illustration sonore :
    Eartha Kitt lit Sensemaya,
    chant for killing a snake (poem by Nicolas Guillen)

    [AS OF JUNE 1999] Robert T. Mason, Ph.D., D.D.

    Since the very beginnings of time, on every continent of this earth where humanity has worshipped divinity the serpent has been recognized and accepted as a god. From Africa's steaming jungle to the icy wastes of northern Europe; from the fertile crescent to the deserted outback of Australia the serpent has been worshipped, feared and adored.
    Serpent mythology is arguably the most widespread mythology known to mankind.
    In the theories of the eminent Swiss psychologist, Karl Jung, the fantasies of the collective unconscious stem from the actual experiences of ancient ancestors, and the development of prehistory as a serious field of study is of considerable importance to the creators of myth. Certain facts exist in human history, and these are most often found hidden in myths. I have even been led to muse on the fact that the usual depiction of the double helix representing DNA is remarkably similar to the ancient depiction of the serpents guarding the world tree, a figure still found in the caduceus.
    One must consider, for example, not only the serpent's seeming immortality but also its ability to periodically desquamate the integument covering its entire body without bleeding, illness or infection and immediately replete a new body covering. In accomplishing this 'miraculous' function the serpent liberates itself from scars, dermatoses and ticks. Such ability is beyond the scope of human efforts. This early connection between the serpent and healing becomes a permanent facet of serpent worship.
    The Serpent is emblematical;
    1. Of wisdom… [Biblical: "be ye therefore wise as serpents "Matt 10:16]
    2. Of subtlety…[Biblical: " Now the serpent was more subtle than an beast of the field" Gen. 3:1]
    The Serpent is symbolical;
    1. Of deity: Plutarch et al
    2. Of eternity: forming a circle with tail in mouth
    3. Of renovation and resurrection: the old becomes young [skin shedding]
    4. Of guardian spirits: Greek and Roman temple altars

    [...]Before leaving Africa we journey back to the Middle East to spend some time examining the Hebrew attitude toward the divine serpent. To do so we will use the best source available, the Jewish Holy Scripture. When the Hebrews emigrated from Egypt during the XIX dynasty they took with them a caricature of Set and gave him the title Satan from the hieroglyphic Set-hen which was one of this god's formal titles.
    But, to continue with the Biblical picture, the ass was given speech to deliver the 'word of God'. Can we assume that the snake had the gift for any other reason? We find here the serpent guarding the tree of life and knowledge just like he did in Sumer. There are too many similarities in the tree and the serpent to be accidental.
    It is evident to me that the account of the "fall of man" from Eden was adapted by biblical writers from pre-Judaic polytheistic traditions in which a divine and omniscient serpent, representing the female creative nature, was pitted against the created order of a male oriented divinity. It is for this reason that the serpent is stressed as demonic, in spite of the fact that the Genesis authors are compelled to harmonize their account with those of the surrounding peoples, and therefore must write that the serpent is a creature of God, and "more 'subtil' (sic) [ Genesis 3:1] than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made."
    Here we might suggest that the serpent saves humanity by putting it in touch with nature; death is recognized as a function of all nature, including humanity, and this knowledge is necessary for new life to begin. This would bring Jewish legends into more equivalent to other Near East traditions.
    In Genesis the serpent is not only sentient of God's prohibition against partaking from the Tree of Knowledge; it knows why God will enforce that command; it knows the gift of the Tree of Knowledge, as if it possessed that gift.
    When he considers the place of the serpent. Carl Jung appears like the Gnostics of Christianity who identified the serpent with the human medulla and spinal cord. Jung regards the serpent as the psychic representative of the human functions which are governed by these parts of the body.
    The serpent would correspond to what is unconscious and incapable of becoming conscious, but which, as the collective unconscious seems to possess a wisdom of its own and a knowledge that is often felt to be supernatural.
    This symbolic rod was then carried by the Roman Hermes , Mercury. It was also carried by Roman soldiers during a flag of truce. The serpents may come from the tradition that Sesculapius, the god of medicine appeared during a plague in the form of a serpent. Romans, like most ancients, not only believed that snakes held the secret of eternal life, since they shed their skins and appeared new each year, but they also believed that snakes as being able to search out health-giving medicinal herbs. Thus, this combination of rod, wings and snakes represented speed, authority and peace. The caduceus is still the common symbol of the medical profession.
    The Rainbow Serpent is one of the most powerful mythological figure for all aboriginal people throughout Australia. Characteristics of the rainbow serpent may vary from group to group and tribe to tribe, but the significance of the serpent is never questioned. Aboriginal people today respect and are the caretakers of the sacred sites where the rainbow serpent is said to reside. Often these sites are considered taboo, or too sacred for normal activities.
    One tale tells of the time that the great serpent traveled through Australia, looking for his tribe. He traveled from North to South until he reached Cape York. Goorialla, which was the name of this rainbow serpent, created animals, plant life and all natural features of the earth.

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