The Worship of the Serpent
John Bathurst Deane
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 239
Publication Date: 1833
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This is an early 19th century study of Ophiolatreia, or snake-worship. Deane's primary thesis here is that ancient serpent worship was based on memories of the Garden of Eden. He has a monomaniacal devotion to the subject of snake worship and sees evidence of it everywhere. He reviews a massive amount of data from antiquity, travelers tales, and legend and folklore. A particularly compelling portion of the book describes ancient megalithic temples such as the Avebury and Carnac complexes as giant representations of snakes. One wonders what he would have made of the ancient American mound builders, who made huge sinuous earth sculptures in the Ohio valley.
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THE WORSHIP OF THE SERPENT is supposed by Bryant to have commenced in Chaldæa; and to have been the "first variation from the purer Zabaism ."
That it was intimately connected with Zabaism cannot be doubted; for the most prevailing emblem of the solar god was the SERPENT : and wherever the Zabæan idolatry was the religion, the SERPENT was the sacred symbol. But the UNIVERSALITY of serpent-worship, and the strong traces which it has left in ASTRONOMICAL MYTHOLOGY, seem to attest an origin coëval with Zabaism itself.
The earliest authentic record of SERPENT-WORSHIP is to be found in the astronomy of Chaldæa and China; but the extensive diffusion of this remarkable superstition through the remaining regions of the globe, where Chinese wisdom never penetrated, and Chaldæan philosophy was but feebly reflected, authorizes the inference that neither China nor Chaldæa was the mother, but that both were the children of this idolatry. That accidental circumstances very materially affected the religions of the early heathen at different times, by introducing innovations both in gods and altars, worship and sacrifices, cannot be denied; but it is equally true, that uniformly with the progress of the first deviation from the truth, has advanced the sacred serpent from Paradise to Peru. To follow the traces of this sacred serpent is the intention of the following treatise: and it is confidently expected that few ancient nations of any celebrity will be found which have not, at some time or other, admitted the serpent into their religion, either as a symbol of divinity, or a charm, or an oracle, or A GOD . Into the creed of some he has insinuated himself in all these characters, and is so mixed up with their traditions of the ORIGIN and END of EVIL, that we cannot, without violence to all rules of probability, reject the consequence--that the prototype of this idolatry was THE SERPENT IN PARADISE.
1. BABYLON.--In tracing the progress of the sacred serpent, we commence with ASIA, as the mother country of mankind; and in Asia, with BABYLON, as the most ancient seat of an established priesthood.
The information which we possess concerning the minute features of Babylonian idolatry, is from various causes very narrowly circumscribed. Either the classical writers who visited Babylon were not admitted into the arcana of the Chaldæan worship, or they were contented with giving a short and summary account of it; ex-pending the chief strength of their descriptive powers upon the history, policy, and magnificence of the mother of cities. Herodotus, whose diffuseness on the history and customs of the Babylonians is considerable, enters but little into their religion; and Diodorus Siculus, minute in his measurements of the walls and gardens, comprises his description of the temple of Belus in a few sentences. Ophiolatreia, as a recognized religion, was nearly extinct when Diodorus visited Babylon, for the city was almost deserted by its inhabitants, and the public edifices were crumbling to decay. But the silence of Herodotus is the more remarkable, since he mentions the serpent-worship of both Egypt and Greece, which was prevalent in his time. The idolatry could scarcely be obsolete in Babylon at that period, since it existed in full vigour but seventy years before, in the days of Daniel; and though it received a signal overthrow from its exposure by that prophet, yet the tumultuous conduct of the Babylonians on that occasion, as it evinces their attachment to the idolatry, warrants the inference that they would cling to it long after its abolition, even by a royal decree . But most probably Herodotus did not take the trouble to inquire into the superstitions of the common people, being content to describe what was the established religion; and even this he notices in a very cursory manner.
From Diodorus, however, we learn what is sufficient to assure us, that the serpent, as an object of worship, was not altogether forgotten in Babylon, though disguised under the more specious appearance of symbolical sanctity. He informs us, that in the temple of Bel, or Belus, was "an image of the goddess Rhea, sitting on a golden throne; at her knees stood two lions, and near her very large SERPENTS of silver, thirty talents each in weight." There was also an image of Juno, holding in her right hand the head of a SERPENT ." The name of the national god BEL is supposed to signify nothing more than "Lord;" and was also sometimes appropriated to deified heroes . It is more probably an abbreviation of OB-EL ,--"The Serpent-god." The Greeks, remarks Bryant, called him BELIAR, which is singularly interpreted by Hesychius to signify a DRAGON, or GREAT SERPENT . From which we may conclude that the serpent was, at least, an emblem or symbol of BEL. But if the apocryphal history of "BEL AND THE DRAGON" be founded upon any tradition, we must conclude that the dragon, or serpent, (for the words are synonymous,) was something more than a mere symbol: we must conclude, that LIVE SERPENTS were kept at Babylon as objects of adoration; or, at least, of veneration, as oracular or talismanic. This custom was observed at Thebes in Egypt , and at Athens ; and therefore there is nothing incredible in the fact at Babylon. However suspiciously then we may regard the apocryphal writings in general, we are constrained to admit that the author of "Bel and the Dragon," though he may have embellished the narrative, has given us a true picture of Babylonian superstition.
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