Supposed Phallic origin of Serpent-worship---The idea of Life---Adoration of the Principle of Generation---The Serpent as a Symbol of the Phallus---Phallic Worship at Benares---The Serpent and Mahadeo---Festival of the "Nag pauchami"---Snakes and Women---Traces of Phallic Worship in the Kumaon Rock-markings---The Northern Bulb Stones---Professor Stephens on the Snake as a Symbol of the Phallus---The "Dionysiak Myth"---Brown on the Serpent as a Phallic emblem---Mythology of the Aryan Nations---Sir G. W. Cox and the Phallic Theory---Athenian Mythology.
Some persons are disposed to attribute to the Serpent, as a religious emblem, an origin decidedly phallic. Mr. C. S. Wake takes a contrary view, and says:---"So far as I can make out the serpent symbol has not a direct Phallic reference, nor is its attribute of wisdom the most essential. The idea most intimately associated with this animal was that of life, not present merely, but continued, and probably everlasting. Thus the snake Bai was figured as Guardian of the doorways of the Egyptian Tombs which represented the mansions of heaven. A sacred serpent would seem to have been kept in all the Egyptian temples, and we are told that many of the subjects, in the tombs of the kings at Thebes in particular, show the importance it was thought to enjoy in a future state. Crowns, formed of the Asp or sacred Thermuthis, were given to sovereigns and divinities, particularly to Isis, and these no doubt were intended to symbolise eternal life. Isis was a goddess of life and healing and the serpent evidently belonged to her in that character, seeing that it was the symbol also of other deities with the like attributes. Thus, on papyri it encircles the figure of Harpocrates, who was identified with Æsculapius; while not only was a great serpent kept alive in the great temple of Serapis, but on later monuments this god is represented by a great serpent with or without a human head. Mr. Fergusson, in accordance with his peculiar theory as to the origin of serpent worship, thinks this superstition characterised the old Turanaian (or rather let us say Akkadian) empire of Chaldea, while tree-worship was more a characteristic of the later Assyrian Empire. This opinion is no doubt correct, and it means really that the older race had that form of faith with which the serpent was always indirectly connected---adoration of the male principle of generation, the principal phase of which was probably ancestor worship, while the latter race adored the female principle, symbolised by the sacred tree, the Assyrian 'grove.' The 'tree of life,' however, undoubtedly had reference to the male element, and we may well imagine that originally the fruit alone was treated as symbolical of the opposite element."
Mr. J. H. Rivett-Carnac, in his paper printed in the journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, entitled "The Snake Symbol in India," suggests that the serpent is a symbol of the phallus. He says:---"The serpent appears on the prehistoric cromlechs and menhirs of Europe, on which I believe the remains of phallic worship may be traced. What little attention I have been able to give to the serpent symbol has been chiefly in its connection with the worship of Mahádeo or Siva, with a view to ascertain whether the worship of the snake and that of Mahádeo or the phallus may be considered identical, and whether the presence of the serpent on the prehistoric remains of Europe can be shown to support my theory, that the markings on the cromlechs and menhirs are indeed the traces of this form of worship, carried to Europe from the East by the tribes whose remains are buried beneath the tumuli.
During my visits to Benares, the chief centre of Siva worship in India, I have always carefully searched for the snake-symbol. On the most ordinary class of "Mahádeo," a rough stone placed on end supposed to represent the phallus, the serpent is not generally seen. But in the temples and in the better class of shrines which abound in the city and neighbourhood the snake is generally found encircling the phallus. The tail of the snakes is sometimes carried down the Yoni, and in one case I found two snakes on a shrine thus depicted.
In the Benares bazaar I once came across a splendid metal cobra, the head erect and hood expanded, so made as to be placed around or above a stone or metal "Mahádeo." It is now in England. The attitude of the cobra when excited and the expansion of the head will suggest the reason for this snake representing Mahádeo and the phallus.
Although the presence of the snake in these models cannot be said to prove much, and although from the easy adaptability of its form the snake must always have been a favourite subject in ornament, still it will be seen that the serpent is prominent in connection with the conventional shape under which Mahádeo is worshipped at Benares and elsewhere, that it sometimes takes the place of the Linga, and that it is to be found entwined with almost every article connected with this worship."
Further on the same writer says:---"The Nág panchami or fifth day of the moon in Sawan is a great fete in the city of Nágpúr, and more than usual license is indulged in on that day. Rough pictures of snakes in all sorts of shapes and positions are sold and distributed, something after the manner of valentines. I cannot find any copies of these queer sketches, and if I could they would hardly be fit to be reproduced. Mr. J. W. Neill, the present Commissioner of Nágpúr, was good enough to send me some superior valentines of this class, and I submit them now for the inspection of the Society. It will be seen that in these paintings, some of which are not without merit either as to design or execution, no human figures are introduced. In the ones I have seen in days gone by the positions of the women with the snakes were of the most indecent description and left no doubt that, so far as the idea represented in these sketches was concerned, the cobra was regarded as the phallus. In the pictures now sent the snakes will be seen represented in congress in the well-known form of the Caduceus Esculapian rod. Then the many-headed snake, drinking from the jewelled cup, takes me back to some of the symbols of the mysteries of bygone days. The snake twisted round the tree and the second snake approaching it are suggestive of the temptation and fall. But I am not unmindful of the pitfalls from which Wilford suffered, and I quite see that it is not impossible that this picture may be held to be not strictly Hindu in its treatment. Still the tree and the serpent are on the brass models which accompany this paper, and which I have already shewn are to be purchased in the Benares Brass Bazaar of to-day---many hundreds of miles away from Nágpúr where these Valentines were drawn.
In my paper on the Kumáon Rock Markings, besides noting the resemblance between the cup markings of India and Europe, I hazarded the theory that the concentric circles and certain curious markings of what some have called the 'jew's harp' type, so common in Europe, are traces of Phallic worship carried there by tribes whose hosts descended into India, pushed forward into the remotest corners of Europe, and, as their traces seem to suggest, found their way on to the American Continent too. Whether the markings really ever were intended to represent the Phallus and the Yoni must always remain a matter of opinion. But I have no reason to be dissatisfied with the reception with which this, to many somewhat pleasant theory, has met in some of the Antiquarian Societies of Europe.
No one who compares the stone Yonis of Benares, sent herewith, with the engravings on the first page of the work on the Rock Markings of Northumberland and Argyleshire, published privately by the Duke of Northumberland, will deny that there is an extraordinary resemblance between the conventional symbol of Siva worship of to-day and the ancient markings on the rocks, menhirs, and cromlechs of Northumberland, of Scotland, of Brittany, of Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe.
And a further examination of the forms of the cromlechs and tumuli and menhirs will suggest that the tumuli themselves were intended to indicate the symbols of the Mahádeo and Yoni, conceived in no obscene sense, but as representing regeneration, the new life, "life out of death, life everlasting," which those buried in the tumuli, facing towards the sun in its meridian, were expected to enjoy in the hereafter. Professor Stephens, the well-known Scandinavian Antiquary, writing to me recently, speaks of the symbols as follows:---"The pieces (papers) you were so good as to send me were very valuable and welcome. There can be no doubt that it is to India we have to look for the solution of many of our difficult archæological questions."
"But especially interesting is your paper on the Ancient Rock-Sculpturings. I believe that you are quite right in your views. Nay, I go further. I think that the northern Bulb-stones are explained by the same combination. I therefore send you the Swedish Archæological Journal for 1876, containing Baron Herculius' excellent dissertation on these objects ..You can examine the many excellent woodcuts. I look upon these things as late conventionalized abridgments of the Linga and Yoni, life out of death, life everlasting---thus a fitting ornament for the graves of the departed."
The author further says:---"Many who indignantly repudiate the idea of the prevalence of Phallic Worship among our remote ancestors hold that these symbols represent the snake or the sun. But admitting this, may not the snake, after all, have been but a symbol of the phallus? And the sun, the invigorating power of nature, has ever, I believe, been considered to represent the same idea, not necessarily obscene, but the great mystery of nature, the life transmitted from generation to generation, or, as Professor Stephans puts it, 'life out of death, life everlasting.'" The same idea, in fact, which, apart from any obscene conception, causes the rude Mahádeo and Yoni to be worshipped daily by hundreds of thousands of Hindus.
Brown, in his "Great Dionysiak Myth," says:---"The Serpent has six principal points of connection with Dionysos: 1---As a symbol of, and connected with, wisdom. 2---As a solar emblem. 3---As a symbol of time and eternity. 4---As an emblem of the earth, life. 5---As connected with fertilizing moisture. 6---As a phallic emblem."
Referring to the last of these, he proceeds---"The serpent being connected with the sun, the earth life and fertility must needs be also a phallic emblem, and so appropriate to the cult of Dionysos Priapos. Mr. Cox after a review of the subject, observes, 'Finally, the symbol of the Phallus suggested the form of the serpent, which thus became the emblem of life and healing. There then we have the key to that tree and serpent worship which has given rise to much ingenious speculation.' The myth of the serpent and the tree is not, I apprehend, exhausted by any merely phallic explanation, but the phallic element is certainly one of the most prominent features in it, as it might be thought any inspection of the carvings connected with the Topes of Sanchi and Amravati would show. It is hard to believe, with Mr. Fergusson, that the usefulness and beauty of trees gained them the payment of divine honours. Again, the Asherah or Grove-cult (Exod. 34, 13; I Kings 17, 16; Jer. 17, 2; Micah 5, 14) was essentially Phallic, Asherah being the Upright. It seems also to have been in some degree connected with that famous relic, the brazen serpent of Nehushtan (2 Kings 18, 4). Donaldson considers that the Serpent is the emblem of desire. It has also been suggested that the creature symbolised sensation generally."
The Sir G. W. Cox referred to above, in his "Mythology of Argai Nations," says:---"If there is one point more certain than another it is that wherever tree and serpent worship has been found, the cultus of the Phallos and the Ship, of the Linga and Yoni, in connection with the worship of the sun, has been found also. It is impossible to dispute the fact, and no explanation can be accepted for one part of the cultus which fails to explain the other. It is unnecessary, therefore, to analyze theories which profess to see in it the worship of the creeping brute or the wide-spreading tree. A religion based on the worship of the venomous reptile must have been a religion of terror; in the earliest glimpses which we have of it, the serpent is a symbol of life and of love. Nor is the Phallic cultus in any respect a cultus of the full-grown and branching tree. In its earliest form the symbol is everywhere a mere stauros, or pole; and although this stock or rod budded in the shape of the thyrsus and the shepherd's staff, yet, even in its latest developments, the worship is confined to small bushes and shrubs and diminutive plants of a particular kind. Nor is it possible again to dispute the fact that every nation, at some stage or other of its history, has attached to this cultus precisely that meaning which the Brahman now attaches to the Linga and the Yoni. That the Jews clung to it in this special sense with vehement tenacity is the bitter compaint of the prophets; and the crucified serpent adored for its healing powers stood untouched in the Temple until it was removed and destroyed by Hezekiah. This worship of serpents, "void of reason," condemned in the Wisdom of Solomon, probably survived even the Babylonish captivity. Certainly it was adopted by the Christians who were known as Ophites, Gnostics, and Nicolaitans. In Athenian mythology the serpent and the tree are singularly prominent. Kekrops, Erechtheus, and Erichthonios, are each and all serpentine in the lower portion of their bodies. The sacred snake of Athênê had its abode in the Akropolis, and her olive trees secured for her the victory in her rivalry with Poseidôn. The health-giving serpent lay at the feet of Asklêpios and snakes were fed in his temple at Epidauros and elsewhere. That the ideas of mere terror and death suggested by the venomous or the crushing reptile could never have given way thus completely before those of life, healing, and safety, is obvious enough; and the latter ideas alone are associated with the serpent as the object of adoration. The deadly beast always was, and has always remained, the object of horror and loathing which is expressed for Ahi, the choking and throttling snake, the Vritra whom Indra smites with his unerring lance, the dreadful Azidahaka of the Avesta, the Zohak or Biter of modern Persian mythology, the serpents whom Heraktes strangles in his cradle, the Python, or Fafnir, or Grendel, or Sphinx whom Phoibos, or Sigurd, or Beowulf, or Oidipous smite and slay. That the worship of the Serpent has nothing to do with these evil beasts is abundantly clear from all the Phallic monuments of the East or West. In the topes of Sanchi and Amravati the disks which represent the Yoni predominate in every part of the design; the emblem is worn with unmistakeable distinctness by every female figure, carved within these disks, while above the multitude are seen, on many of the disks, a group of women with their hands resting on the linga, which they uphold. It may, indeed, be possible to trace out the association which connects the Linga with the bull in Sivaison, as denoting more particularly the male power, while the serpent in Jainaison and Vishnavism is found with the female emblem, the Yoni. So again in Egypt, some may discern in the bull Apis or Mnevis the predominance of the male idea in that country, while in Assyria or Palestine the Serpent or Agathos Daimon is connected with the altar of Baal.