Updated: Aug 16
In prehistoric times, the snake was not a symbol of evil or danger but symbolized female wisdom, power, and regeneration.
The shedding of the skin symbolized rebirth and immortality. Its seasonal renewal in sloughing off its old skin and hibernating made it a symbol of the continuity of life.
Because snakes operate above and below the ground, they link the underworld with the upper world. Also, they lay eggs, which is a potent symbol of new life.
'It is not the body of the snake that was sacred but the energy exuded by this spiraling and coiling creature which transcends its boundaries and influences the surrounding world'. Marija Gimbutas.
Snakes acted as companions to female Goddesses. Combined with magic plants, the snake’s powers were potent in healing and creating new life.
Figurines of the Snake Goddess (left) were found in house shrines in Old Europe.
On Old European ceramics the snake theme constantly grew in importance, reaching its height around 5000-4000BC. Its symbolic prominence inspired the development of ‚snake spiral art’. The range of decorative possibilities offered by the coil and spiral seemed endlessly inspiring.
Its symbolism was closely linked to that of the moon, since it was periodically renewed like the moon - theologian Jutta Voss interprets the serpent as the archetypal symbol of the eternally renewing power of female blood.
The "menstrual snake" of the goddesses appeared in Egypt in the form of the Shen ring in red colour as a symbol of the goddess, as worn by Inanna or Ishtar, for example. The Shen ring then became the alpha and omega and later also the symbol of women.
"In ancient Egyptian mythology, the cobra goddess Ua Zit [Isis] is the original creator of the world."
Minoan Snake Goddess
The worship of the Snake Goddess continues during the Bronze Age, particularly on Crete.
As late as 1600 BCE, snakes were still one of the central images of goddess worship on Crete/Knossos.The well known figurines depict a snake deity robed in the typical dress of the palace-temple women, holding a snake in her arms. The snake was thought to be the guardian of the temple where it kept rats and mice away from the grain stored in huge urns.
Serpent worshipping places were founded in Delphi, where the serpent was asked for advice, its divinations.
Association with Evil
For the Indoeurpeans, the snake was a symbol of evil of the God of Death and the Underworld.
When the Indo-Europeans invaded Old Europe and brought patriarchy with them, the serpent was subjected to an image change. The demonisation, persecution and murder of the primordial Goddess, in her form as the Great Serpent, is deepened in the Indo-European snake and dragon myths.
"The serpent was too important, too sacred and too omnipresent a symbol of the goddess to be ignored. If the old consciousness was to be adapted to the requirements of the new system, the latter had either to seize the serpent and make it a symbol of the new ruling class, or else the serpent had to be defeated, discredited and deprived of its original symbolic meaning." Riane Eisler
The fact that the serpent, the very symbol of the Goddess with the attributes of fertility, strength and wisdom, was turned into the principle of evil par excellence is most clearly shown in the Christian story of paradise in the Old Testament. With the demonisation of the serpent, matriarchy had to be cast out once and for all.
"The transformation of the ancient symbol of prophetic wisdom into a symbol of satanic evil and the accusation of woman as being responsible for all human mischief were political necessities. They were deliberate reversals of earlier notions of reality."
Dragon & Lindworm
There is a strikingly large number of defamatory legends, sagas, rituals, saint stories, myths of heroic snake and dragon slayers.
The murderers of the primordial Goddess are revered as heroes in patriarchal religion and mythology and sanctified in Christianity. The fearless dragon slayers like Saint George did not bring light, but violence and war.
Persistence of snake worhsip
In Lithuania, a country that had kept its pagan Old European tradition well into the 20th century, the snake was a household divinity. They lived under the floors of houses, were fed with milk and were allowed to come into the homes. The were guardians of the family and animals, especially cows. Each family and each animal had as a patron divinity a snake whose energy was the same as of the human or animal. The awakening of the snake after hibernation meant the awakening of all nature and was celebrated. Killing žaltys (snakes) was said to bring great misfortunes upon the household.
I received this wonderful message upon the serpent post:
"Dear Laura - I would like to tell you something about my work.
I accompany women during pregnancy, prepare them for birth, work with them on previous traumatic births, many of my clients have experienced early sexual violence - so in this work, interestingly enough, archetypal images and forces coincide in the inner images of the various women. For example, the dragon and other mythical beings, which we were able to use very positively in the further course of the work.
In psychology, animal beings such as dragons or snakes are described as "nefaste mother archetypes", i.e. evil, threatening, devouring or entwining. The dragon is also described in the biblical dragon myth as evil personified. But in my clients' sessions, when it appeared, it always showed himself completely differently.These negative descriptions did not feel in any way coherent to me through my experiences with my clients. I felt a completely different quality. That's why a few years ago I turned to a friend, Johanna Schacht, who among other things is intensively involved in matriarchal research.
She replied: "The dragon is the demonised serpent, an important symbolic animal of the primordial goddesses." That made more sense to me!
In her article "The Serpent: Central Archetype in Shamanic-Matriaichal Worldview" I then found more information. They fitted much better with my feeling and that of my clients "For the longest time of human development, women were the creators and bearers of a shamanic-matriarchal culture.
Our deepest archetypal ideas are rooted in shamanic worldviews that were already developed in the Palaeolithic. A universal symbol in shamanic worldviews is the serpent ... as a symbol of feminine power...!"
My clients then connected with the power energy of the dragoness, literally grew dragoness wings and empowered themselves."