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9 Powerful Snakes from History and Mythology

February 18, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Around the globe, the serpent carries potent symbolism.

Ever since Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden, snakes in Christian tradition have been associated with lies, evil and temptation. But in other cultures, as far-flung as ancient Greece and Egypt and indigenous North America, snakes symbolize fertility, rebirth, renewal and even immortality. The ouroboros, the ancient symbol of eternity that was famously depicted on King Tut’s tomb in the 14th century B.C., is a serpent devouring its own tail.

From the Aztec god of wind, rain and creation to the semi-divine human-snake creatures that guarded the Buddha, here are nine snakes or serpents that have emerged, through history or myth, to play important roles in the cultures they represent.

Snake in the Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

A man. A woman. A snake. And a fateful apple. In the Old Testament Book of Genesis, a serpent memorably appears in the Garden of Eden, the earthly paradise God created for the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. The cunning snake convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the “tree of knowledge,” telling her that “when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When God learned of Adam and Eve’s transgression, he banished both of them from Eden and cursed the snake for its role, saying “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Debate has long raged over whether the serpent in Genesis was a literal reptile, an allegory for sexual desire or temptation or even Satan himself.

Snakes that St. Patrick drove out of Ireland

St. Patrick depicted with a snake under his foot.

Irish culture is brimming with myths and legends, perhaps none so prevalent as that of St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, banishing every last snake from the Emerald Isle. As the story goes, St. Patrick, a fifth-century Christian missionary, was fasting for 40 days atop a hill when he was attacked by snakes. He waved his staff, driving all Ireland’s snakes into the sea. Though Ireland—like New Zealand, Hawaii, Greenland, Iceland and Antarctica—is in fact devoid of snakes, that has less to do with St. Patrick than with the fact that since the post-glacial age it’s been surrounded by water, and before …read more