I was looking at today’s post by Carolina Gonzalez on her Moon Camel Bazaar Blog showing her beautiful altar arrangement to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day was just this past December 12th. I was commenting how this Christianized Goddess was originally a native American (near what we now call Mexico City) Goddess of a mountain top called Coatlaxopeuh and that I had read somewhere (sorry i cannot remember the source) that she was originally depicted as standing upon serpents, and when the Catholics painted her icon they covered those up with the crescent moon and those little cherub angels underneath her. I am not going to get into the whole long story as you can just hit the links above to learn the basics. Warning – there is some partial artistic nudity in some pictures.
So that got me started thinking about how the serpent symbol is treated in Christianity vs Paganism and the Eastern religions. Now I could write a book about this, but wont because there are scores of books on this subject already. But here are some concise points.
First off, i am talking about the serpent as a symbol, not as an animal who can be both good and bad whether one keeps a black snake around to control the mice and moles or whether you have a big copperhead sneaking up on your sleeping cat or in the yard where your children are playing. So one’s response to a physical snake is up to you and your environment. I have little fear of snakes, except maybe stepping on one unawares. I have handled six foot boas and lethargic black snakes as they came out of winter hibernation and really have little fear of the non-poisonous ones. But you will not catch me dancing around with a rattlesnake to Elvis music at a snake handling Christian cult in the mountains of the southern Appalachians! The serpent is my totem and my body is covered with woad blue colored snakes and dragons like the old Celts.
What i am talking about is the serpentine symbol, and gods how can i reduce this down to a few paragraphs? Internally the serpentine energy is one’s electromagnetic nervous system, called in the East the Kundalini. It is both the lustful energy of sex and the reptilian base of the brain. It is about survival (fight or flight), sexual reproduction and one’s life force in general. According to various yogic systems it is raw and untamed, but can be controlled and trained to energize the upper chakras until it is a protector instead of a powder keg. Much like the electricity in one’s house it can bring light and it can kill.
So why are Christians and other dualistic religions so opposed to the serpentine energy? Perhaps it is from their iconography engrained over the millennium that Satan is in the form of a dragon or snake, so must be killed to be controlled. One can find this in their icons of St Michael and St George cutting and piercing their dying form. A dualistic religion does not trust and even hates the body and physical plane as an abode that need totally controlled, like JHVH told Adam and Even in Genesis. And the fact is that Yes sometimes the serpent within us, like anger, murderous thoughts and self destruction Do need to be almost killed to control them. It is a psychological technique. But guess what? That serpent never dies.
In many native cultures like the AmerIndians, Indonesians and Australians they have learned the balance that we need the serpent, like in the form of predictable rains for our crops. In the far East in Buddhism and most forms of Hinduism, in the ancient Egyptian religion, Africa, and Haiti the serpent is worshipped as a power that can do both good and evil, depending on what kind of relationship one has with it. Thus you will have gods dancing on (but not crushing) serpents, draped in snakes and shielded by the hoods of nagarajas. It is a less confrontational relationship with the serpent both internally and externally that they have cultured before Christianity brainwashed them. The saw serpents as a little more mystical in form and habit. Snakes shedding their skins and appearing young again taught them the great mystery of rebirth.
So i prefer seeing the serpent as a sacred symbol rather than killing every one i see crossing the road. And yes, i do stop my car to get snakes and turtles off the road every summer. Yes they only have a reptilian brain, but it is that brain that grew the mammalian and cerebral brains we human’s carry, and they have been around millions of years before we were, so they deserve some respect. And symbolically they can be straight or coiled or drawn into many magickal shapes and symbols for protection and wisdom. To those who have the eyes to see the dragon and snake are more friend and ally than enemy.
I am sorry there are more pictures than words in this post, but a picture speaks a thousand words of how serpents are treated in various religious cultures. My apologies to any artist who i did not attribute a picture to.