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The subject to be discussed in the present chapter is one of the most fascinating that can engage the attention of anthropologists. It is remarkable, however, that although so much has been written in relation to it, we are still almost in the dark as to the origin of the superstition in question. The student of mythology knows that certain ideas were associated by the peoples of antiquity with the serpent, and that it was the favourite symbol of particular deities; but why that animal rather than any other was chosen for the purpose is yet uncertain. The facts being well known, however, I shall dwell on them only so far as may be necessary to support the conclusions based upon them.

We are indebted to Mr. Fergusson for bringing together a large array of facts, showing the extraordinary range which serpent-worship had among ancient nations. It is true that he supposes it not to have been adopted by any nation belonging to the Semitic or Aryan stock; the serpent-worship of India and Greece originating, as he believes, with older peoples. However this may be, the superstition was certainly not unknown to either Aryans or Semites. The brazen serpent of the Hebrew exodus was destroyed in the reign of Hezekiah, owing to the idolatry to which it gave rise. In the mythology of the Chaldeans, from whom the Assyrians seem to82 have sprung, the serpent occupied a most important position. Among the allied Ph?nicians and Egyptians it was one of the most divine symbols. In Greece, Hercules was said “to have been the progenitor of the whole race of serpent-worshipping Scythians, through his intercourse with the serpent Echidna;” and when Minerva planted the sacred olive on the Acropolis of Athens, she placed it under the care of the serpent-deity Erechthonios. As to the Latins, Mr. Fergusson remarks that “Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ are full of passages referring to the important part which the serpent performed in all the traditions of classic mythology.” The superstitions connected with that animal are supposed not to have existed among the ancient Gauls and Germans; but this is extremely improbable, considering that it appears to have been known to the British Celts and to the Gothic inhabitants of Scandinavia. In Eastern Europe there is no doubt that the serpent superstition was anciently prevalent, and Mr. Fergusson refers to evidence proving that “both trees and serpents were worshipped by the peasantry in Esthonia and Finland within the limits of the present century, and even with all the characteristics possessed by the old faith when we first became acquainted with it.”

The serpent entered largely into the mythology of the ancient Persians, as it does into that of the Hindus. In India it is associated with both Siva-ism and Vishnuism, although its actual worship perhaps belonged rather to the aboriginal tribes among whom Buddhism is thought by recent writers to have originated. The modern home of the superstition,83 however, is Western Africa, where the serpent is not merely considered sacred, but is actually worshipped as divine. On the other side of the Indian Ocean traces of the same superstition are met with among the peoples of the Indian islands and of Polynesia, and also in China. The evidences of serpent-worship on the American Continent have long engaged the attention of arch?ologists, who have found it to be almost universal, under one form or another, among the aboriginal tribes. That animal was sculptured on the temples of Mexico and Peru, and its form is said by Mr. Squier to be of frequent occurrence among the mounds of Wisconsin. The most remarkable of the symbolic earthworks of North America is the great serpent mound of Adam’s county, Ohio, the convolutions of which extend to a length of 1,000 feet. At the Edinburgh meeting of the British Association, in 1871, Mr. Phené gave an account of his discovery in Argyllshire of a similar mound several hundred feet long, and about fifteen feet high by thirty feet broad, tapering gradually to the tail, the head being surmounted by a circular cairn, which he supposes to answer to the solar disc above the head of the Egyptian ur?us, the position of which, with head erect, answers to the form of the Oban serpent-mound. This discovery is of great interest, and its author is probably justified in assuming that the mound was connected with serpent-worship. It may be remarked, in evidence of the existence of such structures in other parts of the old world, that the hero of one of the Ya?nas of the Zend Avesta is made to rest on what he thinks is a bank, but which he finds to be a great green snake, doubt84less a serpent-mound. Another ancient reference to these structures is made by Iphicrates, who, according to Bryant, “related that in Mauritania there were dragons of such extent, that grass grew upon their backs.”

Let us now see what ideas have been associated with the serpent by various peoples. Mr. Fergusson mentions the curious fact that “the chief characteristic of the serpent throughout the East in all ages seems to have been their power over the wind and rain.” According to Colonel Meadows Taylor, in the Indian Deccan, at the present day, offerings are made to the village divinities (of whom the nag, or snake, is always one) at spring time and harvest for rain or fine weather, and also in time of cholera or other diseases or pestilence. So, among the Chinese, the dragon is regarded as the giver of rain, and in time of drought offerings are made to it. In the spring and fall of the year it is one of the objects worshipped, by command of the Emperor, by certain mandarins. The Chinese notion of the serpent or dragon dwelling above the clouds in spring to give rain reminds us of the Aryan myth of Vritra, or Ahi, the throttling snake, or dragon with three heads, who hides away the rain-clouds, but who is slain by Indra, the beneficent giver of rain. “Whenever,” says Mr. Cox,85 “the rain is shut up in the clouds, the dark power is in revolt against Dyaus and Indra. In the rumblings of the thunder, while the drought still sucks out the life of the earth, are heard the mutterings of their hateful enemy. In the lightning flashes which precede the outburst of the pent-up waters are seen the irresistible spears of the god, who is attacking the throttling serpent in his den; and in the serene heaven which shone out when the deluging clouds are passed away, men beheld the face of the mighty deity who was their friend.” Mr. Cox elsewhere remarks that Vritra, “the enemy of Indra, reappears in all the dragons, snakes, or worms slain by all the heroes of Aryan mythology.”

Whether the great serpent be the giver or the storer of rain, the Aryans, like all Eastern peoples, suppose it to have power over the clouds. This, however, is only one of its attributes. It is thought to have power over the wind as well as the rain, and this also is confirmed by reference to Aryan mythology. Mr. Cox has well shown that Hermes is “the air in motion, or wind, varying in degree from the soft breath of a summer breeze to the rage of the growing hurricane.” In these more violent moods he is represented by the Maruts, the “crushers” or “grinders,” who are also the children of Rudra, the “Father of the Winds,” and himself the “wielder of the thunderbolt” and the “mightiest of the mighty.” Rudra is also “the robber, the cheat, the deceiver, the master thief,” and in this character both he and Hermes agree with the cloud-thief Vritra.

Notwithstanding the fact that in the Mahabharata, Rudra, like Hercules, is described as the “destroyer of serpents,” he is in the same poem identified with Mahadeva, and hence he is evidently the same as Siva, who has the title of King of Serpents. The primitive character of Siva, as the Vedic Rudra, is now almost lost, but the identity of the two deities may be supported by reference to an incident related in the myth86 of Hermes and Apollo. It is said that, in return for the sweet-sounding lyre, Apollo gave to Hermes the magical “three-leafed rod of wealth and happiness.” Sometimes this rod was entwined with serpents instead of fillets, and there is no difficulty in recognising in it the well-known emblem of Siva, which also is sometimes encircled by serpents. It can be shown that the Hindu deity is a form of Saturn, one of the Semitic names for whom was Set or Seth. It was the serpent-symbol of this God216 which was said to have been elevated in the wilderness for the healing of the people bitten by serpents, and curiously enough Rudra (Siva) was called not only the bountiful, the strong, but the healer. The later Egyptian title of the god Set was Typhon, of whom Mr. Breal says that “Typhon is the monster who obscures the heaven, a sort of Greek V?ritra.” The myth of Indra and Vritra is reproduced in Latin mythology as that of Hercules and C?cus. C?cus also is analogous to Typhon, and as the former is supposed to have taken his name from, or given it to, a certain wind which had the power of clothing itself with clouds, so the latter bore the same name as a very destructive wind which was much dreaded by the Ph?nicians and Egyptians. Moreover, the name Typhon was given by the Egyptians to anything tempestuous, and hence to the ocean; and in Hebrew the allied word “Suph” denotes a “whirlwind.” There is another point of contact, however, between Siva and the god Set or Typhon, who was known to the87 Egyptians also as the serpent Aph?phis, or the giant. An ancient writer states that one of the names of El, or Chronos, was Typhon, and the serpent and pillar symbols of the Ph?nician deity confirm the identification between Set or Saturn, and the Siva of the Hindu Pantheon.

One of the leading ideas connected with the serpent was, as we have seen, its power over the rain, but another equally influential was its connection with health. Mr. Fergusson remarks that “when we first meet with serpent-worship, either in the wilderness of Sinai, the groves of Epidaurus, or in the Sarmatian huts, the serpent is always the Agatho-d?mon, the bringer of health and good fortune.”217 The Agatho-d?mon, which in ancient Egypt presided over the affairs of men as the guardian spirit of their houses,218 was the Asp of Ranno, the snake-headed goddess who is represented as nursing the young princes. That the idea of health was intimately associated with the serpent is shown by the crown formed of the asp, or sacred Thermuthis, having been given particularly to Isis, a goddess of life and healing. It was also the symbol of other deities with the like attributes. Thus on a papyri it encircles the figure of Harpocrates, who was identified with the serpent god ?sculapius; while88 not only was a great serpent kept alive in the temple of Serapis, but on later monuments this deity is represented by a great serpent, with or without a human head. Sanchoniathon says of that animal—“It is long-lived, and has the quality not only of putting off its old age and assuming a second youth, but of receiving at the same time an augmentation of its size and strength.” The serpent, therefore, was a fit emblem of Rudra, “the healer;” and the gift which Apollo presented to Mercury could be entwined by no more appropriate object than the animal which was supposed to be able to give the health without which even Mercury’s magic-staff could not confer wealth and happiness. It is remarkable that a Moslem saint of Upper Egypt is still thought to appear under the form of a serpent, and to cure the diseases which afflict the pilgrims to his shrine.

Ramahavaly, one of the four national idols of the Malagasy, bears a curious analogy to the serpent gods of wisdom and healing. One of his titles is Rabiby, signifying “animal,” and denoting “the god of beasts;” and his emissaries are the serpents which abide in Madagascar, and are looked upon with superstitious fear by the inhabitants. Ramahavaly is, moreover, regarded as the Physician of Imerina, and is thought to preserve from, or expel, epidemic diseases. Mr. Ellis says that he is sometimes described89 “as god, sacred, powerful, and almighty; who kills and makes alive; who heals the sick, and prevents diseases and pestilence; who can cause thunder and lightning to strike their victims or prevent their fatality; can cause rain in abundance when wanted, or can withhold it so as to ruin the crops of rice. He is also celebrated for his knowledge of the past and future, and for his capacity of discovering whatever is hidden or concealed.”

It is probable that the association with the serpent of the idea of healing arose from the still earlier recognition of that animal as a symbol of life. We have already referred to the representations in the Egyptian temples of the young princes being nursed by a woman having the head of an asp. It is interesting to find that in India at the present day serpent-worship is expressly resorted to on behalf of children, and “the first hair of a child which is shaved off when it has passed teething and other infantine ailments is frequently dedicated to a serpent.” This animal in both cases is treated as the guardian of life, and therefore the crown given to Egyptian sovereigns and divinities was very properly formed of the asp of Ranno. Another snake-headed Egyptian goddess has the name Hih or Hoh, and Sir Gardner Wilkinson mentions that the Coptic word Hof signifies the viper, analogous to the hye of the Arabs. The Arabic word hiya, indeed, means both life and a serpent. This connection is supported by the association, already pointed out, between the serpent and the gods of the life-giving wind, and by the fact that these also possess the pillar symbol of life. This belongs as well to Siva the destroyer, the preserver, and the creator, as to Set or Saturn, to Thoth-Hermes, and El or Chronos. Both the serpent and the pillar were assigned also to many of the personifications of the sun, the deified source of earthly life. Probably the90 well-known figure representing the serpent with its tail in its mouth was intended to symbolise endless life rather than eternity, an idea which does not appear to have been associated with that animal by the Egyptians. Agreeably with this view, Horapollo affirms that Kneph-Agatho-d?mon denoted immortality.

One of the best-known attributes of the serpent is wisdom. The Hebrew tradition of the fall speaks of that animal as the most subtle of the beasts of the field; and the founder of Christianity tells his disciples to be as wise as serpents, though as harmless as doves. Among the ancients the serpent was consulted as an oracle, and Maury points out that it played an important part in the life of several celebrated Greek diviners in connection with the knowledge of the language of birds, which many of the ancients believed to be the souls of the dead. The serpent was associated with Apollo and Athené, the Grecian deities of wisdom, as well as with the Egyptian Kneph,219 the ram-headed god from whom the Gnostics are sometimes said to have derived their idea of the Sophia. This personification of divine wisdom is undoubtedly represented on Gnostic gems under the form of the serpent. In Hindu mythology there is the same association between the animal and the idea of wisdom. Siva, as Sambhu, is the patron of the Brahmanic order, and, as shown by his being three-eyed, is essentially a god possessing high intellectual attributes. Vishnu also is a god of wisdom, but of the somewhat lower type which is distinctive91 of the worshippers of truth under its feminine aspect. The connection between wisdom and the serpent is best seen, however, in the Hindu legends as to the Nagas. Mr. Fergusson remarks that “the Naga appears everywhere in Vaishnava tradition. There is no more common representation of Vishnu220 than as reposing on the Sesha, the celestial seven-headed snake, contemplating the creation of the world. It was by his assistance that the ocean was churned and Amrita produced, He everywhere spreads his protecting hood over the god or his avatars; and in all instances it is the seven-headed heavenly Naga, not the earthly cobra of Siva.” The former animal, no doubt, is especially symbolical of wisdom, and it is probably owing to his intellectual attributes, rather than to his destructive or creative power, that Siva is sometimes styled the King of Serpents. The Upanishads refer to the science of serpents, by which is meant the wisdom of the mysterious Nagas, who, according to Buddhistic legend, reside under Mount Méru, and in the waters of the terrestrial world. One of the sacred books of the Tibetan Buddhists is fabled to have been received from the Nagas, who, says Schlagentweit, are “fabulous creatures of the nature of serpents, who occupy a place among the beings superior to man, and are regarded as protectors of the law of the Buddha. To these spiritual beings Sakyamuni is said to have taught a more philosophical religious system than to men, who were not sufficiently advanced to understand it at the time of his appearance.” So far as this has any historical basis, it can mean only92 that Gautama taught his most secret doctrines to the Nagas, or aboriginal serpent-worshippers, who were the first to accept his teaching, and whose religious ideas had probably much in common with those of Gautama himself. Mr. Fergusson refers to the fact that a king of the Naga race was reigning in Magadha when Buddha was born in 623 B.C.; and he adds that the dissemination of his religion “is wholly due to the accident of its having been adopted by the low caste kings of Magadha, and to its having been elevated by one of them to the rank of the religion of the state.” It would appear, indeed, that according to a Hindu legend, Gautama himself had a serpent lineage.

The “serpent-science” of Hindu legend has a curious parallel in Ph?nician mythology. The invention of the Ph?nician written character is referred to the god Taaut or Thoth, whose snake-symbol bears his name Têt, and is used to represent the ninth letter of the alphabet (teta), which in the oldest Ph?nician character has the form of the snake curling itself up. Philo thus explains the form of the letter theta, and that the god from whom it took its name was designated by the Egyptians as a snake curled up, with its head turned inwards. Philo adds that the letters of the Ph?nician alphabet “are those formed by means of serpents; afterwards, when they built temples, they assigned them a place in the adytums, instituted various ceremonies and solemnities in honour of them, and adored them as the supreme gods, the rulers of the universe.” Bunsen thinks the sense of this passage is93 “that the forms and movements of serpents were employed in the invention of the oldest letters, which represent the gods.” He says, however, that “the alphabet does not tally at all with the Ph?nician names,” and the explanation given by Philo, although curious as showing the ideas anciently associated with the serpent, is reliable only so far as it confirms the connection between that animal and the inventor of the written characters. According to another tradition, the ancient theology of Egypt was said to have been given by the Agatho-d?mon, who was the benefactor of all mankind.

The account given of the serpent by Sanchoniathon, as cited by Eusebius, is worth repetition as showing the peculiar notions anciently current in connection with that animal. The Ph?nician writer says:94 “Taautus first attributed something of the divine nature to the serpent and the serpent tribe, in which he was followed by the Ph?nicians and Egyptians; for this animal was esteemed by him to be the most inspired of all the reptiles, and of a fiery nature, inasmuch as it exhibits an incredible celerity, moving by its spirit without either hands or feet, or any of those external members by which other animals effect their motion, and in its progress it assumes a variety of forms, moving in a spiral course, and darting forwards with whatever degree of swiftness it pleases. It is, moreover, long-lived, and has the quality not only of putting off its old age, and assuming a second youth, but of receiving at the same time an augmentation of its size and strength, and when it has fulfilled the appointed measure of its existence it consumes itself, as Taautus has laid down in the sacred books; upon which account this animal is introduced in the sacred rites and mysteries.” In India at the present day some Brahmans always keep the skin of a nag, or snake, in one of their sacred books, probably from some idea connected with the casting by the serpent of its skin referred to in the preceding passage.

We have now seen that the serpent was anciently the symbol of wisdom, life, and healing, and also that it was thought to have power over the wind and rain. This last attribute is easily understood when the importance of rain in the east is considered, and the ideas associated by the ancients with the air and moisture are remembered. The Hebrew tradition which speaks of the creative spirit moving over the face of the waters embodies those ideas, according to which the water contains the elements of life and the wind is the vivifying principle. The attribute of wisdom cannot so easily be connected with that of life. The power of healing is certainly an evidence of the possession of wisdom,221 but as it is only one phase of it, probably the latter attribute was antecedent to the former, or at least it may have had an independent origin. What this origin was may perhaps be explained by reference to certain other ideas very generally entertained in relation to the serpent. Among various African tribes this animal is viewed with great veneration, under the belief that it is often the re-embodiment of a deceased ancestor. This notion appears to be prevalent also among the95 Hindus, who, like the Kafirs, will never kill a serpent, although it is usually regarded with more dislike than veneration. Mr. Squier remarks that “many of the North American tribes entertain a superstitious regard for serpents, and particularly for the rattlesnake.222 Though always avoiding they never destroy it, ‘lest,’ says Barham, ‘the spirit of the reptile should excite its kindred to revenge.’” Mr. Squier adds that, “according to Adair, this fear was not unmingled with veneration. Charlevoix states that the Natchez had the figure of a rattlesnake, carved from wood, placed among other objects upon the altar of their temple, to which they paid great honour. Heckwelder relates that the Linni Linape called the rattlesnake ‘grandfather,’ and would on no account allow it to be destroyed. Hemy states that the Indians around Lake Huron had a similar superstition, and also designated the rattlesnake as their ‘grandfather.’ He also mentions instances in which offerings of tobacco were made to it, and its parental care solicited for the party performing the sacrifice. Carver also mentions an instance of similar regard on the part of a Menominee Indian, who carried a rattlesnake constantly with him, ‘treating it as a deity, and calling it his great father.’”

The most curious notion, however, is that of the Mexicans, who always represented the first woman, whose name was translated by the old Spanish writers “the woman of our flesh,” as accompanied by a great male serpent. The serpent is the sun-god Tonacatle-coatl, the principal deity of the Mexican Pantheon,96 and his female companion, the goddess mother of mankind, has the title cihua-cohuatl, which signifies “woman of the serpent.” With the Peruvians, also, the principal deity was the serpent-sun, whose wife, the female serpent, gave birth to a boy and a girl from whom all mankind were said to be descended. It is remarkable that the serpent origin thus ascribed to the human race is not confined to the aborigines of America. According to Herodotus, the primeval mother of the Scyths was a monster, half woman and half serpent. This reminds us of the serpent parentage ascribed to various personages of classical antiquity.223 Among the Semites, Zohák, the traditional Arabian conqueror of Central Asia, is represented as having two snakes growing at his back; and Mr. Bruce mentions that the line of the Abyssinian kings begins with “The Serpent,” Arwe, who is said to have reigned at Axum for 400 years, showing that the royal descent was traced from this animal. From the position assigned to the dragon in China, it probably was formerly thought to stand in a similar relation to the Emperor, of whom it is the special symbol.

The facts cited prove that the serpent superstition is intimately connected with ancestor-worship, probably originating among uncultured tribes, who, struck by the noiseless movement and the activity of the97 serpent, combined with its peculiar gaze and power of casting its skin, viewed it as a spirit embodiment. As such, it would be supposed to have the superior wisdom and power ascribed to the denizens of the invisible world, and from this would originate also the ascription to it of the power over life and health, and over the moisture on which those benefits are dependent. The serpent-spirit may, however, have made its appearance for a good or a bad purpose, to confer a benefit or to inflict punishment for the misdeeds of the living. The notion of there being good and evil serpent-spirits would thus naturally arise. Among ancestor-worshipping peoples, however, the serpent would be viewed as a good being who busied himself about the interests of the tribe to which he had once belonged. When the simple idea of a spirit-ancestor was transformed into that of the Great Spirit, the father of the race, the attributes of the serpent would be enlarged. The common ancestor would be relegated to the heavens, and that which was necessary to the life and well-being of his people would be supposed to be under his care. Hence the great serpent was thought to have power over the rain and the hurricane, with the latter of which he was probably often identified.

When the serpent was thus transferred to the atmosphere, and the superstition lost its simple character as a phase of ancestor-worship, its most natural association would be with the solar cult. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Quetzalcoatl, the divine benefactor of the Mexicans, was an incarnation of the serpent-sun Tonacatlcoatl, who thus became the great98 father, as the female serpent Cihua-coatl was the great mother, of the human race. It is an interesting inquiry how far the sun-gods of other peoples partook of this double character. Bunsen has a remarkable passage bearing on the serpent nature of those deities. He says that “Esmun-Esculapius is strictly a Ph?nician god. He was especially worshipped at Berytus. At Carthage he was called the highest god, together with Astarté and Hercules. At Babylon, according to the above genealogy of Bel, Apollo corresponded to him. As the snake-god he must actually be Hermes, in Ph?nician Têt, Taautes.... In an earlier stage of cosmogonical consciousness he is Agatho-d?mon-S?s, whom Lepsius has shown to be the third god in the first order of the Egyptian Pantheon.” The serpent deity who was thus known under so many forms was none other than the sun-god Set or Saturn, who has already been identified with Siva and other deities having the attributes usually ascribed to the serpent. Bunsen asserts that Set is common to all the Semites and Chaldeans, as he was to the Egyptians, but that “his supposed identity with Saturn is not so old as his identity with the sun-god, as Sirius (S?this), because the sun has the greatest power when it is in Sirius.” Elsewhere the same writer says that “the Oriento-Egyptian conception of Typhon-Set was that of a drying-up parching heat. Set is considered as the sun-god when he has reached his zenith, the god of the summer sun.”

The solar224 character of the serpent-god appears99 therefore to be placed beyond doubt. But what was the relation in which he was supposed to stand to the human race? Bunsen, to whose labours I am so much indebted, remarks that Seth “appears gradually among the Semites as the background of their religious consciousness,” and not merely was he “the primitive god of northern Egypt and Palestine,” but his genealogy as “the Seth of Genesis, the father of Enoch (the man), must be considered as originally running parallel with that derived from the Elohim, Adam’s father.” Seth is thus the divine ancestor of the Semites, a character in which, but in relation to other races, the solar deities generally agree with him. The kings and priests of ancient peoples claimed this divine origin, and “children of the sun” was the title of the members of the sacred caste. When the actual ancestral character of the deity is hidden he is regarded as “the father of his people” and their divine benefactor. He is the introducer of agriculture, the inventor of arts and sciences, and the civiliser of mankind; “characteristics,” says Faber, “which every nation ascribed to the first of their gods or the oldest of their kings.” This was true of Thoth, Saturn, and other analogous deities, and the Adam of Hebrew tradition was the father of agriculture, as his representative Noah was the introducer of the vine.

Elsewhere I have endeavoured to show that the name of the great ancestor of Hebrew tradition has100 been preserved by certain peoples who may thus be classed together as Adamites. He appears, indeed, to be the recognised legendary ancestor of the members of that division of mankind whose primeval home we can scarcely doubt was in Central Asia, answering in this respect to the Seth of the Semites. According to the tradition, however, as handed down to us by the Hebrews, Seth himself was the son of Adam. From this, it would seem to follow that, as Seth was the serpent sun-god (the Agatho-d?mon), the legendary ancestor of the Adamites must himself have partaken of the same character. Strange as this idea may appear it is not without warrant. We have already seen that the Mexicans ascribed that nature to Tonacatlcoatl and his wife, the mother of mankind, and that a similar notion was entertained by various peoples of the old world. The Chaldean god Héa who, as the “teacher of mankind,” and the “lord of understanding,” answers exactly to the divine benefactor of the race before referred to, was “figured by the great serpent which occupies so conspicuous a place among the symbols of the gods on the black stones recording Babylonian benefactions.” The name of the god is connected with the Arabic Hiya, which signifies a serpent as well as life, and Sir Henry Rawlinson says that “there are very strong grounds indeed for connecting him with the serpent of Scripture, and with the Paradisaical traditions of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life.” The god Héa was, therefore, the serpent revealer of knowledge, answering in some respects to the serpent of the fall. He was, however, the Agatho-d?mon, and in the earlier form of the legend doubt101less answered to the great human ancestor himself. It is curious that, according to Rabbinical tradition, Cain was the son, not of Adam, but of the serpent-spirit Asmodeus, who is the same as the Persian Ahriman, “the great serpent with two feet.”225 In the name of Eve, the mother of mankind, we have, indeed, direct reference to the supposed serpent-nature of our first parents. Clemens Alexandrinus long since remarked that the name Hevia, aspirated, signifies a female serpent. The name Eve is evidently connected with the same Arabic root as that which we have seen to mean both “life” and “a serpent,” and the Persians appear to have called the constellation Serpens “the little Ava,” that is Eve, a title which is still given to it by the Arabs. But if Eve was the serpent mother, Adam must have been the serpent father. In the old Akkad tongue Ad signifies “a father,” and the mythical personages with whom Adam is most nearly allied, such as Seth or Saturn, Taaut or Thoth, and others, were serpent deities. Such would seem to have been the case also with the deities whose names show a close formal resemblance to that of Adam. Thus the original name of Hercules was Sandan or Adanos, and Hercules, like the allied god Mars, was undoubtedly often closely associated with the serpent. This notion is confirmed by the identification of Adonis and Osiris as Azar or Adar, according to Bunsen the later Egyp102tian Sar-Apis, who is known to have been represented as a serpent. The Abaddon of St. John, the old dragon Satan, was probably intended for the same serpent-god. It is interesting to compare the ideas entertained as to the great dragon in the Book of Revelation and those held by the Chinese in relation to probably the same being. Mr. Doolittle says: “The dragon holds a remarkable position in the history and government of China. It also enjoys an ominous eminence in the affections of the Chinese people. It is frequently represented as the greatest benefactor of mankind. It is the dragon which causes the clouds to form and the rain to fall. The Chinese delight in praising its wonderful properties and powers. It is the venerated symbol of good.”

This was probably the view originally taken by the Egyptians, who were all followers of the serpent cult. In Egypt two kinds of serpents were the objects of peculiar veneration, and of an almost universal worship. All the gods were more or less symbolised or crowned by serpents, while all the goddesses were hieroglyphically represented by serpents. The animal used for these purposes was the cobra de copello, or ur?us, which, according to Mr. W. R. Cooper,226 “from its dangerous beauty, and in consequence of ancient tradition asserting it to have been spontaneously produced by the rays of the sun,” was universally assumed as the “emblem of divine and sacro-regal sovereignty.” The ur?us appears to be always represented on the Egyptian monuments, in103 the feminine form, and it was used as a symbol of fecundity, agreeably to which idea the generative power of the solar beams is typified by pendent ur?i. The ur?us, moreover, symbolised life and the power of healing, and it was the emblem of immortality. Mr. Cooper remarks that in the Egyptian religious system the principle of good was typically represented by a serpent, while under the form of an entirely different serpent was figured a monstrous personal evil being who maintained a constant spiritual warfare with the spirit of good. The serpent embodiment of the principle of evil was called Hof, Rehof, or Aph?phis, and it was a species of coluber of large size. It is described as “the destroyer, the enemy of the gods, and the devourer of the souls of men;” and it was thought to dwell in the depths of “that mysterious ocean upon which the Baris, or boat of the sun, was navigated by the gods through the hours of day and night, in the celestial regions.” The idea of an antagonism between the giant serpent Aph?phis and the good serpent, as the “soul of the world,” constantly occurs in the Ritual of the Dead, and the aid of every divinity in turn is sought by the deceased in his conflict with the evil being. It is remarkable that the “soul of the world,” Chnuphis, or Bait, is represented as a coluber, and that it appears to be identified with Aph?phis in one chapter of the Ritual. Mr. Cooper states that, although a large coluber which is figured as being worshipped resembles Aph?phis, it cannot be him, as there is no example of direct worship paid to Aph?phis,104 “unless, indeed, we identify it with Sutekh, as the Shepherd Kings, the last but one of whom was named Aph?phis, appear to have done.” The serpent Aph?phis is sometimes represented with the crown of Lower Egypt upon his head, and at one period he was identified with Set or Seth, the national deity of the Hyksos or Shepherd tribes. All traces of the worship of Set was obliterated from the Egyptian monuments, but one representation has been preserved in which Set is figured with Horus, united as one divinity, between the triple serpent of good. This shows that Set, and probably, therefore, his serpent emblem, was originally not considered evil. Lower Egypt was largely populated by Semitic peoples, whose national deity was their legendary ancestor Seth, and the detestation with which the Egyptians regarded Set and the serpent Aph?phis identified with him was probably the result of national enmity. Mr. Cooper points out that the serpent of good is always represented by the Egyptians as upright and the serpent of evil as crawling, this being generally the only distinction made. The god Chnuphis, the “soul of the world,” is usually figured as a Serpent (Coluber) walking upon two human legs, and curiously enough this is the form taken by the evil principle of Persian mythology, the great serpent walking on two feet. A similar inversion of ideas occurs in the religious mythology of the Naga peoples of the East. Near the ruined temples of Cambodia, as on the Buddhist Topes of India, are sculptured gigantic serpents with voluminous folds supported by human figures, as the gigantic Aph?phis is represented on the Egyptian monuments. There must have been some special reason why the great serpent was regarded so differently by various105 peoples, and this was probably the result of race antagonism.

It is remarkable that one of the most ancient people of whom we have any written record—the primitive inhabitants of Chaldea—not only bore the name of the traditional father of mankind, but were especially identified with the serpent. The predecessors of the Akkad, in Chaldea, were the Medes, or Mad, of Berosus, and the distinctive title of at least the later Medes was Már, which in Persian means “a snake.” This Sir Henry Rawlinson supposes to have given rise “not only to the Persian traditions of Zohák and his snakes, but to the Armenian traditions, also, of the dragon dynasty of Media.” The Medes of Berosus belonged almost certainly to the old Scythic stock of Central Asia, to whom the Chaldeans, the Hebrews, and the Aryans have alike been affiliated by different writers. When, therefore, Mr. Fergusson says that serpent-worship characterised the old Turanian Chaldean Empire, he would seem to trace it to the old Asiatic centre. Probably to the same source must be traced the serpent tradition of the Abyssinian kings. Bryant long since asserted that that superstition originated with the Amonians or Hamites, who also would seem to have been derived from the Scythic stock. The facts brought together in the preceding pages far from exhaust the subject, but they appear to justify the following conclusions:—

First, The serpent has been viewed with awe or veneration from primeval times, and almost universally as a re-embodiment of a deceased human being, and as such there were ascribed to it the106 attributes of life and wisdom, and the power of healing.

Secondly, The idea of a simple spirit re-incarnation of a deceased ancestor gave rise to the notion that mankind originally sprang from a serpent, and ultimately to a legend embodying that idea.

Thirdly, This legend was connected with nature—or rather sun-worship—and the sun was, therefore, looked upon as the divine serpent-father of man and nature.

Fourthly, Serpent-worship, as a developed religious system, originated in Central Asia, the home of the great Scythic stock, from whom all the civilised races of the historical period sprang.

Fifthly, These peoples are the Adamites, and their mythical ancestor was at one time regarded as the Great Serpent, his descendants being in a special sense serpent-worshippers.

Note.—At page 88, the Malagasy idol Ramahavaly is spoken of as still existing. As a fact, however, in 1869 all the Malagasy national idols were, by order of the Government, publicly burned. Many other idols and charms were at the same time destroyed by their owners.—Madagascar and its People, by the Rev. James Sibree, Jun., p. 481.


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