Part One ~ An introduction to Ophiolatreia as written by a Christian author at the turn of the last century
"Ophiolatreia, the worship of the serpent, next to the adoration of the phallus, is one of the most remarkable, and, at first sight, unaccountable forms of religion the world has ever known. Until the true source from whence it sprang can be reached and understood, its nature will remain as mysterious as its universality, for what man could see in its habits as this reptile, to render worship to, is one of the most difficult of problems to find a solution to. There is hardly a country of the ancient world, however, where it cannot be traced, pervading every known system of mythology, and leaving proofs of its existence and extent in the shape of monuments, temples, and earthworks of the most elaborate and curious character.
Babylon, Persia, Hindostan, Ceylon, China, Japan, Burmah, Java, Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Italy, Northern and Western Europe, Mexico, Peru, America---all yield abundant testimony to the same effect, and point to the common origin of Pagan systems wherever found.
Whether the worship was the result of fear or respect is a question that naturally enough presents itself, and in seeking to answer it we shall be confronted with the fact that in some places, as Egypt, the symbol was that of a good daimon, and in others an ambivalent one....
"The serpent is the symbol which most generally enters into the mythology of the world. It may in different countries admit among its fellow-satellites of Satan(sic-) the most venomous or the most terrible of the animals in each country, but it preserves its own constancy, as the only invariable object of superstitious terror throughout the habitable world. 'Wherever the Devil reigned,' remarks Stillingfleet, 'the serpent was held in some peculiar veneration.' The universality of this singular and irrational, yet natural, superstition it is now proposed to show. Irrational, for there is nothing in common between deity and a reptile, to suggest the notion of Serpent-worship; and natural, because, allowing the truth of the events in Paradise, every probability is in favour of such a superstition springing up." (Deane.)
Note that Deane was a radical anti-Pagan and attempted in his works on Serpent Worship to link Ophiolatreaia with the Biblical Devil worship. This was and is till a tactic used by certain Religions to demonize our ancestral traditions and undermine Pagan spirituality.
It may seem extraordinary that the worship of the serpent should ever have been introduced into the world, and it must appear still more remarkable that it should almost universally have prevailed. As mankind are said to have been ruined through the influence of this being, we could little expect that it would, of all other objects, have been adopted as the most sacred and salutary symbol, and rendered the chief object of adoration. Yet so we find it to have been, for in most of the ancient rites there is some allusion to it. In the orgies of Bacchus, the persons who took part in the ceremonies used to carry serpents in their hands, and with horrid screams call upon "Eva, Eva." They were often crowned with serpents while still making the same frantic exclamation. One part of the mysterious rites of Jupiter Sabazius was to let a snake slip down the bosom of the person to be initiated, which was taken out below. These ceremonies, and this symbolic worship, are said to have begun among the Magi, who were the sons of Chus, and by them they were propagated in various parts. Epiphanius thinks that the invocation "Eva, Eva," related to the great mother of mankind, who was deceived by the serpent, and Clemens of Alexandria is of the same opinion. Others, however, think that Eva was the same as Eph, Epha, Opha, which the Greeks rendered Ophis, and by it denoted a serpent. Clemens acknowledges that the term Eva, properly aspirated, had such a signification.
Olympias, the mother of Alexander, was very fond of these orgies, in which the serpent was introduced. Plutarch mentions that rites of this sort were practised by the Edonian women near Mount Hæmus in Thrace, and carried on to a degree of madness. Olympias copied them closely in all their frantic manœuvres. She used to be followed with many attendants, who had each a thyrsus with serpents twined about it. They had also snakes in their hair, and in the chaplets which they wore, so that they made a most fearful appearance. Their cries also were very shocking, and the whole was attended with a continual repetition of the words, Evoe, Saboe, Hues Attes, Attes Hues, which were titles of the god Dionusus. He was peculiarly named Hues, and his priests were the Hyades and Hyautes. He was likewise styled Evas.
In Egypt was a serpent named Thermuthis, which was looked upon as very sacred; and the natives are said to have made use of it as a royal tiara, with which they ornamented the statues of Isis. We learn from Diodorus Siculus that the kings of Egypt wore high bonnets, which terminated in a round ball, and the whole was surrounded with figures of asps. The priests, likewise, upon their bonnets had the representation of serpents. The ancients had a notion that when Saturn devoured his own children, his wife Ops deceived him by substituting a large stone in lieu of one of his sons, which stone was called Abadir. But Ops and Opis, represented here as a feminine, was the serpent deity, and Abadir is the same personage under a different denomination. Abadir seems to be a variation of Ob-Adur, and signifies the serpent god Orus. One of these stones, which Saturn was supposed to have swallowed instead of a child, stood, according to Pausanias, at Delphi. It was esteemed very sacred, and used to have libations of wine poured upon it daily; and upon festivals was otherwise honoured. The purport of the above was probably this: it was for a long time a custom to offer children at the altar of Saturn; but in process of time they removed it, and in its room erected a stone pillar, before which they made their vows, and offered sacrifices of another nature. This stone which they thus substituted was called Ab-Adar, from the deity represented by it. The term Ab generally signifies a father, but in this instance it certainly relates to a serpent, which was indifferently styled Ab, Aub, and Ob. Some regard Abadon, or, as it is mentioned in the Book of Revelation, Abaddon, to have been the nameof the same Ophite god, with whose worship the world had been so long infected. He is termed Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit---the prince of darkness. In another place he is described as the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan. Hence the learned Heinsius is supposed to be right in the opinion which he has given upon this passage, when he makes Abaddon the same as the serpent Pytho.
In the above passage there are again attempts to link the Devil of the Patriarchal Pantheons with ages old Pagan Traditions.
It is said that in the ritual of Zoroaster the great expanse of the heavens, and even nature itself, was described under the symbol of a serpent. (Eusebius) The like was mentioned in the Octateuch of Ostanes; and moreover, in Peria and in other parts of the East they erected temples to the serpent tribe, and held festivals to their honour, esteeming them the supreme of all Gods, and the superintendents of the whole world. The worship began among the people of Chaldea. They built the city Opis upon the Tigris, and were greatly addicted to divination and to the worship of the serpent. From Chaldea the worship passed into Egypt, where the serpent deity was called Canoph, Caneph, and C'neph. It had also the name of Ob, or Oub, and was the same as the Basilicus, or Royal Serpent; the same also as the Thermuthis, and in like manner was made use of by way of ornament to the statues of their Gods. The chief Deity of Egypt is said to have been Vulcan, who was also styled Opas, as we learn from Cicero. He was the same as Osiris, the Sun; and hence was often called Ob-El, or Pytho Sol; and there were pillars sacred to him, with curious hieroglyphical inscriptions, which had the same name. They were very lofty, and narrow in comparison of their length; hence among the Greeks, who copied from the Egyptians, everything gradually tapering to a point was styled Obelos, and Obeliscus. Ophel (Oph-El) was a name of the same purport, and many sacred mounds, or Tapha, were thus denominated from the serpent Deity, to whom they were sacred.
Sanchoniathon makes mention of a history which he once wrote upon the worship of the serpent. The title of this work, according to Eusebius, was Ethothion, or Ethothia. Another treatise upon the same subject was written by Pherecydes Tyrus, which was probably a copy of the former; for he is said to have composed it from some previous accounts of the Phœnicians. The title of his book was the Theology of Ophion, styled Ophioneus, and his worshippers were called Ophionidæ. Thoth and Athoth were certainly titles of the Deity in the Gentile world; and the book of Sanchoniathon might very possibly have been from hence named Ethothion, or more truly, Athothion. But, from the subject upon which it was written, as well as from the treatise of Pherecydes, we have reason to think that Athothion, or Ethothion, was a mistake for Ath-Ophion, a title which more immediately related to that worship of which the writer treated. Ath was a sacred title, as we have shewn, and we imagine that this dissertation did not barely relate to the serpentine Deity, but contained accounts of his votaries, the Ophitæ, the principal of which were the sons of Chus. The worship of the serpent began among them, and they were from thence denominated Ethiopians, and Aithopians, which the Greeks render Aithiopes. They did not receive this name from their complexion, as has sometimes been surmised, for the branch of Phut and the Luhim, were probably of a deeper dye; but they were most likely so called from Ath-Ope, and Ath-Opis, the God which they worshipped. This may be shewn from Pliny. He says that the country Ethiopia (and consequently the people), had the name of Æthiop, from a personage who was a Deity---ab Æthiope Vulcani filio. The Æthiopes brought these rites into Greece, and called the island where they first established them Ellopia, Solis Serpentis, insula. It was the same as Eubœa, a name of the like purport, in which island was a region named Ethiopium. Eubœa is properly Oub-Aia, and signifies the Serpent Island. The same worship prevailed among the Hyperboreans, as we may judge from the names of the sacred women who used to come annually to Delos; they were priestesses of the Tauric Goddess. Hercules was esteemed the chief God, the same as Chronus, and was said to have produced the Mundane egg. He was represented in the Orphic theology under the mixed symbol of a lion and a serpent, and sometimes of a serpent only.
The Cuthites, under the title of Heliadæ, having settled at Rhodes, as they were Hivites, or Ophites, the island was in consequence named Ophiusa. There was likewise a tradition that it had once swarmed with serpents. (Bochart says the island is said to have been named Rhodus from Rhad, a Syriac word for a serpent). The like notion prevailed almost in every place where they settled. They came under the more general titles of Leleges and Pelasgi; but more particularly of Elopians, Europians, Oropians, Asopians, Inopians, Ophionians, and Æthiopes, as appears from the names which they bequeathed; and in most places where they resided there were handed down traditions which alluded to their original title of Ophites. In Phrygia, and upon the Hellespont, whither they sent out colonies very early, was a people styled the Ophiogeneis, or the serpent breed, who were said to retain an affinity and correspondence with serpents; and a notion prevailed that some hero, who had conducted them, was changed from a serpent to a man. In Colchis was a river Ophis, and there was another of the same name in Arcadia. It was so named from a body of people who settled upon its banks, and were said to have been conducted by a serpent.
It is said these reptiles are seldom found in islands, but that Tenos, one of the Cyclades, was supposed to have once swarmed with them. (Aristoph.)
Thucydides mentions a people of Ætotia, called Ophionians; and the temple of Apollo at Petara, in Lycia, seems to have had its first institution from a priestess of the same name. The island of Cyprus was called Ophiusa and Ophiodes, from the serpents with which it was supposed to have abounded. Of what species they were is nowhere mentioned, excepting only that about Paphos there was said to have been a kind of serpent with two legs. By this is meant the Ophite race, who came from Egypt, and from Syria, and got footing in this island. They settled also in Crete, where they increased greatly in numbers; so that Minos was said by an unseemly allegory, opheis ouresai, serpentes, minxisse. The island Seriphus was one vast rock, by the Romans called saxum scriphium, and made use of as a large kind of prison for banished persons. It is represented as having once abounded with serpents, and it is styled by Virgil, serpentifera, as the passage is corrected by Scaliger.
It is said by the Greeks that Medusa's head was brought by Perseus; by this is meant the serpent Deity, whose worship was here introduced by people called Peresians. Medusa's head denoted divine wisdom, and the island was sacred to the serpent, as is apparent from its name. The Athenians were esteemed Serpentiginæ, and they had a tradition that the chief guardian of their Acropolis was a serpent.
It is reported of the goddess Ceres that she placed a dragon for a guardian to her temple at Eleusis, and appointed another to attend upon Erectheus. Ægeus of Athens, according to Androtion, was of the serpent breed, and the first king of the country is said to have been a dragon. Others make Cecrops the first who reigned. He is said to have been of a two fold nature, being formed with the body of a man blended with that of a serpent. Diodorus says that this was a circumstance deemed by the Athenians inexplicable; yet he labours to explain it by representing Cecrops as half a man and half a brute, because he had been of two different communities. Eustathius likewise tries to solve it nearly upon the same principles, and with the like success. Some have said of Cecrops that he underwent a metamorphosis, being changed from a serpent to a man. By this was meant, according to Eustathius, that Cecrops by coming into Hellas divested himself of all the rudeness and barbarity of his country, and became more civilised and human. This is declared by some to be too high a compliment to be paid to Greece in its infant state, and detracts greatly from the character of the Egyptians. The learned Marsham therefore animadverts with great justice, "it is more probable that he introduced into Greece the urbanity of his own country, than that he was beholden to Greece for anything from thence." In respect to the mixed character of this personage, we may easily account for it. Cecrops was certainly a title of the Deity, who was worshipped under this emblam. Something of the like nature was mentioned of Triptolemus and Ericthonius, and the like has been said of Hercules. The natives of Thebes in Bœotia, like the Athenians, esteemed themselves of the serpent race. The Lacedæmonians likewise referred themselves to the same original. Their city is said of old to have swarmed with serpents. The same is said of the city Amyelæ in Italy, which was of Spartan origin. They came hither in such abundance that it was abandoned by the inhabitants. Argos was infested in the same manner till Apis came from Egypt and settled in that city. He was a prophet, the reputed son of Apollo, and a person of great skill and sagacity, and to him they attributed the blessing of having their country freed from this evil. Thus the Argives gave the credit to this imaginary personage of clearing their land of this grievance, but the brood came from the very quarter from whence Apis was supposed to have arrived. They were certainly Hivites from Egypt, and the same story is told of that country. It is represented as having been of old over-run with serpents, and almost depopulated through their numbers. Diodorus Siculus seems to understand this literally, but a region that was annually overflowed, and that too for so long a season, could not well be liable to such a calamity. They were serpents of another nature with which it was thus infested, and the history relates to the Cuthites, the original Ophitæ, who for a long time possessed that country. They passed from Egypt to Syria, and to the Euphrates, and mention is made of a particular breed of serpents upon that river, which were harmless to the natives but fatal to anybody else. This can hardly be taken literally; for whatever may be the wisdom of the serpent it cannot be sufficient to make these distinctions. These serpents were of the same nature as the birds of Diomedes, and the dogs in the temple of Vulcan; and the histories relate to Ophite priests, who used to spare their own people and sacrifice strangers, a custom which prevailed at one time in most parts of the world. The Cuthite priests are said to have been very learned; and, as they were Ophites, whoever had the advantage of their information was said to have been instructed by serpents.
As the worship of the serpent was of old so prevalent, many places, as well as people, from thence received their names. Those who settled in Campania were called Opici, which some would have changed to Ophici, because they were denominated from serpents. They are in reality both names of the same purport, and denote the origin of the people.
We meet with places called Opis, Ophis, Ophitæa, Ophionia, Ophioessa, Ophiodes, and Ophiusa. This last was an ancient name by which, according to Stephanus, the islands Rhodes, Cynthus, Besbicus, Tenos, and the whole continent of Africa, were distinguished. There were also cities so called. Add to these places denominated Oboth, Obona, and reversed, Onoba, from Ob, which was of the same purport.
Clemens Alexandrinus says that the term Eva signified a serpent if pronounced with a proper aspirate, and Epiphanius says the same thing. We find that there were places of this name. There was a city Eva in Arcadia, and another in Macedonia. There was also a mountain Eva, or Evan, taken notice of by Pausanias, between which and Ithome lay the city Messene. He mentions also an Eva in Argolis, and speaks of it as a large town. Another name for a serpent, which we have not yet noticed, was Patan, or Pitan. Many places in different parts were denominated from this term. Among others was a city in Laconia, and another in Mysia, which Stephanus styles a city of Æolia. They were undoubtedly so named from the worship of the serpent, Pitan, and had probably Dracontia, which were figures and devices relative to the religion which prevailed. Ovid mentions the latter city, and has some allusions to its ancient history when he describes Medea as flying through the air from Athea to Colchis. The city was situate upon the ruin Eva, or Evan, which the Greeks rendered Evenus. According to Strabo it is compounded of Eva-Ain, the fountain or river of Eva the serpent.
It is remarkable that the Opici, who are said to have been named from serpents, had also the name of Pitanatæ; at least, one part of that family was so called. Pitanatæ is a term of the same purport as Opici, and relates to the votaries of Pitan, the serpent Deity, which was adored by that people. Menelaus was of old called Pitanates, as we learn from Hesychius, and the reason of it may be known from his being a Spartan, by which he was intimated one of the Serpentigenæ, or Ophites. Hence he was represented with a serpent for a device upon his shield. It is said that a brigade, or portion of infantry, was among some of the Greeks named Pitanates, and the soldiers in consequence of it must have been termed Pitanatæ, undoubtedly, because they had the Pitan, or serpent, for their standard. Analogous to this, among other nations there were soldiers called Draconarii. In most countries the military standard was an emblem of the Deity there worshipped.
What has already been said has thrown some light upon the history of this primitive idolatry, and we have shewn that wherever any of these Ophite colonies settled, they left behind from their rites and institutions, as well as from the names which they bequeathed to places, ample memorials, by which they may be clearly traced out.
Bryant and Faber both derive the name of "Europe" from "Aur-ab, the solar serpent." "Whether this be correct or not," says Deane, "it is certain that Ophiolatreia prevailed in this quarter of the globe at the earliest period of idolatry. The first inhabitants of Europe are said to have been the offspring of a woman, partly of the human and partly of the dracontic figure, a tradition which alludes to their Ophite origin.
"Of the countries of Europe, Greece was first colonized by Ophites, but at separate times, both from Egypt and Phœnicia; and it is a question of some doubt, though perhaps of little importance, whether the leader of the first colony, the celebrated Cadmus, was a Phœnician or an Egyptian. Bochart has shown that Cadmus was the leader of the Canaanites who fled before the arms of the victorious Joshua; and Bryant has proved that he was an Egyptian, identical with Thoth. But as mere names of individuals are of no importance, when all agree that the same superstition existed contemporaneously in the two countries, and since Thoth is declared by Sanchoniathan to have been the father of the Phœnician as well as Egyptian Ophiolatreia; we may endeavour without presumption to reconcile the opinions of these learned authors by assuming each to be right in his own line of argument."
In Greece there are numerous traces of the worship of the serpent---it was so common indeed at one time that Justin Martyr declared the people introduced it into the mysteries of all their gods. In the mysteries and excesses of Bacchus it is well-known, of course, to have played a conspicuous part. The people bore them entwined upon their heads, and carrying them in their hands, swung them about crying aloud, "enia, enia." The sign of the Bacchic ceremonies was a consecrated serpent, and in the processions a troop of virgins of noble family carried the reptile with golden baskets containing sesamum, honey cakes and grains of salt, articles all specially connected with serpent worship. The first may be seen in the British Museum, in the hands of priests kneeling before the sacred serpent of Egypt. Honey cakes, according to Herodotus, were presented once a month as food to the sacred serpent in the Acropolis at Athens.
The most remarkable feature of all in the Bacchic orgies is said to have been the mystic serpent. "The mystery of religion was throughout the world concealed in a chest or box. As the Israelites had their sacred ark, every nation upon earth had some holy receptacle for sacred things and symbols. The story of Ericthonius is illustrative of this remark. He was the fourth King of Athens, and his body terminated in the tails of serpents, instead of legs. He was placed by Minerva in a basket, which she gave to the daughter of Cecrops, with strict injunctions not to open it. Here we have a fable made out of the simple fact of the mysterious basket, in which the sacred serpent was carried at the orgies of Bacchus. The whole legend relates to Ophiolatreia. In accordance with the general practice, the worshippers of Bacchus carried in their consecrated baskets or chests the Mystery of their God, together with the offerings." 1
At the banquets of the Bacchantes, or rather, after them, it was usual to carry round a cup, which was called the "cup of the good dæmon." The symbol of this dæmon was a serpent, as seen on the medals of the town of Dionysopolis in Thrace. On one side were the heads of Gordian and Serapis on the other a coiled serpent.
The serpent was mixed up to a considerable extent with the worship of many other of the Grecian deities. The statues, by Phidias, of Minerva, represent her as decorated with this emblem. In ancient medals, as shown by Montfaucon, she sometimes holds a caduceus in her right hand; at other times she has a staff around which a serpent is twisted, and at others, a large serpent appears going in front of her; while she is sometimes seen with her crest composed of a serpent. It is remarkable too, that in the Acropolis at Athens was kept a live serpent who was generally considered the guardian of the place, and Athens was a city specially consecrated to Minerva.
Examples of Grecian Ophiolatreia might easily be multiplied to a considerable extent, but we have space for little more than a brief glance. It is known that upon the walls of Athens was a sculptured head of Medusa, whose hair was intertwined with snakes, and in the temple at Tega was a similar figure which was supposed to possess talismanic power to preserve or destroy. The print in Montfaucon represents the face of Medusa as mild and beautiful, but the serpents as threatening and terrible. There is a story current, that a priestess going into a sanctuary of Minerva in the dead of the night, saw a vision of that goddess, who held up her mantle upon which was impressed a Medusa's head, and that the sight of this fearful object instantaneously converted the intruder into stone.
The armour of Agamemnon, king of Argos, was ornamented with a three-headed serpent; Menelaus, king of Sparta, had one on his shield, and the Spartan people, with the Athenians, affirmed they were of serpentine origin and called themselves ophiogenœ.
At Epidaurus, according to Pausanias, live serpents were kept and fed regularly by servants, who, on account of religious awe, were fearful of approaching the sacred reptiles which in themselves were of the most harmless character. The statue of Æsculapius, at this temple, represented him resting one hand upon the head of a serpent, while his sister, Hygeia, had one twisted about her. It is reported that the god Æsculapius was conveyed by a woman named Nicagora, the wife of Echetimus, to Sicyon under the form of a serpent.
Livy, Ovid, Florus, Valerius Maximus, and Aurelius Victor, relate that a pestilence of a violent and fatal character once broke out in Rome, and that the oracle of Delphi advised an embassy to Epidaurus to fetch the god Æsculapius. This advice was taken, and a company of eleven were sent with the humble supplications of the senate and people of Rome. While they were gazing at the statue of the god, a serpent, "venerable, not horrible," say these authors, which rarely appeared but when he intended to confer some extraordinary benefit, glided from his lurking place, and having passed through the city went directly to the Roman vessel and coiled himself up in the berth of Ogulnius the principal ambassador. Setting sail with the god, they duly arrived off Antium, when the serpent leaped into the sea, and swam to the nearest temple of Apollo, and after a few days returned. But when they entered the Tiber, he leaped upon an island, and disappeared. Here the Romans erected a temple to him in the shape of a ship, and the plague was stayed with wonderful celerity.
Delphi appears to have been the principal stronghold of serpent worship in Greece. Strabo says its original name was Pytho---derived from the serpent Python, slain there by Apollo. From this story Heinsius concludes that the god Apollo was first worshipped at Delphi, under the symbol of a serpent. It is known that the public assemblies at Delphi were called Pythis, these were originally intended for the adoration of the Python.
In Gibbon and the Annales Turcici we have interesting matter about the serpentine column. The former says it was taken from Delphi to Constantinople by the founder of the latter city and set up on a pillar in the Hippodrome. Montfaucon, however, thinks that Constantine only caused a similar column to be made, and that the original remained in its place. Deane says, "this celebrated relic of Ophiolatreia is still to be seen in the same place, where it was set up by Constantine, but one of the serpent's heads is mutilated."
From the Annales we get the following explanations of this inquiry. "When Mahomet came to Atmeidan he saw there a stone column, on which was placed a three-headed brazen serpent. Looking at it, he asked, 'What idol is that?' and, at the same time, hurling his iron mace with great force knocked off the lower jaw of one of the serpent's heads. Upon which, immediately, a great number of serpents began to be seen in the city. Whereupon some advised him to leave that serpent alone from henceforth, since through that image it happened that there were no serpents in the city. Wherefore that column remains to this day. And although in consequence of the lower jaw of the brazen serpent being struck off, some serpents do come into the city, yet they do no harm to no one."
Commenting upon this story Deane remarks---"This traditionary legend, preserved by Leunclavius, marks the stronghold which Ophiolatreia must have taken upon the minds of the people of Constantinople, so as to cause this story to be handed down to so late an era as the seventeenth century. Among the Greeks who resorted to Constantinople were many idolaters of the old religion, who would wilfully transmit any legend favourable to their own superstition. Hence, probably, the charm mentioned above, was attached by them to the Delphic serpent on the column in the Hippodrome, and revived (after the partial mutilation of the figure) by their descendants, the common people, who are always the last in every country to forego an ancient superstition. Among the common people of Constantinople, there were always many more Pagans than Christians at heart. With the Christian religion, therefore, which they professed, would be mingled many of the pagan traditions which were attached to the monuments of antiquity that adorned Byzantium, or were imported into Constantinople.
Horapollo, referring to the serpent symbol, says of it:---"When the Egyptians would represent the Universe they delineate a serpent bespeckled with variegated scales, devouring its own tail, the scales intimating the stars in the Universe. The animal is extremely heavy, as is the earth, and extremely slippery like the water, moreover, it every year puts off its old age with its skin, as in the Universe the annual period effects a corresponding change and becomes renovated, and the making use of its own body for food implies that all things whatever, which are generated by divine providence in the world, undergo a corruption into them again."
Brown, in his "Great Dionysiak Myth," says:---"The Serpent has six principal points of connection with Dionysos: 1---As a symbol of, and connected with, wisdom. 2---As a solar emblem. 3---As a symbol of time and eternity. 4---As an emblem of the earth, life. 5---As connected with fertilizing moisture. 6---As a phallic emblem."
Referring to the last of these, he proceeds---"The serpent being connected with the sun, the earth life and fertility must needs be also a phallic emblem, and so appropriate to the cult of Dionysos Priapos. Mr. Cox after a review of the subject, observes, 'Finally, the symbol of the Phallus suggested the form of the serpent, which thus became the emblem of life and healing. There then we have the key to that tree and serpent worship which has given rise to much ingenious speculation.' The myth of the serpent and the tree is not, I apprehend, exhausted by any merely phallic explanation, but the phallic element is certainly one of the most prominent features in it, as it might be thought any inspection of the carvings connected with the Topes of Sanchi and Amravati would show. It is hard to believe, with Mr. Fergusson, that the usefulness and beauty of trees gained them the payment of divine honours. Again, the Asherah or Grove-cult (Exod. 34, 13; I Kings 17, 16; Jer. 17, 2; Micah 5, 14) was essentially Phallic, Asherah being the Upright. It seems also to have been in some degree connected with that famous relic, the brazen serpent of Nehushtan (2 Kings 18, 4). Donaldson considers that the Serpent is the emblem of desire. It has also been suggested that the creature symbolised sensation generally."
The Sir G. W. Cox referred to above, in his "Mythology of Argai Nations," says:---"If there is one point more certain than another it is that wherever tree and serpent worship has been found, the cultus of the Phallos and the Ship, of the Linga and Yoni, in connection with the worship of the sun, has been found also. It is impossible to dispute the fact, and no explanation can be accepted for one part of the cultus which fails to explain the other. It is unnecessary, therefore, to analyze theories which profess to see in it the worship of the creeping brute or the wide-spreading tree. A religion based on the worship of the venomous reptile must have been a religion of terror; in the earliest glimpses which we have of it, the serpent is a symbol of life and of love. Nor is the Phallic cultus in any respect a cultus of the full-grown and branching tree. In its earliest form the symbol is everywhere a mere stauros, or pole; and although this stock or rod budded in the shape of the thyrsus and the shepherd's staff, yet, even in its latest developments, the worship is confined to small bushes and shrubs and diminutive plants of a particular kind. Nor is it possible again to dispute the fact that every nation, at some stage or other of its history, has attached to this cultus precisely that meaning which the Brahman now attaches to the Linga and the Yoni. That the Jews clung to it in this special sense with vehement tenacity is the bitter compaint of the prophets; and the crucified serpent adored for its healing powers stood untouched in the Temple until it was removed and destroyed by Hezekiah. This worship of serpents, "void of reason," condemned in the Wisdom of Solomon, probably survived even the Babylonish captivity. Certainly it was adopted by the Christians who were known as Ophites, Gnostics, and Nicolaitans. In Athenian mythology the serpent and the tree are singularly prominent. Kekrops, Erechtheus, and Erichthonios, are each and all serpentine in the lower portion of their bodies. The sacred snake of Athênê had its abode in the Akropolis, and her olive trees secured for her the victory in her rivalry with Poseidôn. The health-giving serpent lay at the feet of Asklêpios and snakes were fed in his temple at Epidauros and elsewhere. That the ideas of mere terror and death suggested by the venomous or the crushing reptile could never have given way thus completely before those of life, healing, and safety, is obvious enough; and the latter ideas alone are associated with the serpent as the object of adoration. The deadly beast always was, and has always remained, the object of horror and loathing which is expressed for Ahi, the choking and throttling snake, the Vritra whom Indra smites with his unerring lance, the dreadful Azidahaka of the Avesta, the Zohak or Biter of modern Persian mythology, the serpents whom Heraktes strangles in his cradle, the Python, or Fafnir, or Grendel, or Sphinx whom Phoibos, or Sigurd, or Beowulf, or Oidipous smite and slay. That the worship of the Serpent has nothing to do with these evil beasts is abundantly clear from all the Phallic monuments of the East or West. In the topes of Sanchi and Amravati the disks which represent the Yoni predominate in every part of the design; the emblem is worn with unmistakeable distinctness by every female figure, carved within these disks, while above the multitude are seen, on many of the disks, a group of women with their hands resting on the linga, which they uphold. It may, indeed, be possible to trace out the association which connects the Linga with the bull in Sivaison, as denoting more particularly the male power, while the serpent in Jainaison and Vishnavism is found with the female emblem, the Yoni. So again in Egypt, some may discern in the bull Apis or Mnevis the predominance of the male idea in that country, while in Assyria or Palestine the Serpent or Agathos Daimon is connected with the altar of Baal.
The Dragon Ruler of the World
It will probably be a matter of surprise to many, but it is a fact that even in Britain in ancient times Ophiolatreia largely prevailed. Deane says: "Our British ancestors, under the tuition of the venerable Druids, were not only worshippers of the solar deity, symbolized by the serpent, but held the serpent, independent of his relation to the sun, in peculiar veneration. Cut off from all intercourse with the civilized world, partly by their remoteness and partly by their national character, the Britons retained their primitive idolatry long after it yielded in the neighbouring countries to the polytheistic corruptions of Greece and Egypt. In process of time, however, the gods of the Gaulish Druids penetrated into the sacred mythology of the British and furnished personifications for the different attributes of the dracontic god Hu. This deity was called "The Dragon Ruler of the World" and his car was drawn by serpents. His priests in accomadation with the general custom of the Ophite god, were called after him "Adders." 1
In a poem of Taliessin, translated by Davies, in his Appendix No. 6, is the following enumeration of a Druid's titles:---
"I am a Druid; I am an architect; I am a prophet;
I am a serpent" (Gnadr).
From the word "Gnadr" is derived "adder," the name of a species of snake. Gnadr was probably pronounced like "adder" with a nasal aspirate.
The mythology of the Druids contained also a goddes "Ceridwen," whose car was drawn by serpents. It is conjectured that this was the Grecian "Ceres;" and not without reason, for the interesting intercourse between the British and Gaulish Druids introduced into the purer religion of the former many of the corruptions ingrafted upon that of the latter by the Greeks and Romans. The Druids of Gaul had among them many divinities corresponding with those of Greece and Rome. They worshipped Ogmius (a compound deity between Hercules and Mercury), and after him, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva, or deities resembling them. Of these they made images; whereas hitherto the only image in the British worship was the great wicker idol into which they thrust human victims designed to be burnt as an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of some chieftain.
The following translation of a Bardic poem, descriptive of one of their religious rites, identifies the superstition of the British Druids with the aboriginal Ophiolatreia, as expressed in the mysteries of Isis of Egypt. The poem is entitled "the Elegy of Uther Pendragon;" that is, of Uther, "The Dragon's Head;" and it is not a little remarkable that the word "Draig" in the British language signifies, at the same time, a fiery serpent, a dragon, and the Supreme God." 2
In the second part of this poem is the following sacrificial rites of Uther Pendragon:----
"With solemn festivity round the two lakes;
With the lake next my side;
With my side moving round the sanctuary;
While the sanctuary is earnestly invoking
The Gliding King, before whom the Fair One
Retreats upon the veil that covers the huge stones;
Whilst the Dragon moves round over
The places which contain vessels
Of drink offering;
Whilst the drink offering is in the Golden Horns;
Whilst the golden horns are in the hand;
Whilst the knife is upon the chief victim,
Sincerely I implore thee, O victorious Bell, etc., etc.,"
This is a most minute and interesting account of the religious rites of the Druids, proving in clear terms their addiction to Ophiolatreia: for we have not only the history of the "Gliding King," who pursues "The Fair One," depicted upon "the veil which covers the huge stones"---a history which reminds us most forcibly of the events in Paradise, under a poetic garb; but we have, likewise, beneath that veil, within the sacred circle of "the huge stones," the "Great Dragon, a Living Serpent," moving round the places which contain the vessels of drink-offering; or in other words, moving round the altar stone in the same manner as the serpent in the Isiac mysteries passed about the sacred vessels containing the offerings.
Note that many scholars not ever having been Druids themselves, but being 'experts' on Druidry per se; continually attempt to associate Druidry with human sacrifice.
The same can be said of Witches who are routinely accused of baby-killing , trading in human body parts etc.
Yet do we not find evidence of human sacrifice in the pages of the Old Testament?
Undoubtedly, some variant cults in the past would use captive warriors or criminals as sacrifices- though certainly this would never be the case nowadays, especially among Pagans who see all life as sacred, and love and protect animals and Nature.
Thus to call Pagans cannibals or human sacrificers is not true. Nor is the disrespect for the Ancestors appreciated.
The Golden Horns which contained the drink offerings were very probably of the same kind as that found in Tundera, in Denmark.
The sanctity of the serpent showed itself in another very curious part of the superstition of the British Druids, namely, in that which related to the formation and virtues of the celebrated anguinum, as it is called by Pliny, or gleinen nadroeth, that is, "snake-stones," as they were called by the Britons." Sir R. C. Hoare in his Modern Wiltshire, Hundred of Amesbury, gives an engraving of one, and says: "This is a head of imperfect vitrification representing two circular lines of opaque skylight and white, which seem to represent a snake twined round a centre which is perforated." Mr. Lhwyd, the Welsh antiquary, writing to Ralph Thornley says:---"I am fully satsified that they were amulets of the Druids. I have seen one of them that had nine small snakes upon it. There are others that have one or two or more snakes."
A story comes to us, on Roman authority (that of Pliny), that a knight entering a court of justice wearing an anguinum about his neck was ordered by Claudius to be put to death, it being believed that the influence would improperly wrest judgment in his favour.
Of this anguinum (a word derived from anguis, a snake) Pliny says: "An infinite number of snakes, entwined together in the heat of summer, roll themselves into a mass, and from the saliva of their jaws and the froth of their bodies is engendered an egg, which is called 'anguinum.' By the violent hissing of the serpents the egg is forced into the air, and the Druid destined to secure it, must catch it in his sacred vest before it reaches the ground."
Information relative to the prevalence of this superstition in England will be found in Davies' Myths of the Druids, Camden's Britannia, and Borlase's Cornwall.
Perhaps the most remarkable of all British relics of this worship are to be found on the hills overlooking the village of Abury, in the county of Wiltshire. There, twenty-six miles from the celebrated ruins of Stonehenge, are to be found the remains of a great Serpentine Temple---one of the most imposing, as it certinaly is one of the most interesting, monuments of the British Islands. It was first accurately described by Dr. Stukeley in 1793 in his celebrated work entitled Abury, a Temple of the British Druids. It was afterwards carefully examined by Sir R. C. Hoare and an account published in his elaborate work Ancient Wiltshire. Dr. Stukeley was the first to detect the design of the structure and his conclusions have been sustained by the observations of every antiquary who has succeeded him.
The temple of Abury consisted originally of a grand circumvallation of earth 1,400 feet in diameter, enclosing an area of upwards of twenty-two acres. It has an inner ditch and the height of the embankment, measuring from the bottom of the ditch, is seventeen feet. It is quite regular, though not an exact circle in form, and has four entrances at equal distances apart, though nearly at right angles to each other. Within this grand circle were originally two double or concentric circles composed of massive upright stones: a row of large stones, one hundred in number, was placed upon the inner brow of the ditch. Extending upon either hand from this grand central structure were parallel lines of huge upright stones, constituting, upon each side, avenues upwards of a mile in length. These formed the body of the serpent. Each avenue consisted of two hundred stones. The head of the serpent was represented by an oval structure consisting of two concentric lines of upright stones; the outer line containing forty, the inner eighteen stones. This head rests upon an eminence known as Overton, or Hakpen Hill, from which is commanded a view of the entire structure, winding back for more than two miles to the point of the tail, towards Bekhampton.
Hakpen in the old British dialects signifies Hak, serpent, and pen, head, i.e., Head of the Serpent. "To our name of Hakpen," says Stukeley, "alludes ochim, called 'doleful creatures' in our translation." Isa (13 v. 21), speaking of the desolation of Babylon, says: Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there, and their houses shall be full of ochim, and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there." St. Jerome translates it "serpents." The Arabians call a serpent Haie, and wood-serpents Hageshin; and thence our Hakpen; Pen is "head" in British.
"That the votaries of Ophiolatreia penetrated into every part of Britain is probable from the vestiges of some such idolatry even now to be found in Scotland and the western isles. Several obelisks remain in the vicinity of Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth, upon which appear devices strongly indicative of Ophiolatreia. They are engraved in Gordon'' Itinerarium Septentrionale. The serpent is a frequent and conspicuous hieroglyphic. From the Runic characters traced upon some of these stones it is conjectured that they were erected by the Danes. Such might have been the case; but the Danes themselves were a sect of Ophites, and had not the people of the country been Ophites also, they might not have suffered these monuments to remain."
Remains indicating the presence of Serpent Worship in Ireland are extremely scarce, but we must remember the story prevalent in the country, accepted as truthful by a large majority of its inhabitants, that St. Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland by his prayers. After all, this may mean nothing more than that by his preaching he overturned and uprooted the superstitious practices of the serpent worshippers of his times.
Excerpts from http://www.sacred-texts.com/
I have not edited the text at all and have merely commented in places so please excuse the usual inferences to Devil worship and so on and the way the text was written originally, being so rabidly anti-Pagan and all. However this may be, the factual references which demonstrate that our Ancestors worshipped Nature within and without as Ophites of every possible tradition will hopefully create a better mutual understanding and hopefully unity between modern Pagans irrespective of every perceived 'difference" between us all.
The inferences to Ophiolatreia being a satellite of the Biblical Satan is pure conjecture on the author's part, as he is writing a factual narrative except his words are clouded by his personal beliefs. As the manuscript was written at the turn of the last century, this becomes understandable. It must have been hard to realize that at the end of it all, early Judaism and Christianity was based on Serpent Worship.
I have many other relevant texts which the reader is most welcome to peruse at their leisure in the Dragon Shrine~ Serpent Worship group here at Temple Illuminatus, if they are so inclined.
Thank you for reading, and Blessed Be
As you are within yourself and without, Evening Star :)
Hail the Dragon Ruler of the World!!!
Strangely I feel as if I am here in this group with the oldest of friends - brothers and sisters all
The Tao gives birth to one
One gives birth to Two
Two gives birth to Three
Three, gives birth to all things"
"Now the god is represented by the High priest (if there is one)
and he is called 'the Devil' in the old days.
...in the times when the People of the Heaths held their meetings, the high priest was a man of great learning in the cult, possibly a tribal chief, or a Druid, and most likely everyone would know who he was.
He was the Horned God."
"I trust I have made myself clear on this point. The Devil is, or was, an invention of the Church"
Fascinating Zeph!!!! Thank you so much!