This will be found to be confirmed by an examination of some of the Symbols used in the Mysteries. One of the most famous of these was THE SERPENT, the peculiar Symbol also of this Degree. The Cosmogony of the Hebrews and that of the Gnostics designated this reptile as the author of the fate of Souls. It was consecrated in the Mysteries of Bacchus and in those of Eleusis. Pluto overcame the virtue of Proserpine under the form of a serpent; and, like the Egyptian God Serapis, was always pictured seated on a serpent, or with that reptile entwined about him. It is found on the Mithriac Monuments, and supplied with attributes of Typhon to the Egyptians. The sacred basilisc, in coil, with head and neck erect, was the royal ensign of the Pharaohs. Two of them were entwined around and hung suspended from the winged Globe on the Egyptian Monumet. On a tablet in one of the Tombs at Thebes, a God with a spear pierces a serpent’s head. On a tablet from the Temple of Osiris at Philæ is a tree, with a man on one side, and a woman on the other, and in front of the woman an erect basilisc, with horns on its head and a disk between the horns. The head of Medusa was encircled by winged snakes, which, the head removed, left the Hierogram or Sacred Cypher of the Ophites or Serpent-worshippers. And the Serpent, in connection with the Globe or circle, is found upon the monuments of all the Ancient Nations.
Over Libra, the sign through which souls were said to descend or fall, is found, on the Celestial Globe, the Serpent, grasped by Serpentarius, the Serpent-bearer. The head of the reptile is under Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, called by Ovid, Libera, or Proserpine; and the two Constellations rise, with the Balance, after the Virgin (or Isis), whose feet rest on the eastern horizon at Sunrise on the day of the equinox. As the Serpent extends over both signs, Libra and Scorpio, it has been the gate through which souls descend, during the whole time that those two signs in succession marked the Autumnal Equinox. To this alluded the Serpent, which, in the Mysteries of Bacchus Saba-Zeus, was flung into the bosom of the Initiate.
And hence came the enigmatical expression, the Serpent engenders the Bull, and the Bull the Serpent; alluding to the two ad-verse constellations, answering to the two equinoxes, one of which rose as the other set, and which were at the two points of the heavens through which souls passed, ascending and descending. By the Serpent of Autumn, souls fell; and they were regenerated again by the Bull on which Mithras sate, and whose attributes Bacchus-Zagreus and the Egyptian Osiris assumed, in their Mysteries, wherein were represented the fall and regeneration of souls, by the Bull slain and restored to life.
Afterward the regenerating Sun assumed the attributes of Aries or the Lamb; and in the Mysteries of Ammon, souls were regenerated by passing through that sign, after having fallen through the Serpent.
The Serpent-bearer, or Ophicus, was Æsculapius, God of Healing. In the Mysteries of Eleusis, that Constellation was placed in the eighth Heaven: and on the eighth day of those Mysteries, the feast of Æsculapius was celebrated. It was also termed Epidaurus, or the feast of the Serpent of Epidaurus. The Serpent was sacred to Æsculapius; and was connected in various ways with the mythological adventures of Ceres.
So the libations to Souls, by pouring wine on the ground, and looking toward the two gates of Heaven, those of day and night, referred to the ascent and descent of Souls.
Ceres and the Serpent, Jupiter Ammon and the Bull, all figured in the Mysteries of Bacchus. Suppose Aries, or Jupiter Ammon occupied by the Sun setting in the West;–Virgo (Ceres) will be on the Eastern horizon, and in her train the Crown, or Proserpine. Suppose Taurus setting;–then the Serpent is in the East; and reciprocally; so that Jupiter Ammon, or the Sun of Aries, causes the Crown to rise after the Virgin, in the train of which comes the Serpent. Place reciprocally the Sun at the other equinox, with the balance in the West, in conjunction with the Serpent under the Crown; and we shall see the Bull and the Pleiades rise in the East. Thus are explained all the fables as to the generation of the Bull by the Serpent and of the Serpent by the Bull, the biting of the testicles of the Bull by the Scorpion, on the Mithriac Monuments; and that Jupiter made Ceres with child by tossing into her bosom the testicles of a Ram.
In the Mysteries of the bull-horned Bacchus, the officers held serpents in their hands, raised them above their heads, and cried aloud “Eva!” the generic oriental name of the serpent, and the particular name of the constellation in which the Persians placed Eve and the serpent. The Arabians call it Hevan, Ophiucus himself, Hawa, and the brilliant star in his head, Ras-al-Hawa. The use of this word Eva or Evoë caused Clemens of Alexandria to say that the priests in the Mysteries invoked Eve, by whom evil was brought into the world.
The mystic winnowing-fan, encircled by serpents, was used in the feasts of Bacchus. In the Isiac Mysteries a basilisc twined round the handle of the mystic vase. The Ophites fed a serpent in a mysterious ark, from which they took him when they celebrated the Mysteries, and allowed him to glide among the sacred bread. The Romans kept serpents in the Temples of Bona Dea and Æsculapius. In the Mysteries of Apollo, the pursuit of Latona by the serpent Python was represented. In the Egyptian Mysteries, the dragon Typhon pursued Isis.
According to Sanchoniathon, TAAUT, the interpreter of Heaven to men, attributed something divine to the nature of the dragon and serpents, in which die Phœnicians and Egyptians followed him. They have more vitality, more spiritual force, than any other creature; of a fiery nature, shown by the rapidity of their motions, without the limbs of other animals. They assume many shapes and attitudes, and dart with extraordinary quickness and force. When they have reached old age, they throw off that age and are young again, and increase in size and strength, for a certain period of years.
The Egyptian Priests fed the sacred serpents in the temple at Thebes. Taaut himself had in his writings discussed these mysteries in regard to the serpent. Sanchoniathon said in another work, that the serpent was immortal, and re-entered into himself; which, according to some ancient theosophists, particularly those of India, was an attribute of the Deity(Hermaphrodite). And he also said that the serpent never died, unless by a violent death.
The Phœnicians called the serpent Agathodemon [the good spirit]; and Kneph was the Serpent-God of the Egyptians.
The Egyptians, Sanchoniathon said, represented the serpent with the head of a hawk, on account of the swift flight of that bird: and the chief Hierophant, the sacred interpreter, gave very mysterious explanations of that symbol; saying that such a serpent was a very divine creature, and that, opening his eyes, he lighted with their rays the whole of first-born space: when he closes them, it is darkness again. In reality, the hawk-headed serpent, genius of light, or good genius, was the symbol of the Sun.
In the hieroglyphic characters, a snake was the letter T or DJ. It occurs many times on the Rosetta stone. The horned serpent was the hieroglyphic for a God.
According to Eusebius, the Egyptians represented the world by a blue circle, sprinkled with flames, within which was extended a serpent with the head of a hawk. Proclus says they represented the four quarters of the world by a cross, and the soul of the world, or Kneph, by a serpent surrounding it in the form of a circle.
We read in Anaxagoras, that Orpheus said, that the water, and the vessel that produced it, were the primitive principles of things, and together gave existence to an animated being, which was a serpent, with two heads, one of a lion and the other of a bull, between which was the figure of a God whose name was Hercules or Kronos: that from Hercules came the egg of the world, which produced Heaven and earth, by dividing itself into two hemispheres: and that the God Phanes, which issued from that egg, was in the shape of a serpent.
The Egyptian Goddess Ken, represented standing naked on a lion, held two serpents in her hand. She is the same as the Astarte or Ashtaroth of the Assyrians. Hera, worshipped in the Great Temple at Babylon, held in her right hand a serpent by the head; and near Khea, also worshipped there, were two large silver serpents.
In a sculpture from Kouyunjik, two serpents attached to poles are near a fire-altar, at which two eunuchs are standing. Upon it is the sacred fire, and a bearded figure leads a wild goat to the sacrifice. The serpent of the Temple of Epidaurus was sacred to Æsculapius, the God of Medicine, and 462 years after the building of the city, was taken to Rome after a pestilence.
The Phœnicians represented the God Nomu (Kneph or Amun-Kneph) by a serpent. In Egypt, a Sun supported by two asps was the emblem of Horhat the good genius; and the serpent with the winged globe was placed over the doors and windows of the Temples as a tutelary God. Antipater of Sidon calls Amun “the renowned Serpent,” and the Cerastes is often found embalmed in the Thebaid.
On ancient Tyrian coins and Indian medals, a serpent was represented, coiled round the trunk of a tree. Python, the Serpent Deity, was esteemed oracular; and the tripod at Delphi was a triple-headed serpent of gold.
The portals of all the Egyptian Temples are decorated with the hierogram of the Circle and the Serpent. It is also found upon the Temple of Naki-Rustan in Persia; on the triumphal arch at Pechin, in China; over the gates of the great Temple of Chaundi Teeva, in Java; upon the walls of Athens; and in the Temple of Minerva at Tegea. The Mexican hierogram was formed by the intersecting of two great Serpents, which described the circle with their bodies, and had each a human head in its mouth.
All the Buddhists crosses in Ireland had serpents carved upon them. Wreaths of snakes are on the columns of the ancient Hindu Temple at Burwah-Sangor.
Among the Egyptians, it was a symbol of Divine Wisdom, when extended at length; and, with its tail in its mouth, of Eternity.
In the ritual of Zoroaster, the Serpent was a symbol of the Universe. In China, the ring between two Serpents was the symbol of the world governed by the power and wisdom of the Creator. The Bacchanals carried serpents in their hands or round their heads.
The Serpent entwined round an Egg, was a symbol common to the Indians, the Egyptians, and the Druids. It referred to the creation of the Universe. A Serpent with an egg in his mouth was a symbol of the Universe containing within itself the germ of all things that the Sun develops.
The property possessed by the Serpent, of casting its skin, and apparently renewing its youth, made it an emblem of eternity and immortality. The Syrian women still employ it as a charm against barrenness, as did the devotees of Mithras and Saba-Zeus. The Earth-born civilizers of the early world, Fohi, Cecrops, and Erechtheus, were half-man, half-serpent. The snake was the guardian of the Athenian Acropolis. NAKHUSTAN (Nehushtan), the brazen serpent of the wilderness, became naturalized among the Hebrews as a token of healing power. “Be ye,” said Christ, “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
The Serpent was as often a symbol of malevolence and enmity. It appears among the emblems of Siva-Roudra, the power of desolation and death: it is the bane of Aëpytus, Idom, Archemorus, and Philoctetes: it gnaws the roots of the tree of life in the Eddas, and bites the heel of unfortunate Eurydice. In Hebrew writers it is generally a type of evil; and is particularly so in the Indian and Persian Mythologies. When the Sea is churned by Mount Mandar rotating within the coils of the Cosmical Serpent Vasouki, to produce the Amrita or water of immortality, the serpent vomits a hideous poison, which spreads through and infects the Universe, but which Vishnu renders harmless by swallowing it. Ahriman in serpent-form invades the realm of Ormuzd; and the Bull, emblem of life, is wounded by him and dies. It was therefore a religious obligation with every devout follower of Zoroaster to exterminate reptiles, and other impure animals, especially serpents. The moral and astronomical significance of the Serpent were connected. It became a maxim of the Zend-Avesta, that Ahriman, the Principle of Evil, made the Great Serpent of Winter, who assaulted the creation of Ormuzd.
A serpent-ring was a well-known symbol of time: and to express dramatically how time preys upon itself, the Egyptian priests fed vipers in a subterranean chamber, as it were in the sun’s Winter abode on the fat of bulls, or the year’s plenteousness. The dragon of Winter pursues Ammon, the golden ram, to Mount Casius. The Virgin of the zodiac is bitten in the heel by Serpens, who, with Scorpio, rises immediately behind her; and as honey, the emblem of purity and salvation, was thought to be an antidote to the serpent’s bite, so the bees of Aristæus, the emblems of nature’s abundance, are destroyed through the agency of the serpent, and regenerated within the entrails of the Vernal Bull.
The Sun-God is finally victorious. Chrishna crushes the head of the serpent Calyia; Apollo destroys Python, and Hercules that Lernæan monster whose poison festered in the foot of Philoctetes, of Mopsus, of Chiron, or of Sagittarius. The infant Hercules destroys the pernicious snakes detested of the gods, and ever, like St. George of England and Michael the Archangel, wars against hydras and dragons.
The eclipses of the sun and moon were believed by the orientals to be caused by the assaults of a dæmon in dragon-form; and they endeavored to scare away the intruder by shouts and menaces. This was the original Leviathan or Crooked Serpent of old, transfixed in the olden time by the power of Jehovah, and suspended as a glittering trophy in the sky; yet also the Power of Darkness supposed to be ever in pursuit of the Sun and Moon. When it finally overtakes them, it will entwine them in its folds, and prevent their shining. In the last Indian Avatara, as in the Eddas, a serpent vomiting flames is expected to destroy the world, The serpent presides over the close of the year, where it guards the approach to the golden fleece of Aries, and the three apples or seasons of the Hesperides; presenting a formidable obstacle to the career of the Sun-God. The Great Destroyer of snakes is occasionally married to them; Hercules with the northern dragon begets the three ancestors of Scythia; for the Sun seems at one time to rise victorious from the contest with darkness, and at another to sink into its embraces. The northern constellation Draco, whose sinuosities wind like a river through the wintry bear, was made the astronomical cincture of the Universe, as the serpent encircles the mundane egg in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The Persian Ahriman was called “The old serpent, the liar from the beginning, the Prince of Darkness, and the rover up and down.” The Dragon was a well-known symbol of the waters and of great rivers; and it was natural that by the pastoral Asiatic Tribes, the powerful nations of the alluvial plains in their neighborhood who adored the dragon or Fish, should themselves be symbolized under the form of dragons; and overcome by the superior might of the Hebrew God, as monstrous Leviathans maimed and destroyed by him. Ophioneus, in the old Greek Theology, warred against Kronos, and was overcome and cast into his proper element, the sea. There he is installed as the Sea-God Oannes or Dragon, the Leviathan of the watery half of creation, the dragon who vomited a flood of water after the persecuted woman of the Apocalypse, the monster who threatened to devour Hesione and Andromeda, and who for a time became the grave of Hercules and Jonah; and he corresponds with the obscure name of Rahab, whom Jehovah is said in Job to have transfixed and overcome.
In the Spring, the year or Sun-God appears as Mithras or Europa mounted on the Bull; but in the opposite half of the Zodiac he rides the emblem of the waters, the winged horse of Nestor or Poseidon: and the Serpent, rising heliacally at the Autumnal Equinox, besetting with poisonous influence the cold constellation Sagittarius, is explained as the reptile in the path who “bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward.” The same serpent, the Oannes Aphrenos or Musaros of Syncellus, was the Midgard Serpent which Odin sunk beneath the sea, but which grew to such a size as to encircle the whole earth.
For these Asiatic symbols of the contest of the Sun-God with the Dragon of darkness and Winter were imported not only into the Zodiac, but into the more homely circle of European legend; and both Thor and Odin fight with dragons, as Apollo did with Python, the great scaly snake, Achilles with the Scamander, and Bellerophon with the Chimæra. In the apocryphal book of Esther, dragons herald “a day of darkness and obscurity”; and St. George of England, a problematic Cappadocian Prince, was originally only a varying form of Mithras. Jehovah is said to have “cut Rahab and wounded the dragon.” The latter is not only the type of earthly desolation, the dragon of the deep waters, but also the leader of the banded conspirators of the sky, of the rebellious stars, which, according to Enoch, “came not at the right time”; and his tail drew a third part of the Host of Heaven, and cast them to the earth. Jehovah “divided the sea by his strength, and broke the heads of the Dragons in the waters.” And according to the Jewish and Persian belief, the Dragon would, in the latter days, the Winter of time, enjoy a short period of licensed impunity, which would be a season of the greatest suffering to the people of the earth; but he would finally be bound or destroyed in the great battle of Messiah; or, as it seems intimated by the Rabbinical figure of being eaten by the faithful, be, like Ahriman or Vasouki, ultimately absorbed by and united with the Principle of good.
Near the image of Rhea, in the Temple of Bel at Babylon, were two large serpents of silver, says Diodorus, each weighing thirty talents; and in the same temple was an image of Juno, holding in her right hand the head of a serpent. The Greeks called Bel, Beliar; and Hesychius interprets that word to mean a dragon or great serpent. We learn from the book of Bel and the Dragon, that in Babylon was kept a great, live serpent, which the people worshipped.
The Assyrians, the Emperors of Constantinople, the Parthians, Scythians, Saxons, Chinese, and Danes all bore the serpent as a standard, and among the spoils taken by Aurelian from Zenobia were such standards, Persici Dracones. The Persians represented Ormuzd and Ahriman by two serpents, contending for the mundane egg. Mithras is represented with a lion’s head and human body, encircled by a serpent. In the Sadder is this precept: “When you kill serpents, you will repeat the Zend-Avesta, and thence you will obtain great merit; for it is the same as if you had killed so many devils.”
Serpents encircling rings and globes, and issuing from globes, are common in the Persian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian monuments. Vishnu is represented reposing on a coiled serpent, whose folds form a canopy over him. Mahadeva is represented with a snake around his neck, one around his hair, and armlets of serpents on both arms. Bhairava sits on the coils of a serpent, whose head rises above his own. Parvati has snakes about her neck and waist. Vishnu is the Preserving Spirit, Mahadeva is Siva, the Evil Principle, Bhairava is his son, and Parvati his consort. The King of Evil Demons was called in Hindū Mythology, Naga, the King of Serpents, in which name we trace the Hebrew Nachash, serpent.
In Cashmere were seven hundred places where carved images of serpents were worshipped; and in Thibet the great Chinese Dragon ornamented the Temples of the Grand Lama. In China, the dragon was the stamp and symbol of royalty, sculptured in all the Temples, blazoned on the furniture of the houses, and interwoven with the vestments of the chief nobility. The Emperor bears it as his armorial device; it is engraved on his sceptre and diadem, and on all the vases of the imperial palace. The Chinese believe that there is a dragon of extraordinary strength and sovereign power, in Heaven, in the air, on the waters, and on the mountains. The God Fohi is said to have had the form of a man, terminating in the tail of a snake, a combination to be more fully explained to you in a subsequent Degree.
The dragon and serpent are the 5th and 6th signs of the Chinese Zodiac; and the Hindus and Chinese believe that, at every eclipse, the sun or moon is seized by a huge serpent or dragon, the serpent Asootee of the Hindus, which enfolds the globe and the constellation Draco; to which also refers “the War in Heaven, when Michael and his Angels fought against the dragon.”
Sanchoniathon says that Taaut was the author of the worship of serpents among the Phœnicians. He “consecrated,” he says, “the species of dragons and serpents; and the Phœnicians and Egyptians followed him in this superstition.” He was “the first who made an image of Cœlus”; that is; who represented the Heavenly Hosts of Stars by visible symbols; and was probably the same as the Egyptian Thoth. On the Tyrian coins of the age of Alexander, serpents are represented in many positions and attitudes, coiled around trees, erect in front of altars, and crushed by the Syrian Hercules.
The seventh letter of the Egyptian alphabet, called Zeuta or Life, was sacred to Thoth, and was expressed by a serpent standing on his tail; and that Deity, the God of healing, like Æsculapius, to whom the serpent was consecrated, leans on a knotted stick around which coils a snake. The Isiac tablet, describing the Mysteries of Isis, is charged with serpents in every part, as her emblems. The Asp was specially dedicated to her, and is seen on the heads of her statues, on the bonnets of her priests, and on the tiaras of the Kings of Egypt. Serapis was sometimes represented with a human head and serpentine tail: and in one engraving two minor Gods are represented with him, one by a serpent with a bull’s head, and the other by a serpent with the radiated head of a lion.
On an ancient sacrificial vessel found in Denmark, having several compartments, a serpent is represented attacking a kneeling boy, pursuing him, retreating before him, appealed to beseechingly by him, and conversing with him. We are at once reminded of the Sun at the new year represented by a child sitting on a lotus, and of the relations of the Sun of Spring with the Autumnal Serpent, pursued by and pursuing him, and in conjunction with him. Other figures on this vessel belong to the Zodiac.
The base of the tripod of the Pythian Priestess was a triple-headed serpent of brass, whose body, folded in circles growing wider and wider toward the ground, formed a conical column, while the three heads, disposed triangularly, upheld the tripod of gold. A similar column was placed on a pillar in the Hippodrome at Constantinople, by the founder of that city; one of the heads of which is said to have been broken off by Mahomet the Second, by a blow with his iron mace.
The British God Hu was called “The Dragon–Ruler of the World,” and his car was drawn by serpents. His ministers were styled adders. A Druid in a poem of Taliessin says, “I am a Druid, I am an Architect, I am a Prophet, I am a Serpent (Gnadi).” The Car of the Goddess Ceridwen also was drawn by serpents.
In the elegy of Uther Pendragon, this passage occurs in a description of the religious rites of the Druids: “While the Sanctuary is earnestly invoking The Gliding King, before whom the Fair One retreats, upon the evil that covers the huge stones; whilst the Dragon moves round over the places which contain vessels of drink-offering, whilst the drink-offering is in the Golden Horns;” in which we readily discover the mystic and obscure allusion to the Autumnal Serpent pursuing the Sun along the circle of the Zodiac, to the celestial cup or crater, and the Golden horns of Virgil’s milk-white Bull; and, a line or two further on, we find the Priest imploring the victorious Beli, the Sun-God of the Babylonians.
With the serpent, in the Ancient Monuments, is very often found associated the Cross. The Serpent upon a Cross was an Egyptian Standard. It occurs repeatedly upon the Grand Stair-case of the Temple of Osiris at Philæ; and on the pyramid of Ghizeh are represented two kneeling figures erecting a Cross, on the top of which is a serpent erect. The Crux Ansata was a Cross with a coiled Serpent above it; and it is perhaps the most common of all emblems on the Egyptian Monuments, carried in the hand of almost every figure of a Deity or a Priest. It was, as we learn by the monuments, the form of the iron tether-pins, used for making fast to the ground the cords by which young animals were confined: and as used by shepherds, became a symbol of Royalty to the Shepherd Kings.
A Cross like a Teutonic or Maltese one, formed by four curved lines within a circle, is also common on the Monuments, and represented the Tropics and the Colures.
The Caduceus, borne by Hermes or Mercury, and also by Cybele, Minerva, Anubis, Hercules Ogmius the God of the Celts, and the personified Constellation Virgo, was a winged wand, entwined by two serpents. It was originally a simple Cross, symbolizing the equator and equinoctial Colure, and the four elements proceeding from a common centre. This Cross, surmounted by a circle, and that by a crescent, became an emblem of the Supreme Deity–or of the active power of generation and the passive power of production conjoined,–and was appropriated to Thoth or Mercury. It then assumed an improved form, the arms of the Cross being changed into wings, and the circle and crescent being formed by two snakes, springing from the wand, forming a circle by crossing each other, and their heads making the horns of the crescent; in which form it is seen in the hands of Anubis.
Morals and Dogma:PRINCE OF MERCY, OR SCOTTISH TRINITARIAN