For as bad as some would like to call the serpent, we as humans sure do have a pretty healthy fascination with it. The Serpent was in the Garden of Eden, the Serpent pops up on the forehead of Pharaohs headgear when they go to the next life, the serpent is present with the Cernunnos (pagan Gaul) with the Hindu in kundalini, and as carefully regarded ancestors within the same culture. The serpent is present in Chinese culture as well as Japanese and South American culture. What is so interesting is that while it may be hardly surprising that many cultures would have images of serpents, HOW they are dealt with tends to be very similar. All of them. In Egyptian, Hindu, Chinese, Japanese, Christian, pagan and Mayan cultures, the serpent is connected to energy, most often vital force. There is the Rod of Hermes, the caduceus, for a few that all relate to kundalini and to vital force (and the power to heal).
I suspect that this image goes back into antiquity where there may have been broader communication of this symbol through many other cultures. When I was studying pre-Columbian art in college I remarked to my professor that so much of the Olmec and later work of the Maya all had a decidedly Asian look to it. At the time he retorted that there was NO proof that there was ANY connection to Asia amongst the Olmec or Aztec or even Maya, and yet there are sculptural forms that look so very Asian that it is hard to deny the influence. The early Olmec portraits themselves look…well, they look Chinese. Later on, it seems as though the Olmec spread and bred with other indigenous cultures, changing their features somewhat. When I had a lucid dream about Quetzalcoatl, it was as a form that I was supposed to project INTO. Later upon reading up on Quetzalcoatl, I learned that the god would appear before priests of the order to take them on soul journeys, which I thought was oddly similar to just what I had experienced. There before me was a wingless serpent floating in mid-air with the face of a very Mayan looking male. Later, in images from the Archeology Museum in Mexico City, I saw the same image of Quetzalcoatl depicted as a serpent without wings but the face of a Mayan man. Before this, I had always imagined Quetzalcoatl as a serpent with wings (he was, after all, the “winged serpent,” right?).
The challenge for some, is when the serpent becomes an enemy. We as humans have, buried in our limbic system, what some behaviorists describe as an ancient fear of snakes, and that this is common for all of our primate kin. Perhaps it is an instinct that has helped to keep us out of the way of the more poisonous of the serpents and we just haven’t quite gotten over it. It is also just as likely, too, that the early Hebrews, who were enslaved by the Egyptians, sought to demonize the image of the serpent which was central to their slave owners’ spiritual lives. Perhaps that is why the serpent got the bad wrap because there is as much evidence that serpents in the Bible are also very good. The Seraphim were described as fiery serpents, winged, even, who surrounded God and whose wings beating about the central deity, shielded it. Moses also “raised a serpent” in the desert based on an inner prompting that he should fashion an idol out of a material that is like the sun. He cast his out of brass and it was used for healing (healing snake bites for anyone who looked upon it). Surely this is itself a bit of magic, if you ask me, yet it slips by the early censors it seems. And for as fearful as some modern Christians have become of the imagery of the Hindu kundalini serpent, everyone and anyone who has experienced such a phenomenon can tell you there is no snake. The EFFECT of life or vital force pushing into ones awareness and up one’s body has a kind of serpentine effect, but that is where anything literal goes by the wayside. It is NOT a snake. It is much the same as me making a snake-like motion with my hands to describe an effect for how snakes move and then having someone mistake my movement for the real thing. Which is silly. And misguided. At a certain point we begin to realize, there is no serpent, there is no snake, there is something that the snake represents, and making a serpent represent something is NOT the same as something BEING a serpent. And yet, fear sometimes rules the day. We can read stories and we do not have to believe them literal, unless that is all your own mind can conjure. The truth is, there is a world wrapped up within this one which is far larger and cannot be explained by mere physical imagery alone, and yet, as humans, we try. And so, we have the serpent!