Arabella Lumley explains how the serpent has been used in ancient religions as a symbol of kundalini energy and how experiencing this energy can create a sense of oneness that lead to great social change.
The worship and reverence of the serpent can be found around the globe, in a number of different religions, mythologies and ancient belief systems. In fact, in regards to symbolism, no other animal as a sacred symbol has been found to be as widespread or as significant as the serpent. Explanations put forward for why worship of this animal is so widespread differ greatly, with some looking to science for explanations and others seeking answers from the spirit world.
One other possible explanation that has been either dismissed by academics and researchers or overlooked when considering why the serpent is such a pervasive symbol in ancient cultures, is the idea that it possibly represents activation of the Kundalini energy and as such is a global symbol of spiritual enlightenment. Kundalini energy is described in Eastern religions to be the life force energy that when awakened connects us with All that is and gives us an awareness of our true self.
In the book Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening, Dorthothy Walters, PhD describes the process of Kundalini activation like this:
“This the time of “unselfing”, the swallowing up of the limited sense of identity into the larger awareness of an Absolute that knows no limits. We realize that this ineffable source, this indefinable reality that has so swiftly torn down all defences and poured into our very selves, is, in fact, all that is, for we are mere indiscernible atoms in this process, and we are humbled by this knowledge.”
In Hinduism, this energy is believed to lie dormant at the base of the spine until it is activated by either yoga or meditation. Many who have experienced the activation of this energy have described the sensation as, not only euphoric and intensely spiritual but, interestingly, as if the energy were moving in their body and around their spine like a snake. (Here is an interesting account of kundalini activation.)
Now of course, some may argue that the idea of Kundalini energy is an exclusively Hindu belief and thus question how cultures and ancient civilisations far removed geographically from India and countries that practise Hinduism, hold a belief in this same spiritual phenomenon. Well, my response to this would be that perhaps since there are so many accounts of people who have experienced a spontaneous sensation of energy flowing through their body during Yoga or meditation, maybe Kundalini activation does exist and perhaps the spiritual practice of awakening this life force energy was well-known in ancient traditions around the world.
Contrary to this idea, Anthropologist Lynne Isbell suggests that evolution is the reason why snakes have been revered throughout the ages. She argues that we have an innate biological fear of snakes due to the way we have evolved, more so than any other predator as for thousands of years this was our primary threat and therefore this could explain why snakes appear in so many myths and religions. Graham Hancock, on the other hand, points out that snakes appear very frequently in DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) trips and Ayahuasca visions which he and many shamans believe give us access to the spirit world or other dimensions. Hancock therefore suggests that possibly the reason why snakes appear so often in various mythologies is due to the fact that many ancient cultures and prehistoric peoples consumed plants that contained DMT in sacred ceremonies.
Ultimately, it is unclear why serpent worship extends to so many different ancient cultures and civilisations as we cannot say with certainty that it is due to either evolutionary or spiritual reasons. There could be a range of reasons why the serpent is such a celebrated symbol and perhaps some cultures used the snake to represent Kundalini activation and perhaps others just found the snake a fascinating and frightening creature. Nonetheless, the fact that snakes are revered and worshipped around the globe still remains an interesting subject and one worth asking questions about. All we can do is speculate and ask questions which is what I intend to do in this article but first let us look at some examples of how snakes are worshipped in various ancient cultures. I shall revisit the relationship between snake worship and Kundalini activation at the end of the article and explain why I believe there is a connection between the two.
In Hindusim there is a multitude of different of ways that the snake is both worshiped and feared. They are primarily taken to represent life, death and time as well as being seen as divine. Furthermore, they also make a number of appearances in Hindu mythology.
For example, Hindu scriptures mention the Nagas which are demigods that take the form of snakes but have the capability of taking human form as well. They are often considered as nature spirits in that they protect springs and rivers and can both be either good or evil depending on how they are treated by humans.
Additionally, a snake is often used to represent the Kundalini energy that Hindus believe lies dormant and coiled at the base of the spine. As previously discussed, in Hinduism, it is believed that the Kundalini energy can only be awakened by dedication to spiritual practices but when awakened leads to Enlightenment.
It is also worth mentioning that snakes are often found in Hindu art. For example, in hindu art the God Shiva is often represented with a snake around his neck. Also, at the ancient Hindu temple at Angkor in Cambodia stone carvings of snakes can be found in various places around the temple.
2. Ancient Egypt
Like Hinduism, in Ancient Egypt, snakes represent death and rebirth due to the shedding of their skin and also share links to the gods.
The goddess Renenutet is often depicted as a cobra or as a woman with the head of a cobra and was believed to give children their true name which is an aspect of their soul. She was also considered as the goddess of the harvest and of nourishment.
Similarly, the goddess Wadjet is also often depicted as a cobra and was seen as the protector of Lower Egypt. Wadjet is also the symbol of the Uraeus (upright cobra) which would be on a pharaoh’s headdress and symbolised his legitimacy to rule over Egypt as well as the protection Wadjet gave him.
3. Aboriginal Mythology
In Aboriginal mythology, Aborigines talk of the Rainbow Serpent who they believe is the creator of the world. In this Dreamtime story (creation story), the Rainbow Serpent slept under the land with all the animals in her belly, she then pushed up out of the land and called to the frogs to come out. The frogs came out and the Rainbow Serpent tickled their bellies which were full of water and that water spilled out and made the land fertile. The animals then awoke and followed the Rainbow Serpent across the land.
There are variations to this story but they share the common theme of the Rainbow serpent being a creator and being responsible for life and water on earth. As such, snakes are often seen as a symbol of fertility and rebirth.
4. African Mythology
Similar to the Aboriginal legends, the Ashanti people of West Africa believe in a rainbow god in the form of a snake that created the world and was said to span the sky sometimes in the form of a rainbow.
5. Greek Mythology
In ancient Greece the great healer Asclepius is represented by the symbol of a snake wrapped around a rod and this symbol today is still a well-recognised symbol of medicine and an esoteric symbol of healing. What’s more, due to their sacred nature and in honour of Ascelpius, ancient Greeks would bring snakes to healing rituals.
The god Hermes also carried a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. This staff is called the caduceus and it became the symbol of merchants and travellers as well as medicine.
Another important ancient Greek symbol is the Ourboros that features a serpent. The Ouroboros is a symbol that appears in both Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, a symbol that depicts a serpent eating its own tail. The symbol represents timelessness and eternity.
In China snakes are symbol of intelligence, happiness and wisdom.
In Chinese mythology snakes are very closely associated with dragons with many suggesting that dragons were modelled on snakes due to the long slender, snake-like figure that dragons are usually depicted to have. Dragons are a symbol of good luck, strength and prestige.
7. Mesoamerican civilisations
In the Mayan and Aztec civilisation, gods such as Kukuklan and Quetzalcoatl were worshipped who were said to have the form of the serpent.
In some tales, Kukuklan was a boy who was born as a snake and grew to a monstrous size in other tales he is a winged serpent.
Similarly, Quetzalcoatl was known as the feathered serpent which is what his name translates to and was worshipped as a god of intelligence and self-reflection. He is believed by the Aztecs to have created humanity and is also associated with the East and the sun.
8. Norse Mythology
In Norse mythology, there is Jörmungandr who is also known as the Midgard serpent and was thought to be a sea serpent. He grew so large that he wrapped himself around the earth and was able to bite his own tail like an ouroboros. It was believed that if he ever let go the earth would be destroyed.
So let us consider some of the similarities in the way snakes are used in different mythological narratives and what snakes are thought to represent. The common themes in snake worship seem to be creation as well as destruction, intelligence, wisdom, power, rebirth, death, time, healing and enlightenment. Following the common themes in representation, it seems that the serpent, in one way or another, was thought to share a connection to divinity or a higher power (whether that be a god, goddess or creative force) and therefore I believe it is possible that the serpent could be a symbol of kundalini or life force energy as well as individual spiritual evolution of the soul.
My reasons for arguing this are also due to the way some symbols of snakes occur. For instance, the caduceus, the staff which the ancient Greek god Hermes carried, has wings above two snakes entwined around a rod indicating spiritual transcendence and elevation. Not only this, the way that the staff is styled with the two snakes entwining themselves around a rod shares similarities to the way Kundalini activation occurs when it winds itself around the spine.
Similarly, Quetzacoatl the serpent god that was worshipped in Mesoamerican cultures is known as the feathered serpent again implying a connection between snakes and spiritual ascension. Furthermore, in Ancient Egypt the Uraeus that the Pharoah would wear on his head is situated in the same place many believe the third eye or pineal gland to be located which is significant for many believe that when one has had a Kundalini experience, the third eye becomes activated, awakening our intuitive and psychic abilities.
So the questions I would like to ask are: were the ancients aware of an inner power that dwells within each human and knew that when this power became activated it led to a greater understanding of our oneness with everything? Did this knowledge become lost to civilisation as time went by? And most importantly, could rediscovering this process of kundalini activation, with the understanding of oneness and realisation of our true selves that the activation of this life force energy brings, change society into a more loving and compassionate one? Or could this merely just help us in our personal lives?
I believe that whether we have a full-blown kundalini awakening or whether we just subtly awaken energies within ourselves, through calm practices such as yoga and meditation, we can expect to reconnect with a part of ourselves that is more peaceful and loving and through this bring peace and love in to our own lives as well as to those who surround us.
Please share your thoughts or comments below!
Arabella Lumley graduated from St Mary’s University College with a bachelor’s degree in English and History. She is an active researcher in the fields of politics, consciousness and science, meditation and ancient history. By bringing awareness through information, her goal is to help humanity understand the power within themselves and assist in the transition that is now occurring. You contact her on twitter.