Reconstructing the Protological Serpent

Re-imagining the Serpents of Eden based on mythologies from around the world.
  • What happened to the serpents of Eden ?
  • Are the serpent myths from around the world in any way meaningful? 
  • Can we reconstruct an image of them?  

Here we are in the Garden of Eden, lounging under a tree, buck-naked, and chatting with a serpent. You know the story from the biblical Genesis, right? Chapter three? Everything that follows in the Torah and the bible generally — literally everything — is all the consequence of a conversation with a serpent, or rather a serpent-like thing. We know how this episode ends.

Though Adam and Eve had no prohibitions except one, they break even that. After swallowing both the serpent’s lie and the forbidden fruit, the Creator pronounces judgment, and evicts them from Paradise. A supernatural guardian is posted to ensure that they can never return.That’s hardly a propitious beginning to human history, is it?

While the human drama continues to unfold in Genesis’ pages, personally, I can’t help but to wonder: What happened to the beguiler? That serpent slipped far too quickly and much too silently from the narrative arc, and indeed from history’s pages. Did it have a mate? It’s easy to imagine, yes. And if so, what role did she play in this primordial drama, and what became of her race? Now, without being judgmental, I’m calling her Lizzy, and for the sake of my story universe, I want to reconstruct her. 

Is such a reconstruction futile? Perhaps. But consider this: where are the global myths of carnivorous swarming butterflies? Why no legends of dancing mushrooms? See, the absence of universal tropes is as telling as their opposite. Therefore, it’s fascinating how myths can be found across the world and across the millenia, from the Akkadians to the Aztecs, where some Great Deluge wiped out a race of wicked or unruly people [1]

I’ve read arguments purporting that the Great Deluge of the bible — Noah and his ark — could well be just a conflation of the various Mesopotamian flood myths [2]. In the Akkadian Atrahasis Epic (17th century BCE),for example, we have Atra-Hasis as the Noahic figure. Ziusudra was the Sumerian flood story equivalent (17th century BCE). Utnapishtim figures as their equivalent in the Babylonian Gilgamesh flood myth (7th century BCE), although Gilgamesh and flood folklore was circulating since about 2000 BCE [3] — distinguishing these as the oldest recorded stories we have.

Therefore, we might ask, if a fragmented racial memory persists of some catastrophe trope like the biblical Great Deluge, might we not also have a kind of persistent image of the ancient Edenic serpents? If so, then reconstructing our Lizzy might not be as impossible as we thought. By canvasing myths from around the world, we might get some idea of what such a creature might have been like. As far as source material goes, though, there’s a qualitative difference between tales framed by a culture’s world-view, and mere wonder-tales, the stuff of children’s stories.

Wise to such distinctions, we can reject shape-changing bogeys and zoomorphic god-forms because they are not consistently serpentine. Discounted too, therefore, are all snake-legged anguipeds [4] with their rather eclectic morphology, and the seductive, child-devouring animal hybrid Lamia of Libyan and Hellenic folklore [5]. Ditto the serpent-dragons of Slavic wonder-tales [6]. I venture they make poor source material for precisely the same reason. We seek a real creature; magical transformations are forbidden. If we strip away the supernatural elements, though, does anything worthwhile remain? Let’s canvas world mythology and see.

Mesoamerican versions of a serpent god, though differently nuanced across cultures, essentially paint a serpent deity in positive terms. Qʼuqʼumatz of the K’iche’Mayans [7] , Kukulkan of the Mayans more broadly [8], and the Aztec Quetzalcoatl [9] were all feathered serpents, and might generally be considered as synonymous deities in much the same way as Jupiter of the Romans was equivalent to the Greek god Zeus. In all the collective New World mythos, a common feature of the serpent god — apart for the feathers and the quasi-mammalian head — was its association with transcendental vision and wisdom. While originally cast as the War Serpent, Kukulkan of the Mayas (300-900 CE) evolved into the Vision Serpent, a facilitator into the spirit realm. For the later Aztec civilization (1100-1500 CE), Quetzalcoatl was the venerated as the god of wind, air, and learning, and became the patron of the Aztec priesthood. In the Mayan Itza state, the cult of Kukulkan formed the core of the state religion.

Overall, the standout features of the Mesoamerican serpent is its association with learning and transcendental knowledge, a tangential association with water-weather, a face this isn’t typically reptilian (or ophidian), a possible militaristic streak, and some kind of decorative plumage. But did Kukulkan sport feathers naturally, or did he wear them in local fashion like some Elizabethan ruff? A miter? One can but wonder.

On a different continent, and effectively since early antiquity, the serpentine dragon has been venerated in Chinese culture as a rain deity. It has long been represented as a scaled and four-legged, and with prominent facial tendrils or whiskers. Sadly, this beastie lacks the magnificent plumage of the Mesoamerican god; however, what I find interesting, is that it too is represented with a quasi-mammalian head rather than a purely reptilian one. Moreover, it has been portrayed at various times with membranous wings associated with the forelimbs. Common iconography has the Chinese dragon lusting after a pearl, which among other things, symbolizes wisdom and power. Even so, the mythos of the serpent-dragon is all positive, and so much so, that the dragon came to symbolize both good fortune and imperial authority [10].

In Chinese Buddhism, the Dragon Kings are intimately associated with not just the water-related weather, but lakes and even oceans where they hold court [11]. But just as the iconography of Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl morphed over time, so too did the Chinese variant. In fact, neolithic jade carvings originally portrayed the “dragon” in limbless and almost pig-faced form [12] like a dugong. Are these pig-dragons (or serpents) really equivalent to the later sinuous four-legged versions? Perhaps the artisans were simply limited by the primitive tools at hand.

Anyhow, the salient attributes we can glean from Chinese mythology is that Lizzy loved wisdom, she was generally serpentine but probably with appendages (arms and hands as least) and that her face wasn’t ophidian like a snake’s. It was more mammalian and possibly with tendril-like whiskers on the head or snout.

In South and Southeast Asian countries, the proud yet benevolent Naga have long held cultural significance in the mythology of Hinduism and Buddhism. The semi-divine Naga are something of a legless cross between human and serpent, and the iconography often represents them as multi-headed snakes or a people with gorgon-like heads that generally avoided contact with humans. The Naga are/were believed to inhabit the netherworld, the deeper reaches of the earth, and oceans and bodies water generally [13]

If we can posit anything, it would have to be once again an association with water, high intelligence, and that the face of our mythical Lizzy may not have been typically ophidian.

If we look to ancient civilizations west of Babylon, for example, separated by great distance and time, serpent mythology paints a rather contrasting picture. In the Near East cultures, the serpent is the antagonist of all that is good. For example, the goddess Tiamat of ancient Babylonian myth was variously described as something of a capricious sea serpent, as well as the embodiment of both primordial chaos and creation [14]. The god Marduk kills her and makes the heavens and earth of her body. Such a cosmic battle between a sea monster and some god or god-like hero appears to be a common trope of the ancient Near Eastern religions, such as the Sumerian and Ugaritic [15]. The religion of ancient Egypt too had its titanic struggle between the Sun God Ra and Apep (Apophis), the Lord of Chaos cast as a giant serpent. This local concept of the “evil dragon” nemesis is almost certainly prehistoric in origin [16].

What can be gleaned from all this, if anything, is that the serpent was a contrary figure, and no great lover of humanity. There is little hint of physical characteristics here apart from some connection to the sea or subterranean underworld.

On the other hand, there are positive associations with serpent deities too. A number of the clay figurines excavated from the Ubaid culture of really ancient Sumeria show reptilian-headed humanoids in various authoritative postures, and some of lizard mothers sucking infants [17] [18]. These date from 4000 BCE or earlier and are thought to reflect some kind of veneration of reptilian gods. What’s interesting is that, like the Hindu Nagas, these too wore clothes, but unlike the Nagas, it is the face that is lizard-like, rather than the body.

Not unlike Near East myths, Pelasgian (ancient Aegean) creation myth features a primordial oceanic serpent, a lesser god called Ophion [19] who is believed to have ruled the world he helped create with Eurynome, until his banishment from the mortal realm by the elder titans Kronos and Rhea, or possibly by his own wife Eurynome [20] depending on which mythic variant you find more appealing. Since ancient Hellenic mythology tends to be somewhat plastic over time and region, all we can reliably glean is that idea of something serpentine and powerful being present at the dawn of creation or human history. Nevertheless, it is surely amazing how the “serpent at the dawn of history” trope is so persistent and universal.

The Hebrew bible too makes mention of a primordial sea serpent. Ancient Leviathan is cast as an powerful oceanic creature, something to be feared. Yet it is also the multi-headed subject of the Creator’s wrath, destined for destruction at the eschaton [21], that is, at the end of present human history, says the ancient prophet Isaiah. And paralleling both the biblical and Tiamat mythos, the Jewish apocryphal work, the Book of Enoch, posits Leviathan as a female sea monster, and Jewish biblical commentaries (Midrash and Talmud) in echoing the biblical Psalm 74, maintain that the Creator slew the primordial female, reserving her flesh for some eschatological banquet.

If we take the imagery of Leviathan at face value, then Lizzy loved the water. She was also immensely powerful, heavily scaled, and no great lover of humankind. She and her kind are destined for judgement for the role they played in protological Fall.

What has long interested me is if these various types of serpents represent completely unrelated creatures, or whether they had a common ancestor — as shared primordial myth, or an actual living protagonist that the far-flung ancestors of all these cultures had once experienced and come to either loathe or venerate and eventually mythologize?
 
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a single serpentine creature with all the attributes we’ve canvassed: highly intelligent; oceanic or water-loving; reclusive; with arms and legs, but not consistently so; facially, not exactly, or at least not always, snake-like; sometimes winged or feathered; snake-like to some degree; and. and of course, gifted with speech, and given to wearing some form of clothing
 
Now, there are, of course, a number of theories equating the mythic serpents to dinosauroids [22], or shape-shifting extra-extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids [23] somewhat akin to the Ubaid figurines or the Hindu Nagas. Frankly, the internet is awash with gnostic convictions that extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids have been meddling in terrestrial affairs since since before history began. Call them demons or Watchers, if you will, or aliens; but whatever the case, though they may be reptilian, they are not serpentine, and therefore, unlikely to truly represent our Lizzy.

“And why not?” you may ask. Because the biblical account of the Creator’s curse upon the serpent is pivotal [24]. “On your belly shall you go,” said G-d “and you shall eat dust all the days of your life” [25]. So whatever the serpent was — morphologically and culturally — it was doomed to a fall of it own; the serpent race could never remain as they were.

Now, before the serpent appeared on the scene, however, G-d said to Adam about the forbidden tree, “… in the day that you eat of it you surely will die” — or literally, “in dying, you will die.” Biblically, it’s a common juridical idiom to underscore its certainty. Even so, sentencing always implies process. After their own sentencing, neither Adam nor Eve fell dead on the spot that very day. G-d’s pronouncement “… for dust you are and to dust you will return” took nearly a millennium to climax! Moreover, the lifespans of succeeding generations trend like a classical inverse exponential decay curve when you chart them [26]. To whit, Noah’s son Shem outlived the succeeding eight generations!

So not only was physical death not immediate [27], but each new generation after the Great Deluge lived shorter lives than their ancestors, which, incidentally, is roughly paralleled by the King List of Sumerian flood epics, in which the kings before the Great Deluge had fantastically longer lifespans compared to their descendants [28]. The “dying” was clearly two-fold: it was a process not only of biological decay, but genetic as well.

Did the serpents of Eden suffer a similar fate? If so, then their own particular curse likely took a while to take effect, and each successive generation suffered worse than its forebears. “On your belly you shall go” would surely mean that if they had limbs, they lost mobility; if they could fly, they lost that power too.

Admittedly, I’m more concerned with building a believable and consistent story universe than in analysis paralysis. The material presented here is meant only as a teaser. And Wikipedia is really good at introducing topics. So, as shallow as this has been, here’s where my thinking hat falls off, and I arrive perforce at some kind of decision. My universe needs serpents — the Serpents of Eden — and, based on all the above, they were no mere snakes.

Most likely they were serpentine, semi-aquatic creatures, with appendages, some limited ability to fly, and gifted with civilization and high intelligence. If ancient iconography contains any vestige of truth, then they likely wore garments when required, possibly of feathers, and their semi-mammalian snouts and crowns sported tendrils of some sort. But they were a degenerating race too, devolving. So whatever their characteristics may have been initially — arms, legs, tendrils, wings etc. — their appearance and abilities must have changed over time to produce a grovelling, earth-bound race.

Well, that’s how I’ve imagined my protological serpents, and I want to tell their story. I’ve called them Zmee. Were they native to Earth? Well, since the biblical “Sons of God” (the Watchers of the Book of Enoch) came hither from some “beyond,” then I posit likewise not; for by every account, the serpents seemed god-like, and certainly more knowledgeable than our first forebears after all. Therefore, they were either somehow/somewhere pre-existent, and/or were themselves the stooges of some hidden player in the primordial Edenic drama.

Were they kindly? Since they have been described in such conflicting terms, it seems probable that they either were or became a politically divided race with some factions benevolent to humanity, and others openly hostile.

But this is all prime nonsense, isn’t it? Indeed it is. Well, what were you expecting? This is blogdust, after all.

[1] List Of Flood Myths. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 22, 03:57 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 01. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flood_myths

[2] Flood Mythology. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 26, 18:36 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 01. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_myth

[3] Gilgamesh Flood Myth. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 2, 11:52 (UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 01. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh_flood_myth

[4] Anguiped. Wikipedia (2019 Oct 31, 16:28 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 01. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anguiped

[5] Lamia. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 22, 12:28 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 01. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamia

[6] Slavic Dragon. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 19, 06:49 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_dragon

[7] Qʼuqʼumatz. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 25, at 08:52 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qʼuqʼumatz

[8] Kukulkan. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 12, 23:37 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kukulkan

[9] Quetzalcoatl. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 23, 11:57 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatl

[10] Chinese Dragon. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 19, 08:33 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_dragon

[11] Chinese Dragon King. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 10, 00:51 UTC). Retrieved 2019, Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_King

[12] Chinese Pig Dragon. Wikipedia (2019 Sep 9, 04:43 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_dragon

[13] Nagas. Wikipedia ( 2019 Dec 1, 21:56 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nāga

[14] Tiamat. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 8, 13:49 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 03. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiamat

[15] Leviathan. Wikipedia (2019 Dec 1, 23:15 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 03. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan

[16] Apep/Apophis. Wikipedia (2019 Nov 29, 03:34 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 03. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apep

[17] Terracotta figure of a woman suckling a child. The British Museum — Images. Retrieved 2019 Dec 02. https://www.bmimages.com/preview.asp?image=00032600001

[18] Terracotta Female Figurines from the Ubaid Period. Amin, O. S. M. Ancient History Encyclopedia (2014 July 26).Retrieved 2019 Dec 2: https://www.ancient.eu/image/2866/

[19] Ophion. Wikipedia (2019 Sep 18, 18:29 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 03. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophion

[20] Pelasgian Creation Myth. Wikipedia (2019Aug 10, 21:02 UTC). Retrieved 2019 Dec 03. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Greek_Myths#Pelasgian_creation_myth

[21] Leviathan. Opt. Cit.

[22] eg: Ancient Serpent Gods. The Alien Connection to Reptilian Dinosaurs. Lewis, B.E. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

[23] eg: Human Race Get Off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More. Icke, David. David Icke Books, 2010.

[24]: If you haven’t already done so, it may prove worthwhile to read Genesis chapter 3 here for yourself.

[25] Genesis 3:14

[26] An Exponential Decay Curve in Old Testament Genealogies. Holladay, Philip M. Answers In Genesis (2016 Oct 19). Retrieved 2019 Dec 04. https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/exponential-decay-curve-old-testament-genealogies/

[27] There are undoubtedly phsyco-spiritual dimensions to this; however that’s a different discussion.

[28] The Sumerian King List still puzzles historians after more than a century of research. Ancient Origins (2014 Jan 30, 07:07 UTC). Holloway, April. Retrieved 2019 Dec 04. https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-asia/sumerian-king-list-still-puzzles-historians-after-more-century-research-001287

Wikipedia is an awesome resource, and Lost World Tributes proudly supports the Wikimedia Foundation. Please consider supporting it too.

 61 views

Scroll to Top
Lost World Tributes

This is the author website of
André SkoroBogáty.

The Lost World Tributes imprint aspires to publish stimulating fantasy fiction that invites reflection on Biblical themes — specifically from the supernatural viewpoint espoused by the Book of Enoch.

The book pyramid logo is a registered trademark ®