Today marks the Hindu observance of Naga Panchami – an occasion where we honour the Snakes.
Now, this might seem a most curious thing to those cursorily acquainted with Indo-European mythology. After all, pretty much every Indo-European culture and religion has voluminous accountings of the righteous and holy *smiting* of the Serpentine, the Draconic, the slithering Demonic, in preservation of the underlying Cosmic Order and in sacred protection of Man.
We can all think instantly of the examples – Thor against Jormungandr, Indra versus Vritra, Brhaspati against Vala, Zeus against Typhon, Hercules against the Hydra (and Ladon), Tarhunt against Illuyanka – and on and so it goes. I would even be so bold as to place the encounter of Hanuman with Surasa in amidst these coily folds.
And yet, there are actually at least *two* serpentine archetypes to Indo-European mythology. There is the far more common and ordinarily thought of and encountered mytheme that I have just aforementioned.
But there is *also* another, and much less readily remembered ‘alternative view’ of Snakes, which despite its utter lack of prominence within the minds and the mythic imaginations of the modern West (a phenomenon, no doubt, readily attributable in the extreme to the pervasive influence of the Abrahamic faiths’ presentation of Serpents, which has attained far greater ‘resonance’ via its synergism with that pre-existing Ophidian ‘demonification’ complex indigenous to the Indo-Europeans) … has nevertheless persisted within both the ‘archaic’ mythic sources available to us, as well as in several yet surviving branches of the Indo-European Family Tree.
And Trees are quite directly salient here, given the frequent attestations and accountings we seem to have for Serpents and Dragons standing in *Divinely Appointed Guardianship* of the Trees, the Sacred Springs, the Sanctuaries, the Mountains, at the heart of the Indo-European World(s). But I shall leave that for more detailed and in-depths expansion in a future, more directly cosmographical piece, I think.
For now, let us turn back to the Ancient Greeks, and three particularly prominent examples which help to make the case for the Serpent as Protector, rather than the Serpent as Scourge. [Although, to be sure, as Laocoon found out to his rather grisly cost, they can occasionally very much be *both*]
The first of these, is the very etymology of the name ‘Medusa’ itself – “Protector”, “Guardian”; via a further Ancient Greek root of ‘Medo’, which refers also to rulership and sovereignty. Now I am not going to get into an in-depth exegesis of the myth of Medusa here, except to note that it would seem rather curious in the extreme for a horrifyingly cursed target of Divine Fury to bear such a name.
And that, far more likely, what has happened here, is the bearing of the Medusa’s Head – also known as the Gorgoneion – by Athena upon Her Mighty Shield [and consult my BHARAT MATA AND THE INDO-EUROPEAN GODDESS OF NATIONAL IDENTITY for a further look at the key coterminity of ‘protection’ with the Mountain Queen Deific in question – Pallas, after all, also of Polis, too!], as well as by Zeus, and in various instances by mortal lords … has created a situation wherein the Terrifying, the Terrific badge of Rulership has had a ‘backstory’ filled in for it that *also* entails the traditional Indo-European mytho-motif of the Storm Lord/Thunderer against the Demonic Serpent – in this particular case, via the persona of Perseus [‘Striker’] slaying the serpentine adversary in question, and offering up as a prize the decapitated head for fruitful utilization by the Divine Sovereign/Protector of the People and Pur/Polis. [Although, as an intriguing side-note, there are perhaps parallel if fragmentary accounts of Minerva Herself slaying Draco, and Saraswati slaying Vritra – so there may also be *other* reasonings via which such a Goddess came to bear the trophy-talisman in question *Off Her Own Bat [by which, of course, I likely mean *Spear*]*, that may only be faintly echoed in the Perseus account]
But this is not the only manifestation of the Serpent in such a protective and positive – indeed, progenitive – role amidst the ancient Athenians.
For a start, there is the mythic account of the genesis of the Athenians flowing from the serpentine Cecrops – which I personally suspect rather strongly has a linkage of sorts to the ‘Horned God’ accompanied by serpents and corn/gold deifics that one speculatively encounters amidst Celtic mythology, via the ‘Ker’ and ‘Gerh’ roots of Proto-Indo-European, both of which refer to concepts around ‘growth’ and ‘development’, the latter of which even arguably providing the origin of the modern word “Greek” [the sense in which many of these latter words has developed means ‘to age’, and connotes an ‘Old Man’ sort, an Ancient, perhaps even Ancient when the World Was Yet Young].
This may, funnily enough, also link back to much more well-known primarch-primogenitors of the Indo-European peoples. The All Father(s), for instance – Lord Shiva, Lord Odin; They also, of conspicuously *Terrifying* Visage – as Bhairava, as Bale-Yggr. Shiva is customarily depicted with His neck garlanded with the Serpent, Vasuki; Who strikes out against those who would otherwise attempt to assail the Lord, and is a beautiful, glittering adornment otherwise, representing the ability of the Ego, once mastered, to be safely used and worn thus. [Which may also tie, no pun intended, to the Serpentine Belt worn by the Irish hero Conall Cernach; although it is a perhaps open question as to whether the snake’s previous vocation as the guardian of a fortress held by cattle-raiders, recalls either this more *positive* wardenship role I am attempting to sketch out, or the far more *negative* and adversarial-antagonist positioning of a Vritra-type figure.] [There may also be, although I have not ‘properly’ parsed it at this time, an intriguing direction to be explored as applies some of the *later* representations of the constellation Ophiuchus – wherein the figure in question *wields* the Serpent against Scorpio; not least due to the utilization of Vasuki as the bowstring of the mighty weapon wielded by Shiva as Tripurantaka [‘Destroyer of the Three Forts/Cities’], a role in which it could be said that Vasuki is somewhat coterminous with the Cord of Rta Itself [‘Divine Order’] when we are speaking of the Bow of Brhaspati [Whom, per the GHOST DIVISION piece, I have also made out a case for being Shiva]]
Odin, for his part, also turns into a Serpent when engaged in the obtaining of the Mead of Poetry held by Suttungr and then Gunnlod, from within the vault of Hnitbjorg. And in addition to what we might potentially make of Odin’s ophidian infiltration of not just the Mountain, but also of its female Custodian, this further helps to adduce another strong symbolic saliency for the Serpent in Indo-European mythology. That of being the bearer – as told via both the Eyes and the darting speech of tongue [a simmering, shimmering susurrus of sibilantly saith secrets, indeed!) of Wisdom, Power, Potency, and Might.
We see this over and over again, and it is very much and very directly a matter of #NAS. To quote from the Rigsthula, when speaking of the defining markings of the Jarl Caste – ” ötul váru augu sem yrmlingi.” “Flashing his eyes like a serpent’s shone. ” And it is also very much the case that the Ashlesha Nakshatra – the Serpent constellation – is known for Her powerful, almost hypnotizing Eyes. It amuses me further, that two frequently encountered traits of the Ashlesha-marked, are that they are Cruel and Courageous. You could almost have inserted that most directly into the Old Norse and it would not have seemed incongruous at all – especially given the *next* linguistic attestation, once again from the Greeks, for that well-renowned term … the “Draconian”, in the sense of a harsh set of laws.
Now as applies that term itself – Drakon, and whence Draco, Dragon, but interestingly only one of the two senses of ‘Drake’ [the other, perhaps not at all coincidentally, from Proto-Indo-European Hreg – KING] – the etymological root is to be found in ‘Drakein’, a term [from Proto-Indo-European ‘Derk’ – To See; which, as an interesting aside, is also the root of Sanskrit ‘Darshana’, meaning ‘theophany’, being in the presence of the Divine, a system of belief, and even eyesight] which carries the meaning not only of ‘seeing’, but also of ‘flashing’, ‘flaring’, ‘gleaming’, ‘glaring’, ‘shining’ [and we can also, perhaps, compare the Proto-Indo-European “Lewk” root, which gives us terms not only for “Looking”, but also for “Light”/Illuminating, and even for the demesne over which one exerts rulership – Loka, perhaps, initially carrying a connotation of rule as far as the eye could see; and, of course, the “Lynx”, for what can one see there glittering in the darkness *but* the eyes of the predatory Hunting Great-Cat on the fringes of the civilized world .. or the end of your bed]; and which more directly, as Drakon, carries the sense of “staring”, “ever-vigilant”. Which, you may recall, is *exactly* how Hera had intended Ladon, the ‘thousand-eyed’ when She set Him in mighty guard of the Tree bearing the Golden Apples midst the Garden [see, there’s that ‘guard’ stem again] of the Hesperides!
It is not at all hard to ‘see’ just how and why such a keen sense [keen also, in the sense of both ‘cutting’, especially to the heart of something, and ‘knowing’ – discernment, in either case .. a ‘penetrating gaze’ you might say] of Vision could be strongly useful, indeed integrally vital for a Ruler and(/or) a(n appointed) Protector. And therefore, why just such epithets denoting a Burning Gaze [‘Baleygr’; the Fire from TriLochana Mahadeva’s Third Eye], somewhat literal perspicacity hedging towards conditional omniscience [the Sri Rudram’s description of Rudra as ‘Thousand-Eyed’; Odin’s habitual scrying from the Golden Throne], and visage of Radiant Splendour [Shiva’s ‘two’ eyes as the Sun and Moon; Odin’s ‘One-Eyed’ epithet/theonym, Hoarr, not being at all far removed from other parallel terms for age, wisdom, highness, and a certain cold disposition] We often wish, these days, for our leaders to be of far more perspicacity and with greater facility to dispel the ‘wool over one’s eyes’ [this may be a Veles joke/reference] with but a glance; distinguishing ‘good’ from ‘evil’, and governing accordingly, even against threats ‘pon the horizon that cannot be easily sighted by the rest of us, and striking swiftly at their weak-points afore they can wreak too much harm.
But ‘seeing’ does not simply connote that one *can* make out the potentially hidden truths of this world, here. It *also* suggests, particularly via the *radiance* that ensuingly emits from the Eyes of the Serpent, that it has *already* seen and uncovered such things – and how jealously guards and hoards such Wisdom as it must, inevitably, have accrued, as a Gold-Store, a Treasure-Memory, a ‘Thought-Chest’ [and I forget the precise Anglo-Saxon kenning which renders pretty much exactly as that], all its own. [This, on a side-note, is also part of the implicit narrative reasoning for the ‘immortality’ of the serpent – that it had gained the knowledge and empowerment to do so, to shed its skin, and in so doing, undergo something of a reincarnation-without-directly-dying-first, and constantly ‘renew’ itself as-needed. Thus perhaps also providing a part [but only a part – rest assured there is much else going on here!] of its underlying significance as the Eternal Constant, the Ourobouros – but also, Adi Sheesha as the ‘Remainder’ and ‘Underpinner’ of Reality. And, in the Kundalini traditions of the East, further helping to illustrate just why it is that the pathway of ‘enlightenment’ towards Permanence and Actually Real, is represented as that of the Serpent, coiled at the base of and thence climbing up the course of one’s Spine. A serpent twining about the vital staff may *also* underpin the Rod of Asclepius, the Caduceus, and even perhaps arcen back itself to the notion that a wise man, a bearer of wisdom, a *wizard* should properly speaking, have a staff. Or, in older times, a *spear*. And not at all coincidentally do we find ‘midst the very name of Jormungandr – that “Gandr” particle, referring to just such a Stave or a Wand as its kenning for shape and potency.] .
In any case, before I lose myself amidst all the coiling etymological twining, we shall endeavour to return to the Classics.
And, in this particular case, the Erechtheion of Ancient Athens, located just near the Parthenon. Now, this structure is vitally relevant to the overall themes of this piece, as it is dedicated not only to Great Athena and Mighty Poseidon [A Figure with a Trident, to be sure, Who has sent serpentine avengers to strike out upon His foes in the past, such as those felling the aforementioned Laocoon …] – but also to the more mortal Erechtheus / Erechthonius, from whom the current structure garners its name. This matters. Not only because of the previous linkages we can attest between the relevant Deities and the concept of the Protector Serpent, or the Serpent-Regal [and really, what else is a King Cobra – it even has the Grim Hood [‘Grimr’ in Old Norse, whence Grimnir, which also came to refer to a title for Leadership of a people; and given ‘Grimr’ can also mean ‘Helmet’, it is perhaps not at all coincidental that Athena is thusly depicted, as well, always Helmed as Her Mighty Crown]]; but *also* because this figure of Erichthonius is himself serpent-linked [in some tellings, being half-serpent, in others simply marked or associated with one], and taken as Cecrops’ male heir.
It is one of those curious little linguistic footnotes that the name Erichthonius, itself, may link to the concept of “wool”, and thence also to a tantalizing series of hints around the conjunction of “wool” and “serpents” to be found elsewhere in Indo-European Mythology [for example, the Slavic figure of Veles]; and the only speculation I am prepared to make at this time, is that there may be some figurative, symbolic resonance between the concept of ‘wool’ and that of ‘clouds’, and thence the serpent emitting from them would be the Lightning. A “Storm-Serpent”, if you will.
In any case, the severe saliency of the Erechtheion is demonstrated by the ancient Athenians’ belief that not only did it house the tombs of their mythical forefathers aforementioned [Cercrops and Erechtheus], and for that matter act as a combined Temple to the two great Gods of the Athenians, Wise Athena and Impetuous Poseidon – but it *also* housed a Great Snake living amidst the Temple’s foundations. This was reputed initially to have been the Spirit of Kerkrops, remaining to keep watch over His descended people as a form of Genius Loci ; however with the Persian destruction of the Kekropion that had preceded the Erechtheion in 480 BC, it was said that the Serpent-Guardian had been destroyed.
Yet that’s the funny thing about snakes … they often tend towards turning back up where you least expect them; and perhaps after a suitable metaphysical lacunae [a slight Greco-Latin pun .. *perhaps* somewhat intended], we find that the Guardian Serpent of Athens was once again back in residence under the newly constructed Erechtheion by the last decades of the 4th Century B.C..
Propitiated in a manner that would likely seem not at all unfamiliar to many modern-day Hindus or historical Baltic people, with offerings of honey-cakes and other such things, in order to keep the Snake happy and in-home’d.
Yet this is not the only military force of Ophidian origins which we shall countenance in this piece. I have been turning over somewhere in the back of my mind, what to make of the tales of ‘Dragon-Teeth’ or ‘Serpent-Tooth’ warriors as conjured by Cadmus, and which also lie at the primogeniture of the Ancient Greek city of Thebes.
Here, the Dragon slain and which thus gave up its dents for Resi- [this is also a Sanskrit pun if you squint hard enough, and I pronounce something rather badly], was sacred to Ares, and had been guarding a particular site held Holy to the War-God. Fittingly, then, the resultant sowing [and this, too, links to the ‘Gerh’ and ‘Kor’ roots aforementioned – for how *else* does one garner the ‘horn’ of corn and the crop of grain? There’s also a further figurative connotation around the notion of “Seh”, the Proto-Indo-European particle for this and which it descends from, and later as well as parallel developments imparting the use of martial force – Sanskrit Sayaka, for a ranged munition, for instance, which descends directly from it; or the ‘Saka’ horse-archers of the Steppes, as a potential parallel derivation from PIE: ‘Skw’, to refer to the people who sprang from nowhere and started sowing violence and arrow/spear/javelin wounds and sword-furroughs with such rampant impunity!], produced a crop of soldiers – who, upon the cunning throwing of a bauble by Cadmus, proceeded to fight amongst themselves til there were but five left, rather than advancing upon and massacring the canny future king.
Perhaps there is an euhemeric parable for a manner in which to deal with mercenaries there, but I somewhat doubt it. Instead, I rather strongly suspect it to continue the earlier typological patterns we have seen in several other Indo-European mythic instances thus far [and there is an entire well of material on the Nordic interpolations of this that I have deliberately avoided mentioning too deeply in this piece], of Serpents not simply as ‘adversaries’ for this or that conquering God or Hero [indeed, here the Dragon was a Divinely Appointed Guardian of a Sacred Spring !]. But rather, as possessing a cthonic association, that also linkages with growth, abundance, riches and wealth [another foundation, however rarely thought virtuous, of a viable (city-)state or raiding economy], and a generative role as well with the eventual people, polis, and above all *soldiery* and protective force of the nation in question.
And it is this last association that we continue to see coming through veer-y strongly well out of the ‘Mythic’ age and into recorded History. After all, amongst the Romans we find the ‘Draco’ standard borne aloft amidst their cavalry formations by a ‘Draconarius’. And they are recorded to have lifted the practice directly from the Indo-European Steppe peoples inhabiting Scythia, Dacia, Sarmatia, and those like far-flung places where the ancient #GangSteppe culture of their archaic forebears still yet prospered. [As a brief side-note, the construction of the Greek ethnonym for at least some of these peoples – ‘Sauromatian’ … *probably* does not mean what you might immediately think that it does, given the context and potential accouterments. Indeed, there’s some speculation it may *actually* refer to a prominence, status, and military significance of their womenfolk. Of perhaps *closer* coterminity to the notion of a ‘Sauro-Martial’ people, would be the ‘Naga-lineage’ Kshatriyas of Kerala, who directly descend from the aforementioned Serpentfolk of Indian myth]
Going further, the existence of serpent-headed Celtic Carnyx horns and other comparable developments amongst other Indo-European peoples [the “horn” bit being for reasons that should be obvious, and due to the subsequent ‘serpentine’ or even circular-‘coiled’ shape of some of these constructions, may perhaps provide one partial clue as to the frequency with which ‘Horn’ and ‘Serpent’ terms seemingly co-occur in the relevant Mytho-Religious complexes in question] must also be mentioned. Not simply because of the potential coterminity in shape which a loud blowing instrument, a proto-trumpet perhaps, must by necessity have with an ophidian, nor even due to the use of pipe-blown instruments in the modern-day transfixion of ‘snake-charming’; but rather, due to what these horns were, and still are today used for. That is: for the Heralded purposes of Royalty, and also for the Martial purposes that are almost inevitably closely bound up thereto.
That is to say – that not only does the blowing of a particular form of horn or trumpet [a ‘fanfare trumpet’, in this modern day in Europe; a Karnay in Central Asia and Iran; perhaps a Sringa in (Southern) India] signify the imminent arrival of one’s nobles and lieges [and there is, perhaps, another ‘figurative’ resonance here, as considered briefly in the GHOST DIVISION piece and series, around the loud blasting of an Elephant’s roar and trumpet here, as well, as a symbol of Imperial might and majesty]; but when conducting military maneuvers or rallying efforts in the course of the carrying out of the warfare-styles of old, soldiers blowing their war-horns [which, it must be remembered, can *also* be a rather excellent way of sounding the Alarum – consider the Gjallarhorn of Heimdall for a Divine Instance and Example!] were an integral and strongly necessary part of operations, morale, and discipline. We even have potential mythological accounts of their being used as weapons of terror, dependent upon how one interprets the rather brief mentioning of the ‘Bakura’ of RigVedic Hymnal provenance and potency.
So why have I mentioned bodies of armed men once more? Well, picture for a moment in your mind’s eye, an army upon the march. A long column of troops, winding and wending [perhaps even ‘harrowing’ here and there] its way across the landscape stretches out perpendicular to your plenipotentiary vantage-point. Its armour and armament glints in the sun, suggesting, perhaps, the scales of some great … *serpentine* creature. Standing however many abrest, and with an ever-lengthening train following after it, an army on the march flows like a river of force across the landscape. And not at all coincidentally [see also their strong association with Springs], are we so frequently in possession of ‘riverine’ associations for Serpents, and Serpentine associations for our Rivers, within the bounds both linguistic and religious, of Indo-European mythology and mytho-geography.
But much like Rivers inevitably flow back towards the Ocean, and thence too via the water cycle to the springs from whence they have sprung, so too must we draw to a close this surprisingly lengthy piece by returning once more to the core kernel [there’s that ‘ker’ particle again] of inspiration and purpose which has thusly underpinned it.
Naga Panchami. The Serpent-Honouring of the Fifth Day of the Holy Month of Shravan. [Particularly sacred to Shiva, as it happens]
Now, over the course of this piece I have sought to sketch out some of these characteristics for which, and by which, a more *positive* Serpentine archetype was held hallowed by many Indo-European mytho-religious cultures across the world and across the ages. Seeking to bring ‘back to light’ that which has never really, truly, been forgotten either in the still-vibrant mythocultures of the further East, or the dusty annals and tomes of this or that conclave of ancient mytho-theology and legendarium.
As is ever the case with such ‘slippery’ creatures, I haven’t always managed to be exactly … clear, on the manifestation of such themes, and they sit coiled up one atop the other in oft-internecine, if not downright Gordian complexity; sliding over one another to form new shapes perhaps akin to writing, even as I *think* myself successful [again, broadly speaking] in having corralled them thuswise. Who can say. It’s serpents, all the way down. Which is *also*, now that I come to think upon it, *another* point held in arguable cosmological concord betwixt the arms of #NAS – with both the well-attested serpents of Hvergelmir and environs [and, for that matter, quite literally interwoven into the fabric of both the environs and the contrapasso function and tale of Nastrond, Corpse-Shore; amidst other ‘Beyond-The-Veil’ locations] of Nordic myth, and the fabled [and generally rather more positively thought of – although not always nor without exception] denizens of Patala-loka [‘Land Underfoot’; also an astrological term for the Southern Hemisphere .. which, despite the immediate associations of Australia, is actually *lacking* in serpents entirely here in New Zealand – hence why we are a Land of Birds], as well as the eponymously named NagaLoka serving to attest this, here in Hinduism.
In each case, too, there lies a Great Serpent at the ‘root’ of Creation. In the Nordic, the Dragon NithHoggr, who gnaws upon the sinful via his very name, whilst also biting down upon that aforementioned Root of the World Tree. But in the Hindu reckoning, there is *another* serpent. Adi Sheesha. The First and Greatest of His Kind, Brother to Vasuki. This is a much ‘gentler’ figure, for the most part [although it is also recorded that He incarnated upon this earth as the formidable warrior-hero Laxman, Brother to Lord Rama, for the purposes of accompanying, protecting this august figure, and slaying evil to uphold the world in Their quest and life’s overarching line-of-Course]; and provides His Back and Hoods for the Worlds and for particular Deities upon which to rest.
He, too, is considered to be Immortal – although unlike the shedding of skin and ‘living reincarnation’ undergone by most serpent-kind; He instead just *is*. And when the Fires of the Pralaya at the end of the Cycle of Creation come burning down to their ultimate conclusion, it is said that He shall still be there, waiting, ready and anticipatorily able to play His Mighty Part in the re-creation of Everything, all over again. A further association of this kind of Great Serpent with Immortality is provided by His Brother, Vasuki – Who, legend records, was the Snake Who so graciously allowed Himself to be utilized as the ‘rope’ about Mt. Meru [another Axis Mundi] at the Churning of the Sea of Milk in pursuit of the precious Amrit, eventually secured by Mahadeva through His Labours and Liquid Endurance of the black draught of Death, the Halahala poison.
But what is it that actually lies at the core of this Naga Panchami observance? Why do we carry it out, and make offerings to the Serpentine beings which live beneath the Earth, and beneath our Homes and Temples? Symbolically speaking, the way to think about it is probably as consciously and continuously re-enacting and therefore via way of re-performing, *upholding* a Covenant. You can see my Eliadian thinking-process manifesting here. The ‘Covenant’ in question being one post-dating the calling off of an ancient rite that was supposed to exterminate the races of serpentkind in reprisal for a snake-bite killing the officiator’s father.
And as for how said Covenant manifests? Well, it is twofold. On the one hand, the appeasing of the Serpents is supposed to ward off the negative and potentially dire consequences which can ensue from them when they are feeling baleful. Given the dual saliencies of serpentine Rahu and Ketu in Hindu astrology as troublemaking members of the NavaGraha, whose attentions are to be ameliorated, gazes averted, and aspersive aspects appeased [whilst also being grateful for the positive boons which They can also bestow when behaving more beneficently – Serpents, as we now know, hold wisdoms and treasures aplenty! Including, in the case of Rahu, some residual traces of the Amrit, the nectar of immortality, Itself!] , it is not hard to see how and why this works. Even before we get to the manner in which a dangerously aggrieved serpent’s venom might cause you considerable inconvenience for a span potentially rather directly equivalent to the *entire* rest of your life.
But on the other, it is the joyous giving of *thanks* for the protective, educating, nurturing, indeed *generative*, imparting, and *guarding* contributions which these serpents both supernatural (or even outright supernal) and ‘garden-variety’ have delivered unto their host communities in the past year and down across many, many millennia worth of lifetimes.
Some might look in frank askance at the adoption of the Serpent as an ensign, an emblem of courage and duty, honourable conduct, protectiveness, tenacity, progenitorship,of true kingship, and of valour. After all, even before we get into the annals of Abrahamic mythology, there are certainly more than a few examples and instances of draconic antagonists who are rendered so precisely because they lack, or are hugely, highly imperfect in some, many, or all of the above essential characteristics. Much like many men in that regard, I’m sure you’d have to agree.
But consider this. The Dragon, the Serpent, has ever been an escutcheon, an embodiment of utmost power. Whether we are speaking of the demonic creatures who gave even some or many of The Gods Themselves pause [and thence, perhaps, formed marvelous trophies and signs of plenipotentiary power and might once these wretched creatures were vanquished in their turn]; or whether we are speaking much more eminently positively of the Kundalini Serpent – Shakti, as in ‘Power’, itself, within the body and mind of the individual devotee-aspirant; or, for that matter, of the secret-harbouring, wisdom-signifying, and potentially even illness/death removing/revoking Serpent of the Staff or Rod found once again and once more across the cultures [consider the serpent, Naga, or serpentine motifs which bejewel and adorn a Hindu Kila blade / point, most prominently when it is to be utilized for healing purposes]. In all cases, the Serpent has a potency not easily matched via other sources, nor so readily found in a single symbolic figure.
I shall not take too long a pseudo-euhemeric point, to speculate whether the ‘generative’ and ‘progenitorial’-cthonic saliencies of the serpent may perhaps have something to do with their coming up out of the ground like crops; but one intriguing resonance I *do* feel is worthy of greater explorative attention is the habitual behavior of various kinds of the more prominent serpents within our mental and visual lexicon, when they are placed under threat.
You see, in direct contravention of the commonly held thought in some quarters around a craven or a cowardly snake … the Cobra and other such creatures of its ilk – they do not run, turn tail and slither off down a hole. Not usually, anyway. Rather, they rear up. They expand their hood, or flash, flare their other such signifers of presence, majesty, potency, and threat … and they *strongly* face off against whatsoever and whomsoever it might be that is thence bearing down upon them. In such a way, even a relatively tiny slithering thing, without claws or even the legs to situate them upon, is able to see off even much larger and erstwile more formidable foes.
So why is it that Serpents are to be so frequently encountered as the Guardians of the Temple and of the Home? Indeed, of the Polis and of its People? In a manner, it has to be said, showing as much steel-of-the-spine as almost any more anthropomorphic genius loci or mortal hero or king, given how frequently they seem to either succeed utterly in their appointed custodianship, or else demonstrate most aptly the dual mythemes entailed in that wonderful maxim “Not even in Death does Duty End” …
Well, it is simple. Because they are the living, iconic embodiment of the principle that “This Is Ours”. And whether by ‘petrifying glare’, ‘hypnotic gaze’, subtly underhanded sleight-of-slithering-tail, power of speech, or potency of insight; force of arms or fear of (their implicit) force [‘Shakti’ here as ‘dormant power’ waiting to be awakened, to spring up, to rise, to be called upon to *strike*] … the Serpent WILL protect That which it Holds Dear.
And so that is why they are fed and nurtured upon this day. So that they are reminded and thanked – honoured – for their decisions, their undertakings, their *oaths* [in some cases], to look after us, and treat also as Theirs what is Ours: those Fortresses and Fastnesses, Homes and Temples [but then, I repeat myself, don’t I] into which we have invited them as well to share custodianship with us, as Their Own, and our families, friends, and folk(-ways) likewise [perhaps this, in concert with the immortality and other such factors, helps to explain the findings of serpentine ‘oath-rings’, in treasure-hordes from the Indo-European centuries ago – solemn signifers of indivisible Duty to each, every, and most rarely especially *all* of the above; just as the thread-of-words, and the coiling First Serpent’s infinitely long neck, forms a skeletal, spinal structure upon which rests the whole of the rest of Creation Entire; and just as Great Vasuki forms the Bowstring of Mahadeva as Tripurantaka, a positional shared with Dharma/Rta Itself When He is as Brhaspati.].
Whether on our side, or arrayed against us, the Serpent is a being of immense and fearsome power. Best to make a friend of the Serpent in your midst, then. Honour it, and count yourself fortunate amongst the stars when it calls you comrade, as well.
For these reasons do we Honour the Snakes on Naga Panchami.
“Sarpo Rakshati Rakshitaha”
सर्पो रक्षति रक्षित: