The Story of the Snake
"We have seen how the Moon in her ever returning cyclic patterns became a universal symbol of life, death and rebirth. This association was gradually extended to include a particular animal. Just as the Moon was the primary symbol of the Goddess in the Heavens, the snake became her primary symbol on Earth. For it was observed by all peoples that snakes underwent a strange transformation. Like the Moon shedding the shadow of death, the snake would periodically shed its skin, and emerge renewed. Immortality became reflected in the life processes of the serpent, as it was reflected in the ever returning cycles of the Moon.
Furthermore, it was also observed that this mysterious animal would periodically disappear for a time within the womb of the Earth, only to re-emerge as if reborn.
For these reasons it was believed that above all creatures, the serpent possessed the self-renewing power and wisdom of the Goddess. It also became associated with healing and oracular powers. And to this day, in many parts of world these associations still exist.
Not only was the serpent associated with the wisdom and power of the subterranean realms, but it appeared to mysteriously move upon the Earth as if possessed by a strange energy. Its undulating course upon the ground and its equal ability to move through water, gave rise to its mythic association with the primordial waters of life. Rivers were seen to resemble huge snakes, undulating currents of life-blood, without which the land remained barren. Through this association, the serpent came to symbolically represent the dynamic life-force of Nature and the inexhaustible fertility of the Goddess.
In all areas of the world where the culture of the Goddess flourished, we find the serpent symbolized by coils, spirals, and zig-zag lines as far back as 20,000 years ago. Later on however, the Goddess herself was portrayed in the image of a snake. She was known in this aspect by many names.
The serpent Goddess in India was known as Ananta and Kadru. In Egypt, the mother of creation was depicted as a serpent named Uazit. The Egyptian hieroglyphic sign for the Goddess was in fact a snake. In ancient Sumer, the great water serpent/Goddess Nammu gave birth to Heaven and Earth. In Babylon, the Goddess was particularly associated with the resurrecting power of the serpent. In her aspect of Queen of the Underworld, she was known as the "Mistress of Serpents".
Beyond any doubt, the serpent captured the imagination and the mythic powers of association like no other symbol. For in almost all mythologies and religions of the world, the image of the snake can be found, whether it is the great serpent of the primordial waters out of which all Life emerged, or the world serpent that encircles the Earth as a cosmic egg.
However, there is one image of the serpent that not only was universal, but is still very much alive today, and in fact continues to evolve. This complex symbol began with the simple observation that not only could snakes live within the Earth, move with ease over ground and water, but could live in trees as well.
This fact brought together two independent streams of symbolic and mythic associations. For by this time, trees already had a whole constellation of mythic importance all their own. With their roots reaching deep into the Earth womb, and their branches embracing the Sky, trees became a symbol for the entire spectrum of Life's journey.
In this Cosmology all Life was seen to be born from the darkness of the Earth and proceeded toward the Heavens, to ascend toward the stars, the realm of the ancestors. As a symbol then, the tree was seen as a cosmic bridge between the worlds: the Underworld, the Earth, and the Sky. And the serpent was perceived to be the one creature to be able to cross this bridge at will and make its home in all three realms. The serpent then, entwined around the Cosmic Tree of Life became a universal image with many levels of meaning. In the most general terms perhaps, we find in this symbol the energy of the Earth, the dynamic self-renewing life-force, rising up and embracing the Celestial realms, the invisible and transcendental dimensions of Life. The Earth and the Heavens are here perceived to be united through the organic processes of Life-Energy. Spirit and Nature are recognized as a unified field in which the creative energies of the Universe ebb and flow in a continuous process of transformation.
As a true archetypal symbol this image reflected certain qualities in the very structure of human consciousness itself, transcending all historical and cultural settings. As it evolved down through the millennia, this symbol was to eventually take on a whole new dimension of meaning, a development that represented a sophisticated refinement and integration of all that had preceded it." And perhaps this symbol still holds the key, to the future evolutionary journey of our species.