All cultures have a creation myth associated with a serpentine figure venerated as the repository of intuition, intelligence, wisdom, spiritual knowledge and immortality. In that regard it is intriguing that the hormone oxytocin, which apart from providing a means for the body to maintain homeostasis (and also underpins reproduction, the universal drive which forms the basis for the Theory of Evolution and the concept of survival of the fittest), is in the shape of a serpent. Is there a connection?
Serpent; Ouroboros; oxytocin; primal period; Genesis 3:15; mother; birth; milk; Lac Humanum; DNA; Maslow; Erikson; Psora; Sycosis; Luesis; self-realisation; reincarnation.
The Serpent in human consciousness
We know, from anthropological studies, that the serpent is associated with most cultures. Traditionally it symbolises fertility and procreation, wisdom and healing; and, due to the fact that it sheds its skin, death and resurrection. Artefacts depicting the serpent have been unearthed in Mayan and Aztec sites and serpent beings such as Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent God (who was sometimes depicted as a serpent devouring its own tail), was worshipped in North America along with similar images named Cihuacohuatziti and Cihuacohuatl in Mexico and Peru. Greek creation myths speak of Ophion the snake which incubated the primordial egg from which all created things were born; and, in Chinese mythology, it was Fu Xi and Nu Wa who were the intertwined male and female serpent beings, representing the Earth and Heaven, who united to create humans (interestingly) from clay.
The Sumerian God, Ningizidda, was depicted as the double headed snake coiled into a double helix. This is, perhaps, an early representation of our DNA, and, perhaps it’s origins, but may also highlight the notion of duality in Nature; a concept which can be linked to the idea of Volition and Two Wills which is a theme well represented in the Lacs (“our most important medicines” [Kent]) as a kingdom. Some theorists believe that Ningizidda was the mythical Thoth who established the early mystery schools in Egypt where individuals seeking “knowledge” (Enlightenment) came to be initiated. It is beliefs such as these that underpin the wisdom aspect of serpent mythology, and are, perhaps, associated with the “Fall of Eve” as depicted in Genesis. However, I think it is important at the outset, that we ask…just what exactly was the nature of the “knowledge” that the serpent was keen to share with Eve? And why is it that Michelangelo, in his depiction of this event on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, chose to depict the serpent/Satan in female form?
Intuition, intelligence and wisdom are all attributes of the snake in the Chinese zodiac. However, in Chinese culture, it is specifically, the dragon which is the repository of Wisdom and Beneficence; and, it is because the Emperor was believed to have dragon blood in his veins, that led to various imperial dragon accoutrements and the dragon’s pivotal place in Chinese culture still to this day. With respect to the broadest ramifications of this discussion, it is, therefore, of particular interest to note that the word “dragon” comes into our lexicon via the Greek “drakon“, which means “serpent”; and, even more interesting is the fact that the Hebrew equivalent is “nahash” which is understood to be derived from the Semitic consonant stem “NHSH”, which means “to decipher” or “find out”!
African, Australian, Pacific island and Indian creation myths all describe a serpent working with Mother Earth in order to give rise to all aspects of Nature; and the classical symbol of the Ouroboros, which is found in some form in many cultures and is integral to many creation myths, depicts a snake in the act of eating its own tail. The term Ouroboros is derived from two words in ancient Greek; with the first word “oura” meaning “the tail” and the second word “boros” meaning “eating”.
As a symbol, it has many interpretations. One of the earliest, and found in several cultures, is that the snake circles the earth to keep it together. Another is of the snake representing the cyclical nature of life and death; Life feeding on itself in the act of creation, as witnessed in the cycles of day and night and Spring and Summer (the fecund seasons) and Autumn and Winter (the dormant seasons). Another is that of immortality, as a spiral is associated in many cultures with the notion of “eternity”. This perspective accords with that of Plato, who considered the universe to be an immortal, mythologically-constructed entity, and described the Ouroboros as the first living thing; a self-eating, circular being; bringing order from chaos. All this begs these questions: does eternity necessarily equate with immortality (ascension) or does it imply the keeping-on aspect of reincarnation? And, what exactly, does the serpent have to do with it?
When it was first used around 1600 BC by the Egyptians, the Ouroboros was considered as the symbol of the sun and it was believed to have represented Aten’s travels (Aten is the sun disk in the Egyptian mythology). However, the first known appearance of the Ouroboros motif as we know it is in The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, an intriguing ancient Egyptian funerary text in KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun from the 14th century BC. The text concerns the actions of Ra and his union with Osiris in the Underworld. In an illustration from this text, two serpents, holding their tails in their mouths, coil around the head and feet of an enormous god, who is thought to represent the unified Ra-Osiris, and the beginning and the end of time. Through their relations with Phoenicians the Egyptians then passed it on to the Phoenician culture and it was subsequently passed on to the culture of the Ancient Greeks, who named the infinity symbol in their language as it is used in the present day.
Ancient alchemists used the Ouroboros symbol as a representation of the element mercury, referred to by them as Prima Materia (first matter), the starting material for the alchemic Magnum Opus and the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone which was believed to have the power to turn base metals into gold. That is why I refer to human milk as “the white gold of the alchemist” as it works on Prima Materia (the newborn) and facilitates optimisation of all physical and neurologic systems in the body; that is, it maximises the potential referred to in §9.
In the Middle East, the god Mithra, who was believed to be reborn, was sometimes depicted with an Ouroboros around his waist or encircling his whole body. In Norse mythology, the Ouroboros appears as the serpent Jörmungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda, which grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth. And, in ancient India, the Ouroboros symbol has been used to describe the kundalini energy, and is depicted usually as an animal halo often in the form of a snake or lizard god or goddess. Shiva, who represents the duality of creation and destruction and thus the birth of life through opposites, is often represented within a circle. The circle, in this instance, is a symbol of the circular nature of the universe and time: death-rebirth; creation-destruction; love-hate, Spring/Summer-Autumn/Winter; the eternal dance of the cosmos.
So, we encounter the serpent and the Ouroboros in almost every ancient culture. And the almost universal thread of creation myths with a saurian theme is, no doubt, an incontrovertible reminder of our reptilian origins. Before Man entered the evolutionary picture, the planet belonged to reptiles. And, that we are linked along the evolutionary timeline, is evidenced in the prevailing anatomical feature of the reptilian brain stem which governs our instinctive behaviours associated with fight/flight which locks us into survival mode; that is, in the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Interestingly, it has been suggested that the Milky Way itself was the source of inspiration for this version of the infinity symbol, as one of the myths regarding the Ouroboros tells us about a serpent of light that lives in the Heaven and the Milky Way galaxy, which has the shape of a circle, was considered to be this serpent. Ironically, “gala” is the Greek word for milk; and, in dream symbology, “milk” signifies success, the gaining of spiritual knowledge or immortality as attained through ascension. So, this purported connection of the Ouroboros to the Milky Way gives us a possible perspective regarding the thread of the serpent/spiritual knowledge myths. However, it leaves me wondering about the exact meaning of the immortality association that is enjoyed by the serpent, as it’s a mythological understanding that one needed to be suckled by Hera to obtain immortality. That is to “consort with Gods”. It is said that when she was disturbed when Zeus plotted to have her inadvertently suckle Hercules during her sleep, her letdown sprayed across the Firmament giving rise to the Milky Way… the Galaxy of Stars.
As Above; So Below. That is why we have dreams of associating with important people (royalty; movie stars; politicians) in Lac Humanum; highlighted in Sankaran’s proving which records a dream of the prover climbing a flight of stairs to have two doors flung open to be received by two gods. We need, therefore, to be open to the idea that it’s a mother’s milk which provides the key to that door and acknowledge that this form of nourishment is unavailable to a reptile; and that we, according to Carl Sagan, are the “stuff” of stars.