Athena's Web

Week of November 12th - 18th,  1999

Crystal Bowl

Columns Archive

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   We near the end of our journey across this dark ocean, hoping not to fall off at the ends of the Earth. Looking about, we curiously peer into what seems to be a huge celestial crystal bowl, with aquatic life swimming all around. There's a rhythm in the waves of this mysterious sea. We've long known that. The Sun illuminates the day, while the Moon dances with her own reflection through the night.

   After sunset, our aquarium is aglow in soft shades of silver. Beautifully lit angel fish swim seasonally across our crystal panorama, sometimes reversing direction, catching us by surprise.

Navajo Dragon

Dineh Dragon: Note Thunderbolt, Storm Clouds, and Crown

   The skies are a mirror of time. Not only do they measure it in hours, months, and years, they also reflect the images of the peoples who once gazed into them. While the ocean is one metaphor, others have often used the tree as a symbol for our relationship to life. Its axis is the trunk. The branches overhead are the canopy of heaven; the leaves, stars. Roots sink into the earth, hidden from view. Those familiar with a serpentine polar constellation might put the serpent either in a central tree, or at its apex.

   The serpent in the Garden of Eden is

  "with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden." -Gen 2:9.

   The Mayan feathered serpent is known as Quetzalcoatl. This name derives from the quetzal, a rare bird living in the highlands of Guatemala. It lives in the treetops, and is rarely seen.

   What an absolutely wonderful image for Draco! Have you ever seen it? It's a faint constellation, remembered for its size and locational importance, rather than its brilliance. It faintly weaves its way between Ursas Major and Minor, holding both bears easily in its folds. 'Coatl' is the Nahua word for snake, and is comprised of 'co', the generic term for snake in the Mayan language, and 'atl', the Nahua word for water. Flying-water-snake-bird, rarely seen, high in the tree: our dragon.

   Hopi elders say the prophecies spoke of the end times, about a sea of water eating them up when they became converted to another religion.

   For years now, we've been examining this global theme of winged serpent, emerging at night, riding tirelessly through the skies, sweeping out a third of the stars, chasing its own tail, wrapped around tree, pillar, arrow, sword or shaft, associated with water and floods. Is it coincidence or common thread which reveals a warrior atop the head of the great water serpent in cultures separated by both centuries and the Atlantic Ocean?

  "It has been said that there are two water serpents coiling the earth, from North to South pole. On each of the poles sits a warrior god on the serpents' head and tail, now and then communicating messages of our conduct and behavior toward each other; now and then releasing light pressure which causes the great serpents to move, resetting earth movements- a message also commanding nature to warn us by her actions that time is getting short and we must correct ourselves. If we refuse to heed the warning, the warrior gods will let go of the serpents and we will all perish. They will say we do not deserve the land given to us because we are careless."

  -Hopi Survival Kit, p. 217

     Mythic motifs, with local variations, describing a centuries old common astronomical theme.

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The Mayan Two Headed Serpent

The Mayan Double Headed Dragon

Northern Neighbors

   When we examine a culture's traditions, their roots invariably run deeper than what we see. From the Maya, we learn of Quetzalcoatl, the bird-snake. From their art we discover that they also honored a two headed serpent. The Hopi of the Southwest lived just north of the Maya. Generations may have separated the two, but their legends may be related, stemming from a common course. Many local mountains and places today continue to bear Indian names. The land remembers.

  Are we looking at a once world wide wisdom, a symbolic language for farmers, sailors, travelers and priests, lost long ago?


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