23 Mar 2012


It was whilst reading THIS POST by Claudine @ CarryUsOffBooks that I came across this book (WHEN WOMAN BECAME THE SEA by Susan Strauss and Cristina Acosta) which tells the story of how according to a Costa Rican creation story, Sibu, Creator of the World, could not figure out what was missing from his masterpiece and thus sought the help of Thunder who alas couldn't stay put long enough to help, causing Sibu to create the world's first woman in the hope of holding his attention.

Hmm, I thought, what a great idea for a post. The question being which story/stories to use? How about .........
  • The Four Creations (Hopi)
  • The Separation of Heaven and Earth (Maori)
  • Pan Gu and Nu Wa (China)
  • Birth and the Dawn (Hawaii)
  • OR perhaps one of the other stories mentioned HERE?

 I know, how about serpents? Not one of the most cuddly of creatures I know but they do feature quite heavily in many of the creation stories of the world.

Take for example writer Robert Grave's reconstructed Pelasgian Creation Story which tells the tale of Eurynome, Goddess of all things, who danced upon the waters, and dividing the sea from the sky, became a dove and laid the World Egg thus defeating the Dark Serpent, 'Ophion', by crushing his head with her foot.

Then of course there's always the 'Rainbow Serpent' of Australian mythology of which there are as many legends as there are tribes of people. The creation story known as Dreamtime tells how the Rainbow Serpent descended from the sky and moved over the face of the Earth creating deep valleys and rivers, nourishing the planet and giving it form, other versions telling the story of the Rainbow Serpent populating the world with plants, humans and animals, and yet others, of how the great serpent called out to all the living creatures of the planet to come out of hiding and enjoy the land. 

Or how about 'Adishesha', sometimes known Ananta (the endless one)?

The one thousand headed (representing infinity) ruler of the serpent race known as the Nagas, Hindu legend tends to depict Adishesha as floating on the ocean, his body, soft and gentle enough to serve as a couch for the God Vishnu who rests on it during lulls in the creation, and yet, firm and steady enough to to support whole Earth.

Then again, what about the 'Ouroboros' ? An ancient symbol of a serpent devouring its own tail (representing the cyclic nature of the Universe:creation out of destruction, Life out of Death), the Ouroboros though first seen in Egypt as early as 1600 BC is also to be found in several other cultures,  Phonecian, Greek and Norse included. 

Pictured to the left is perhaps one of the better known depictions of Ouroboros which was taken from the "The Chrysopoeia ('Gold-Making') of Cleopatra during the Alexandrian Period, the inner words meaning 'The All is One', the darker half portraying the night, the Earth, the destructive force of nature, the lighter half, the Day, Heaven, the creative force.

Oh, and lets not forget 'He' as the serpent in the Christian creation story of Adam and Eve is referred to in Genesis 3:1-5.

Able to speak (and thus tempt Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil ) and yet unable at first to crawl (it was only able to do this after being cursed by God) 'HE' is in fact often depicted as a she in early artwork, cleverly identifying both the source of evil and its nature.

Fall and expulsion of Adam and Eve
- Michelangelo, 1510.
(Note the fact that the creature is part woman, part serpent)

Hmm, perhaps central to these stories because serpents were seen as familiar and yet strangely exotic, their unblinking, lidless eyes implying an intelligence that suggested they lived by reason and not just instinct, I think it interesting that they are only occasionally portrayed as a positive aspect in the story of creation but are, more often than not, shown as a negative influence, something that is evil.

Highly Recommended ....... Though not necessarily including serpents, to visit one of the best sites on creation I found, The Big Myth: An animated study of world creation myths, CLICK HERE.

PS. Not an extensive list, tales of serpents can also be found in the creation stories of the people of Africa, Australia, China and Greece. My apologies if I have missed any.

PPS. Like my Folk Lore feature? Why not go visit CAROL'S NOTEBOOK on a Thursday for her weekly Thursday's Tales. Yesterdays post, THE DEAD MOTHER , was a spooky and yet moving story from Russia.


Kelly said...

I prefer my serpents as the animated variety! (as in Beany & Cecil from my childhood) :)

Suko said...

This is fascinating, Petty. I like the idea of the Rainbow Serpent, which may not be cuddly but should be pretty.

naida said...

Great post! We do often see depends as evil creatures in stories. For some reason this reminds me if the Harry Potter books. The bad guy (Voldemort) is serpent like and his pet is a large snake.

naida said...

*we often do see serpents...

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I think my fave is ouroboros. Sort of a yin/yang type of thing.

Don't forget the caduceus! Twin snakes there.

Great post.

The Golden Eagle said...

As I was reading, I couldn't help but think of the YA book The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller, which was based on Ouroboros. The representation of serpents throughout history is quite interesting.

anilkurup said...

By nature a timid creature serpents, as they are depicted with huge trunk, many heads etc are scary indeed.
And perhaps unjustly accused for the intrigue in the garden of Aden.

In India the serpents have temples and still many places of worship assigns a day each month to appease the serpent god.

Claudine G. said...

Petty, a fascinating post again. I think I'm most curious about Robert Graves's serpent. And this creature is most often portrayed in myths as conniving (because of their intelligence?). I'll be sure to return to this post to check out the links you've shared. (Oh, and I'd love to read what you have on Nu Wa, if you decide to write about her story, that is. I've heard about her creating the world, but haven't really gotten around to finding out more.) Thumbs up to this post again!

Jenners said...

By the time you finish up these posts and the mythological creature posts, you'll have a book on your hands!

John McElveen said...

Phenomenal Info!!!!