When Snakes Could Fly

Eve's Bible the Book

“I didn’t understand your Sphinx reference,” said Mojo  referring to Who was the Sphinx? .

Walker’s Encyclopedia’s cover  reminded me of who could rectify my error.   I turn to a real expert, Dr. Sarah Forth author of “Eve’s Bible: A Woman’s Guide to the Old Testament.”   She is a theologian whose specialty is the Old Testament.  (note: I added the images for the post.  If they are a bit incorrect blame me, not her.)

In her chapter When Snakes Could Fly, she writes “theacentric” (goddess-centered) civilizations throughout the Eastern Europe, the Near East and India portrayed the goddesses as snake and with snakes as well as bird women.”  These were more than mere fertility figures but “Goddesses of regeneration who were responsible for the entire cycle of life.”

Sumer’s religion “more than forty-five hundred years ago is among the oldest we know much about,” she writes.   But it was Egypt, “the Land Beyond the Rivers” that more directly influenced Israelite beliefs.”

Egypt had a PRE-history, before the dynastic pharaohs.  During this period, Wadjet represented by the cobra was the patron goddess of Buto an important “city” during the Neolithic period.  Her sister Nekhbet was a vulture.

Together they were called the Two Ladies.

Lower and Upper Egypt were combined and the two started to merge into one.

The Narmer Palette is thought to represent the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.  Notice the intertwined serpent heads of the lions.  Wadjet was also associated with Bastet represented by a cat/lion.

3100BC Narmer Palette thought to depict unification of Upper and Lower Egypt

“Egyptian Snake Goddess Uatchet (I think Wadjet is the more common spelling) was both a woman and a large winged serpent.”

Human Headed Winged Cobra from King Tut's Tomb

Uraeus, a spitting snake, denoted both a goddess and a serpent.  “The Uraeus adorned the headdress of pharaohs for thousands of years.”

Uraeus On King Tut's Death Mask approx 1333BC

Over millennia societies changed from earth based religions and “serpents were demoted to servants of the gods, or worse, their enemies,” says Dr. Forth.

Slowly Wadjet became Isis.  Isis merged with the Great Goddess Hathor and became Horus’ mother instead of his sister.

Isis

In Christianity the most famous serpent enemy was the one in the Garden of Eden who tempted Eve to eat from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” that Yhwh (God) had made off limits.  Because of this snake incident, the entire human history was changed.

According to Dr. Forth this story “remains the best example of the Israelite campaign against the snake-goddess.  Yhwh (God) reacted by cursing the serpent.”

Because you did this/More cursed shall you be/

Then all cattle/and all the wild beasts

On your belly shall you crawl / And dirt shall you eat/

All the days of your life. (Gen 3:14 JPS)

Dr. Forth writes “Assigning the serpent to crawl on its belly suggests that it had a previous mode of transport.  Wings perhaps?”

Gustav Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By the time we get to Moreau’s 1864 Oedipus and the Sphinx we see the traces of the ancient goddess: Wadjet  the cat/lion, Nekhbet’s wings, and the female head all rolled into the Sphinx the “winged monster” Oedipus confronts.

Eve and the Serpent demonstrates the power of a good story.  In western civilization, Genesis chapter 3 chopped off the Goddess’ wings and completely changed her-story.

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