Serpent Gods

The Serpent Gods and Goddesses from the Ancient World

Numerous myths and stories from all across the world feature serpents and snakes in important roles. Occasionally, these legendary creatures take the form of common snakes. At other times, they assume shapes that are either magical or horrific. For a long time, the serpent gods have had a connection with both good and evil. They have come to stand for life and death, as well as creation and destruction.

The Norse Serpent God Jormungandr

Jormungandr
Credit: DeviantArt

In Norse mythology, Loki’s secret marriage to the giantess Angrboa produced Hel, Fenris, and Jormugandr. Loki concealed his offspring as long as possible, but they grew so fast that they couldn’t stay hidden in the cave where they were born.

Odin dreaded Loki’s offspring while seated on Hlidskialf’s supernatural throne. However, Odin wished to eliminate dangers, so he granted Hel control over Helheim and all the dead (save the selected killed) and flung Jormugandr into the sea. There, the snake swelled until it ringed Midgard like an Ouroboros eating its tail.

Thor’s Midgard Serpent Story

One day, Thor and Tyr went to see Hymir. As the host watched Thor eat two large bulls for supper, he decided to go fishing the next day. Thor resolved to aid his host, but he had to get his bait. So, the thunder god killed his host’s most excellent bull, Himinbrioter (“the heaven breaker”). Then, he cut off the ox’s head and began rowing.

As they went further to sea, the giant warned Thor they’d passed the regular fishing spot, but the god didn’t listen. Instead, Hymir warned them they might be in peril if they encountered the Midgard Serpent. Thor ignored him and kept rowing until he believed they were over the giant snake.

Thor targeted Jormugandr with the cow head as bait. As the thunder god fished, the giant caught two whales for breakfast. Then, Thor rejected his host’s request to return and waited for Jormugandr to bite. He didn’t like it, but he had to comply. Once Thor felt a jerk, he pulled as hard as he could.

A colossal storm erupted out of nowhere, and Thor knew he had the Midgard Serpent by its resistance. Thor’s braced feet went through the boat as he tried to pull Jormugandr from the sea, and the Midgard Serpent’s head eventually surfaced. Thor pulled out his hammer to kill the serpent, but the giant broke the fishing line to save the boat.

Jormugandr sank when Thor hit Hymir with his hammer for losing his prey. The blow threw the giant overboard, so he swam onshore and waited for Thor to bring the boat with the whales to the beach. But instead, they took the whales and the boat and ate at home.

Mesopotamia’s Serpent Gods and Goddesses

Mesopotamia's Serpent Gods
Credit: Pinterest

Ningishzida

This Sumerian god is a fascinating person. People thought he had something to do with farming and the underworld. However, his symbol is a twisting serpent, which looks like the roots of a tree. This depiction would fit in with his overall theme since his name means “Lord of the Good Tree” in English.

A picture of the great serpent Basmu wrapped around a branch is another sign linked to Ningishzida. As you might expect, this looks a lot like Hermes’ Caduceus, but there is no connection between the two.

Basmu, on the other hand, is said to be a massive snake with wings and back legs. Their name roughly means “Venomous Snake,” and they seem to represent rebirth, death, and dying. This godly creature became a symbol of fertility goddesses and birthing in Mesopotamia. Taking this into account, Basmu is a sign of Ningishzida when it looks like a snake wrapped around a staff or two snakes joined together. Few scholars also wonder if the tree in Ningishzida’s name could mean a vine since the god is also closely associated with alcohol.

Mushussu

With a name that translates to “Furious Snake,” you can bet that this snake spirit was not afraid to take on the world. Mushussu is a strange creature seen on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, now in Hillah, Iraq. They have a long neck, a horn, and a tongue with two forks, and also, their bodies are thin and look like dogs.

Mushussu was seen as a guardian spirit more than anything else. It was very close to Marduk, the chief god of Babylonia after Marduk beat it in battle.

Egyptian Serpent Gods and Goddesses

Egyptian Serpent Gods
Credit: World History Encyclopedia

In Egyptian mythology, snakes have many meanings and interpretations, as shown by the serpentine gods. Snakes are both guardians and harmful due to their deadly bite. Ancient Egyptian snake deities encompass their highs and lows.

Wadjet

She is the Egyptian cobra goddess of birthing and children. Wadjet, after that, became associated with pharaoh protection. She has an ever-flared hood as if ready to assault. This interpretation of Wadjet may connect to her duty as a pharaoh’s ward or the pharaoh’s obligation to protect and manage the kingdom.

Other images of the goddess show her wearing the Red Crown (also called the deshret) of Lower Egypt, the Nile delta area, making her one of its patron deities. Wadjet’s deshret suggests her care over the land’s sovereigns. Wadjet is one of the goddesses in the Eye of Ra, along with Hathor, Sekhmet, Bastet, Raet, and Mut. The depiction of the eye is as a snake with a deshret.

Nehebkau

Nehebkau is a prehistoric Egyptian deity and the son of Renenutet. After the world’s creation, this serpent god became connected with the Egyptian sun god, Ra. He’s everlasting, as snakes are symbolic of eternity. Nehebkau is considered the underworld’s protector and a Court of Ma’at deity.

Forty-two minor gods helped Osiris pass judgment with The Weighing of the Heart. The Book of the Dead chapter lists these gods and their regions. Nehebkau, a funeral snake deity, succeeded Ra as king of the sky.

Renenutet

Renenutet’s look is shakier than Wadjet’s. Egyptian deity has several looks; some depictions show her as a lion-headed lady, while others show her as a snake or cobra-headed woman. In addition, she would wear a double-plumed headpiece or a solar disk.

Renenutet’s appearance is deceiving: In the Underworld, she is a huge fire-breathing snake. Renenutet could halt men’s hearts with a single glance. She’s also the mother of Nehebkau, the giant snake that guards the underworld. Renenutet would also give babies hidden names to protect them from curses. Renenutet sounds like a mother figure, “She Who Rears” being an appropriate epithet.

Apep

Apep is the “Lord of Chaos” or “god of death,” one of the early Egyptian deities; his portrayal is as a gigantic, wicked snake. In other versions, he’s a crocodile. Both depictions of Apep like a reptile translate similarly, and crocodiles were like snakes. Both were powerful emblems of rebirth.

Ancient Egyptians thought Apep existed before the earth was created and was a monster of chaos. Ra would fight Apep nightly to maintain cosmic equilibrium, but Apep would always rise anew.

Meretseger

Meretseger, a mercy-and-punishment goddess, looked over the deceased and punished grave thieves. Those who harmed her or disrespected the Necropolis were blinded and bitten by snakes. You’d think troublemakers would learn from a deity whose name means “She Who Loves Silence.” Meretseger guarded Theban Necropolis. In ancient Egypt, she was a local snake goddess. Egypt’s serpent worship thrived throughout the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE).

Hinduism’s Five Serpent Gods and Goddesses

Adishesha
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Nagas are half-human, half-snake celestial entities in Hindu mythology. In Hinduism, they’re adored as beneficent deities while being fearsome opponents. Nagas are related to water and protecting riches.

Adishesha

Adishesha is the elder brother of Takshaka, Vasuki, and over 100 serpents. He is often with Lord Vishnu; the two have even been reborn as brothers. Adishesha will reportedly stay unchanged at the end of time. Shesha’s immortal. It’s thought that the planets are under Naga’s hoods.

Manasa

People worshipped this goddess who looked like a snake and was known to bring fertility and wealth. Manasa’s photos show her reclining on a lotus with a kid in her lap. As Vasuki’s sister, she is related to Adishesha, Takshaka, and her son Astika.

Astika

Astika is the son of the sage Jaratkaru and the snake goddess Manasa Devi. Supposedly, Astika halted a snake sacrifice to avenge the snakebite death of Kuru king Janamejaya’s father. Kuru was an Iron Age Indian tribal alliance (1200-900 BCE). Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab comprise Kuru. Astika saved Takshaka, a Monarch of Nagas and Indra’s friend, and petitioned the king to cease snake prosecutions. Modern Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism commemorate Naga Panchami.

Kaliya

Naga is no ordinary snake. Like a 100-headed serpentine dragon. Kaliya lived in a poisonous river that humans and birds avoided. Kaliya feared Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s golden-winged vahana, who hated snakes. Lord Krishna fought the serpent while retrieving a ball from the river. Krishna was triumphant and danced over Kaliya’s hoods while playing the flute.

Vasuki

Another Naga king is Shiva’s friend. Shiva loved Vasuki so much that he wore him as a necklace. Vasuki’s nagamani gem is another dcritical feature. This jewel shows his superior rank as a snake deity. In Africa, Asia, and South America, the treatment of snakebites happen with nagamani (the cobra pearl). Nagamani is a sparkling green or black stone.

Serpent Gods and Goddesses from Greece

The Hydra

The Hydra
Credit: Medium

Heracles, a famous Greek hero, made this monster look like a piece of cake. Hera made the hydra to kill Heracles during one of his Twelve Labors for King Eurystheus, and people thought it was a huge sea serpent with nine heads.

One of the best-known old Greek myths is the story of Heracles’ Twelve Labors. As his father’s legal wife, Hera prompted this sad hero to commit suicide by murdering his wife and their children. To sum up, the problem with the hydra was that its breath was the worst ever, and as if its nine heads weren’t enough, when Heracles chopped one-off, two more sprouted in its place. So it’s possible that being immortal has anything to do with the unusual behavior of the enormous sea snake.

Hercules was lucky to have his nephew Iolaus help him. Iolaus used a brand to cut the hydra’s neck stump so it couldn’t grow more heads. Also, Athena was definitely on the side of her half-brother in this family fight. With Athena’s golden sword, which she gave to Heracles during an earlier battle, Heracles could hurt the hydra enough to kill it similarly.

Asclepius

Asclepius started in Homer’s Iliad as a regular guy, but he became a god in ancient Greece because he was good at medicine. Even though he was just a doctor, most people thought he was a god because he was the son of Apollo and a human princess. And it was terrible for Asclepius that Zeus didn’t like doctors, especially gods who were doctors. So Zeus killed Asclepius because he feared he would make people live forever. Apollo got even by killing the cyclops who made the thunderbolt that killed his son.

The most famous thing about Asclepius was neither that he was a father nor that he died too soon. Instead, it was his medicine rod. It was just a tiny branch with one snake wrapped around it. The Rod of Asclepius was much more straightforward than Hermes’ Caduceus, a staff with two snakes wrapped around it and a pair of wings. However, in modern medicine, the Caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius are similarly in use.

In Greek mythology, serpents are messengers from the gods and symbols of life and death. Serpents were also often seen as signs of immortality. We’ll talk more about this when we talk about the scary Gorgons and the giant Hydra.

Gorgons

These three evil monster women are Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. The ancient Greeks feared gorgons because they were ugly and dangerous. They were said to have copper hands and gold wings.

Even though Medusa’s story is famous and debated, everyone knows that she is the only one of the gorgons who is not immortal because she was born a human. However, unlike her sisters, whose heads are full of snakes, which might be a sign that they will live forever, some people think that Medusa’s change from a beautiful mortal to a hideous serpentine beast shows that snakes can come back to life. After everything that had happened to her, one could only hope that Medusa’s snakes would give her a second chance.

Korea’s Serpent God – Eopsin

Korea's Serpent God Eopsin
Credit: the-god-of-illusion – Tumblr

In Korean folklore, Eopsin is the god of wealth and storage. In mythology, she is many different things besides a snake, like a toad or a weasel. Eopsin has also taken the human form, but this happens rarely and only in certain situations.

Most of the time, the serpent goddess lives on the roofs of homes. It is a bad sign if Eopsin is found elsewhere in the house. This meaning is that the house’s physical and social stability is worsening, and she no longer has a reason to stay. Even though the guardian is seen as independent and is known to do her own thing, people still try to make her happy by giving her gifts.

The Chilseong Bonpuli says that Eopsin is the mother of seven other Korean goddesses. She is also the guardian of the home and worldly goods. She is said to be a black snake with human ears in her serpent form, so if you find this snake hiding in your attic, you should leave it alone.

Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec Feathered Serpent God

Quetzalcoatl
Credit: Infoplease

Quetzalcoatl is an Aztec myth about a feathered serpent thought to have made people and to be the god who separates the land from the sky. The oldest records show that this snake god was close to Tlaloc, the god of rain and water and that his original domain was plants.

During the Aztecs (1100-1521 CE), the worship of Quetzalcoatl happened as the god of priests. He was the link between the gods and humans and the protector of many artisans. Also, like other snake gods, this feathered serpent was seen as the personification of life, death, and rebirth.

Celtic Serpent Goddess – Corra

Celtic Serpent Goddess - Corra
Credit: Feminism and Religion

Corra, a Celtic goddess, represents life, death, fertility, and the ground. Two interwoven serpents symbolize this snake goddess, and her themes include rebirth and spiritual change. One of her stories remains about her demise. Ireland has never had snakes. None. Saint Patrick “drove the snakes” from Ireland. Many experts believe Saint Patrick didn’t eliminate the animal, but this narrative shows how Christianity suppressed Celtic and Druidic faith.

The lack of snakes in Ireland, which is Corra’s principal manifestation, implies that Christianity supplanted ancient religion and devotion to the goddess. Corra didn’t vanish, though. Saint Patrick confronted the Celtic goddess in Lough Derg after chasing her across Ireland. After two days of being swallowed, he cut his way out and turned her to stone. Her death and metamorphosis imply the end of her life cycle.

The Rainbow Snake is Australia’s Creation Serpent God

The Rainbow Snake
Credit: Pinterest

In Indigenous Australian mythology, the Rainbow Serpent is the most important god of creation. In addition, they are given reverence in some cultures as the deity of the weather. That’s because their picture in old art looks like a rainbow.

It’s important to note that “Rainbow Serpent” is a catch-all term that anthropologists came up with when they heard similar stories from all over Australia about a giant snake that made life. People and nations have different creation stories, and each has its name for the snake that gives life. But no matter what story you tell, it’s clear that water was the source of life that the Rainbow Snake gave. Some cultures also said that this snake made the universe. Others saw them as either male or female or neither.

According to the story, the Rainbow Serpent slept underground for thousands of years until it woke up one day. When the giant snake moved, the land on earth started to take shape. Other animals woke up where they went. People thought that the serpent lived in bodies of water, making it a symbol of both water and the changing seasons.

Conclusion

There are stories about mysterious serpents from both the past and the present. People have said for hundreds of years that they have seen giant snakes or monsters that look like snakes in the sea or lakes. Many marine scientists agree that there may be creatures in the deep that we don’t know about yet, but no one has found proof of an entirely new kind of sea serpent. Most of the time, strange things seen swimming on the surface of the water are just masses of seaweed, floating logs, lines of porpoises jumping into the air, giant squid, or regular sharks or sea lions.

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