SYMBOLISM OF THE SERPENT IN PRIMITIVE CULTURES
The biblical history is preceded by pre-historic accounts in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Among the many accounts, the serpent plays a very important role in the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter three.
The Christian art and literature of the mediaeval ages depicts the serpent coiling itself round the “Tree of life” in the garden of Eden. In the mythical literature of the Ancient Near East, the “Tree of Life” symbolized immortality. In Assyria, a demon genius guarded the “Tree of life.” A demon is a divine entity; the primitive societies of the ancient Near East used the creature of the fields, the serpent to symbolize the spiritual being. The mythical being became artististically portrayed in the works of clay tablets as the ugliest monster, dragon or a beast - cum-human monster.
Mother Nature gives certain characteristics to animals that are favorable in adjusting to the environment.
The serpent is a legless creature, the beast of the fields that moves on the ground by crawling on its belly. It is one of the many reptiles of the fields that is venomous and the deadliest of them all. The colour pattern of the scales helps the snake to camouflage itself against its predictors. Periodically, a snake moults its scaly skin and acquires a new one.
The countries of the Ancient Near East are popularly known to be the cradle of civilization. mythology and religion, a triad phenomenon of the primitive societies. A demon is a divine being, a god, a deity, In Mesopotamia, the demons were grouped in two categories, the good (benevolent) and the evil (malevolent).The evils experienced by people in their existence thus considered less in magnitude than the great natural catastrophes, the earthquakes, floods and epidemics are attributed to demons. Demons are believed to be the children of Anu, the god of the sky. They are also thought to haunt graves and deserts in the dead silence of the night.
The benevolent demons are the following gods, Shedu and Lamassu. They are invoked to repel evil demons. In Mesopotamian boundary stones, the sculpture of a serpent represents either Shedu or Lamassu. The people invoked them in earnest prayer to bring imprecations on the enemies of the empire who dared trespass the boundary. These benevolent demons were represented as guardian genii at the gates of cities, temples and palaces.
One of the worst malevolent demons was Lamashtu, an ugly and much feared monster, especially dangerous to pregnant and nursing mothers. Lamashtu was portrayed as a beast-cum-human monster with the following features: a lion’s head, a woman’s body, a dog’s teeth and eagle’s talons on both hands and feet.
Lamashtu, holds a serpent in each hand with a craving appetite of human flesh and blood. The mixture of human and animal features are further accentuated by portraying the monster nursing a dog and a pig at the breasts. In the mediaeval ages, the Catholic Church used the art and literature of Lamashtu to portray Satan as a black, hell burnt, beast-cum-human monster, with sharp horns, protruding canine teeth, talons on both hands and feet, and emitting fire through the mouth.
The religion of Canaan is found in the Ugarit Tablets. The god of the Canaanites is Baal, the giver of fertility. The virgin Anath, the goddess of sex, is the sister and wife of Baal. Ashtarte is the goddess of sexual passion, vigor and fecundity.
The two goddesses, Anath and Ashtarte are represented in the Egyptian art of the 19th dynasty appearing nude, standing upon the back of an animal and usually holding a lotus and a serpent. In Canaanite religion, the serpent is the symbolism associated with the deities and the rituals of fertility. The same symbolism is conveyed in the cult objects draped or entwined with the serpents.
The serpentine character remains explicit in the mythological texts of Ugarit Tablets. F.Albright remarks that the Canaanite ritual of nature -worship, their cult of fertility is expressed in the form of the serpent symbols and the sensuous nudity. In no doubt, this is an unambiguous indication that the serpent is a symbol of fertility and fecundity. Mother Nature has determined and preordained that the principle of fertility be the principle of reproduction by sexual process or in plain language intercourse.
The serpent underlines the following:[ i] Symbol of fertility and fecundity [ii] Symbol of evil and darkness [iii] Plays the role of Tiamat, the goddess of chaos.[iv] The Yahwist tradition (J) chose the serpent for its role in the idolatrous fertility rites in canaan.[v]The serpent in Genesis chapter three suggests a polemical motif-hence, a sexual interpretation of the whole story.