Mythology Explained: The Deeply-Rooted Symbolism of the Snake in Ancient Civilization
The symbolism of the snake is one of the most complex and commonly seen images in world mythology. It is characterized by pronounced polyvalence. It contains both the masculine and the feminine, and since it represents both genders, it is an emblem of all self-generating deities.
On the one hand, the snake is a phallic symbol, the fertilizing male force, the “husband of all women” and it is no coincidence that its presence in almost every folklore means pregnancy. As we know, marriage between a female and a male is a life-giving act of nature. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the symbol of marriage between an earthly woman and a dragon or a serpent is characteristic of mythology around the world.
Usually, the girl from the myth is at an age when she is ripe for marriage and is associated with all those mysteries that make a woman look especially secretive and respectable creature in the eyes of the ancient man – menstruation, conception, and birth.
The woman has always been perceived as mystical and divine because of her ability to give life. In this capacity, she is often compared to the Creator. Thus, if the girl symbolizes the connection with the earth, fertility, and the creative power of nature, then the symbolism of the snake, in this case, is a stable illustration of the male fertilizing power and the phallus. Its connection with water, the seed, the liquid from which life was born, also refers us to this.
On the other hand, the symbolism of the snake is also closely related to the female aspect. She often accompanies the female deities or she herself is a symbol of the Earth, of its darkness, moisture, and the fruitful forces hidden in it.
In this aspect, it is also the bearer of typically feminine features such as secrecy, mystery, intuition. A number of folklore stories present the snake as a skilled and wise animal, knowing the power of herbs and the mysteries of healing practices.
The classic image of two intertwined snakes, which has become an emblem of the modern pharmaceutical profession, preserves the notion that snakes are guardians of the waters from the depths, which flow like juice into the health-giving plants. That is, their fertility is again underlying.
On the one hand, the Serpent and all its manifestations are charged with the idea of death, destruction, and chaos, but on the other hand, its ability to change its skin presupposes resurrection and renewal, so the serpent or dragon has become the main motive for the cycle of life, eternity.
The same analogy of death and resurrection the ancients found in the rising and waning moon in the night sky, in the three aggregate states of water, in the change of seasons, the growth of plants, in the cycles of nature. It is no coincidence that the snake, the moon, the groundwater, the phallus are all symbols present mostly with agricultural crops – those whose lives depend directly on the earth and its life force. (Arthur Versluis, 1992)
In cosmogonic terms, the symbolism of the snake and the symbolism of water are connected with the primary chaos, the primordial matter, life in its unbridled, undifferentiated, and chaotic aspect. Water is a symbol of potential creative energy and life spirit. The primary chaos, the imbalance from which, however, life sprouted and order was created.
The imbalance, the ancient man convinces us, must exist, because just as light casts a shadow on the objects against which it shines, so the divine separates from itself to open space in space and create disharmony. Disharmony is an inverse reflection of transcendental light. Its enemy is the Sun and all solar and spiritual forces.