Athena's Web,  Week of November 26th - December 2nd,  1999

Quantum Leap

Columns Archive

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   Throughout this decade, on and off again, we've been following the trail of the Dragon. This mythological creature's tracks are to be found around the planet, in various cultures, in different centuries and millennia. Most recently, we've been examining Central American mythologies, and how these themes interweave with those of the American Southwest.

Caduceus

Caduceus, now a symbol for the medical profession

   In turn, these share motifs with other Native Americans across the continent; from the Chumash Indians of California, to the mound builders of the Mississippi Valley basin and the Northeast. These bore a resemblance to the World Serpent which Thor had to battle in a mutually fatal contest. From there we fanned out across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, uncovering layer after layer of flying serpent, feathered serpent, serpent around tree, pole, lance, arrow, sword or shaft. Floods, rains, and water are also analogous motifs, as are the crown, horn, and lightning. Each culture and period has dressed the dragon in local garb, transferring their beliefs about seasonal change and the nature of life onto the celestial serpent.

   Is there some ancient tradition that predates all of these, lying so far in the past that it is almost entirely forgotten, save in a few myths, legends, and the archeological tradition? If we focus our gaze through the mists of time, how far back do we see some evidence of the divine serpent?

   While we are most familiar with the Age of Pisces and its Christian imprint on western civilization, we also have ample abundance of stories, myths and legends of the Age of Aries; approximately the two thousand years prior to the birth of Christ. Tales of Ares/Aries/Mars themes abound. Cadmus at Thebes and the Dragon who guarded the spring (sacred to Ares), Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece (in a tree protected by the Dragon), and the serpent in the tree of the Garden of Eden all originate during this period. Age of Aries= Dragon and Ram. The Age of Taurus (approximately 4,000-2,000 BC) takes us back to Gilgamesh, and his battle with Humbaba, the Dragon of the forest, and the Bull of Heaven. Age of Taurus= Dragon and Bull. Here the evidence is thinner; but what about the Age prior to that, from 6,000-4,000 BC?

MayanDualDragon

Double Headed Mayan Dragon

   If we look back to the Age of Gemini, when tales and the oral tradition would have reigned supreme, we should focus on both duality and the air element. Birds (creatures of the air) would have been held in high regard, having been seen as divine representatives of heaven. Indeed, the world was thought of as a Cosmic Egg, and in a motif similar to last week's Crystal Bowl, its oval shape an apt metaphor for the vault of heaven. Scandinavian myths, among others, do in fact preserve memories of Life as a Cosmic Egg. The serpent as a dual image, either two snakes, dragons, or a double headed dragon, also fits the bill. This motif is strong in Central American mythologies, is addressed in Hopi legend, and is remembered in the Greek tradition as the caduceus. Variations on this dualistic imagery might even include double headed birds.

  Next week we will examine a serpentine tradition which reached its peak of aesthetic expression circa 5000 BC, or about 7,000 years ago.

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TheTwins,circa5,000BC

The Twins, circa 5,000 BC

Themes of Duality

   The double-headed plumed serpent, seen above, the dragon of the Maya of the Yucatan, is from the first millennium, AD. At left is what Marija Gimbutas (The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe, 7000-3500 BC) calls a double-headed goddess from Gomolava, in northern Yugoslavia, from the fifth millennium, BC. The motif of the twins, birds, and even double-headed Bird Goddesses were extremely common seven thousand years ago in Central Europe, and may have laid the precedent for the double headed dragon, the caduceus, and many other dualistic images. They all ultimately derived from the sign of the times, the Age of Gemini.

  We will continue to explore these images as part of a universal theme over the next few weeks, together with Draco's relationship to the North Celestial Pole. If our hypothesis is correct, this will demonstrate a much earlier awareness of celestial motion than has heretofore been postulated.


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