by Philip Gardiner
It is seen in the sky, on the ground,
hidden in language and glaring at us from the pages of our most
profound books - the snake. In this Article I want to extend that
now a little and for us to journey around the world of symbols. By
understanding what many of these symbols mean and just how universal
they are we will be guided into this lost world of our past. We will
begin with a symbol of life itself from the world’s greatest ancient
The Ankh is the Crux Ansata. A simple T-Cross, surmounted by an oval
– called the RU, which is, simply put, the gateway to enlightenment.
This enigmatic symbol of Egypt represents ‘eternal life’ and was
often found in the names of Pharaoh’s such as Tut-ankh-amun. The
symbol is often depicted being held by a god to a Pharaoh, giving
him life, or held by a Pharaoh to his people, giving them life –
this basically set aside the immortals, from the mortals, for anyone
wearing or carrying the Ankh had gained or hoped to gain
immortality. In truth also, the pharaoh was God on earth and so he
held his own symbol of the sun and the serpent to his people – he
was the sun, giving us life, just as it does in nature.
It is the loop (the RU or gateway) of the Ankh, which is held by the
immortals to the nostrils (as in the Biblical god breathing life
into the nostrils of Adam.) If indeed these ‘immortals’ are the sun,
moon and stars, then this Ru device is indeed a gateway to the stars
– or basically a gateway to what we were believed to return or
become following death. The Ankh though outlived Egyptian domination
and was widely used by the Christians as their first cross, but in
this symbol holds a clue to the secret of the serpent.
Taautus below) was said to have symbolized the four
elements with a simple cross, which originated from the oldest
Phoenician alphabet as the curling serpent. Indeed Philo adds that
the Phoenician alphabet “are those formed by means of serpents...
and adored them as the supreme gods, the rulers of the universe.”
Thus bringing to mind the god Thoth, who again is related to the
worship of serpents and who created the alphabet. The “rulers of the
universe” are indeed the planets and stars.
Bunsen in the 19th century thought, “the forms and movements of
serpents were employed in the invention of the oldest letters, which
represent gods.” This symbol of the four elements was altered
slightly and became the Egyptian Taut, the same as the Greek Tau,
which is where we get the name Tau Cross from – a simple T.
The T or Tau cross has been a symbol of eternal life in many
cultures and gives its name to the Bull in the Astrological sign of
Taurus – note here the two elements of the Tau and the RU being
brought together. In fact the Druids (or “adders” after the snake)
venerated the tree and the snake by scrawling the Tau cross into
In the Middle Ages the Tau cross was used in amulets to protect the
wearer against disease.
Amongst the modern Freemasons the Tau has many meanings. Some say
that it stands for Templus Hierosolyma or the 'Temple of Jerusalem,'
others that it signifies hidden treasure or means Clavis ad
Thesaurum, ‘A key to treasure‘ or Theca ubi res pretiosa, ‘A place
where the precious thing is concealed.’
It is especially important in Royal Arch Masonry where it becomes
the ‘Companions Jewel’ with a serpent as a circle above the cross
bar – forming the Ankh with the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’ engraved
on the upright and also including the Triple Tau – a symbol for
hidden treasure and significantly made up of 8 right angles.
It was also the symbol for St. Anthony – later to become the symbol
for the Knights Templar of St. Anthony of Leith in Scotland. St.
Anthony lived in the 4th century AD and is credited with
establishing Monasticism in Egypt, and generally the story goes that
he sold all his possessions after hearing from the Lord and marched
off into the wilderness to become a hermit.
On his travels he
learned much from various sages in Egypt and grew for himself a
large following. He was sorely tempted by the devil in the form of
‘creeping things’ and serpents (chaos). In one episode he follows a
trail of gold to a temple, which is infested with serpents and takes
up residence, needing little food for sustenance other than bread
and water. He is said to have lived 105 years and due to this
longevity he is credited with protective powers.
The Order of the Hospitalers of St. Anthony, who would later take
much of the Templar wealth, brought many of Anthony’s relics to
France in the 11th century, although they were said to have been
secretly deposited somewhere in Egypt just after his death and then
later to have found their way to Alexandria.
The Taut or Tau symbolizes the creating four elements of the
universe. Next the symbol of the sun / serpent was added, a simple
circle or the oval RU. This loop above the T cross-created the Ankh,
the symbol of eternity. The snake in a circle eating its own tale is
symbolical of the sun and immortality.
The symbol of the moon was added to this, turning it into the sign
for Hermes/Mercury and showing the Caduceus/Serpent origin. No
wonder that this, the most perfect and simple of symbolical devices
became the symbol of the early Christians; no wonder that, even
though there were no cross-beam crucifixions, Christ was never the
less symbolically crucified on a symbol of eternal life, a symbol of
This symbol became the mark or sign, which would set the believer
aside for saving. In Ezekiel this is the mark that god will know,
the mark on the forehead. As Deane points out the Ezekiel passage
(9:4) should read, “set a Tau upon their foreheads.” or “mark with
the letter Tau the foreheads.” The early Christians baptized with
the term “crucis thaumate notare.” They baptized with the symbol of
the sun-snake (sun-ake). And St. Paul himself in Galatians 6: 17
states “let no-one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks
Is this the original mark of Cain, who we have found to be of
The idea of this sign or mark is widespread once discovered. In Job
31:35 we read in our modern Bibles “I sign now my defense – let the
Almighty answer me” which should properly read, “Behold, here is my Tau, let the Almighty answer me.” He then goes on and says “Surely I
would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me.”
This remarkable idea of wearing the Tau cross on the shoulder as a
sign would later become part and parcel of the crusader Templars
markings, the very same Templars who are instigated in the worship
of serpents. Also
the Merovingians (said by some to be descended
from Jesus and a sea serpent or fish god – the
Quino-Tau-rus) were supposedly born with a red cross between their
shoulder blades. The Tau cross is also strangely used by those
practicing sacred geometry as a “marker” for buried treasure,
whether physical or spiritual.
In shape, the Ankh is very similar to the Egyptian musical
instrument, which is shaped like the oval RU – the Sistrum.
An Egyptian musical instrument closely associated with female gods –
especially Hathor the serpent/cow goddess and Isis – the consort of
Osiris. In form, very much like the Ankh with a loop at the top –
also representing the egg – and three serpents striking through the
loop with small square pieces of metal, which rattle. It’s possible
these three serpents represent the ida, pingala and sushumna nerve
channels and which are said to converge and fuse together within the
centre of the brain (the thalamus) – which in the individual was
also thought to represent the ‘cosmic egg.’
During the ascent of these serpent energies up the spine to the
centre of the head, the individual while going through this supposed
enlightenment process, will hear sounds similar to the sounds the Sistrum makes – i.e., rattle sounds like tambourine bells and sounds
like a bell-tree being stroked. One will also hear sounds like a
‘rattle snake’ and also whistles and flute-like instruments.
Underlying these sounds is a very low and strong rumbling sound
which fades-in at first and gets louder and louder as the process
proceeds culminating in the bright, white light explosion in the
centre of the head. The Sistrum then may have been a symbol of this
The Sistrum was used in pictures and carvings to show the various
gods and Pharaohs subduing the power of a particular god – and
mostly because the god holding the Sistrum had the ‘power’ and
‘energy’ to do so through having had the enlightenment experience –
also representing the externalized solar power.
The association between birds or wings and the serpent seems to go
back in time many thousands of years and across the world. To quote
John Bathurst Deane:
“The hierogram of the circle, wings, and serpent, is one of the most
curios emblems of Ophiolatreia, and is recognized, with some
modifications, in almost every country where serpent worship
prevailed . . . It may be alleged that all these cannot be resolved
into the single-winged serpent once coiled. Under their present
form, certainly not; but it is possible that these may be
corruption’s of the original emblem which was only preserved
accurately in the neighborhood of the country where the cause of
serpent-worship existed; namely, in Persia, which bordered upon
Babylonia and Media, the rival loci of the Garden of Eden.”
Deane relates these many thousands of images of the ‘winged serpent’
to the Seraphim of the Bible, the ‘fiery’ and ‘flying serpents.’
These could also be the origins for the flying dragons and why
Quetzalcoatl was the ‘feathered’ or ‘plumed serpent’ amongst others.
The reason given by Deane for this symbolism is for proof of deity
and consecration of a given Temple. If this is the case, then it was
certainly believed that the ancient serpent had consecrated Temples
across the world. And if the serpent was a true symbol of the sun
(external) and the inner light (internal) then it was a perfect
fusing of our ancestors belief in one location at one time (temple).
The real reason for the wings is that the serpent enlightenment
aspect gave the adherent wings, symbolically making him/her higher
in aspect and part of the “heavenly” chorus.
The dove is an important element in symbolism and for some reason
was seen in the New Testament as a symbol of the Holy Spirit or
feminine aspect of God. It came down upon Jesus as he was
giving him that famous “born again” element.
It descended upon the disciples. But why was the Dove chosen?
The Mesoamerican god Quetzalcoatl is the ‘Feathered Serpent,’ so are
there any links between the dove as a feathered bird and the
Eurynome was probably the most important Goddess of the Pelasgian
myths. These Pelasgians were a people who arrived in Greece from
Palestine over 5,500 years ago, although it also became a term for
“real” Greeks later on.
Eurynome was the creator, the Mother Goddess – the ruler of all
things. She was born from chaos; she separated the water from the
sky and then danced across the water in-order to create.
Whilst dancing she created wind or breath and taking hold of it
between her hands she rubbed and rubbed until she had created a
snake. The snake was called Ophion and he was filled with desire for
the ‘dancing goddess.’ Wrapping himself around her seven times he
impregnated the goddess, who had now taken the form of a Dove, and
created an egg.
From the egg came forth all animals and plants and so Eurynome
ascended to Mount Olympus and watched as her children developed. The
snake Ophion bragged about his creation and so Eurynome kicked out
his teeth, from where came all the people, including the first man
Pelasgus, (like Adam) and from where the tribe derived its name.
Ophion was then kicked out of heaven. The creation of the world and
all that is in it was therefore again due to the snake and a
goddess. But how does this goddess relate to the bird?
By the Sumerians, one of the most ancient of civilizations, she was
simply known as Iahu, the “exalted Dove.” This Eurynome cult had
spread across the Mediterranean and became a base for many other
myths and religions, including the Hebrew god
Yahweh taking on
elements of the name Lahu. She was an original Mother Goddess, the
feminine aspect and was seen as a dove – and united with the serpent
seed, she gave birth to creation.
The Dove of Christianity is the feminine aspect and brings new life;
she was known as the breath – the same breath that emerges in the
beginning and from the Egyptian Ankh (see Ankh) into the nostrils,
bringing new life and immortality. The feminine aspect of
Quetzalcoatl is the feathered bird aspect and the male-part the
Celtic Knotwork and Other Symbols
Due to the prevalence of the serpent in the Celtic world and
surrounding cultures, it is my understanding that Celtic Knotwork is
derived from the images of the snake and the movements of the
We can see influences of this in the spirals and other serpent
shapes seen upon many of the world’s ancient monuments. In
Scandinavian literature and stone art we can also see how the
serpent appears, looking remarkably like Celtic Knotwork. In Roman
and Greek wall paintings there are running spirals thought to be
symbolic of the protective snake.
A Neolithic vessel, now in the museum of Henan in China, shows a
distinct correlation between the idea of the snake and the Knotwork.
The idea of the Knotwork coming from the snake was probably
discontinued due to Christian influence.
Other symbols that are related to the snake include the Ivy leaf, a
symbol of Bacchus/Dionysius and a symbol of immortality. The
reasoning behind this symbol is simply that the leaf is similar to
the snake’s head and it entwines around pillars and trees as the
snake is shown to do in images across the world.
Related to this Ivy leaf image is the shape of the heart and we can
see in two Japanese clay statuettes from the Jomon period that they
have these snake-heart heads.
Many images of the Buddha also incorporate this Ivy/Heart shape head
– a softening and hiding of the earlier images of
Naga deities who
had snakes heads. These Ivy and Heart shapes were thought to protect
the person wearing them or the building adorned with them, and they
are therefore no different to the concept of the protecting or
guarding snake from folklore and legend. They are just basically
symbolic of the original snake – and remaining so until Christianity
demonized them. Of course the Ivy, along with that other serpentine
symbol, the grapevine, are to be seen across the world’s Christian
buildings, as Jesus claimed that we should be grafted onto the vine.
Did Jesus really mean that we should be part of the serpent cult?
Part of the family, which he was himself a creation of?
Of course the fruit of the vine is wine, and if the vine is an
ancient symbol of the snake, then what is the fruit of the snake?
Jesus said that we were to drink the wine as a symbol of his blood
and therefore it was the blood of the snake.
Drink of the fruit of the vine and you shall have eternal life, a
fruit created by God for our pleasure.
Spirals and other Rock Art
Marija Gimbutas in
The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe says:
“Compositions on the shoulders of cult vases reveal pairs of snakes
with opposed heads, making the world roll with the energy of their
Spirals and carvings of this snake energy are seen all over the
world, much like the cult of the serpent. And, it is always found to
be in association with the serpent worship. According to J.C. Cooper
An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, the spiral
“typifies the androgyne and is connected with the caduceus
symbolism” which is of course the symbol of serpent healing.
Australia Robert Layton in
Australian Rock Art: a new synthesis,
points out the serpent origins of these
images; images, which are always seen with other serpentine shapes.
Figure three in Layton’s book shows these images clearly as “a snake
entering a hole,” “a snake leaving a hole.” Remembering that the Ouroborus, the circular image of the snake eating its own tail, is
an image of immortality, we should also remember the antiquity of
the device. Along side spirals are circles like the Ouroborus,
called often cup and ring marks.
There are also zigzags, thought by
many to be the fiery aspect of the serpent, and waves, showing the
fluidity of the serpent - something also related to the symbolism of
Water. It is no surprise that such images of the snake, in all its
relative forms should be seen on the most ancient of rock art. In
the cup and ring marks there are many images of what appears to be a
serpent entering the cup and rings.
Some have put this down to a
serpent entering a hole, others that it is eating an egg; nobody is
sure. What it does show is a serpent head towards a cup! If, of
course, the snake is also the symbol of the macro sun, then these
spirals and serpentine patterns may also reveal the pathways of the
sun at various times of the year and the greater years – such as
those of the precession of the earth.
The spirals have been associated with astronomical alignments. This
can especially be seen in the work of N.L. Thomas in
Irish Symbols of
3500 BC where the spiral running right to left is seen as the winter
sun; the spiral running left to right is the summer sun and the
double spiral as the spring and autumn equinox. There is little
doubt from the work carried out by Thomas that this is true, but the
fact also remains that the ancients were using symbols of the
serpent in their astronomical alignments. This is matched by the
fact that the serpent was seen in the sky, in various constellations
and by the serpent encompassing the heavens. The two elements cannot
be split apart – this was a unified theory of life and it was
created by, given life by and kept fertile by the snake and the sun.
In Eurasia and Japan there are definite images of snakes as spirals.
In earthenware from the middle Jomon period (approx 2000 BC) of
Japan these can be seen quite clearly, and are said to be there to
protect the contents of the jar from harm; something important was
obviously in them. Clay figures from the same period also show wound
snakes on the heads. These spirals became part of family crests and
transformed over time into the Yin and Yang symbol of duality so
These family symbols are called Kamon and one class
of them particularly is called Janome, which basically means
the snake. Characters for snakes in Chinese became part of the
alphabet over 3000 years ago. Another interesting point about the
snake in China is that the Rainbow is said to be the snake elevated
into the sky much like the Australian Rainbow Serpent. Indeed, the
Chinese character for Rainbow reflects this position as it has the
symbol of the snake within it.
In Peru there is pottery with spirals ending in snakes heads. In
Taiwan there is a sculptured door with spirals ending in snakes
heads. In many Celtic stone monuments there are similar images – all
leading to the now beautiful and ornate Celtic Knot-work
The ancient symbol of the swastika is simply a stylized spiral as
can be shown from the many depictions across the world of swastikas
made up of spirals and snakes. It also shows up in the spiral
fashions of the labyrinths and mazes. The word labyrinth comes
directly from the ancient Minoan Snake Goddess culture of Crete,
where the swastika was used as a symbol of the labyrinth and is
linked etymologically with the “double headed axe” – the Tau Cross.
Similar labyrinthine shaped swastikas have been found in the ancient
city of Harappa from the 2000 BC.
As the labyrinth is viewed as a
womb of the Mother Goddess, and a symbol of the snake, there is
little wonder that these two symbols became fused. However,
labyrinths were also seen as places of ancient serpent initiation
and if viewed in the same manner as Serpent Mounds then it is
further evidence for their real use. (See Serpent Mounds) In ancient
Egypt the labyrinth was synonymous with what was called the Amenti –
the snake like path taken by the dead to journey from death to
It was Isis, the serpent queen of heaven who was to
guide the souls through the twists of the Amenti. The path towards
the centre, leads towards treasure. The snake adorning Athena in
ancient Greece is shown with a swastika skirt. The same is true of
Astarte and Artemis. There is Samarran pottery dating from 5000-4000
BC from Mesopotamia showing a female swastika, where the hair swirls
with Medusa type serpents. The swastika is also shown as two
serpents crossing each other.
In Norse myth, the hammer of Thor (note that Labyrinth means double
headed axe just like the Hammer of Thor!), Mjollnir, is closely
connected with the swastika and is found to be a prominent motif in
Scandinavian art from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. It is found on
swords and Anglo-Saxon cremation urns and on numerous Viking items.
It was seen as a protector against thieves, reminiscent of the fact
that serpents were known to guard treasure.
As Thor’s hammer was
also seen as a Tau cross (See Taautus) it is certainly related to
the secrets of the serpent. It was used by Thor to lop off the head
of the sacred ox, which he used as bait to catch the Midgard
Serpent, which circled the globe in the symbol of the Ouroboros,
eating its own tail. This was Thor offering a head as sacrifice to
the serpent to try and gain immortality in the mead – the drink of
the gods. Thor’s aim was to gain a cauldron big enough to take the
mead for the immortals and he needed to prove his worth by fishing
for the serpent.
He had power of the serpent as the slayer, with the
swastika or Tau cross. There is evidence to prove that the myths of
these Scandinavians and the Hindus are related, as the story of Thor
and the Midgard Serpent closely resemble the battle between Indra
and Vritra, showing a common origin. Vritra is the great serpent,
which lies at the source of two rivers (the positive and negative or
male and female), as the Midgard Serpent lies beneath the sea (of
the mind and the other side of the planet where the sun goes each
Indra slits open the belly of the serpent to release the
waters and therefore fertility back to the land. Both gods, Indra
and Thor, are related to the weather, both are warrior gods with a
thunderbolt as a weapon and both slay the dragon. The swastika of
the serpent is a common motif in both cultures. Eventually the
Christians steal both pagan myths and place St. Michael and St.
George in their place – both having the red serpent cross to replace
The swastika is also the symbol of the movement of the earth fixed
on one spot.
Said by Eusebius to be the originator of serpent worship in
Phoenicia. Sanchoniathon called him a god and says that he made the
first image of Coelus and invented hieroglyphs. This links him with
Hermes Trismegistus, also known as Thoth in Egypt.
consecrated the species of dragons and serpents; and the Phoenicians
and Egyptians followed him in this superstition.
This Taautus could very well be a memory of the first group who
originated the worship of the serpent after the flood or end of last
ice age 12000 years ago. The idea of Taautus links precisely with
the stories of Thoth, who later became a great sage of Gnostic and
Alchemical beliefs. Thoth was deified after his death (a time that
nobody knows) and given the title “the god of health” or “healing”.
He was the proto-type for Aesculapius and identified with Hermes and
Mercury. All healers, all wise, all teachers, all saviors and all
associated with the serpent for their powers and all individuals who
could map the stars and movements of time. However, it was as the
healing god that Thoth was symbolized as the serpent - whereas he is
normally represented with the head of an Ibis and Baboon.
The Letter or Symbol ‘Tau’ is the first letter of Taautus, Tammuz
and Thoth and is thought to be the ‘Mark of Cain’.
So there we have many symbols and many references to the sun and the
snake. There are often confusing elements at play here, which often
seem to mislead us and appear ‘hidden’ because we have simply
forgotten the real truth. In essence we can reduce all of this down
into three simple and distinct parts to help us on our journey.
We must remember before we do so that the very word, snake, is
derived from both the animal and the sun – sun-ake. Now we can see
clearly that the serpent was often but not solely used as a symbol
of the movements of the great god in the sky – the sun. Secondly the
snake was a symbol of the internal ‘sun’ – what people know of today
as enlightenment within and thirdly the real and literal snake did
indeed offer up its body for our use. We created an Elixir of Life
from its venom and blood, healed our skin with its skin and brewed
wonderful concoctions from other parts.
All in all, the serpent or snake has been a very powerful literal
and physical element, let alone a useful symbolic part of our
history. We can now use our new knowledge to move forward and
through some of the mysteries of mankind.