A few weeks ago, I read an article about the oldest known spiritual ritual in the world — a 70,000 year old python ritual of the San people in Botswana. In another article, the author discusses the history of snake or serpent worship. In many religions, mythologies and rituals all over the world, serpents (snakes, dragon, sea monsters) are often associated with women.
The most famous are obviously Eve in the Bible and Medusa, but they tend to be viewed negatively. Actually both women and serpents are connected to wisdom in some circles, but later came to be viewed as “cunning,” and Eve’s name is possibly a derivative of the Aramaic word for “serpent.” Writers and other artists, like poet John Milton in Paradise Lost (one of my friends did a thesis on the poet and book) and and painter Michelangelo, have positively and negatively tied Eve and the serpent together.
Mother goddesses and priestesses in general have serpents as their main symbols and often the serpent has a sexual connotation because it is phallic. Some include Mami Wata (picture to the left), Sophia (Goddess of Wisdom), the Minoan snake goddess, and the python priestesses in Malawi, which I came upon on the website Suppressed Histories. Other lesser known ones are the Aztec Cihuacoatl and Tonantzin, the Indian nagi and the Chinese Long Nu (Dragon daughter) and snake queens. While the term “Dragon Lady” has been a negative stereotype of Asian women in the West, the history of serpentine women has received little recognition. As for why we are associated with snakes, they represent our cyclical or spiral nature from our menstrual cycles to the ability to give birth (and cause death and rebirth).
By the way, I strongly suggest taking a look at Suppressed Histories. The website provides information and a global perspective on the history of women as shamans, priestesses, sorceresses, goddesses, revolutionaries and rulers, which often is unrecognized in the patriarchal societies in which we live, as well as questioning colonialist, imperialist and patriarchal histories. Additionally, it points to other topics that I have talked about, such as the web in the matrix cultures section.