Why Is The Serpent A Symbol Of Evil In Christians Cultures But A Symbol Of Good in Eastern Cultures? Well Let’s Take A Look And See What We Can See!
Let’s look at the derivation of the word serpent:
c.1300, ‘limbless reptile,’ also ‘tempter in Gen. iii:1-5,’ from O.Fr. sarpent, from L. serpentem (nom. serpens) ‘snake,’ from prp. of serpere ‘to creep,’ from PIE *serp- (cf. Skt. sarpati ‘creeps,’ sarpah ‘serpent;’ Gk. herpein ‘to creep,’ herpeton ‘serpent;’ Alb. garper ‘serpent’.(Online Etymology Dictionary)
It’s a funny and curious thing…that in many cultures the serpent was associated with healing and divinity. But in The Old Testament and Orthodox Christianity it’s associated with evil and the devil.
Why is that?
Lets take a look at how the serpent was viewed in various ancient cultures
The serpent was an ancient symbol of rebirth and self-renewal, because it sheds it’s old skin and regains new skin and makes its self new again.
As the circular Ouroboros serpent, biting its tail. It represents eternity. The never ending cycle of life, death and rebirth, of immortality, wholeness, completeness and self-regeneration.
Buddhist and Hindu mythology told tales of serpent gods called, Nagas, who were half human and half snake. They were human above the waist and serpent below the waist. Just as in Christianity, the devil was human above the waist and goat below the waist. But in contrast to how the devil was viewed in Christianity. Nagas were depicted as helpful deities with supernatural strength, wisdom, and good looks. They were capable of taking human form and marrying humans. Some Indian Kings claim to be descendant from Nagas.
In Hindu yoga, the serpent was symbolized as the Godless Shakti or Kundalini, a divine energy in the body. Kundalini was a divine sleeping, serpent ( energy) coiled three and a half times around the base of the spine, with its tail in it’s mouth. That when awakened through spiritual practices, transformed the practitioner into a divine being.
In ancient Greece, the serpent was associated with healing.
Aesculapius, the Greek God of healing, carried a healing wand, the Caduceus, with a serpent intertwined around a staff, which is the symbol of medical doctors to this day.
Hermes, the Greek messenger of the Gods, carried a Caduceus with two serpents intertwined around a staff, symbolizing the spine and the two nervous systems. One serpent representing the autonomic nervous system and the other, the sympathetic nervous system.
And let’s not forget the healing serpent of brass of Moses.
‘So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live’ Numbers 21:19 (English Standard Version)
Interestingly, the writer of Numbers didn’t see the serpent as bad or as a symbol of the devil but as a symbol of healing. Christians seem to have overlook this.
Even in the New Testament the writer of John, has Jesus identifying himself with the brass serpent of Moses.
‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. John 3:14-15 (New International Version) Christians have definitely overlooked this one.
Imagine, Jesus drawing a comparison between himself and the serpent, who Christians see as a symbol of the devil?
The most famous serpent in Christianity. Is of course the ‘talking’ serpent in the Old Testament fable of the Garden Of Eden, (that’s if you believe in talking serpents) Who tells Eve that if she eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She won’t die as the Old Testament God predicts she will, but will became like him knowing good and evil.
So which one of them really told her the truth? The talking serpent (if you believe in talking serpents) or the Old Testament God?
Well let’s take a look-see,
The Old Testament God told Eve ‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ Genesis 2:17 (English Standard version).
The serpent told her (if you believe in talking serpents) You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:4 (New International Version)
They didn’t die after eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, just, as the talking serpent said they wouldn’t.
‘And the Lord God said, The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever. So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken Genesis 3:22-23 (New International Version)
The Old Testament God confirmed what the serpent told Eve was true, they had become like ‘one of them’ (one of them? one of the gods?), knowing good and evil just as the serpent said they would
Looks like The Old Testament God lied to them and the serpent told them the truth (that’s if you believe in talking serpents and take this story literally).
The Old Testament God even kicked them out of the Garden of Eden so they wouldn’t eat from the tree of life and live forever like him (them?). What a kind and benevolent God!
This shows that the serpent was seen as a symbol of knowledge, and truth, because what the serpent told the woman (Eve) (if you believe in talking serpents) was true. They Did became like The Old Testament God knowing good and evil, and would have been able to live forever like The Old Testament God, but he wouldn’t let them he kicked them out of the ‘Garden’.
The writer of Matthew has Jesus confirming that serpents were seen as symbols of wisdom and knowledge when Jesus says ‘Be ye wise as serpents’ Matthew 10:16
Even In some parts of the the Old Testament, the serpent was seen as a symbol of of divinity and as a God.
The Old Testament King, Hezekiah, destroyed Moses’ brass serpent, because the children of Israel had started to worshiped it.
‘He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan’. 2 Kings 18:4 (King James Version)
In ancient Meso America, the Aztecs worshiped, the serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, ‘the plumed or feathered serpent’ who was the God of intelligence and the wind. Wind is symbol for for spirit. An invisible presence that can’t be seen but can be felt.
The writer of John has Jesus saying this about the wind as a symbol of Spirit. ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8 (The New International Version). Quetzalcoatl was the god of spiritual intelligence
The so-called Heretic, Gnostic Christians, identified the serpent, symbolically, with the medulla and the spinal cord (the head and tail of the serpent). Similar to the Hindu yoga identification of the sleeping Kundalini serpent, with the base of the spine, that when awaken by spiritual practices, transformed the the practitioner into a divine being.
Al of these traditions appear to be talking about symbolic representations of spiritual or ethereal energies in the person, that can be activated to have a transforming, positive effect on those who activate them.
After that exhilarating journey through the land of symbolic vision and spiritual symbolism.
I think it’s pretty obvious that the serpent was a symbol of supernatural power, intelligence, fear and reverence and seen as a god. From time immemorial,haven’t people seen God, the Gods. God-Men and God-Women in the same light?
So my question to you is…why is it that in Western cultures, the serpent is seen as evil and as symbol of the devil? But in Eastern cultures, it’s seen as a symbol of divinity, immortality and wisdom?
I look forward to your comments