied by modern science range from the concept of purely genetic control of aging to the concept of reducing environmental onslaughts on the human organism. Scientists now believe that the mechanisms that cause aging are extremely complex and variable, and rather than a single cause, may be many phenomena working in concert.

Most theories of aging can be placed into two general categories: error theories and programming theories. Error theories are based on the premise that random events, such as environmental assaults, cause damage to the body cells. This damage accumulates over time resulting in cellular, molecular, and organ malfunction. Programming theories are based on the assumption that aging is programmed into the cell itself and is the expected result of a purposeful sequence of events written into the genes.

One of the oldest theories of aging is the wear and tear theory that states that at the molecular level, DNA is continuously damaged but the body cannot repair the damage, and it accumulates, leading to molecular and finally organ malfunction. The metabolic theory argues that the faster an organism lives, the quicker it is to die. Caloric restrictions appear to be the only factor repeatedly shown to alter the rate of aging in animals, and nutrition would seem to control the change in certain hormones controlling metabolism.

The free-radical theory focuses on the damaging effects of free-radicals, highly unstable chemical fragments produced during normal metabolism that react and damage other molecules. Age-related accumulation of free-radical damage may interfere with the vital work of key cell structures.

Thus, all the various proponents of the error theory state that the body will produce faulty chemicals and proteins which will be synthesized and accumulated. This process leads to damaged cells, tissues, and organs resulting in death.

On the other hand, the programmed senescence theory states that aging and death are due to programmed events, a result of the sequential switching on and off of certain genes. Some may act as a biological clock, such as those controlling puberty and menopause. If aging is programmed, the endocrine or hormone system and the immune system are the two likely candidates which control aging.

Events occurring in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands may be responsible for some important aging processes. The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, secretes hormones that in turn stimulate other glands to produce hormones. It is possible that a biological clock in the hypothalamus (a region of the brain) instructs the pituitary gland to secrete a hormone that interferes with the ability of the body tissues to respond to thyroid hormones. This theoretical hormone, referred to by some as the “death hormone,” has never been isolated.

The immune system defends the body against bacteria, viruses, and other invading organisms. The thymus gland, located in the chest, is an essential component of the system. It reaches maximum size during adolescence and declines to the point where it is barely visible at age 50. Proponents of the immune system theory believe that by reducing the body’s ability to fight infection, fend off cancer, and even repair DNA damage, the decline in the system may be the single most important event in the aging process.

As can be seen, the study of aging is yet in its infancy, although it seems to be an energetically growing discipline. Understanding the mechanism of aging will presumably help to eliminate diseases and disorders associated with old age and presumably lengthen the active life process. Science is also on the threshold of making changes in the gene itself.

Perhaps some day we will achieve the technical sophistication of our ancestors, the serpent-gods who seem to have solved these perplexing scientific problems.

It is a most superb irony that a race of intelligent beings may really exist in our neighborhood of space who are reptilian and repulsive, and yet have founded human civilization. Yet these “loathsome” creatures must have a technology sufficiently advanced to enable them to travel between the stars. A race that could traverse space would certainly have achieved genetic engineering and the ability to regenerate themselves and thereby achieve long and extended life.

To summarize, important quotes:

“Dated to the First Century AD, it is available in both Greek and Latin versions. It provides a little known even of Adam’s attempt to obtain some of these rejuvenative remedies. According to the text, Adam was old and sickly and near the end of his life. He requested Eve and his son Seth to return to Eden for the “oil from the tree of mercy” with which he might be anointed, relieved of his pain, and have his life extended. At the gates of Eden, they are met by the angel Michael who refuses the plea of Seth with the argument that the magic elixir is not for man.”

The making of a bad image for serpents:

In all probability, the dragons and other fabulous creatures of mythology are but distorted forms of the serpent-god. It is a semantic problem fostered by man’s revulsion in linking his ancestry to a saurian god. Two streams of understanding seem to have contributed to the legend of the serpent as evil and repulsive.

The first is the master-slave relationship. Man replaced the Anunnaki as workers and began to perform all the menial and distasteful tasks. The memory of this domination by cruel and merciless reptiles was further exacerbated by the descent of the Nefilim in the days before the Deluge. These space men intermarried and lived among Mankind, and both Scriptures and Sumerian sources reveal that they were a barbarous and cannibalistic race.

By the time of the advent of the Deluge, Man had come to despise and even to persecute these saurian offspring. Ancient sources strongly suggest that anyone showing signs of serpent-god ancestry was hunted down and destroyed.

The second major factor in the evolution of the idea of them as evil was the enmity between Enlil and Enki. When the lands were reclaimed after the Deluge, Enlil saw to it that his sons were placed in charge of the lands of the Middle East and that Enki’s sons were allotted foreign lands such as Egypt and the Indus Valley. The sons of Enki returned to the Middle East, however, and his oldest son Marduk seized control of Babylon and claimed the coveted title of “fifty.”

The Serpent in Irish Mythology

I reland has no indigenous snakes. The story goes that they were banished by St Patrick. You would think he was rather busy converting the pagan masses, founding monasteries and churches, and establishing his new religion, yet he still found time to save us from dangerous hissing, slithering creatures.

According to a Welsh monk by the name of Jocelin (1185AD), Patrick gathered all snakes, serpents, and venomous creatures alike onto a mountain in West Connacht, where he had spent the previous forty days and nights fasting and gaining great power, and drove them from there into the sea.

Croagh Patrick, from the Irish Cruach Phádraig, meaning ‘Patrick’s Stack’, and also known as ‘the Reek’, is said to be that mountain, and today thousands of pilgrims walk its rugged path every year in celebration of this event, and in penance, many in bare feet or on their knees. It may not come as a surprise to find Croagh Patrick was already a high holy place before the Christians made it theirs, and in those days, its name was Cruachán Aigle, which perhaps bears some relation in its name to the pagan Irish deity Crom Cruach.

Of course, this story is the subject of controversy. It has been claimed that the tale was never meant to be taken literally, that the serpents referred to symbolised the Druids and their pagan religion.

In modern Irish, the word for ‘snake’ is nathair, said to derive from the old Gaelic word naddred, meaning ‘serpent’. In fact, adding the letter ‘G’ turns the word into Gnaddr, meaning ‘serpent priest’. I am relying on other people’s translations here, not being fluent in Irish myself, so forgive me if I get this wrong.

Personally, I find this intriguing, since I live just minutes away from a pair of lakes which curl sinuously around each other in an undeniably snake-like way they are known as the Nadrageel Lakes… notice any similarity in the words?

The serpent was important to the Druids for healing purposes, among others, and the ancient symbol of the serpent circle in which the snake devours its own tail symbolises the never-ending circle of life.

However, there are those more recently who argue that this version of the story is inaccurate, that Patrick openly lambasted the Druids and set out to convert them at every opportunity, that the stories are full of his (sometimes brutal) acts of doing so, most usually involving smashing their idols with his crozier, and disrespecting their customs with defiance, as when he lit the fire at Slane on the Eve of Beltaine.

Why then, would he be so cryptic with his serpent banishing story? Saint Patrick made no mention of this important and powerful event at all in his own writings, which begs the question, did it ever take place at all?

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Apparently, he wasn’t the only Christian to have banished snakes it was a phenomenon which was happening right across Europe at that time. St Cado of Brittany banished snakes from Gaul St Paul from Malta St Columba from Iona St Clement from Metz St Marcel from Paris St Romain from Germany, Spain and Russia… it was quite the popular past-time!

Nor was it restricted to saints it was also the sport of Kings. Irish High King Brian Boru’s son, Murchad, is credited with destroying all the serpents in Ireland in one version of The Battle of Clontarf.

Neither is it particular to humans. A stone which used to sit under the east window of Glendalough church, depicted St Kevin’s dog, Lupus, in a mighty battle with the very last snake in Ireland. Needless to say, the holy hound was victorious. Mysteriously, the stone disappeared, some say it was stolen, on the 28th August 1839 and it was never seen again.

For a land devoid of slithering creatures, we certainly seem to have a lot of stories about them. In one myth, Nial and Scota, a Pharoah’s daughter, had a son named Gaoidhial who was bitten by a snake while wandering in the wilderness.

He was healed by Moses, and told that no serpent would flourish where he or his progeny lived. Of course, they were the Milesians, also known as the first Gaels, who later invaded Ireland, defeating the Tuatha de Danann, thus settling in our serpent-free land.

This would imply that Ireland already had no snakes at that time. Confusingly, I came across a reference in Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions which tells of a ‘green God-snake’ known as Gad-el-Glas, but in the Lebor Gabála Érenn (an ancient manuscript documenting the Invasions of Ireland), Gadel Glas is another name for Nial and Scota’s son. The old Milesian standard was a snake wrapped around a rod, allegedly.

The truth is, snakes are cold blooded creatures, unable to live through extreme cold climatic conditions. When Ireland emerged from its last ice age, about fifteen thousand years ago, finally free and unfettered from its nearest land mass (Scotland), it is unlikely any snakes managed to survive. Certainly, they were no longer able to cross by land bridge. I know, it’s a lot less dramatic and somewhat disappointing compared with all the other stories.

Most surprising of all to me, is Fionn mac Cumhall‘s involvement in all this. Yes, that’s right, your eyes do not deceive you. According to a poem called The Pursuit of Sliabh Druim, found in a book known as the Duanaire Finn (c. C17th), the great hero himself slew many huge serpents as big as mountains called péista (meaning ‘beast’ or ‘pest’) which lived in lakes.

Caoilte, Fionn’s nephew, relates how the monsters were slain at Lough Cuilinn, Lough Neagh, Lough Rea, Lough Corra, Lough Laoghaire, at Howth, at the Glenn Inny, and the River Bann.

Could this be a ploy to show Fionn in a Christian light, doing God’s work by destroying the pagan priests? It’s intriguing, because the way into the Otherworld lies through water were these serpents seen as Guardians to the gates of Tir na Nog, and by his violent actions, was Fionn putting the Otherworld entrances beyond reach, denying the Sidhe access to the new Christian Ireland, or mortals a non-Christian way into heaven?


The major sources for myths about Jörmungandr are the Prose Edda, the skaldic poem Húsdrápa, and the Eddic poems Hymiskviða and Völuspá. Other sources include the early skaldic poem Ragnarsdrápa and kennings in other skaldic poems for example, in Þórsdrápa, faðir lögseims, "father of the sea-thread", is used as a kenning for Loki. There are also several image stones depicting the story of Thor fishing for Jörmungandr.

There are three preserved myths detailing Thor's encounters with Jörmungandr:

Lifting the cat Edit

In one story, Thor encounters the giant king Útgarða-Loki and has to perform deeds for him, one of which is a challenge of Thor's strength. Útgarða-Loki goads Thor into attempting to lift the World Serpent, disguised by magic as a huge cat. Thor grabs the cat around its midsection but manages to raise the cat only high enough for one of its paws to leave the floor. Útgarða-Loki later explains his deception and that Thor's lifting the cat was an impressive deed, as he stretched the serpent so that it almost reached the sky. Many watching became fearful when they saw one paw lift off the ground. [3] If Thor had managed to lift the cat completely from the ground, he would have altered the boundaries of the universe. [4]

Thor's fishing trip Edit

Jörmungandr and Thor meet again when Thor goes fishing with the giant Hymir. When Hymir refuses to provide Thor with bait, Thor strikes the head off Hymir's largest ox to use it. They row to a point where Hymir often sat and caught flat fish and where he drew up two whales. Thor demands to go further out to sea and does so despite Hymir's protest. Thor then prepares a strong line and a large hook and baits it with the ox head, which Jörmungandr bites. Thor pulls the serpent from the water, and the two face one another, Jörmungandr blowing poison. [5] Hymir goes pale with fear. As Thor grabs his hammer to kill the serpent, the giant cuts the line, leaving the serpent to sink beneath the waves and return to its original position encircling the earth. [5] [6] The Eddic poem Hymiskviða has a similar ending to the story, but in earlier Scandinavian versions of the myth in skaldic poetry, Thor successfully captures and kills the serpent by striking it on the head. [6] [7]

Thor's fishing for Jörmungandr was one of the most popular motifs in Norse art. Four picture stones that are believed to depict the myth are the Altuna Runestone and the Ardre VIII image stone in Sweden, the Hørdum stone in Denmark, and a stone slab at Gosforth, Cumbria by the same sculptor as the Gosforth Cross. [8] [9] [10] Many of these depictions show the giant cutting the fishing line on the Altuna stone, Thor is alone, implying he successfully killed the serpent. [6] The Ardre VIII stone may depict more than one stage in the events: a man entering a house where an ox is standing, two men leaving, one with something on his shoulder, and two men using a spear to fish. [11] The image on this stone has been dated to the 8th [8] to 10th [12] century. If the stone is correctly interpreted as a depiction of this myth, it would indicate that the story was preserved essentially unchanged for several centuries prior to the recording of the version in the Prose Edda around the year 1220. [11] [7]

Ragnarök Edit

As recounted in Snorri's Gylfaginning based on the Eddic poem Völuspá, one sign of the coming of Ragnarök is the violent unrest of the sea as Jörmungandr releases its tail from its mouth and thrashes its way onto land. It will advance, spraying poison to fill the air and water, beside Fenrir, whose eyes and nostrils blaze with fire and whose gape touches the earth and the sky. They will join the sons of Muspell to confront the gods on the plain of Vigrid. Here is where the last meeting between the serpent and Thor is predicted to occur. He will eventually kill Jörmungandr but will fall dead after walking nine paces, having been poisoned by the serpent's deadly venom. [13] Thor's final battle with Jörmungandr has been identified, with other scenes of Ragnarök, on the Gosforth Cross. [10]

Thor's fishing for Jörmungandr has been taken as one of the similarities between him and the Hindu god Indra, who in Vedic mythology slays the dragon Vritra, [14] [15] and has also been related to a Balto-Slavic motif of the storm god combatting a serpent. [16] An alternative analysis of the episode by Preben Meulengracht Sørensen is that it was a youthful indiscretion on the part of Thor, retold to emphasize the order and balance of the cosmos, in which Jörmungandr played a vital role. [17] John Lindow draws a parallel between Jörmungandr's biting of its own tail and the binding of Fenrir, as part of a recurring theme of the bound monster in Norse mythology, where an enemy of the gods is bound but destined to break free at Ragnarök. [18]

Hindu scriptures mention Nagas, who are a class of demigods or semi divine beings who live in the subterranean world, known as Patala. They protect the treasures hidden in the earth and have the ability to assume human form. By nature they are good, but they can become destructive and vengeful if disrespected or not treated well. Hindus believes that certain types of curses and spells arising from aggrieved snake deities can result in death, sickness, misfortune, loss of progeny, or childlessness, for which one has to perform purifying and expiatory rites.

Naga Devas, the semi divine beings

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