The serpent, or snake, is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. The word is derived from Latin serpens, a crawling animal or snake. Snakes have been associated with some of the oldest rituals known to humankind and represent dual expression of good and evil.
In some cultures, snakes were fertility symbols. For example, the Hopi people of North America performed an annual snake dance to celebrate the union of Snake Youth (a Sky spirit) and Snake Girl (an Underworld spirit) and to renew the fertility of Nature. During the dance, live snakes were handled and at the end of the dance the snakes were released into the fields to guarantee good crops. "The snake dance is a prayer to the spirits of the clouds, the thunder and the lightning, that the rain may fall on the growing crops." In other cultures, snakes symbolized the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. The Great Goddess often had snakes as her familiars—sometimes twining around her sacred staff, as in ancient Crete—and they were worshiped as guardians of her mysteries of birth and regeneration.
Historically, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing. The ouroboros is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life.
In some Abrahamic traditions, the serpent represents sexual desire. According to some interpretations of the Midrash, the serpent represents sexual passion. In Hinduism, Kundalini is a coiled serpent.
Serpents are represented as potent guardians of temples and other sacred spaces. This connection may be grounded in the observation that when threatened, some snakes (such as rattlesnakes or cobras) frequently hold and defend their ground, first resorting to threatening display and then fighting, rather than retreat. Thus, they are natural guardians of treasures or sacred sites which cannot easily be moved out of harm's way.
At Angkor in Cambodia, numerous stone sculptures present hooded multi-headed nāgas as guardians of temples or other premises. A favorite motif of Angkorean sculptors from approximately the 12th century CE onward was that of the Buddha, sitting in the position of meditation, his weight supported by the coils of a multi-headed naga that also uses its flared hood to shield him from above. This motif recalls the story of the Buddha and the serpent king Mucalinda: as the Buddha sat beneath a tree engrossed in meditation, Mucalinda came up from the roots of the tree to shield the Buddha from a tempest that was just beginning to arise.
The Gadsden flag of the American Revolution depicts a rattlesnake coiled up and poised to strike. Below the image of the snake is the legend, "Don't tread on me." The snake symbolized the dangerousness of colonists willing to fight for their rights and homeland. The motif is repeated in the First Navy Jack of the US Navy.
Serpents are connected with poison and medicine. The snake's venom is associated with the chemicals of plants and fungi that have the power to either heal, poison or provide expanded consciousness (and even the elixir of life and immortality) through divine intoxication. Because of its herbal knowledge and entheogenic association the snake was often considered one of the wisest animals, being (close to the) divine. Its divine aspect combined with its habitat in the earth between the roots of plants made it an animal with chthonic properties connected to the afterlife and immortality. The deified Greek physician Asclepius, as god of medicine and healing, carried a staff with one serpent wrapped around it, which has become the symbol of modern medicine. Moses also had a replica of a serpent on a pole, the Nehushtan, mentioned in Numbers 21:8.
Following Christian tradition, serpents are connected with lies, vengefulness and vindictiveness:
and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.— Genesis 3:15 NRSV
This connection also depends in part on the experience that venomous snakes often deliver deadly defensive bites without giving prior notice or warning to their unwitting victims. Although a snake is defending itself from the encroachment of its victim into the snake's immediate vicinity, the unannounced and deadly strike may seem unduly vengeful when measured against the unwitting victim's perceived lack of blameworthiness.
Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story "The Cask of Amontillado" invokes the image of the serpent as a symbol for petty vengefulness. The story is told from the point of view of the vindictive Montresor, who hatches a secret plot to murder his rival Fortunato in order to avenge real or imagined insults. Before carrying out his scheme, Montresor reveals his family's coat-of-arms to the intended victim: "A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel." Fortunato, not suspecting that he has offended Montresor, fails to understand the symbolic import of the coat-of-arms and blunders onward into Montresor's trap.
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 worshipers, 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.
In ancient Mesopotamia, Nirah, the messenger god of Ištaran, was represented as a serpent on kudurrus, or boundary stones. Representations of two intertwined serpents are common in Sumerian art and Neo-Sumerian artwork and still appear sporadically on cylinder seals and amulets until as late as the thirteenth century BCE. The horned viper (Cerastes cerastes) appears in Kassite and Neo-Assyrian kudurrus and is invoked in Assyrian texts as a magical protective entity. A dragon-like creature with horns, the body and neck of a snake, the forelegs of a lion, and the hind-legs of a bird appears in Mesopotamian art from the Akkadian Period until the Hellenistic Period (323 BCE–31 BCE). This creature, known in Akkadian as the mušḫuššu, meaning "furious serpent", was used as a symbol for particular deities and also as a general protective emblem. It seems to have originally been the attendant of the Underworld god Ninazu, but later became the attendant to the Hurrian storm-god Tishpak, as well as, later, Ninazu's son Ningishzida, the Babylonian national god Marduk, the scribal god Nabu, and the Assyrian national god Ashur.
Snake cults were well established in Canaanite religion 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, one at Gezer, one in the sanctum sanctorum of the Area H temple at Hazor, and two at Shechem.
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. In 6th-century Babylon, a pair of bronze serpents flanked each of the four doorways of the temple of Esagila. 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". At the tell of Tepe Gawra, at least seventeen Early Bronze Age Assyrian bronze serpents were recovered.
Snakes are sacred and powerful in the thoughts of prehistoric cultures of Iran. It seems that they have worshiped along with the fertility goddesses, from fourth to first millennium BC.; We can detect their presence as mighty patrons and source of life and immortality in the art of Tall-i Bakun, Chogha Mish, Tepe Sialk, Jiroft culture, Shahr-e Sukhteh, Shahdad, Elamite art, Luristan art, etc. Serpents have pictured as patrons of fertility, water and wealth in the ancient objects of Iran. However, it seems that symbolic concept of serpent has reversed in the cultures of Iranian plateau over time. In Abrahamic traditions, the serpent represents sexual desire, as he lured Eve with the promise of forbidden knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Aryan religions call the serpents diabolic too; Azhi Dahake in Avesta is a scary serpent and Zahhak in the Shahnameh is an infernal creature with two snakes on his shoulders. This replacement might be due to communicating between the inhabitants of Iran and believers in Abrahamic religions and beyond that the conversion of matriarchy into patriarchy, in the social structure of Iranian plateau cultures.
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.
In the Gospel of John 3:14–15, Jesus makes direct comparison between the raising up of the Son of Man and the act of Moses in raising up the serpent as a sign, using it as a symbol associated with salvation: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life".
In many myths, the chthonic serpent (sometimes a pair) lives in or is coiled around a Tree of Life situated in a divine garden. In the Genesis story of the Torah and Biblical Old Testament, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is situated in the Garden of Eden together with the tree of life and the Serpent. In Greek mythology, Ladon coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the entheogenic golden apples.
Under yet another Tree (the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment), the Buddha sat in ecstatic meditation. When a storm arose, the mighty serpent king Mucalinda rose up from his place beneath the earth and enveloped the Buddha in seven coils for seven days, so as not to break his ecstatic state.
The Vision Serpent was also a symbol of rebirth in Mayan mythology, with origins going back to earlier Maya conceptions, lying at the center of the world as the Mayans conceived it. "It is in the center axis atop the World Tree. Essentially the World Tree and the Vision Serpent, representing the king, created the center axis which communicates between the spiritual and the earthly worlds or planes. It is through ritual that the king could bring the center axis into existence in the temples and create a doorway to the spiritual world, and with it power". (Schele and Friedel, 1990: 68)
Sometimes the Tree of Life is represented (in a combination with similar concepts such as the World Tree and Axis mundi or "World Axis") by a staff such as those used by shamans. Examples of such staffs featuring coiled snakes in mythology are the caduceus of Hermes, the Rod of Asclepius, the staff of Moses, and the papyrus reeds and deity poles entwined by a single serpent Wadjet, dating to earlier than 3000 BCE. The oldest known representation of two snakes entwined around a rod is that of the Sumerian fertility god Ningizzida. Ningizzida was sometimes depicted as a serpent with a human head, eventually becoming a god of healing and magic. It is the companion of Dumuzi (Tammuz), with whom it stood at the gate of heaven. In the Louvre, there is a famous green steatite vase carved for King Gudea of Lagash (dated variously 2200–2025 BCE) with an inscription dedicated to Ningizzida. Ningizzida was the ancestor of Gilgamesh, who, according to the epic, dived to the bottom of the waters to retrieve the plant of life. But while he rested from his labor, a serpent came and ate the plant. The snake became immortal, and Gilgamesh was destined to die.
Ningizzida has been popularized in the 20th century by Raku Kei Reiki (a.k.a. "The Way of the Fire Dragon"), where "Nin Giz Zida" is believed to be a fire serpent of Tibetan rather than Sumerian origin. "Nin Giz Zida" is another name for the ancient Hindu concept Kundalini, a Sanskrit word meaning either "coiled up" or "coiling like a snake". "Kundalini" refers to the mothering intelligence behind yogic awakening and spiritual maturation leading to altered states of consciousness. There are a number of other translations of the term, usually emphasizing a more serpentine nature to the word—e.g. "serpent power". It has been suggested by Joseph Campbell that the symbol of snakes coiled around a staff is an ancient representation of Kundalini physiology. The staff represents the spinal column with the snake(s) being energy channels. In the case of two coiled snakes, they usually cross each other seven times, a possible reference to the seven energy centers called chakras.
In Ancient Egypt, where the earliest written cultural records exist, the serpent appears from the beginning to the end of their mythology. Ra and Atum ("he who completes or perfects") became the same god, Atum, the "counter-Ra," was associated with earth animals, including the serpent: Nehebkau ("he who harnesses the souls") was the two headed serpent deity who guarded the entrance to the underworld. He is often seen as the son of the snake goddess Renenutet. She often was confused with (and later was absorbed by) their primal snake goddess Wadjet, the Egyptian cobra, who from the earliest of records was the patron and protector of the country, all other deities, and the pharaohs. Hers is the first known oracle. She was depicted as the crown of Egypt, entwined around the staff of papyrus and the pole that indicated the status of all other deities, as well as having the all-seeing eye of wisdom and vengeance. She never lost her position in the Egyptian pantheon.
The image of the serpent as the embodiment of the wisdom transmitted by Sophia was an emblem used by gnosticism, especially those sects that the more orthodox characterized as "Ophites" ("Serpent People"). The chthonic serpent was one of the earth-animals associated with the cult of Mithras. The Basilisk, the venomous "king of serpents" with the glance that kills, was hatched by a serpent, Pliny the Elder and others thought, from the egg of a cock.
The Rainbow Serpent (also known as the Rainbow Snake) is a major mythological being for Aboriginal people across Australia, although the creation myth associated with it are best known from northern Australia. In Fiji Ratumaibulu was a serpent god who ruled the underworld and made fruit trees bloom. In the Northern Flinders Ranges reigns The Arkaroo, serpent who drank Lake Frome empty, refuges into the mountains, carving valleys and waterholes, earthquakes through snoring.
The serpent, when forming a ring with its tail in its mouth, is a clear and widespread symbol of the "All-in-All", the totality of existence, infinity and the cyclic nature of the cosmos. The most well known version of this is the Aegypto-Greek Ourobouros. It is believed to have been inspired by the Milky Way, as some ancient texts refer to a serpent of light residing in the heavens. The Ancient Egyptians associated it with Wadjet, one of their oldest deities as well as another aspect, Hathor. In Norse mythology the World Serpent (or Midgard serpent) known as Jörmungandr encircled the world in the ocean's abyss biting its own tail.
In Hindu mythology Lord Vishnu is said to sleep while floating on the cosmic waters on the serpent Shesha. In the Puranas Shesha holds all the planets of the universe on his hoods and constantly sings the glories of Vishnu from all his mouths. He is sometimes referred to as "Ananta-Shesha," which means "Endless Shesha". In the Samudra manthan chapter of the Puranas, Shesha loosens Mount Mandara for it to be used as a churning rod by the Asuras and Devas to churn the ocean of milk in the heavens in order to make Soma (or Amrita), the divine elixir of immortality. As a churning rope another giant serpent called Vasuki is used.
In pre-Columbian Central America Quetzalcoatl was sometimes depicted as biting its own tail. The mother of Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec goddess Coatlicue ("the one with the skirt of serpents"), also known as Cihuacoatl ("The Lady of the serpent"). Quetzalcoatl's father was Mixcoatl ("Cloud Serpent"). He was identified with the Milky Way, the stars and the heavens in several Mesoamerican cultures.
The demigod Aidophedo of the West African Ashanti is also a serpent biting its own tail. In Dahomey mythology of Benin in West Africa, the serpent that supports everything on its many coils was named Dan. In the Vodou of Benin and Haiti Ayida-Weddo (a.k.a. Aida-Wedo, Aido Quedo, "Rainbow-Serpent") is a spirit of fertility, rainbows and snakes, and a companion or wife to Dan, the father of all spirits. As Vodou was exported to Haiti through the slave trade Dan became Danballah, Damballah or Damballah-Wedo. Because of his association with snakes, he is sometimes disguised as Moses, who carried a snake on his staff. He is also thought by many to be the same entity of Saint Patrick, known as a snake banisher.
The serpent Hydra is a star constellation representing either the serpent thrown angrily into the sky by Apollo or the Lernaean Hydra as defeated by Heracles for one of his Twelve Labors. The constellation Serpens represents a snake being tamed by Ophiuchus the snake-handler, another constellation. The most probable interpretation is that Ophiuchus represents the healer Asclepius.
Occasionally, serpents and dragons are used interchangeably, having similar symbolic functions. The venom of the serpent is thought to have a fiery quality similar to a fire spitting dragon. The Greek Ladon and the Norse Níðhöggr (Nidhogg Nagar) are sometimes described as serpents and sometimes as dragons. In Germanic mythology, serpent (Old English: wyrm, Old High German: wurm, Old Norse: ormr) is used interchangeably with the Greek borrowing dragon (OE: draca, OHG: trahho, ON: dreki). In China and especially in Indochina, the Indian serpent nāga was equated with the lóng or Chinese dragon. The Aztec and Toltec serpent god Quetzalcoatl also has dragon like wings, like its equivalent in K'iche' Maya mythology Q'uq'umatz ("feathered serpent"), which had previously existed since Classic Maya times as the deity named Kukulkan.
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.
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 Cronus 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.
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. Serpent elements figure among his offspring; among 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 chthonic water beast Lernaean Hydra; and the hundred-headed serpentine dragon Ladon. Both the Lernaean Hydra and Ladon were slain by Heracles.
Python was the earth-dragon of Delphi, she always was represented in the vase-paintings and by sculptors as a serpent. Pytho was the chthonic enemy of Apollo, who slew her and remade her former home his own oracle, the most famous in Classical Greece.
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 center, highest point of one of the pediments on the Temple of Artemis at Corfu.
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) back to life with 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 snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. 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 and had received the vial from Athena. In this version the blood of Medusa had the healing power while the lethal poison originated from Medusa's serpents.
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. 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. (See Lamia (mythology)).
When not driven by horses, the chariot of the Greek sun god is described as being pulled by fiery draconic beings. The most notable instance of this is observed in the episode in which Medea is given her grandfather's chariot, which is pulled by serpents through the sky.
In the Hebrew Bible the serpent in the Garden of Eden lured Eve with the promise of being like God, tempting her that despite God's warning, death would not be the result, that God was withholding knowledge from her. Although the serpent is identified as Satan in the Book of Revelation, in Genesis the serpent is portrayed merely as a deceptive creature or trickster, promoting as good what God had directly forbidden, and particularly cunning in its deception (Gen. 3:4–5 and 3:22).
The staff of Moses transformed into a snake and then back into a staff (Exodus 4:2–4). The Book of Numbers 21:6–9 provides an origin for an archaic copper serpent, Nehushtan by associating it with Moses. This copper snake according to the Biblical text is wrapped around a pole and used for healing. Book of Numbers 21:9 "And Moses made a snake of copper, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a snake had bitten any man, when he beheld the snake of brass, he lived."
When the reformer King Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah in the late 8th century BCE, "He removed the high places, broke the sacred pillars, smashed the idols, and broke into pieces the copper snake that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:4)
Naga (Sanskrit:नाग) is the Sanskrit/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 naga primarily represents rebirth, death and mortality, due to its casting of its skin and being symbolically "reborn".
Serpents, or nāgas, play a particularly important role in Cambodian, Isan and Laotian mythology. An origin myth explains the emergence of the name "Cambodia" as resulting from conquest of a naga princess by a Kambuja lord named Kaundinya: the descendants of their union are the Khmer people. George Coedès suggests the Cambodian myth is a basis for the legend of "Phra Daeng Nang Ai", in which a woman who has lived many previous lives in the region is reincarnated as a daughter of Phraya Khom (Thai for Cambodian,) and causes the death of her companion in former lives who has been reincarnated as a prince of the Nagas. This leads to war between the "spirits of the air" and the Nagas: Nagas amok are rivers in spate, and the entire region is flooded. The Myth of the Toad King tells how introduction of Buddhist teachings led to war with the sky deity Phaya Thaen, and ended in a truce with nagas posted as guardians of entrances to temples.
In America some of the Native American tribes 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 the serpent figures largely in one of the dances. The rattlesnake was worshiped in the Natchez temple of the sun and the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl was a feathered serpent-god. In many Meso-American cultures, the serpent was regarded as a portal between two worlds. The tribes of Peru are said to have adored great snakes in the pre-Inca days and in Chile the Mapuche made a serpent figure in their deluge beliefs.
A Horned Serpent is a popular image in Northern American natives' mythology.
In one Native North American story, an evil serpent kills one of the gods' cousins, so the god kills the serpent in revenge, but the dying serpent unleashes a great flood. People first flee to the mountains and then, when the mountains are covered, they float on a raft until the flood subsides. The evil spirits that the serpent god controlled then hide out of fear. The Mound Builders associated great mystical value to the serpent, as the Serpent Mound demonstrates, though we are unable to unravel the particular associations.
According to the Prose Edda, Odin took Loki's three children, Fenrisúlfr, Hel and Jörmungandr. He tossed Jörmungandr into the great ocean that encircles Midgard. The serpent grew so big that he was able to surround the Earth and grasp his own tail, and as a result he earned the alternate name of the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent. Jörmungandr's arch enemy is the god Thor.
Sea serpents were giant cryptozoological creatures once believed to live in water, whether sea monsters such as the Leviathan or lake monsters such as the Loch Ness Monster. If they were referred to as "sea snakes", they were understood to be the actual snakes that live in Indo-Pacific waters (Family Hydrophiidae).
Snakes entwined the staffs both of Hermes (the caduceus) and of Asclepius, where a single snake entwined the rough staff. On Hermes' caduceus, the snakes were not merely duplicated for symmetry, they were paired opposites. (This motif is congruent with the phurba.) The wings at the head of the staff identified it as belonging to the winged messenger, Hermes, the Roman Mercury, who was the god of magic, diplomacy and rhetoric, of inventions and discoveries, the protector both of merchants and that allied occupation, to the mythographers' view, of thieves. It is however Hermes' role as psychopomp, the escort of newly deceased souls to the afterlife, that explains the origin of the snakes in the caduceus since this was also the role of the Sumerian entwined serpent god Ningizzida, with whom Hermes has sometimes been equated.
In Late Antiquity, as the arcane study of alchemy developed, Mercury was understood to be the protector of those arts too and of arcane or occult "Hermetic' information in general. Chemistry and medicines linked the rod of Hermes with the staff of the healer Asclepius, which was wound with a serpent; it was conflated with Mercury's rod, and the modern medical symbol—which should simply be the rod of Asclepius—often became Mercury's wand of commerce. Another version is used in alchemy whereas the snake is crucified, known as Nicolas Flamel's caduceus. Art historian Walter J. Friedlander, in The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine (1992) collected hundreds of examples of the caduceus and the rod of Asclepius and found that professional associations were just somewhat more likely to use the staff of Asclepius, while commercial organizations in the medical field were more likely to use the caduceus.
Following the Christian context as a symbol for evil, serpents are sometimes featured in political propaganda. They were used to represent Jews in antisemitic propaganda. Snakes were also used to represent the evil side of drugs in such films as Narcotic and Narcotics: Pit of Despair.
The anthropologist Lynn Isbell has argued that, as primates, the serpent as a symbol of death is built into our unconscious minds because of our evolutionary history. Isbell argues that for millions of years snakes were the only significant predators of primates, and that this explains why fear of snakes is one of the most common phobias worldwide and why the symbol of the serpent is so prevalent in world mythology; the serpent is an innate image of danger and death.
Furthermore, the psychoanalyst Joseph Lewis Henderson and the ethnologist Maude Oakes have argued that the serpent is a symbol of initiation and rebirth precisely because it is a symbol of death.
"Asp" is the modern Anglicisation of the word "aspis," which in antiquity referred to any one of several venomous snake species found in the Nile region. The specific epithet, aspis, is a Greek word that means "viper." It is believed that aspis referred in Egyptian mythology to what is now known as the Egyptian cobra.Caduceus
The caduceus (☤; ; Latin cādūceus, from Greek κηρύκειον kērū́keion "herald's wand, or staff") is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology and consequently by Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology. The same staff was also borne by heralds in general, for example by Iris, the messenger of Hera. It is a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In Roman iconography, it was often depicted being carried in the left hand of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead, and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves.Some accounts suggest that the oldest known imagery of the caduceus has its roots in a Mesopotamian origin with the Sumerian god Ningishzida; whose symbol, a staff with two snakes intertwined around it, dates back to 4000 B.C. to 3000 B.C.As a symbolic object, it represents Hermes (or the Roman Mercury), and by extension trades, occupations, or undertakings associated with the god. In later Antiquity, the caduceus provided the basis for the astrological symbol representing the planet Mercury. Thus, through its use in astrology, alchemy, and astronomy it has come to denote the planet and elemental metal of the same name. It is said the wand would wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep. If applied to the dying, their death was gentle; if applied to the dead, they returned to life.By extension of its association with Mercury and Hermes, the caduceus is also a recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation, two realms in which balanced exchange and reciprocity are recognized as ideals. This association is ancient, and consistent from the Classical period to modern times. The caduceus is also used as a symbol representing printing, again by extension of the attributes of Mercury (in this case associated with writing and eloquence).
The caduceus is often incorrectly used as a symbol of healthcare organizations and medical practice, particularly in North America, due to confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the Rod of Asclepius, which has only one snake and is never depicted with wings.Ethnoherpetology
Ethnoherpetology is the study of the past and present interrelationships between human cultures and reptiles and amphibians. It is a sub-field of ethnozoology, which in turn is a sub-field of ethnobiology. Snakes and amphibians have been considered chthonic creatures in many cultures. Richly represented in mythology, culture, art, and literature, they often evoke revulsion, fear, suspicion and awe, sometimes even hysteria. Frogs and toads were believed to announce the rains with their choruses.Feathered Serpent
The Feathered Serpent was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It was called Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs, Kukulkan among the Yucatec Maya, and Q'uq'umatz and Tohil among the K'iche' Maya.
The double symbolism used by the Feathered Serpent is considered allegoric to the dual nature of the deity, where being feathered represents its divine nature or ability to fly to reach the skies and being a serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth, a dualism very common in Mesoamerican deities.The earliest representations of feathered serpents appear in the Olmec culture (c. 1400–400 BCE). The Olmec culture predates the Maya and the Aztec, and once reached from the Gulf of Mexico to Nicaragua. Most surviving representations in Olmec art, such as Monument 19 at La Venta and a painting in the Juxtlahuaca cave (see below), show the Feathered Serpent as a crested rattlesnake, sometimes with feathers covering the body and legs, and often in close proximity to humans. It is believed that Olmec supernatural entities such as the feathered serpent were the forerunners of many later Mesoamerican deities, although experts disagree on the feathered serpent's religious importance to the Olmec.The pantheon of the people of Teotihuacan (200 BCE – 700 CE) also featured a feathered serpent, shown most prominently on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (dated 150–200 CE). The Pyramid was built southeast of the intersection of the avenue of the dead and the east-end avenue. Several feathered serpent representations appear on the building, many of them including full-body profiles and feathered serpent heads.The sculptures utilize practices such as relief carving to create complex ornate compositions. Heads carvings of the Feathered Serpent have been frequently found around the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.
While the feathered serpent has been a common theme in different Mesoamerican works, it is frequently and most commonly reflected in the architecture of Mesoamerican culture. Some common techniques used to incorporate imagery of the Feathered Serpent into this architecture is relief carving, which involves “a sculpture with figures that protrude from a background while still being attached to it” and normally combined with tenoned heads, which are large pieces of stone carved but have a peg of sorts to insert them into the wall area, adding more depth and details to the architecture. Other Mesoamerican structures, such as the ones in Tula, the capital of the later Toltecs (950–1150 CE), also featured profiles of feathered serpents.The Aztec feathered serpent deity known as Quetzalcoatl is known from several Aztec codices such as the Florentine codex, as well as from the records of the Spanish conquistadors. Quetzalcoatl was known as the deity of wind and rain, bringer of knowledge, the inventor of books, and associated with the planet Venus.
The corresponding Mayan god Kukulkan was rare in the Classic era Maya civilization. However, in the Popol Vuh, the K'iche' feathered serpent god Tepeu Q'uq'umatz is the creator of the cosmos.Along with the feathered serpent deity, several other serpent gods existed in the pantheon of Mesoamerican gods with similar traits, all of which had an important role in the cultural development of Mesoamerican cultures. The proof of the importance of these deities to Mesoamerican culture lies in the architecture left from these civilizations and the rituals surrounding them.Glycon
Glycon (Ancient Greek: Γλύκων Glýkon, gen: Γλύκωνος Glýkonos), also spelled Glykon, was an ancient snake god. Having a large and influential cult within the Roman Empire in the 2nd century, Glycon had been mentioned earlier by Horace. However contemporary satirist Lucian provides the primary literary reference to the deity. Lucian claimed Glycon was created in the mid-2nd century by the Greek prophet Alexander of Abonoteichos. Lucian was ill-disposed toward the cult, calling Alexander a false prophet and accusing the whole enterprise of being a hoax: Glycon himself was supposedly a hand puppet.Hoop snake
The hoop snake is a legendary creature of the United States, Canada, and Australia. It appears in the Pecos Bill stories; although his description of hoop snakes is the one with which people are most familiar, stories of the creature predate those fictional tales considerably. Several sightings of the hoop snake have been alleged along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border in the St. Croix River valley, Wake County in North Carolina, and Kamloops, British Columbia.Nehushtan
In the biblical Books of Kings (2 Kings 18:4; written c. 550 BCE), the Nehushtan (Hebrew: נחשתן Nəḥuštān [nə.ħuʃ.taːn]) is the derogatory name given to the bronze serpent on a pole first described in the Book of Numbers, which God told Moses to erect so that the Israelites who saw it would be protected from dying from the bites of the "fiery serpents" which God had sent to punish them for speaking against God and Moses Numbers 21:4-9. In Kings, King Hezekiah institutes an iconoclastic reform that requires the destruction of "the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan". The term means "a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass".Ningishzida
Ningishzida (sum: dnin-g̃iš-zid-da) is a Mesopotamian deity of vegetation and the underworld. Thorkild Jacobsen translates Ningishzida as Sumerian for "lord of the good tree".Nāga
Naga (IAST: nāga; Devanāgarī: नाग) or Nagi (f. of nāga; IAST: nāgī; Devanāgarī: नागी) is a Sanskrit word which basically refers to a "serpent" or "snake", especially the King cobra. The term Naga in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism denotes divine, semi-divine deities, or a semi-divine race of half-human half-serpent beings that resides in the heavenly Patala (netherworld) and can occasionally take human form. They are principally depicted in three forms: wholly humans with snakes on the heads and necks; common serpents or as half-human half-snake beings. A female naga is a "nagi", "nagin", or "nagini". Nagaraja is seen as the king of nāgas and nāginis. They are common and hold cultural significance in the mythological traditions of many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.Ophiophagy
Ophiophagy (Greek ὄφις + φαγία "snake eating") is a specialized form of feeding or alimentary behavior of animals which hunt and eat snakes. There are ophiophagous mammals (such as the skunks and the mongooses), birds (such as snake eagles, the secretarybird, and some hawks), lizards (such as the common collared lizard), and even other snakes, such as the Central and South American mussuranas and the North American common kingsnake. The genus of the venomous king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is named for this habit.Outline of alchemy
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to alchemy:
Alchemy – A philosophical tradition recognized as protoscience, that includes the application of Hermetic principles, and practices related to mythology, religion, and spirituality.Python (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Python (Greek: Πύθων; gen. Πύθωνος) was the serpent, sometimes represented as a medieval-style dragon, living at the center of the earth, believed by the ancient Greeks to be at Delphi.Sarpa Kavu
Sarpa Kavu (meaning Abode of Snakes) is a traditional natural sacred space seen near traditional homes in Kerala state of South India. The site is believed to be inhabited by snakes, and the area usually contains a representation of Naga Raja (King of the Snakes) and other Naga Devatas (snake deities), where offerings and rites are performed during special ceremonies.Serpent
Serpent or The Serpent may refer to:
Snake, a carnivorous reptile of the suborder SerpentesSnake (zodiac)
The Snake (蛇) is the sixth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The Year of the Snake is associated with the Earthly Branch symbol 巳.According to one legend, there is a reason for the order of the 12 animals in the 12-year cycle. The story goes that a race was held to cross a great river, and the order of the animals in the cycle was based upon their order in finishing the race. In this story, the Snake compensated for not being the best swimmer by hitching a hidden ride on the Horse's hoof, and when the Horse was just about to cross the finish line, jumping out, scaring the Horse, and thus edging it out for sixth place.
The same 12 animals are also used to symbolize the cycle of hours in the day, each being associated with a two-hour time period. The "hour" of the Snake is 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., the time when the Sun warms up the Earth, and Snakes are said to slither out of their holes. The "month" of the Snake is 5 May to 5 June.
The reason the animal signs are referred to as zodiacal is that one's personality is said to be influenced by the animal signs ruling the time of birth, together with elemental aspects of the animal signs within the sexagenary cycle. Similarly, the year governed by a particular animal sign is supposed to be characterized by it, with the effects particularly strong for people who were born in any year governed by the same animal sign.
In Chinese symbology, Snakes are regarded as intelligent, but with a tendency to be somewhat unscrupulous.The Cosmic Serpent
The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge is a 1998 non-fiction book by anthropologist Jeremy Narby.Uraeus
The Uraeus (; plural Uraei or Uraeuses; from the Greek οὐραῖος, ouraîos, "on its tail"; from Egyptian jꜥrt (iaret), "rearing cobra") is the stylized, upright form of an Egyptian cobra (asp, serpent, or snake), used as a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity and divine authority in ancient Egypt.Wadjet
Wadjet ( or ; Ancient Egyptian: wꜢḏyt "Green One"), known to the Greek world as Uto (Koinē Greek: Οὐτώ ) or Buto (Βουτώ ) among other names including Wedjat, Uadjet, and Udjo was originally the ancient local goddess of the city of Dep. It became part of the city that the Egyptians named Per-Wadjet "House of Wadjet" and the Greeks called Buto (now Desouk), which was an important site in prehistoric Egypt and the cultural developments of the Paleolithic.
Wadjet was said to be the patron and protector of Lower Egypt, and upon unification with Upper Egypt, the joint protector and patron of all of Egypt "goddess" of Upper Egypt. The image of Wadjet with the sun disk is called the uraeus, and it was the emblem on the crown of the rulers of Lower Egypt. She was also the protector of kings and of women in childbirth. Wadjet was said to be the nurse of the infant god Horus. With the help of his mother Isis, they protected Horus from his treacherous uncle, Set, when they took refuge in the swamps of the Nile Delta. Wadjet was closely associated in ancient Egyptian religion with the Eye of Ra, a powerful protective deity. The hieroglyph for her eye is shown below; sometimes two are shown in the sky of religious images. Per-Wadjet also contained a sanctuary of Horus, the child of the sun deity who would be interpreted to represent the pharaoh. Much later, Wadjet became associated with Isis as well as with many other deities.
In the relief shown to the right, which is on the wall of the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Luxor, there are two images of Wadjet: one of her as the uraeus with her head through an ankh and another where she precedes a Horus hawk wearing the Pschent, representing the pharaoh whom she protects.Xiuhtecuhtli
In Aztec mythology, Xiuhtecuhtli [ʃiʍˈtekʷt͡ɬi] ("Turquoise Lord" or "Lord of Fire"), was the god of fire, day and heat. He was the lord of volcanoes, the personification of life after death, warmth in cold (fire), light in darkness and food during famine. He was also named Cuezaltzin [kʷeˈsaɬt͡sin] ("flame") and Ixcozauhqui [iʃkoˈsaʍki], and is sometimes considered to be the same as Huehueteotl ("Old God"), although Xiuhtecuhtli is usually shown as a young deity. His wife was Chalchiuhtlicue. Xiuhtecuhtli is sometimes considered to be a manifestation of Ometecuhtli, the Lord of Duality, and according to the Florentine Codex Xiuhtecuhtli was considered to be the father of the Gods, who dwelled in the turquoise enclosure in the center of earth. Xiuhtecuhtli-Huehueteotl was one of the oldest and most revered of the indigenous pantheon. The cult of the God of Fire, of the Year, and of Turquoise perhaps began as far back as the middle Preclassic period. Turquoise was the symbolic equivalent of fire for Aztec priests. A small fire was permanently kept alive at the sacred center of every Aztec home in honor of Xiuhtecuhtli.The Nahuatl word xihuitl means "year" as well as "turquoise" and "fire", and Xiuhtecuhtli was also the god of the year and of time. The Lord of the Year concept came from the Aztec belief that Xiuhtecuhtli was the North Star. In the 260-day ritual calendar, the deity was the patron of the day Atl ("Water") and with the trecena 1 Coatl ("1 Snake"). Xiuhtecuhtli was also one of the nine Lords of the Night and ruled the first hour of the night, named Cipactli ("Alligator"). Scholars have long emphasized that this fire deity also has aquatic qualities. Xiuhtecuhtli dwelt inside an enclosure of turquoise stones, fortifying himself with turquoise bird water. He is the god of fire in relation to the cardinal directions, just as the brazier for lighting fire is the center of the house or temple. Xiuhtecuhtli was the patron god of the Aztec emperors, who were regarded as his living embodiment at their enthronement. The deity was also one of the patron gods of the pochteca merchant class.Stone sculptures of Xiuhtecuhtli were ritually buried as offerings, and various statuettes have been recovered during excavations at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan with which he was closely associated. Statuettes of the deity from the temple depict a seated male with his arms crossed. A sacred fire was always kept burning in the temples of Xiuhtecuhtli. In gratitude for the gift of fire, the first mouthful of food from each meal was flung into the hearth.
Conventional elements of coats of arms
(with black and