The snake as symbol

Long before our fear of snakes came into being they were revered and regarded as creators and protectors of Mother Earth and humanity. The number of snake deities in ancient civilizations is vast and the artefacts representing them innumerable. All this points to our close relationship with the snake, serpent and dragon which were generally regarded as the same. They were benevolent before they became malevolent mostly with the help of Abrahamic religions.

In Eastern practices it is believed that all human beings have a “Serpent power” called our Kundalini and it represents our life force. The Kundalini is thought to be an energy released within an individual using specific meditation techniques. It is represented symbolically as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine. In many cultures around the world it is believed that disease in humans are caused by the absence of this energy in our bodies and in Iran a sick person is called “bimar” translating to “the snake is gone”. According to Carl Jung "... the concept of Kundalini has for us only one use, that is, to describe our own experiences with the unconscious ..."Jung used the Kundalini system symbolically as a means of understanding the dynamic movement between conscious and unconscious processes. Jung claimed that the symbolism of Kundalini yoga suggested that the bizarre symptomatology that patients at times presented, actually resulted from the awakening of the Kundalini. Recently, there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation, and some of these studies have applied the discipline of Kundalini yoga to their clinical settings.

Another word for this life force is Azoth. As the Universal Life Force, the Azoth is believed to be not only the animating energy (spiritus animatus) of the body but is also the inspiration and enthusiasm that moves the mind. In the cosmos and within each of us, the Azoth is believed to be the mysterious evolutionary force responsible for the relentless drive towards physical and spiritual perfection. Thus, the concept of the Azoth is analogous to the light of nature or mind of G-d. The symbol used for Azoth is the Caduceus. Some accounts suggest that the oldest known imagery of the caduceus have their 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. 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 ouroboros (snake biting its own tail) is another powerful and ancient symbol of the natural flow of life on Earth, birth and death.

In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. The symbol has continued to be used in modern times, where it is associated with medicine and health care. The Bowl of Hygieia is one of the symbols of pharmacy. Hygieia was the Greek goddess of hygiene, and the daughter of Asclepius. Asclepius' symbol is his rod, with a snake twined around it; correspondingly, Hygieia's symbol is a cup or chalice with a snake twined around its stem and poised above it.

In the biblical Book of Numbers the Nehushtan (or Nohestan) was a bronze serpent on a pole which G-d told Moses to erect to protect the Israelites who saw it, from dying from the bites of the "fiery serpents" which God had sent to punish them for speaking against G-d and Moses.. Many bible students have made the connection between the Rod of Asclepius and the Nehustan, where the stick and serpent were put together in the biblical incident of mass healing. 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. 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.

The Sumerians worshipped the g-d of healing but they also have a very interesting Creation story that goes like this:

The Annunaki was highly evolved beings (reptilian in appearance) who escaped to planet Earth after war broke out in their place of origin, the Pleiades constellation. They landed on a mountain (thought to be in Turkey) and desired to seed a colony on Earth. To succeed in this quest they needed some labourers/slaves who were easily controlled and would provide all labour as needed. On Earth at the time, there were no such beings available and they set out to create their own. They also created a place of closure to keep wild animals out and the colony safe and called it “Garden of Eden”. It is only later that we connected the word “paradise” to the Garden of Eden implying a kind of Utopia, but the actual meaning of “paradise” is “garden”. The word derives from the Persian word “paradis” which meant a large forest-like enclosure that was built to house wild animals, by the Ahcaemenid and Parthian Dynasties for the enjoyment of the kings.. The two leaders of the Annunaki colony were Enlil and Enki, both highly advanced scientists who could create and clone modern humans. Enlil (called “Satan” in Sumerian language that translates to “the supreme leader” in English) was in favour of keeping these new humans as slaves and treated them no better than animals. In fact the name “Adam” (Adama in Sumerian) translates to “animal” in English. Enki (called “the serpent” in Sumerian language that translates to “the administrator” in English) was in favour of creating conscious humans that could live independently of their creators. Since the women were the gatherers of food for the human colony and also the source of human reproduction, Enki approached them in secret to transfer the knowledge of consciousness to. It is eerily similar to the serpent approaching Eve in the Garden of Eden and convincing her to eat the “fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Instead of a fruit, in the Sumerian texts Enki showed the women how to craft tools from the trees that would make their lives as labourers easier, but could also help them in self-defence. The humans soon after ascended the mountain to where their controllers lived to fight for their freedom with tools forged from the trees, but the weaponry and advanced skills of the Annunaki led to near annihilation of the humans and they were kicked out the garden forever, completely cut off from their creators. In later translations of this text to Akkadian and other Semitic languages the story was adapted to become the Semitic creation story as we know today.

The ancient Chinese self-identified as "the descendants of the dragon" because the Chinese dragon is an imagined reptile that represents evolution from the ancestors and qi energy. The presence of dragons within Chinese culture dates back several thousands of years with the discovery of a dragon statue dating back to the fifth millennium BC from the Yangshao culture in Henan in 1987, and jade badges of rank in coiled form have been excavated from the Hongshan culture circa 4700-2900 BC.] Some of the earliest Dragon artifacts are the pig dragon carvings from the Hongshan culture. The coiled dragon or snake form played an important role in early Chinese culture. The character for "dragon" in the earliest Chinese writing has a similar coiled form, as do later jade dragon amulets from the Shang period.

In Iran there is the following legend about the queen of snakes, Shahmaran: Thousands of years ago, there were wise snakes living in the underground. Their names in Iranian are maran and they are extraordinarily intelligent and caring. They live in peace. The queen of the marans is called Shahmaran. She is all-knowing, beautiful, and leads with grace. According to legend, a young wood-seller named Cemshab is the first human to see the marans. As the story goes, he is exploring a cave full of honey with friends; but they abandon him in order to take more honey. Alone, Cemshab sees an unusually light-filled hole in the back of the cave. He pulls away the rocks and finds deep within the cave is a magnificent garden. He crawl in, and is surrounded with light, flowers, and snakes. One of the snakes is coloured milky-white, Shahmaran, she is the most beautiful. He gains her trust, staying to live for many years in the underground garden. Shahmaran tells Cemshab that he was able to find her, and only him alone because of his pure heart and his Ajna (third eye), which allows him to see past the physical world and into the other worldly realm. One day after many years, he decides he would like to see his family again. So Shahmaran helps him leave, provided that he promises not to tell anyone about the maran cave. He keeps his word for many, many years.

But one day The Sultan of the land got very sick. The Vizier (the high official of the land) says that only cure is eating meat of Shahmaran, to acquire her youth and wisdom. Word gets out that Cemshab knows where to find her. He resists, but is forced to show them the way, under the threat that his loved ones will be killed if he refuses. Betrayed, the wise Shahmaran says to Cemshab: "make me boil in an earthenware dish. Let the sultan eat my meat and make The Vizier drink my boiled water." When that happens, the Vizier dies, the Sultan keeps living.and Cemshab becomes Vizier.

The centuries old Persian poem 'Mar Nameh' (book of snakes) describes in verse a method of augury; what seeing a snake on every one of the 30 days of a month will mean and what omen it will portend, indicating the importance snakes played in Persian life. And as can be expected snake symbols are widely included in Persian carpet designs. The symbol often looks like an “S”. We found a very interesting article on snake symbolism that would make great further reading: