[An extract from ‘The Queen of Serpents – The Serpentine Figure Of The Indo-European Earth Mother’, looking at the prominent association of the Dark Avenging form of the Earth Mother deific with both Serpents, and the upholding of Divine Law and morality.
Particular exemplar instances parsed include the Nordic Skadi’s snake-delivered sanctioning of Loki, the Greek Erinyes (and Demeter bearing just such an epithet) operating under the command of Athena, and the black dread form of the Brahmahatya personification for the Hindus.
It is clear that for the archaic Indo-European, the Goddess and Cosmic Law were fundamentally intertwined (indeed, the Vedic theology would say that one is an expression of the other), and that the terrific Serpent rising out of the black Earth represented Her active enforcer thereof. ]
We have already ‘stablished that the Gorgoneion represents Sovereignty, and in “Ghora – Gorgos – Yggr – The Terrifying Face of Thunder”, inter alia, I demonstrated how this also recalled the Terrifying Face of the Ruler of the Worlds. This ‘Terror’ facing is also relevant for another reason, however – as just as Lord Shiva has terrific Avenger/Destroyer Forms [Such as Bhairava , MahaKaal , or Rudra Himself], so too does His Wife [the best-known example of which, of course, being the enraged transformation of Lady Parvati into Kali – the Black/Time/Death , even of the Universe! and most certainly near anything else within its bounds earlier than that apocalyptically appointed hour of cosmic midnight utterdark!]. We’ve been taking a look at this phenomenon amidst the other major instances of our mythologies in the “The Black Avenging Form Of The Earth Mother And The Pursuits Of The Sky Father As Solar Horseman – A Comparative Indo-European Typological Evocation” series; in particular, the form of Demeter Erinyes as a black and fear-inducing image of Death and Dikaiosune [‘Righteousness’]. It is interesting to note that in the cases of both Kali and Demeter Erinyes – this ‘furious’ form is described as a skin that is removed once the time for its necessity has passed … perhaps in the manner of a snake sloughing off its skin to be returned to ‘youthful’ appearance again.
The Erinyes are of obvious linkage to Demeter in this Form [indeed, Demeter or Persephone have identification as Their Mother – I would say, also, as Their Archetype]; and are also described as being under the commanding aegis of Athena (for instance, in Aeschylus’ Eumenides – They being eponymous to this ancient tragedy’s title). It is, again, absolutely uncoincidental that the Erinyes are described as possessing strong Serpentine features. To quote Nonnus’ Dionysiaca – “He would see the serpentine image of the goddess of Tartaros [an Erinys], and leap up scared at the many-coloured vision of the spectre”; or Statius’ Thiebaid: “Tisiphone . . . rouses from Her infernal abode Her companion Megaera and Her kindred snakes to battle . . . [She] muttered into the Earth the name of the absent one [Her sister Erinys], and raised aloft a horned serpent from Her hair with long-drawn hisses: He was the prince of Her caerulean tresses, and straightway hearing Him earth shuddered and sea and sky . . . The other heard the sound: by chance She was standing near Her Sire [Haides] . . . Forthwith She broke through the massive Earth, and stood beneath the stars: the Manes (Ghosts) rejoice, and as the nether darkness grows less thick, so wanes the light above. Her fell sister receives Her, and clasps Her hand.”
Stirring stuff – and that is relevant also for the etymology; but more upon that in due course.
The conceptry around the Sky Father’s Consort having a Serpentine Avenging Form of blackest terror is also encountered in more residual form elsewhere within the Indo-European mythic canons: for instance, Skadi, a dark and adrastic [that is to say, ‘inescapable’ as a Huntress] figure married to Odin, delivers the Punishment to Loki – overseeing the hellish situation’s emplacement whereby he is bound beneath both Earth and a venomous snake spitting venom down into his traitorous face. The confluence of Earth and Serpent and Sanction is clearly visible here; meted out by a Shadowy Avenger Form of the Sky Father’s Wife. In the Hindu canon, we have the intriguing detailing of the Brahmahatya – the personification of the most egregious sin of Brahmanicide – described as black, horrifying, implacable, female, and often with specifically serpentine visual elements; rising up out of the Earth, and sinking back into the Earth when Her task is done.
The Snake, that is so often regarded as Chaotic, an enemy of Law and Divine, Cosmic Order (that is to say, as ‘Demonic’) – it would appear in actual fact, and female form, is the opposite upon occasion: the Upholder of Dharma, Rta, Orlog, Dikaiosune, and the immanency of this within our universe.
Indeed, they are the Forces of Life, given black, terrifying forms that shroud with the imminency of Death – in order that it might be protected. In a certain sense, we might fairly state that Life is Order – that is to say, that Order finds in-universe expression through force of Life. And ‘Angry’, Avenging Life is no exception.
This is, somewhat, what we should expect – as the etymology of Erinyes, is plausibly linked to PIE ‘her’ (‘to move/stir [up]’). The notion is the whipping up of Fury [an intrinsic element for Life in the PIE conception – to be alive is to be angry, we might say]; yet this same PIE particle also informs Ancient Greek ‘Ormenos’ and ‘Ernos’ – terms used to refer to the growing shoots and stalks of green vegetation, life itself. There is also Ancient Greek ‘Oros’ – Mountain – (again of the same PIE root) which is of obvious general conceptual saliency for the Earth Mother / Mountain Queen deific under consideration … although perhaps more immediately interesting for our purposes is another Ancient Greek term that sounds similar, although in this case is etymologically unrelated. A case of ‘convergent evolution’, perhaps.