The Dragon and the Snake God

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Snakes can be deadly. From cobras to rattlesnakes, poisonous snakes kill approximately 90, 000 people a year across the world. Such powerful animals were made into Gods in many cultures. Buddha slept under the protection of the seven-headed Naga God. Naga is a cobra (also referred to as Naja), who, in its divine form, has seven heads. Above: Naga serpents at Angkor Vat.

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The seven-headed Naga God, also called Agni, at Angkor Thom. The legend has it that the Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (Demons) had been fighting for a thousand years. To stop the fight, Vishnu told both to hold the body of Naga to churn the Ocean of milk and produce “amrita” the nectar of immortality. Above: a Deva holding the body of Agni or Naga, the Serpent God. Angkor Thom.

Siddharta Gautama Buddha lived around the 5th century BC. The churning of the sea of milk is told in Bhagavata Purana, a Hindu text written around 800-1000 AD. Angkor Thom in Cambodia was built around the 12th century Ad. Meanwhile, across miles and miles of the “Cosmic ocean of milk”, the people of Mexico and Central America worshipped the Feathered serpent, Quetzlacoátl (In Nahuátl) or Kukulcán (In Maya).

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Kukulcán, the feathered serpent. Chichén Itzá, Yucatán. (Photo c.1992) The site was built between 600 and 1200 AD, roughly at the same time as Angkor. Kukulcán or his Aztec namesake was the God of arts, crafts and knowledge.

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The Asuras (Demons) at Angkor Thom, holding the body of the God Naga.

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Kukulcán, the feathered serpent. Chichen Itzá.

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Top left: the God Naga, Angkor Thom, Elephant terrace.

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Two feathered serpents, Yucatán, Mexico.

Crossing the Cosmic Ocean back to Asia, please allow me to introduce Mr. Lung, the Dragon:

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Dragon in Georgetown, Penang. 2017. Though it seems that the first mention of a feathered serpent in Meso-America dates back to the 1st century AD, the Chinese Dragon may go back much earlier. The dragon is a positive symbol of power, strength and good luck.

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The feathered serpent, Chichen Itzá.

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Dragon, in Penang. The sea has a Japanese, Hiroshige-like style.

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Angkor. The Naga’s body swirls above and around the scene of human dignitaries.

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Uxmal, Mexico (c.1992). Bottom right one can see the head and body of a rattlesnake, the body circling to the left and coming back to the right, ending with the rattlesnake’s bell-shaped tail.

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Author’s private collection. Despite its origin (Hongkong, 1952) this is probably a Japanese dragon. First half of the 20th century.

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Mr and Mrs Lung, Georgetown, Penang, 2017.

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Kukulcán, the Feathered Serpent. Rubbing by Patric, c.1978. Author’s collection.

Naga, Agni, Mr Lung the Dragon, all come from Asia. From India to China and back, myths most likely influenced each other. But the Feathered Serpent? That question has always intrigued me. The first human settlers in the Americas came from Asia about 20,000 years ago. The last around 12,000 years ago. Then communication between Asia and the Americas was lost. Did the first human settlers bring the Dragon along? Did the Dragon later become the Feathered Serpent? Maybe.

If that is the case the Dragon myth is at least 12,000 years old, which would make it the oldest surviving human myth…

Thank you for flying on TSS (Time-Space Shuttle) Equinoxio. (Scotty? What happened to the dinosaur trip?)


65 thoughts on “The Dragon and the Snake God

  1. I love pics of dragons, thanks for sharing this journey. It’s quite beautiful and a bit scary. The very last painting is my favorite, would love to hang it on my front wall.
    Sending hugs dear Brian.

    • A dragon fan! 🙂
      That last painting (a rubbing in fact) I bought in Yucatán in 1978. Along with another (Goddess Ixchel). Both were done by an American artist living in Mérida for “hundreds” of years, I think. Her name was Patric. Both paintings are hanging in the guest room. 🙂
      Bon week-end Coeur de feu.

      • Hi Brian, great article! I just acquired a similar rubbing by Patric. I’m very interested in her story. Can you provide any other information on Patric? Thanks!

      • Did you? Now that is extraordinary. I met Patric in Yucatan c. 1978. She was already… “old” then. Sixties maybe? I doubt that she is still alive. I would need to Google her. She was an American artist, settled in Mérida for ages. And her art was based on “rubbings” an old archeological technique to reproduce bas-relief by rubbing charcoal or pencils on paper. You can do it with a coin, a piece of paper, and pencil.
        Where did you buy the painting?
        Do you have a site? I couldn’t get a link to you.

  2. Oh wow and i used to think snakes were treated as gods only in Hinduism. In Kerala, Hindus have snake temples ( sarpa kavu ) but as i am scared of snakes , i have never found the curiosity to find out more about them 😀

  3. “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?!” Great idea for a post. There is certainly good reason for myths about snakes around the world and you have some prime examples here. There must be some in Africa too, no?

  4. Bonsoir, lovely pictures as always but let’s not forget Awanyu the Tewa deity, also a feathered snake out here in the Southwest. Someday I hope to see the beautiful petroglyphs in person.

    • Bonsoir Soleil. 🙂
      Awanyu I did not know of, but it makes perfect sense. Levi-Strauss has demonstrated that all or most myths from Britishc Colombia to Tierra del fuego are structurally the same. With twists on the stories, bad guy turning into good guy, but basically the same myths. Awanyu therefore is another version of Quetzalcoatl.
      Good to hear from you. Hope all is well?
      Au revoir.

  5. Fascinating dragon story, Brian. Delighted to find you well and busy. On top of everything I have got a problem with my right eye’s retina. Coming back to WordPress one step at a time – today I started with visiting other blogs and hopefully will make my own short post tomorrow.

  6. In the Christian religion the snake is the seducer in the myth of the primordial paradise, the evil, like dragons in medieval stories. Now strange enough I have seen a film on TV recently where Christians use the snakes as an integral part of annual rituals and feasts. Afterwards the snakes are again released, I think it was somewhere in Italy or Spain. A local tradition pointing on much older mythology. I hope you are fine, with us in Berlin it is dry like in the desert! A bientôt @ Ulli

  7. Snakes both terrify and fascinate me. When I was a kid my brother used to chase me around the house with a picture of a snake in his hand and my, would I scream. But dragons now, dragons I like 🙂

    • Hmmm. Brothers. 😉 Il doit y avoir des vipères et des couleuvres en Bourgogne. In Africa, we had all sorts of nasty snakes.
      Dragons are good. 🙂 Bon week-end ma grande.

  8. Thank you for transporting me back to SE Asia and for giving me Mexico to look forward to. The present moment aboard Amandla is filled with the angst that accompanies endless boat work. Life aboard your Time Shuttle far more pleasureable at the moment

  9. Fabulous images. Interesting history lesson for me.

    The Rainbow Serpent is an Indigenous Australian creation myth, that could be even older than 12,000 years. I hadn’t realised snake gods and legends were so widespread.

    • The Rainbow Serpent must be from the Dreamtime. 😉 (Wayyyy before 12,000)
      There are snake myths just about anywhere. (Snakes can be deadly therefore respected) there is one snake goodess called Lébé among the Dogon in West Africa. I once wrote a story about that. (In Spanish though…)

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