Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Feb 4th - Feb 10th, 2005

Rainbow Dreams

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      Although many have heard of the Rainbow Serpent, not many folks realize that it is not a motif confined to a single indigenous culture. In the African tradition, the Rainbow Serpent is known as Aido-Hwedo, and he existed at the beginning of time. He was put there to serve Nana-Buluku, the one god. Aido-Hwedo carried Nana-Buluku in his mouth, and the curves of rivers, mountains and valleys were created because that's way Aido-Hwedo moves.

      After all was created by Nan-Buluku, the load was so heavy that He asked Aido-Hwedo to coil beneath the earth to help cushion it. Because Aido-Hwedo could not stand the heat, the creator made the (cosmic) ocean for him to live in, and there Aido-Hwedo has remained since the beginning of time, cushioning the earth with his tail in his mouth. We will see this theme of the Great Serpent helping to shape the contours of the Earth again later. Dahomey Rainbow Serpent

      This African myth came from the Dahomey tribe of what is modern day Benin, and as seen from that latitude, a good portion of Draco does in fact lie below, or, as the myth puts it, beneath the earth. Although the Central portions of Africa are close to the equator, Draco is such a large constellation that portions of it can still be seen even here. Naturally, the image of the Rainbow Serpent with his tail in his mouth is similar to Ouroboros, the serpent who either chases or holds his tail in his mouth as the constellation, spinning around the pole, is like a cat chasing his own tail, forever rotating in nocturnal spirals above the clouds...

Rainbow Serpent 6000 BC from Northern Australia       In each of these myths, the Dragon (or Rainbow Serpent) is tied to the four cardinal points, as any circle is bound by its center. The Native American tale of the Rainbow Serpent best illustrates this concept. According to their beliefs, there is a great circle, which is so huge it holds everything; for it is the universe, and all that live inside the Great Circle are relatives (hi there!). When standing at the center, the four quarters are each sacred, for each has a mystical power. In astrological terms, we agree, as the East is what measures the precise position of the vernal equinox, and each of the other points (North, South and West) also carry a corresponding significance. According the Native Americans, where the blue-black road of the dead meets the white road of the living at the Center Place (what we would call the North Celestial Pole) is very holy. There coils the Rainbow Serpent (Draco). Her symbol is the sacred lightning spiral. For those who have awakened, she arises and arcs across the face of the world. It's then possible to climb on her back and rise into the skyworld without dying. For those who would dare, it's even possible to speak to the gods.

      In Australia, the Rainbow Serpent is known and is again associated with the beginning of creation. These tales are most prevalent in northern Australia, but can be found throughout the continent. Here, too, the mythic tradition records a special relationship between the Serpent and the formation of the mountains and valleys "...in the beginning," during the dreamtime. Yingarna was the Mother of Creation in one variation of the myth, and some of the Rainbow Snake portraits go back 8,000 years (when the Spring time point was moving through Gemini), making it one of the oldest known religious symbols on the planet.

      One potential 'fly in the ointment' is that some would argue that our 'Rainbow Serpent,' a circumpolar constellation, isn't visible from 'Down Under,' but that's not true. You can just see her head popping above the horizon in northern Australia. (In the image above, notice the North Cestial Pole, where all the lines converge, below the horizon. Since this is due North, anything in the 'grey zone' of that first circle will never appear above the horizon.)

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