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'From earth to heaven: The snake and the indoeuropean religious change',

Colloquim "The Transformation of European and Anatolian culture, 4500-2500 B.C.", organised by the Indo-European Studies Program, University of California, Los Angeles in conjunction with University College, Dublin. 15-21 Sep. 1989.

(1ª parte)( 2ª parte)

 - Minoan culture on Crete - Minoan ring showing snake dancers

Minoan culture on Crete - c.2000 B.C.
Materials: gold-cast
Minoan ring showing snake dancers




Snake Monument, Petra, Jordania


o the Iranian hero Hraetaona against the three-headed Azhi-dahaka or  the combat of Baal against Yam, YAhvé againsts Behemoth and Leviathan.


Behemoth y Leviathan. Pintura de William Blake

Behemoth and Leviathan

Faigth of Yahve and Leviathan

In some cases, it is previous step to the cosmogoníes, but ín the case of Zeus and Tifón or Apolo in Delphes, the matter is, in our opinion, the i n s t auration of a new Sovereignty .
As M i r c e a Eliade (19 7 8 : 221) said, it is througt the death of a ophidic monster, virtual symbol of the C h a o s, but also of the "autochone", t h a t , a n ew cosmic or institucional situation appears.


   Vinca Pottery Snake

                     Predionica at Pristina, Yogoslavia, circa 6000 b.c.e

For M. Müller and for the compared mythplogical school, in which we can include, among the hellenistics, L. Preller and H.Krappe in Germany, and P. Decharme in France, the greek mythology was the most ancíent expression form this peaple used to express two aspects : the ideal and the already-happened thing.

Container for a snake

Container for a snake
Late Period (664-332 BCE)
Provenance unknown
National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden


The already- happened thing is always a piece of history of a región, of a city (KERENYÍ: 1972, 39 ), definition that Kerenyi concretes by saying that the mithology i s a bulk of ol materials we have received through the traditions, which is the opinión of the own Plato (KIERENYI, 1972: 28).

As El iade also saidd (1981: 12), a cultural fact extreamly complicated to be explained under multi-complementary perspectives that can b e used ind ifferent ways.

And even if, as Vernant (1982:196) admits, following the opinión of Will, the greek religion offers an
huge amount of contradictions and paradoxes. And these opinions couId be spreaded to all mythologies we know.





                                                               Maenad (white-ground kylix by Brygos ptr.) c. 490 B.C (Munich: Antikens. 2645

Among many Indo—European peoples, the Iliric, Macedónian, Roman, Germany and Hinduists, Zeus is , as has been reminded recently, by PUDIC ( 1973 : 259) as the great heaven's g od, the god of the light
: ZEUS, Deipatros, Diespiter, Tyr, Dyaus, etc., or teh differente gods who fight againsts the snakes or dragons. And Neumann speaks about Apollonian-solar -patriarcal sp i r i t ( NEUMANN, op.cit. p. 55).

Apollon and the  Pithon snake of Delphes, symbol of the Prehistorical  Great  Goddess

P.P.  Rubens.


                                                                          Apollon Delphic and the Python snake


With réspect to the snake, that Gimbutas shows as ambivalent, it is also for us, in some cases, a representation of the Great Goddess, mainly when she is represented as an ambivalent and androgynic
o n e, and in other cases in conection to the water, the rain, the earth, the cyclical change and the eggs, however she cannot avoid its strong association with a great part of male representations in the Old Europe : phallics, horns and ithyphalic figures.
This androgyny that we see,for example, in the menhirs from th e South of Portugal, on which a snake figure has been represented in the phallic stone (VARELA GOMÉS: 1983: 389) as a female materialization of a stimulating force that joins together the male force, that is also "life" wishing to materialize itself and to be "ethernal" life".



Fresque of  Vettii  House, a  Pompéi.



Sculptures italiennes
Sculpture (Statue)
Date : approx. entre 1525 et 1550, Muséé du Louvre, Paris

It is also the snake a no-endless circle, the begining and the end, the eternal life( Figs. 5-7).

The Uroboros




And as Fraser said,  the snake is an animal considered inmortal by many civilizations,as for  exemple , the semites, one of them , Sancunatione , remembered  that the snake is an animal of a large life   ,because she has the faculty of leaving her old skin to keep her youth.


An animal with these caracteristics should be neccesarily be   armbivalent   because life and death are always together. And the  existence of    one of them presuppose the existence of the another one.





Rúbens, Peter Paul
                                          The Head of Medusa

                                                                 Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna






Taking a    psychoanalitic approach, this ambivalence malkes the snake   to     be at the same time both a -fertility symbol , male, phallic, and   a female one (VÁZQUEZ HOYS,  1981;  )  , in both cases the      generative strenth of the   Great Mother, and  as Gimbutas says , the  s a m e  Great Mother.



 Considering      a comparativo religious   aproach  , Eliade   ( Í 9 6 O s 3 9 7 - 3 9 9)  s a i d    that  sna k e s were often   associated   to the the moon, because of its cyclical     shedding of    their  skins and  its montly disappearances.


In these roles, the snake and   the   moon are seen as the "husband of all the women", and Eliade   gave a number of examples of societies that believe that the moon or   snakes can impregnat  women  if they  do not  take precautions.





Hercule combattant Achéloüs métamorphosé en serpent
Elément 4 sur 24
Lieu : Musée du Louvre, Cour Puget

Photos : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | Suivante







The idea of vioent opposition, or fight, expressed so graphically by the combat among a male deity, the light, against the earth powers, personalized  in the monstruous snake, in the dragón, always destroyed , but that never will desappear, we can reach to the   conclusión    that it  graphically define the last drama of the try to make desappear, violenty, the Great Goddess cult.






Saint George figthing the dragon, eternal symbol of Great Mother




Or perhaps, at least in Europe, to try to make desappear one kind   of civilisation, as the preindoeuropean matriarchal or matrilineal, represented  in  meny cases by the Great Goddess cult.




                                                                                                                                                                                           Hespérides garden , Priestess  of the Snake cult






Is it in consecuence a real  fact?


 Is it the   arrival of invaders?.


Are   these invaders the indoeuropean peoples?.


Do we see the familiar organization change told under   mythical form?


 These change, that Gimbutas has studied  and defined in a magistral  form, are the ones we have wanted to express by the first part of the title of our communicatión, dedicated with fondness to María Gimbutas : "From Earth to  Heaven".  "De la tierra al cielo" .




"Why the Goddess? Does Spirit have a gender, and if we can personify the Essence and Intelligence of the universe, why the feminine?

 For me personally Goddess represents the mother-matter-matrix-like energy animating our world.

 She is the Spirit whose nature it is to embody and manifest itself. She reminds us of the sacredness and uniqueness of our day-to-day experience amongst human beings, animals, natural world, with its rhythms, birth, life cycles and transitions, death, its emotions, creativity and unknown mystery.

 She is personified as feminine because She births all creation from within herself, from the unmanifested essence, which is her mythological Womb, and then she nurtures what she birthed, throughout its cycles, to finally take it back into her comforting body when its journey is over - humans, plants, thoughts, cultures, galaxies.

The nature of the Goddess is growth, movement and transformation...interlaced with periods of dissolution, gestation and regeneration...and acceptance and understanding of these as part of life. What image of the divine could be more natural, organic and closer to our way of being so we can relate to it?

That is why I like the  Prehistoric  Pre- Minoan and Minoan  Goddess perhaps like no other - because her people left us a wealth of record of her many forms and expressions. I cannot help my feeling that she was not only revered by them but also truly loved, and I believe from my heart that justifiably so, that she was their good deity.



The renowned archaeologist Marija Gimbutas researched the prehistoric Goddess culture of what she called "Old Europe" - the vast region covering area between UK a Scandinavian countries in the North, and Malta , Crete and Anatolia in the south.

Marija Gimbutas


"I do not believe, as many archaeologists of this generation seem to, that we shall never know the meaning of prehistoric art and religion. Yes, the scarcity of sources makes reconstruction difficult in most instances, but the religion of the early agricultural period of Europe and Anatolia is very richly documented. Tombs, temples, frescoes, reliefs, sculptures, figurines, pictorial paintings, and other sources need to be analyzed from the point of view of ideology. For this reason it is necessary to widen scope of descriptive archaeology into interdisciplinary research. For this work I rely heavily on comparative mythology, early historical sources, and linguistics as well as on folklore and historical ethnography."


"The main theme of Goddess symbolism is the mystery of birth and death and the renewal of life, not only human but all life on earth and indeed in cosmos.


Symbols and images cluster around the parthenogenetic (self-regenerating) Goddess and her basic functions as Giver of Life, Wielder of Death, and, not less importantly, as regeneratrix, and around the Earth Mother, the Fertility Goddess young and old, rising and dying with plant life.

 She was the single source of life who took her energy from the springs and wells, from the sun, moon and moist earth.

This symbolic system represents cyclical, not liner, mythical time. In art this is manifested by the signs of dynamic motion: whirling and twisting spirals, winding and coiling snakes, circles, crescents, horns, sprouting seeds and shoots.

The snake was a symbol of life energy and regeneration, a most benevolent, not an evil, creature. Even the colours had different meaning than in the Indo-European symbolic system. Black did not mean death or the underworld; it was the colour of fertility, the colour of damp caves and rich soil, of the womb of the Goddess where the life begins..."

(The language of the Goddess, M. Gimbutas)


Minoan Sites of the Goddess in eastern Crete

- Minoan Religion

- Interview with Marija Gimbutas

- Who is Marija Gimbutas