The Latin term serpentes, which meaning "creeping thing," is where the word snake originates. One of the earliest and most frequently used symbols in many ancient societies to represent knowledge, mortality, rebirth, fertility, and propagation is the serpent.
Although the snake typically connotes good things, depending on the culture or story from whence it originates, it can also occasionally stand for something negative or dangerous.
Amazingly, myths and legends from various cultures all over the world contain references to the snake and its significance!
1) The Snake in the Bible and in European Mythology
The ancestors of the snake gods are mentioned in the early texts of the Old Testament.
However, a number of translations and adaptations have deleted or simplified these references to reflect character qualities of these gods (deceitful and cunning gods). Therefore, contrary to what one might initially believe, the snake is not an agent of the underworld.
Moses was undoubtedly connected to snakes in the Bible because God commanded him to make an idol with a snake's head. Those who had been bitten by snakes found complete healing when they gazed at the idol's head.
It is also claimed that the Staff of Moses possessed magical abilities, changing once into a snake and then back into a staff. Genesis makes one last reference of the serpent, and it is impossible to miss Nahash, the well-known serpent from the Garden of Eden that was coiling itself around the Tree of Life.
The Basilisk was a snake with a dragon's body, and in medieval Europe, it was said to have the power to kill by simply gazing at its prey or by blowing poisoned air on them.
Another creature from European legend, the Fairy Melusine, was pictured as a combination of a woman, a fish, and a snake. She was required to spend one day each week in the sea or risk dying. But long before the advent of Christianity, snakes were a common subject of tales and folklore.
2) The snake in Greek mythology
Thanks in large part to the Homeric Poems, Greek mythology is exceedingly extensive and well-known today. The Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer's two major works, include numerous allusions to mythology (the Trojan Horse, the journey of Odysseus and his encounter with the Cyclops ...).
Through his distinctive literary genre, this author has made a significant contribution to the diversity of Greek culture. Additionally, any mythology that is sufficiently complex must contain some snakes.
The snake represents the guardian spirit among the Greeks. It can be found on numerous altars that date back to ancient Greece.
According to Greek mythology, the world was once governed by the titans Ophion (whose name means "snake") and Eurynome until they were both overthrown by Kronos and Rhea.
A snake kept in a cage in the goddess' temple was thought to represent the reincarnation of Erichthonios, the fabled fourth king of Athens. Another snake was housed in the Delphine temple of Apollo, where a virgin took care of it.
A non-exhaustive list of the serpent deities and their names that appear in Greek epic mythology is provided below:
- Medusa and the Gorgons had sharp fangs and live snakes for hair. The image of the Female Snake is very often used in Greek mythology. The Gorgon Medusa was eventually beheaded by Perseus.
- The character of Medea, is often represented pulled in a chariot led by snakes.
- The Hydra of Lerna that Heracles the son of Zeus fights, which is represented as having multiple snake heads. The Hydra was popularized by the cartoon "Hercules", which represents him as a snake with three heads, to which he grows two new ones for each head cut off.T
- The Serpentine Goddess of the ancient Minoan civilization, was represented as a woman holding a serpent in each hand.
- Echidna was a half-woman, half-serpent monster who gave birth to several dragon demigods, by uniting with the evil titan Typhon.
- Cecrops had the head and chest of a man on the body of a snake and was a legendary hero for the Athenians. He is one of the few Snake Men present in Greek mythology.
- The Dyad (a tree-bound nymph) Eurydice dies bitten by a poisonous snake. She then finds herself in hell, domain of the god Hades.
- Today there are three Caduceus inherited from Greek mythology. The Cup of Hygie symbolizes the pharmaceutical profession, the Staff of Asclepius represents medicine, and the Caduceus of Hermes illustrates commerce and negotiation.
3) The Snake in Roman Mythology
The majority of the deities in the Roman pantheon were taken from the Greeks, although some of these gods were truly original.
The Marses, a Latin tribe that resided in a mountainous region of central Italy, worshiped the curing snake goddess Angitia (now known as Abruzzo). On the shores of Lake Fucinus, a big lake that was drained in the 19th century, a substantial temple was constructed for her.
Snakes were closely tied with healing magic in classical antiquity. The goddess was famed for her healing powers, particularly for treating snakebites and other poisonings.
She had the power of life and death over the snakes, and they were subject to her whims. The Marses' former homelands also developed a reputation for magic throughout the Republic and later the Roman Empire. They were thought to be the hideout of witches, wizards, and other supernatural creatures.
4) The Serpent in Norse Mythology
Jörmungand, a colossal serpent that dwells in the sea, is mentioned in Norse mythology. The latter is the child of the giantess Angrboda and Loki, the god of discord.
The well-known monster protector of Midgard, the home of humanity, is Jörmungand (as opposed to Asgard, the world of the gods).
He is a sea god who dwells in the depths of the ocean. According to myths, the serpent's body would bite its tail to form a circle around Midgard, much like the Ouroboros. According to Nordic mythology, the world will end when Jörmungand releases his tail and Ragnarök begins.
Thor, the thunder god, is the sworn enemy of Jörmungand. According to a Norse myth, Thor tries to catch Jörmungand by draining the ocean of water (or, we're not sure, by capturing him with a fishing rod), but he fails and the snake escapes into the depths of the earth.
Ndhögg is another snake that is dreaded in Scandinavian folklore. This thing is a wicked serpent that is encircled by Yggdrasill, the World Tree's third root. The sacred tree is attacked by Ndhögg from below, together with the bones and remains of murderers, traitors, and adulterers.
The Nordic warriors frequently wore jewelry and other items bearing images of these fabled monsters. And they did so in order to defend themselves against evil spirits, to brag about their achievements, or to respect the Gods.
You're in luck today! You may now wear stunning snake jewelry like this necklace with Ndhögg's effigy!
5) The Snake in Celtic Mythology
Snakes are connected to wisdom, fertility, and immortality in Celtic mythology. The Celts frequently associated them with therapeutic waters and pools.
They seemed to have given the Serpent's Egg, a smooth egg-shaped stone supposed to possess magical abilities equal to those of the Grail or the Philosopher's Stone, the same qualities. Celtic altars frequently included snakes in various forms.
According to a narrative, Saint Patrick would have exterminated the snakes that stood for the ancient cults in Ireland, driving out the ancient Celtic polytheistic beliefs in favor of Christianity.
6) The Serpent in American (Pre-Columbian) Mythology
According to the ancient Mayan sacred text "Chilam Balam" in Central America, the Chanes, also known as the People of the Serpent, were the first people to live in Yucatan.
The serpent-god Itzamna, who governed by his esoteric knowledge rather than by his strength, is said to have guided the Chanes across the sea. There were also several depictions of feathered snakes in Mayan symbology, some of which appeared to have the power to fly.
Another pre-Columbian population in Central America, the Aztecs, also revered Quetzalcoatl, a god of snakes. He was a mythical, winged character who taught his people science and mathematics.
7) The Snake in Native American Mythology
The snake was regarded by Native American tribes as a representation of fertility and rebirth. Unhcegila was a gigantic snake-like creature from ancient mythology that was capable of completely suckling humans!
In Native American mythology, a snake deity known as Avanyu, who delivered storms to the area, was also symbolized by a sign.
The Hopi people of North America engaged in a Serpent Dance to evoke the gods and change the weather. In order for the priests' prayers to reach the underworld, where the rain gods were thought to reside, after the ceremony, trapped snakes were released.
The Diegueo Indians of California claimed that a giant serpent by the name of Umai-hulhlya-wit gave humans many of the secrets of civilisation. This snake was an ocean dweller until the Diegueo called it to land during a ceremony. For him, they constructed an enclosure, but it was too small to hold him.
The Indians set fire to the enclosure after Umai-hulhlya-wit escaped from it. According to legend, the serpent's body then exploded, releasing the knowledge, music, and other cultural riches it housed.
8) The Snake in Egyptian Mythology
An ancient god is credited with creating the sun, the moon, and the Earth from a bit of clay in African mythology. The god also produced a pair of identical primordial beings known as "Nummo." The Dogon people of Mali believed that these twins were a hybrid of a human and a snake.
These ancestors spirits were immortal in African myths and stories. Some even claim that they originated from another planet and helped to create many of the animal species that exist today.
The legend of Aido-Hwedo is described in the history of the Fon people of West Africa. Mawu and Lisa, the world's first pair, were carried in the mouth of this cosmic serpent, worshipped as a god, to create the early universe.
Once this was done, Aido-Hwedo was told by Mawu and Lisa to encircle the Earth and secure it. The abrupt movement of the snake is what causes the earthquakes. The significance of the Ouroboros can be seen here once more.
10) The Snake in Chinese Mythology
In these people's mythology, the Chinese snake-god is represented as the well-known dragon with the distinctive long form. But according to historic sources, this snake-dragon is most likely a reference to the Naga, a winged-legged serpent from Hindu mythology.
According to an old Chinese tradition, Fu Xi and Nu Wa (two Chinese mythological heroes) are credited with creating humans in Chinese mythology. They were depicted as snakes with human heads, the two protagonists. The tale claims that the pair helped to create the Chinese writing system.
The Chinese Zodiac snake, which is represented by these two characters, also stands for knowledge, wisdom, and communication as personality attributes. Although they are believed to have existed in Chinese history, Fu Xi and Nu Wa were not snake-like creatures.
11) The Snake in Japanese Mythology
The Japanese goddess Benzaiten is associated with prosperity and good fortune (and just that! ), fertility, the flow of rivers and waterways, language and poetry, music, and dancing.
The lone female member of the "Seven Divinities of Happiness" is Benzaiten. She usually wears a white snake around her head as a headpiece. Her avatars and messengers are dragons and snakes, and she herself can take the form of a white snake.
One of the most venerated gods in Japan, Benzaiten is still honored in every major Japanese city with a shrine or temple. This is frequently seen next to an area with water, like a lake, pond, river, or the ocean.
Snakes are regarded as a minor sort of dragon in Japanese mythology and exhibit many of the characteristics of this beast. Japanese dragons are connected to water, especially rivers, exactly like in Chinese mythology, and despite their might and propensity for terror, both Chinese and Japanese traditions respect them as good, just, and wise.
These snakes are referred to as Metamorphs in Japanese mythology because they have the capacity to repeatedly shed their skin and be reborn. They had a long lifespan and the ability to move freely between the human realm, the sky, and the underworld.
Even now, in Japan, coming upon a live snake is regarded as a very positive omen. While coming upon a dead snake is regarded as a portent of impending bad luck.
12) The Snake in Indian Mythology
The Nagas are an ancient race of snakes that came down from the sky, according to both traditional and modern Indian mythology. These extraordinary animals are mentioned in the Ancient Book of Dzyan, which is likely one of the earliest Sanskrit sources.
The regions below or under the sea are home to the Nagas. They regulate the weather and engage in numerous interactions with both gods and people. Some are kind and forgiving, while others are spiteful and harsh.
The Nagas are supposed to have human bodies above the waist and either a dragon's or a snake's tail as their tail. They have the ability to change into an entirely serpentine or entirely human being.
Given how stunningly gorgeous female Naga (the Nagis) are, ancient Indian kingdoms asserted that the mating of a human and a Nagi was the source of their ancestry.
Mentions of the serpent in Hindu myths are numerous:
- Kaliya was a five-headed serpent king who poisoned the water and land until the god Krishna defeated him in battle.
- Kadru was a serpent goddess who had 1,000 children. Legend has it that they still live today as snakes in human form.
- Shesha: a snake-like creature who is said to be the king of the Nagas, and one of Kadru's sons.
- Manasa who would be the queen of the Nagas.
- Muchalinda, a snake king who protected Buddha from a violent storm.
13) Aboriginal Rainbow Snake Mythology
The world was created by the giant Rainbow Serpent Goddess Julunggul, also known as Kalseru-Dupa, according to Aboriginal tales from northern Australia. Julunggul became enraged when human blood spilled into a body of water.
She bombarded the globe with a massive wave of water. She later ingested plants, animals, and people. When Julunggul reached the skies, an ant ghost bit her, causing her to spit up everything she had just eaten.
Several more occurrences like this occurred before Julunggul finally fled the planet, taking with her people, plants, and animals. If the Australian Mythology Serpent is not the most kind, it is unquestionably the most colorful!
The snake is one of the mythological creatures that all cultures, regardless of place or time, have in common. This situation is distinct!
In contrast to what is believed in Christianity, snakes have not always been connected to evil. Instead than being just monsters, these beings were frequently symbols of power. They could provide protection to the mortals who adored them since they were deities.
Even though many of these creatures are dangerous serpents for men (both in myth and reality), they nonetheless hold a very important position in the cultures of human peoples.
Indeed, among all the animals with which civilization has had to deal, the snake has one of the richest symbologies.