And so the mythology began:

"And the Lord God said unto the serpent,
Because thou has done this,
thou art cursed above all cattle,
and above every beast of the field;
Upon thy belly shalt thou go,
and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
and between thy seed and her seed,
it shall bruise thy head,
and thou shalt bruise his heel."

Genesis 3, Verse 14 & 14

Since the dawn of civilization humankind has had a love-hate relationship with the serpent. Humans either hate snakes or love them. Few are indifferent.

Many civilizations have promoted the serpent to a god-like status. Creation mythology frequently features snakes.

The ancient Mesopotamians had an entire pantheon of snake gods. Apsoo, the main God, created Tiamat, a feminine snake deity, and the two conceived other gods. One of the offspring, Marduk, split Tiamat into two using half of her to create the earth and the other half to create the sky.

In Egypt the primal world consisted of an ocean containing only snakes and frogs. A great snake, Apopis, emerged from this sea and spat out the gods and all the living beings.
The cobra was venerated in ancient Egypt as a protector.

In Mali, the Dogons believe that the god Amma created earth and surrounded it with a huge snake. And the ancestors of the living are reincarnated as snakes.

The Australian aborigines believe the earth was created by a huge supernatural snake called Kurrichalpongo.

In India the snake of eternity, Vasuki, plays a vital role in the creation story.

The Toltecs and Mayan's worshipped the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, and based their calendar on the number of labial scales of the rattlesnake.

The Venda people of South Africa believe that they are magically linked to the other worlds by way of a python. They symbolise this in their beautiful and evocative "Dhomba Dance", performed by the young maidens of the tribe. It symbolises the uncoiling of a python.

Ancient Greek legends has many snakes - some of godlike status. Cecrops, the founding father of Athens was half-snake half-man. Cerberus, the three- headed dog which guarded the gates of hell had a snake for a tail.

Thor, the Scandanavian god, did battle with Midgard - a huge snake that lives in the sea. According to legend he caught, but could not kill it. Legend says he will eventually kill it when the world comes to an end, but will himself die from its poisonous breath.

Even today we have religions that employ the snake as an integral part of their worship. These range from the Hopi indians "Snake Dance" through to charasmatic Christian cults of the Appalachian mountains.

In India the entire village of Shirala devotes a week every year to honouring the Cobra, the "good snake". They do this mainly to thank the cobras for keeping the rat population down for another year.

Humankind has vast numbers of people who subscribe to the theory that the only good snake is a dead snake. Snakes control the vast numbers of rodents, many of which are disease carriers. Snakes are innocuous. They do not go out of their way to bite people. They only bite in self-defence.

Ultimately humankind will have to make peace with and learn to live with snakes. However this utopian dream does not seem likely to occur soon!

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Copyright: Séan Thomas & Eugene Griessel - Dec 1999.