Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Snakes and serprents in mytholgy and religion part II

                                                 Edited, May 27, 2012

To view Snakes and Serpent part I click here 

Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr, often written Jormungand, or Jörmungand and also known as the Midgard Serpent  or World Serpent, is a sea serpent, the middle child of the giantess Angrboða and the god Loki. According to the Prose Edda, Odin took Loki's three children by Angrboða, the wolf Fenrir, Hel and Jörmungandr, and tossed Jörmungandr into the great ocean that encircles Midgard. The serpent grew so large that he was able to surround the earth and grasp his own tail. As a result, he received the name of the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent. When he lets go, the world will end. Jörmungandr's arch-enemy is the god Thor.

"The children of Loki" (1920) by Willy Pogany.

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

 Thor goes fishing for the Midgard Serpent in this picture from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.

Leviathan ("twisted, coiled"), is a sea monster referred to in the Bible. In Demonology, the Leviathan is one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper (see Hellmouth). The word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature.

                         "Destruction of Leviathan". 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré


Marduk (Sumerian spelling in Akkadian: AMAR.UTU "solar calf"; ) was the Babylonian name of a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon, who, when Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi (18th century BCE), started to slowly rise to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon, a position he fully acquired by the second half of the second millennium BCE.
According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the name Marduk was probably pronounced Marutuk. The etymology of the name Marduk is conjectured as derived from amar-Utu ("bull calf of the sun god Utu"). The origin of Marduk's name may reflect an earlier genealogy, or have had cultural ties to the ancient city of Sippar (whose god was Utu, the sun god), dating back to the third millennium BCE.
In the perfected system of astrology, the planet Jupiter was associated with Marduk by the Hammurabi period.
 Unfinished kudurru (boundary marker) with a horned serpent (symbol of Marduk) around pillar at bottom. The most proeminent gods are featured as symbols
 Unfinished kudurru (boundary marker) with a horned serpent (symbol of Marduk) around pillar at bottom. The most proeminent gods are featured as symbols
 The Sumerian deity, Ningizzida, is accompanied by two gryphons; it is the oldest known image of two snakes coiling around an axial rod, dating from before 2000 BC. 

 (a) The mother-goddess standing upon a lioness (which is her Sekhet form): she is wearing her girdle, and upon her head is the moon and the cow's horns, conventionalized so as to simulate the crescent moon. Her hair is represented in the conventional form which is sometimes used as Hathor's symbol. In her hands are the serpent and the lotus, which again are merely forms of the goddess herself.

(b) Another picture of Astarte (from Roscher's "Lexikon") holding the papyrus scepter which at times is regarded as an animate form of the mother-goddess herself and as such a thunder weapon.
 Qetesh wearing the headdress of Hathor.
Known in the ancient Levant as Ashtart and in the Hebrew Bible as Ashtereth, the beautiful Astarte may owe many of her characteristics to Mesopotamian Ishtar, as the similarity in their names proclaims. Like Ishtar, Astarte seems to have had strong connections with both war and love/sexuality. In historical times, she received offerings in ancient Ugarit in Syria; her name appears forty-six times in texts from that city. One of her main centers was Byblos, where she was identified with Egyptian goddesses Hathor and Isis. In the second millennium BCE, Astarte was, like Anat, a war goddess of the Egyptians (Patai 1990:56). Large numbers of ancient Israelites revered her, and versions of her name occur at least nine times in the Hebrew Bible. She was also an important deity of the Phoenician towns of Tyre and Sidon, whence she and her veneration spread with Phoenician merchants throughout the Mediterranean (Patai 1990:55-66).
The people of Phoenicia worshiped Baal. Baalism included the worship of Molech with fiery sacrifices of children and the worship of Astarte, the Phoenician Ishtar Queen of Heaven.
She is the Deity of the Planet Venus and a Fertility Goddess, and Her cult was known throughout the ancient world for its practice of temple prostitution.
Watson’s Biblical and Archaeological Dictionary, 1833:
She was certainly represented in the same manner as Isis, with cow’s horns on her head, to denote the increase and decrease of the moon. Cicero calls her the fourth Venus of the Syrians.
It is believed that the moon was adored in this idol. Her temples generally accompanied those of the sun; and while bloody sacrifices or human victims were offered to Baal, bread, liquors, and perfumes were presented to Astarte.
As early as the twenty-fifth century B.C., people of Ur of the Chaldees in Sumeria worshiped a mother-goddess named Ishtar. Around the same time the Minoans of Crete had a mother-goddess portrayed with “her divine child Velchanos” in her arms.
Later, the people of Cyprus revered a goddess who appeared to have been patterned after the Sumerian Ishtar and later adopted by the Greeks as Aphrodite, or Astarte.The Babylonians, who conquered Sumeria around the twenty-second century B.C.  The people of Phoenicia worshiped Baal. Baalism included the   related their religious beliefs to the heavenly bodies. They regarded the planets as gods and goddesses and equated the planet Venus with the Sumerian mother-goddess Ishtar.The Babylonians worshiped Ishtar as “The Virgin,” “The Holy Virgin,” “The Virgin Mother,” “Goddess of Goddesses,” and “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” They exclaimed,  “Ishtar is great! Ishtar is Queen! My Lady is exalted, my Lady is Queen…There is none like unto her.”
It appears that the Sumerian-Babylonian Ishtar was the counterpart of the Egyptian Isis and the model for the Grecian Aphrodite, Roman Venus, Assyrian Nina, Phrygian and Roman Cybele, Phoenician Astarte, and Astarte of Syria. In essence they were the same mother-goddess     
Reconstruction of the banner of the Inca emperors. 
Inca State, founded in the twelfth century , was expanded in a vast empire in less than 200 years before the discovery of America by Europeans.  State of the Incas, the Kingdom of the Incas, the Inca Empire ( Empire of the Four Parts, Part Four States – see the map of administrative division) – the historical state in the western part of South America , during its heyday covering the areas of present-day Peru , Ecuador and part of Bolivia , Chile , Colombia and Argentina

Quetzalcoatl feathered serpent form as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis.
Quetzalcoatl  is a Mesoamerican deity whose name comes from the Nahuatl language and has the meaning of “feathered-serpent”. The worship of a feathered serpent deity is first documented in Teotihuacan in the first century BCE or first century CE. That period lies within the Late Preclassic to Early Classic period (400 BCE–600CE) of Mesoamerican chronology, and veneration of the figure appears to have spread throughout Mesoamerica by the Late Classic (600–900 CE)

 Feathered Serpent head at the Ciudadela complex in Teotihuacan  
 The Maya Vision Serpent
  Horned serpents (rattlesnakes) tied together on a Mississippian sandstone plate from the Moundville Archaeological Site
 Ancient North American serpent imagery often featured rattlesnakes.

 Ixchel or Ix Chel is the 16th-century name of the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine in the ancient Maya culture. She corresponds, more or less, to Toci Yoalticitl ‘Our Grandmother the Nocturnal Physician’, an Aztec earth goddess inhabiting the sweatbath, and is related to another Aztec goddess invoked at birth, viz. Cihuacoatl. In Taube's revised Schellhas-Zimmermann classification of codical deities, Ixchel corresponds to the goddess O.

In Australian Aboriginal mythology, Ungud is a snake god who is sometimes male and sometimes female. He is associated with rainbows and the fertility and erections of the tribe's shamans.

In Australian aboriginal mythology, Wollunqua (or Wollunka, Wollunkua) is a snake-god of rain and fertility, who emerged from a watering hole in the Murschison Mountains. He is said to be many miles long.

Rainbow Serpent

Snake Goddess, indicates figurines of a woman holding a snake in each hand found during excavation of Minoan archaeological sites in Crete dating from approximately 1600 BCE

Minoan Snake Goddess figurines c 1600 BCE. 

The snake goddess has been compared to the Snake-witch picture stone, which shows a woman holding snakes in both hands, from Gotland, Sweden

In the mythology of Fiji, Ratumaibulu is a god of great importance who presides over agriculture. In the month called Vula-i-Ratumaibulu,he comes from Bulu, the world of spirits, to make the breadfruit and other fruit trees blossom and yield fruit. He is said to be a snake god.

In Fijian mythology, Bulu (pronounced: Mbúlu) is a name for the 'world of spirits' (presumably the underworld)

In Fijian mythology, Nabagatai is a village on the road to Bulu, where the souls of the dead live (Williams and Calvert 1858:245).
In Fijian mythology, Degei, enshrined as a serpent, is the supreme god of Fiji. He is the creator of the (Fijian) world, of fruits, and of men. He judges newly-dead souls after they pass through one of two caves: Cibaciba or Drakulu. A few he sends to paradise, Burotu. Most others are thrown into a lake, where they will eventually sink to the bottom (Murimuria) to be appropriately rewarded or punished.
He is said to have at first moved about freely, but then in the form of a snake to have grown into the earth with his ringed tail. Since then he has become the god of earthquakes, storms, and the seasons. Whenever Ndengei shakes himself fertilising rain will fall, delicious fruits hang on the trees, and the yam fields yield an excellent crop. But Ndengei is also a god of wrath who declares himself in terrible fashion. He punishes and chastens his people by destroying the crops or by floods; he could indeed easily wipe out mankind from the earth, for since he has lived in the bowels of the earth he has been tormented with so insatiable hunger that he would like to take in and swallow the whole world.
Nagaradhane is a form of snake worship which, along with Bhuta Kola, is one of the unique traditions prevalent in coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada , Udupi and Kasaragod alternatively known as Tulu Nadu
The snake worship rituals practiced in Tulu Nadu are quite unique and different from the other rituals. Snakes have their own snake shrines in a sacred grove known as Nagabana. The shrines have images of cobras carved of stones. Accordingly, nobody is allowed to chop the tree near the Nagabana. It is also believed that snakes, specifically the cobras, are not be harmed or killed by anyone. If harmed, the individual has to perform a ritual to cleanse the sin of killing or harming the snake. The belief is that the individual who refuses to perform the ritual will be cursed by the snake for eternity.
Nagabanas or the sacred groves are deemed to be the resting place of the Snake God.

There are two distinct rituals performed in reverence to the snake. They are, Aashleshabali and Nagamandala. Of these, Nagamandala is longer and colourful than Aashleshabali. Nagamandala depicts the divine union of male and female snakes. It is generally performed by two priests. The first priest, called as patri inhales the areca flower and becomes the male snake. The second priest, called as Nagakannika or the female snake dances and sings around an elaborate serpent design drawn with natural colours on the sacred ground. The ritual is supplemented by playing an hour glass shaped instrument called as Dakke. The drawings in five different colours on the sacred ground are white (white mud), red (mix of lime powder and turmeric powder), green (green leaves powder), yellow (turmeric powder) and black (roasted and powdered paddy husk). Aashleshabali is similar nature to the after death rituals performed for the humans as per the Hindu tradition.
The ritual, centered around the serpent design, continues till early in the morning. A similar kind of ritual is found in Kerala and is known as Sarpam Thullal and Sarpam Kali. All communities of Tulu Nadu revere snakes.

Mandala drawn during ashleshabali at Belle Badagumane Moodubelle, Udupi
 A Mandala drawn during nagamandala
 Nagabana at Belle Badagumane, Moodubelle, Udupi
 In Vodou, Damballah is one of the most important of all the loa (also spelled lwa). Damballah is the Sky God and considered the primordial creator of all life. The veve of Damballah comprises two serpents prominent among other emblems.
 Veve of Damballa
Vodou also written as Voodoo; Vodun, or Vodoun is a syncretic  religion practiced chiefly in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Practitioners are called "vodouists"  or "servants of the spirits" (Haitian Creole: sèvitè).

 A large sequined Vodou "drapo" or flag by the artist George Valris, depicting the veve, or symbol, of the lwa Loko Atison.

 Vodou altar during a celebration for Papa Guédé in Boston. This altar has offerings to three nations (nanchons) of lwa: at top right are offerings to Rada spirits; at top left are those for the Petwo family; and those at bottom are for Guédé.

Zombi is the name of a snake-deity in some cults of West African Vodun and Haitian Vodou (Voodoo). Zombi is a Creole word, thought to be derived from Nzambi, supreme god of the Bacongo people of Angola. The deity is connected with water and appears in different impersonations, one being Zombi-Damballah, the rainbow serpent.

 In Egyptian mythology, Nehebkau (also spelt Nehebu-Kau, and Neheb Ka) was originally the explanation of the cause of binding of Ka and Ba after death. Thus his name, which means (one who) brings together Ka. Since these aspects of the soul were said to bind after death, Nehebkau was said to have guarded the entrance to Duat, the underworld.


was one of the more important glyphs in his name, and although it was technically a variation on the glyph for two arms raised in prayer, it also resembles a two-headed snake, and so Nehebkau became depicted in art as a snake with two heads (occasionally with only one). As a two-headed snake, he was viewed as fierce, being able to attack from two directions, and not having to fear as much confrontations. Consequently sometimes it was said that Atum, the chief god in these areas, had to keep his finger on him to prevent Nehebkau from getting out of control. Alternatively, in areas where Ra was the chief god, it was said that Nehebkau was one of the warriors who protected Ra whilst he was in the underworld, during Ra's nightly travel, as a sun god, under the earth.

When he was seen as a snake, he was also thought to have some power over snake-bites, and by extension, other poisonous bites, such as those of scorpions, thus sometimes being identified as the son of Serket, the scorpion-goddess of protection against these things. Alternatively, as a snake, since he was connected to an aspect of the soul, he was sometimes seen as the son of Renenutet, a snake-goddess, who distributed the Ren, another aspect of the soul, and of the earth (Geb), on which snakes crawl.