29
Mar
09

Zoo, Fertility festivals, and Snakes in Mythology

First of all, I went to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans recently with a student organization (Students for the Promotion of Antiquity) as part of a “scavenger hunt” which involved finding answers to questions about an animal based upon an excerpt from an ancient text, sounds fun, right? Well, it was rather fun; would have been more fun with fewer people at the zoo, but it was still fun. Anyway, I’ll have some pictures to post when my girlfriend (whose camera I used) sends them to me (or, more likely, I steal her camera and take them off for myself.)

Anyway, I’d like to throw out a bit of knowledge about snake mythology and fertility festivals. Snakes, as many of you know, are something I rather enjoy learning about, so when Dr. Sandrock, a few years ago, mentioned that snakes were often looked at as immortal and going between the two worlds (living and dead), as well as the numerous other times I have heard this, I found a new little self-education hobby.

Snakes coil (form circles) and thus, form loops, which go on forever. A perfect symbol for eternity is the snake biting its own tail. They are also symbolic of rebirth. The reason for this is that snakes, in the autumn and winter, go underground (the realm of the dead) and then in spring, come back to the surface and shed their skin, being born once more into the world of the living. For this same reason, snakes became associated with healing, fertility, medicine, and so forth. Many gods are depicted as serpents, or at least utilize serpents in some way. The Greek god of medicine (Asclepius), for example, has a snake on his staff, as does Hermes, but I won’t get into that.

Why, then, would snakes inspire fear in modern western culture when, historically, they were viewed as wise and immortal guardians? Well, similarly, they were viewed by the three huge, surviving desert religions as incarnations of their chosen antagonist to the hero myth, “the devil.” Obviously, one who is intelligent, immortal, and honest MUST be evil, after all, we can’t have logic and reason, it’s the enemy of FAITH. I digress, that was a straw man. These religions, however, did view snakes as evil, since they were responsible for the “downfall of man.” (Yet another “you are worthless” tactic of brainwashing) For this reason, we have the misconception that snakes are always out to do us harm, rather than rid us of rats and some insects along with providing food for birds, other reptiles, many mammals, and sometimes, us.

Why couldn’t a shedding snake be a symbol for the spring holiday much like eggs (birth)? Simply put, there is no reason other than one specific group of religions viewed them as evil. I, however, shall begin a new practice of, on the Vernal Equinox, watching for the first snakes of the day, capturing it, and feeding it. After all, it is that snake which brings the ground back from the dead with it that year, isn’t it?

P.S. I know it isn’t true, but it’s at least a fun myth; no death involved, just life, after all, isn’t that what we should be celebrating in the Spring?

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6 Responses to “Zoo, Fertility festivals, and Snakes in Mythology”


  1. March 30, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Anything in particular you are planning to feed the snake?

  2. 2 jaredcormier
    March 30, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Babies of “good Christians”

  3. March 31, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    The Biblical approach to snakes is more complicated than that. See numbers 26 which has a healing snake on staff (like the Greek symbol). There’s a bit of a tension about snakes in the text which isn’t surprising given the tension between adopting elements of the surrounding cultures and reacting against them.

  4. 4 jaredcormier
    March 31, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    First of all, I’ll assume you mean Numbers 21:6-9 I know, I gave a storybook version; that’s all I had time for, believe me, I’ve read the vast majority of the Vulgate (in Latin) and some of the Septuagint (in Greek). However, the overpowering story told is that of “original sin,” at least in Christianity, in the other Abrahamic religions, this aspect is absent. Where the serpent aspect comes from can only be speculated upon.

  5. March 31, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Yes, sorry 21 not 26. And today’s lesson is that I shouldn’t give citations from memory…

  6. 6 jaredcormier
    March 31, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I have a handy biblical snake reference list, so I cheated. I don’t remember exactly where anything in the bible is by memory; too much fluff; it’s like reading a postmodernist critique of the anthropic principle; tedious, pointless, and lacking evidence.


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