Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We have created this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted January 26, 2020. You can visit the original post here to see the comments.
The otherworldly energy of Snake – it’s vitality, its uncanny ability to sense danger, and its ability to shed its skin and reappear as if reborn must have invoked feelings of awe in our ancestors. All across the pre-historic world one finds depictions of Snake and the spiral or meander as Snake’s symbols.
Creation, Primal Energy, Life Force
Snakes are mysterious, cold-blooded creatures – slithering silently across the land, sleeping with open lidless eyes, hearing without ears but by feeling Earth’s vibrations, and using their forked tongues to smell in lieu of a nose.
To the human imagination this enigmatic being is both chthonic and spiritual – tying together Heaven and Earth. Though no stories survive from the early Neolithic period of Old Europe, the preponderance of imagery leads us to the conclusion that the Snake Goddess, often appearing as one with the Bird Goddess, was felt everywhere – ruling earth, water and air – nurturing the world with the feminine principle – Mistress of life-giving cosmic forces.
Many cultures view Snake as a divine being. The Chinese believed that the snake-headed goddess, Nüwa, made the first humans from clay.
Over the millennia gods grew in importance. The Sumerian Serpent God, Ningišzida, was associated with vegetation, growth and decay. Also known as Zu, he was the Lord of the Watery Abyss – the place from which we come and to which we return.
Snake, known as the Rainbow Serpent who protected water and gave life was part of the creation myth of Aboriginal Australians.
In Pelasgian mythology, the indigenous people of Greece, the Great Goddess, Eurynome, first separated water from sky. While dancing across the waters she caught the wind, rubbing it between her hands to create the snake, Ophion. With desire he coiled himself around her, impregnating Eurynome who then laid the cosmic egg. She bade Ophion to wrap his body around it seven times. The egg cracked and Earth came forth filled with flora and fauna.
The Dahomy people of Africa believed in a serpent god, Dan, who is depicted encircling the world with its tail in its mouth. In some versions Dan was the child of Mawu-Lisa, twin creator goddess/god. In other versions Serpent God Dan created life on Earth.
Snake had a strong presence in the belief system of the Aegean region during the Bronze Age. From the well-known Minoan Snake Goddess, to the terra-cotta painted snakes of Mycenaean cult centers Snake maintained its role as an earth goddess and protector – a bridge between worlds granting access to spiritual wisdom and transformation.
Snake reminds you of your primal instincts and unconscious drives, to be aware of your energy sources and how to best use that energy.
Why Snake is seen as evil
With the rise of monotheistic, patriarchal cultures we see the divine Snake, representative of the goddess and female creative nature being hunted and killed by a god – falling in status from Creator to the incarnation of evil. This theme is found over and over again in many Indo-European myths.
The Mesopotamian god Marduk destroyed Tiamat, Serpent Goddess of the Salt Sea. In the Greek Pantheon Zeus battled the underworld serpent Typhon, ultimately trapping it beneath Mount Aetna. And Abrahamic mythology tells of the god Yahweh who battled the serpent Leviathan.
In Northern Europe the Norse god Thor killed the world serpent Jörmungandr.
Corra, forgotten Serpent Goddess of Ireland and Scotland, called forth the serpents of life, death, and rebirth to twine her promise of eternity around the lives of her people. In a bloody battle St Patrick of Ireland killed Corra.
Where sexuality is celebrated, Snake remains an honored deity. Where sexuality is repressed as sinful, Snake is viewed as evil. Patriarchal societies turned Snake, the great symbol of early Matriarchal cultures, into the epitome of evil – a successful tactic in the destruction of the goddess worshipping cultures of old.
Snake who sheds its skin frequently and emerges renewed, represents the mystery of death and rebirth. Snake’s ability to bite its own tail and to coil into spirals – both symbols of eternity – furthers its association with the immortality inherent in transformation.
Perhaps because ancient people observed snakes emerging from hibernation in early spring Snake became the herald of spring- Earth’s transformation to rebirth and fertility -. Neolithic artifacts show images of snakes together with salmon, flowers and nesting birds – symbols of spring.
Later cultures like the Celts continued this belief. The Celtic Goddess, Brigid, was sometimes viewed as a snake who emerged from her mound on February 2, the first day of Celtic spring.
The snake, žaltys, was a special favorite of Saule, Lithuanian Sun Goddess. She wore a snake adorned crown – symbolizing the promise of ongoing life and abundance.
The North American Hopi celebrate the union of Snake Youth (Sky) and Snake Girl( Underworld) with a snake dance to renew the fertility of Mother Earth.
Snake brings awareness of our sensuality – our ability to respond to stimuli we encounter and to the flow of energy swirling around us.
When Snake sheds its skin it also frees itself from scars and skin disease. The association between healing and snakes is evident in Greek mythology.
Asclepius, Greek God of Healing and Medicine once healed a snake, who then shared its secret healing knowledge. His rod, a staff entwined by a snake, remains the symbol of medicine today.
Intelligence, Psychic Awareness, Predictions
Snake is the ultimate symbol of intelligence, predictions and psychic awareness – perhaps because of Snake’s mysterious way of being – unblinking lidless eyes, smelling without a nose, hearing without ears, and sensing heat and movement – which allows it to succeed in life in ways totally foreign to humans.
Snake was credited with predictive powers concerning weather. The Scottish believed that good weather on St. Bride’s Day (the Christianized version of Brigid) indicated winter would last longer.
Lithuanians celebrated January 25 as the Day of Serpents. People invited snakes into their homes with specially prepared food. In ancient Greece at the Epirus Sanctuary priestesses offered food to the sanctuary snakes. In both cases if the food was eaten the crops of the coming year would be abundant – if not scarcity would follow.
The druids, priests of Celtic spirituality, considered the adder snake as wise and spiritually aware, even carrying adder eggs as talismans for power and psychic insight.
The famous Oracle of Delphi, belonged to the goddess long before Apollo killed the serpent Python and took control of it. Gaia, Greek Earth Goddess, gave birth to Python, the original Oracle at Delphi who inherited all Gaia’s wisdom and knowledge. It was he who sent prophecies to Pythia, his oracle priestess at the temple of Krisa, to inspire her visions of the future.
Wisdom, Guardian Spirit, Underworld
Snake, who lives in Earth’s cracks and holes, has small, sound conducting bones in its head, allowing it to hear low frequency sounds and to sense Earth’s vibrations. This connects Snake to the Underworld – place of secret knowledge – as Guardian Spirit. Snake also functions as messenger between the worlds.
Perhaps how Snake with its unmoving eyes appears to contemplate their actions before striking has led to their association with wisdom.
Long before the Greek Perseus killed the snake-haired Medusa, she was known as the Dark Moon aspect of the Libyan triadic goddess, Anatha. As Libyan Medusa, she represented wisdom, the dark moon, and death and rebirth. She and her Amazon priestesses, wore leather pouches filled with live snakes. She was associated with divination, healing, and renewal.
The Greek Athena also originated from this Libyan triadic goddess – Athena, Goddess of the Waxing Moon. Later as part of the Greek pantheon and in a horrific twist, as Medusa was in fact part of her ancient self, she received Medusa’s severed head from Perseus and affixed it to her breast plate – providing protection for Athens.
Egyptian goddess, Wadjet, predated a unified Egypt as the protective deity of Lower Egypt. She was depicted as a cobra winding around a papyrus stem.
When Snake appears a time for transformation, a time to shed illusions and fears is at hand. Change is on the horizon. Snake calls for the use of intelligence to access situations and the application of wisdom in your actions.
Snake calls you to open to psychic awareness, to sense the vibrations of your circumstances and then use that insight to move forward on your path. Snake – always connected to the very ground of Mother Earth – reminds you to stay grounded in your efforts, to avoid flights of fancy.
Snake energy gifts you with vitality, healing, wisdom, power and a deeper level of spiritual awareness gained through openness to transitions. Through Snake the love and protection of Mother Goddess is yours.
PostScriipt: If you have an opinion as to which of my two snake paintings – the red or the blue – would be the best one to include in my work-in-progress, Animal Spirit Guides, please let me know with a quick comment.
Sources: The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe by Marija Gimbutas, Wikipedia, The Serpent as Divinity by Robert T. Mason, PhD, Serpent Sanctum, Study.com, Paleothea, JeremyVarner.com, Goddess Inspired, Live Science, Building Beautiful Souls, Goddess in the Wheel of the Year, Shamanism –
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.
14 thoughts on “From the Archives: The Serpent and the Goddess by Judith Shaw”
Judith, as always, I adore your work. Thank you. I have shared and linked here on the divine feminine app. <3
Thanks so much Caryn.
Love those paintings.
Know from personal experience that snake and bird goddess go together because the first time I worked with clay – ever – at the edge of the sea – found a clay bank – I sculpted a bird goddess with a snake wrapped around her – I was 4o years old.
I love the way our unconscious works – revealing surprising things which lay buried deep inside. Do you still have your snake wrapped bird goddess?
when I left the coast I let her return to earth because she was never fired – since then have done others…
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Great article! According to Chinese astrology I am the water snake. In Costa Rica, where I live, the coral snake represents the shaman. It appears in many of my Diva paintings.
Yet another instance of the transformative and spiritual nature of Snake. Thanks
You always do such thorough and excellent research that you teach us more than we imagined we didn’t even know. You help us shed our skins of ignorance. And I love the images! Bright, snakey blessings to your work.
I like the blue image because blue is a cool color and people who don’t know any better seem to get red-hot mad at snakes. Don’t encourage that. Encourages the cool calm of blessed blue water.
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Thanks so much for your input about which of my two snake paintings you prefer. I was just thinking earlier this morning that I am unsure as to which one to use in my “coming soon” Animal Wisdom Oracle deck. Your point is an excellent one!
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Gosh, I think BOTH – although my favorite is the blue. I say both because both sides are real
I always learn so much from your articles! For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this is the perfect time for this article since spring is (hopefully) coming up soon! I’m with Barbara. I love both paintings, but I would use the blue one — besides its calming color, having the snake wrapped around the interlocking symbol is a wonderful depiction of how the spirit of snakes is so entwined with humanity and the cosmos.
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Thanks, both Barbara’s thoughts and yours have convinced me that I need ask no further – the blue one it is!
Thank you for this!! I am recalling snake biting at my heel years ago a reminder to honor her power on the earth. And just last month a bird came to me in a vision and wanted to hold my hand and I swatter her away. I asked for her to forgive my reflexive response and to give me another chance!!
Your dream was such a great reminder. It’s so easy for us modern humans to discount the value and individuality of animals.