Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Dec 6th - Dec 12th,  2002

The Evolution of Mythology

Columns Archive

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Serpent in the Tree

   For many folks, stepping into the world of myth can be a frightening experience; being confronted by a wide panorama of images, most of which are unfamiliar and confusing. However, there is a continuity in these symbols which slowly evolved and developed in the cultures which revered them, until time slowly passed them by.

   Here in the Web, we have been examining the archetype of the dragon. In some of its earliest portrayals circa 5,000 BC, it is simply depicted as a serpent on pottery fragments, often associated with rain. In Genesis this theme is preserved as a serpent in the tree in the Garden of Eden. Many mythological cultures began to depict this same serpent with wings, because as the circumpolar constellation Draco, it ceaselessly 'flew' around the North Celestial Pole, never setting, and visible during each of the seasons of the year after sunset. Only weather would occasionally obscure it, and so myths evolved about the dragon playing in or hiding behind the clouds, especially in China. In Babylonian creation myth, Ti'amat stood in the center of her field, while in Greek, Scandinavian and Hebrew myth it was associated with a magical tree.

Babylonian Tiamat

The Babylonian Tiamat

   The Book of Revelation marks the final chapter of the New Testament, marking a nascent covenant with heaven, but it is also a final crescendo of myth in western culture. The roots of this Book draw from a deep, long established tradition from the past.

   The Egyptians record a duality between Dragon and Sun, each being the mortal enemy of the other. The Dragon is the champion of night and darkness, while the Sun represents images of light, truth, and honesty. Like the seasons, each gives way as the other appears, but in this case in a daily battle.

   Zoroastrianism is one of the chief conduits of theology and symbolism from the older Middle Eastern philosophies to the Bible. This religion derives from the Persian prophet Zarathustra, whom the Greeks called Zoroaster. Zarathustra's influence on Judeo-Christianity and all of western civilization is little known and underestimated. His life and words changed the nature of civilization in the west, setting it on a crossroads of time, geography and culture. Without his impact, Judaism would be unrecognizable, and Christianity in its modern form would probably have never existed.

Zarathustra

Zarathustra
founder of Zoroasterianism

   The Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BC transformed Judaism in a profound way, exposing the Jews to Zoroastrianism, the state religion of Babylon. As a result of their captivity, the era of apocalyptic literature commenced in Judaism, based on Babylonian models and patterned after their symbology. It was to have a strong influence on later Christian thinking. With the key themes of resurrection, judgment, reward, punishment, apocalyptism, Savior, and the ultimate destruction of the forces of Evil, it can be concluded that Jewish and Christian concepts are Zoroastrian from start to finish. As one example, from the Avesta we read:

   "Ahriman stood upon one-third of the inside of the sky, and he sprang, like a snake, out of the sky down to the earth...",

   ...while from Revelation 12, we read:

   "...a huge red dragon('s)... tail dragged a third of the stars from the sky and dropped them to the earth..."

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