Hydra, Cancer and The Serpent

The Snake is a universal symbol of immortality and creativity in myth through out the ages and in virtually all lands inhabited by humans.  Many snakes shed their skin at various times, revealing a shiny new skin underneath.   Thus snakes have become symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing.  We find images representing the power of the Snake. The snake symbolizes everything from the Devil to the highest order of angels.

The serpent is often symbolically associated with the renewal of life because it sheds its skin periodically. A similar belief existed in the ancient Mesopotamians and Semites, and appears also in Hindu mythology. The Pelasgian myth of creation refers to snakes as the reborn dead. In the Minoan religion the snake was the protector of the house, as it later appears also in Greek religion. Among the Greek Dionysiac cult it signified wisdom and was the symbol of fertility.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Nirah, the sukkal, or personal attendant, of Ištaran, the local god of the Sumerian city-state of Der, was identified with snakes and may appear in the form of a snake on kudurrus (boundary stones).

Representations of two intertwined serpents are common in Sumerian art and Neo-Sumerian artwork and still appear sporadically on cylinder seals and amulets until as late as the thirteenth century BC.

The horned viper (Cerastes cerastes) appears in Kassite and Neo-Assyrian kudurrus and is invoked in Assyrian texts as a magical protective entity. A dragon-like creature with horns, the body and neck of a snake, the forelegs of a lion, and the hind-legs of a bird appears in Mesopotamian art from the Akkadian Period until the Hellenistic Period (323 BCE–31 BCE).

This creature, known in Akkadian as the mušḫuššu, meaning “furious serpent”, was used as a symbol for particular deities and also as a general protective emblem. It seems to have originally been the attendant of the Underworld god Ninazu, but later became the attendant to the Hurrian storm-god Tishpak, as well as, later, Ninazu’s son Ningishzida, the Babylonian national god Marduk, the scribal god Nabu, and the Assyrian national god Ashur.

Snake cults were well established in Canaanite religion in the Bronze Age, for archaeologists have uncovered serpent cult objects in Bronze Age strata at several pre-Israelite cities in Canaan: two at Megiddo, one at Gezer, one in the sanctum sanctorum of the Area H temple at Hazor, and two at Shechem.

In the surrounding region, serpent cult objects figured in other cultures. A late Bronze Age Hittite shrine in northern Syria contained a bronze statue of a god holding a serpent in one hand and a staff in the other. In 6th-century Babylon, a pair of bronze serpents flanked each of the four doorways of the temple of Esagila.

At the Babylonian New Year’s festival, the priest was to commission from a woodworker, a metalworker and a goldsmith two images one of which “shall hold in its left hand a snake of cedar, raising its right [hand] to the god Nabu”. At the tell of Tepe Gawra, at least seventeen Early Bronze Age Assyrian bronze serpents were recovered.

In the Gospel of John 3:14–15, Jesus makes direct comparison between the raising up of the Son of Man and the act of Moses in raising up the serpent as a sign, using it as a symbol associated with salvation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.

The snake goddess

The snake goddess’s Minoan name may be related with A-sa-sa-ra, a possible interpretation of inscriptions found in Linear A texts. Although Linear A is not yet deciphered it is related tentatively to the inscription a-sa-sa-ra-me which seems to have accompanied goddesses, with the Hittite išhaššara, which means “mistress”. Some scholars relate the snake goddess with the Phoenician Astarte (virgin daughter).

The snake goddess was the goddess of fertility and sexuality and her worship was connected with an orgiastic cult. Her temples were decorated with serpentine motifs. Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus.

In a related Greek myth Europa, who is sometimes identified with Astarte in ancient sources, was a Phoenician princess whom Zeus abducted and carried to Crete. In Greek mythology, Europa was the mother of King Minos of Crete, a woman with Phoenician origin of high lineage, and after whom the continent Europe was named.

It is suggested that the snake goddess reduced in legend into a folklore heroine was Ariadne (utterly pure or the very holy one), who is often depicted surrounded by Maenads and satyrs. Ariadne, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Minos (the King of Crete and a son of Zeus) and Pasiphaë (Minos’ queen and a daughter of Helios).

Ariadne is mostly associated with mazes and labyrinths because of her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. Her father put her in charge of the labyrinth where sacrifices were made as part of reparations (either to Poseidon or to Athena, depending on the version of the myth); later, she helped Theseus overcome the Minotaur and save the potential sacrificial victims. In other stories, she became the bride of the god Dionysus, with the question of her being mortal or a goddess varying in those accounts.


The snake goddess has been linked with the Egyptian snake goddess Wadjet (“Green One”), known to the Greek world as Uto or Buto among other names including Wedjat, Uadjet, and Udjo. Statuettes similar to the “snake goddess” identified as priest of Wadjud and magician have been found in Egypt.

She was one of the earliest Egyptian deities and was often depicted as a cobra, as she is the serpent goddess. The center of her cult was in Per-Wadjet, later called Buto by the Greeks. She became the patroness of the Nile Delta and the protector of all of Lower Egypt, and upon unification with Upper Egypt, the joint protector and patron of all of Egypt “goddess” of Upper Egypt.

At the time of the unification of Egypt, the image of Nekhbet, the goddess who was represented as a white vulture and held the same position as the patron of Upper Egypt, joined the image of Wadjet on the Uraeus that would encircle the crown of the pharaohs who ruled the unified Egypt.

The importance of their separate cults kept them from becoming merged as with so many Egyptian deities. Together, they were known as the nebty or The Two Ladies, who became the joint protectors and patrons of the unified Egypt.

She was also the protector of kings and of women in childbirth. Wadjet was said to be the nurse of the infant god Horus. With the help of his mother Isis, they protected Horus from his treacherous uncle, Set, when they took refuge in the swamps of the Nile Delta.

The “Going Forth of Wadjet” was celebrated on December 25 with chants and songs. An annual festival held in the city celebrated Wadjet on April 21. Other important dates for special worship of her were June 21, the summer solstice, and March 14. She also was assigned the fifth hour of the fifth day of the moon.

As the patron goddess, she was associated with the land and depicted as a snake-headed woman or a snake—usually an Egyptian cobra, a venomous snake common to the region; sometimes she was depicted as a woman with two snake heads and, at other times, a snake with a woman’s head. Her oracle was in the renowned temple in Per-Wadjet that was dedicated to her worship and gave the city its name. This oracle may have been the source for the oracular tradition that spread to Greece from Egypt.

Wadjets existed long before the rise of this cult when they originated as the eye of Wadjet as a cobra. The Egyptian word wꜢḏ signifies blue and green. It is also the name for the well-known “Eye of the Moon”. Wadjets are also the name of the symbols called the Eye of the Moon, Eye of Hathor, the Eye of Horus, and the Eye of Ra—depending upon the dates of the references to the symbols.

Indeed, in later times, she was often depicted simply as a woman with a snake’s head, or as a woman wearing the uraeus (from the Greek ouraîos, “on its tail”; from Egyptian jʿr.t (iaret), “rearing cobra”), the stylized, upright form of an Egyptian cobra (asp, serpent, or snake), used as a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity and divine authority in ancient Egypt.

The image of Wadjet with the sun disk is called the uraeus, and it was the emblem on the crown of the rulers of Lower Egypt. The Uraeus is a symbol for the goddess Wadjet.  The pharaohs wore the uraeus as a head ornament: either with the body of Wadjet atop the head, or as a crown encircling the head; this indicated Wadjet’s protection and reinforced the pharaoh’s claim over the land.

In whatever manner that the Uraeus was displayed upon the pharaoh’s head, it was, in effect, part of the pharaoh’s crown. The pharaoh was recognized only by wearing the Uraeus, which conveyed legitimacy to the ruler. There is evidence for this tradition even in the Old Kingdom during the third millennium BCE. Several goddesses associated with or being considered aspects of Wadjet are depicted wearing the uraeus as well.

Later, the pharaohs were seen as a manifestation of the sun god Ra, and so it also was believed that the Uraeus protected them by spitting fire on their enemies from the fiery eye of the goddess. In some mythological works, the eyes of Ra are said to be uraei.

As the Uraeus was seen as a royal symbol, the deities Horus and Set were also depicted wearing the symbol on their crowns. In early ancient Egyptian mythology, Horus would have been the name given to any king as part of the many titles taken, being identified as the son of the goddess Isis.

According to the later mythology of Re, the first Uraeus was said to have been created by the goddess Isis, who formed it from the dust of the earth and the spittle of the then-current sun deity.[citation needed] In this version of the mythology, the Uraeus was the instrument with which Isis gained the throne of Egypt for Osiris. Isis is associated with and may be considered an aspect of Wadjet.

The uraeus originally had been her body alone, which wrapped around or was coiled upon the head of the pharaoh or another deity. Wadjet was depicted as a cobra. As patron and protector, later Wadjet often was shown coiled upon the head of Ra; in order to act as his protection, this image of her became the uraeus symbol used on the royal crowns as well.

Another early depiction of Wadjet is as a cobra entwined around a papyrus stem, beginning in the Predynastic era (prior to 3100 BC) and it is thought to be the first image that shows a snake entwined around a staff symbol.

This is a sacred image that appeared repeatedly in the later images and myths of cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, called the caduceus, which may have had separate origins. Her image also rears up from the staff of the “flagpoles” that are used to indicate deities, as seen in the hieroglyph for “uraeus” and for “goddess” in other places.

Hydra and the serpent

There were two “serpent” constellations in Babylonian astronomy, known as Mušḫuššu and Bašmu. It appears that Mušḫuššu was depicted as a hybrid of a dragon, a lion and a bird, and loosely corresponded to Hydra, the water snake. Bašmu was a horned serpent (c.f. Ningishzida) and roughly corresponds to the constellation of Eudoxus of Cnidus on which the Serpens of Ptolemy is based.

The other Babylonian constellation, called Bašmu, was depicted as a horned serpent (c.f. Ningishzida), and loosely corresponded to a constellation nemed óphis (“snake”) created by the Greek astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus in the 4th century BC, on which Ptolemy’s Serpens constellation was based.

The Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian mythology celebrated the deeds of the war and hunting god Ninurta, who is credited with slaying 11 monsters on an expedition to the mountains, including a seven-headed serpent, who is possibly identical with the Mushmahhu and Bashmu, whose constellation (despite having a single Head) was later associated by the Greeks with the Hydra.

The Greek constellation of Hydra is an adaptation of a Babylonian constellation: the MUL.APIN includes a “serpent” constellation (MUL.DINGIR.MUŠ) that loosely corresponds to Hydra. It is one of two Babylonian “serpent” constellations (the other being the origin of the Greek Serpens), a mythological hybrid of serpent, lion and bird.

The constellation Hydra was known in Babylonian astronomical texts as Bashmu (“the Serpent”; MUŠ.ŠÀ.TÙR or MUŠ.ŠÀ.TUR, lit. “Venomous Snake”). The constellation is also sometimes associated in Babylonian contexts with Marduk’s dragon, the Mushhushshu.

Eudoxus of Cnidus (c. 390-337 BC) was an ancient Greek astronomer, mathematician, scholar, and student of Archytas and Plato. His name Eudoxus means “honored” or “of good repute” (from eu “good” and doxa “opinion, belief, fame”). It is analogous to the Latin name Benedictus.

The Serpent

Ophiuchus (“Serpent-Bearer”) is a large constellation straddling the celestial equator. It is commonly represented as a man grasping a serpent (“the Serpent”) that is represented by the constellation Serpens, a constellation of the northern hemisphere unique among the modern constellations in being split into two non-contiguous parts.

The interposition of his body divides the snake constellation Serpens into two parts, Serpens Caput (Serpent Head) to the west and Serpens Cauda (Serpent Tail) to the east, which are nonetheless counted as one constellation.

Ophiuchus straddles the equator but lies predominately to its south. However, Rasalhague, a fairly conspicuous star in its north. The constellation extends southward to −30° declination. In the northern hemisphere it is best visible in summer.

In figurative representations, the body of the serpent is represented as passing behind Ophiuchus between Mu Serpentis in Serpens Caput and Nu Serpentis in Serpens Cauda. The brightest star in Serpens is the red giant star Alpha Serpentis, or Unukalhai, in Serpens Caput.

In Greek mythology, Serpens represents a snake held by the healer Asclepius. Represented in the sky by the constellation Ophiuchus, Asclepius once killed a snake, but the animal was subsequently resurrected after a second snake placed a revival herb on it before its death.

As snakes shed their skin every year, they were known as the symbol of rebirth in ancient Greek society, and legend says Asclepius would revive dead humans using the same technique he witnessed.

Although this is likely the logic for Serpens’ presence with Ophiuchus, the true reason is still not fully known. Sometimes, Serpens was depicted as coiling around Ophiuchus, but the majority of atlases showed Serpens passing either behind Ophiuchus’ body or between his legs.

In some ancient atlases, the constellations Serpens and Ophiuchus were depicted as two separate constellations, although more often they were shown as a single constellation.

One notable figure to depict Serpens separately was Johann Bayer; thus, Serpens’ stars are cataloged with separate Bayer designations from those of Ophiuchus. When Eugène Delporte established modern constellation boundaries in the 1920s, he elected to depict the two separately.

However, this posed the problem of how to disentangle the two constellations, with Deporte deciding to split Serpens into two areas—the head and the tail—separated by the continuous Ophiuchus. These two areas became known as Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda, caput being the Latin word for head and cauda the Latin word for tail.

Hydra and Cancer

Hydra is the largest of the 88 modern constellations, measuring 1303 square degrees. Also one of the longest constellations at over 100 degrees, its southern end abuts Libra and Centaurus and its northern end borders Cancer. It has a long history. It is commonly represented as a water snake.

The shape of Hydra resembles a twisting snake, and features as such in some Greek myths. One myth associates it with a water snake that a crow served Apollo in a cup when it was sent to fetch water; Apollo saw through the fraud, and angrily cast the crow, cup, and snake, into the sky. It is also associated with the monster Hydra, with its many heads, killed by Hercules, who is represented in another constellation.

The Lernaean Hydra or Hydra of Lerna, more often known simply as the Hydra, was a serpentine water monster in Greek and Roman mythology. Its lair was the lake of Lerna in the Argolid, which was also the site of the myth of the Danaïdes.

Hydra was depicted as having the torso of a fish, a tail of a snake, the forepaws of a lion, the hind-legs of an eagle, with wings, and with a head comparable to Marduk’s dragon, the Mushhushshu. Hydra had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly.

Lerna was reputed to be an entrance to the Underworld, and archaeology has established it as a sacred site older than Mycenaean Argos. According to Hesiod, the Hydra was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna (“She-Viper”), a monster, half-woman and half-snake, who lived alone in a cave. She was the mate of the fearsome monster Typhon and was the mother of monsters.

According to legend, if one of the hydra’s heads was cut off, two more would grow in its place. However, Hercules burned out the roots of the heads he severed to prevent them from growing again, and thus overcame the hydra.

In the canonical Hydra myth the monster is killed by Heracles (Hercules) using sword and fire, as the second of his Twelve Labors. It possessed many heads, the exact number of which varies according to the source. Later versions of the Hydra story add a regeneration feature to the monster: for every head chopped off, the Hydra would regrow a couple of heads.

In Greek mythology Eurystheus sent Heracles to slay the Hydra, which Hera had raised just to slay Heracles. Upon reaching the swamp near Lake Lerna, where the Hydra dwelt, Heracles covered his mouth and nose with a cloth to protect himself from the poisonous fumes. He shot flaming arrows into the Hydra’s lair, the spring of Amymone, a deep cave from which it emerged only to terrorize neighboring villages.

He then confronted the Hydra, wielding either a harvesting sickle (according to some early vase-paintings), a sword, or his famed club. The chthonic creature’s reaction to this decapitation was botanical: two grew back, an expression of the hopelessness of such a struggle for any but the hero. The weakness of the Hydra was that it was invulnerable only if it retained at least one head.

The details of the struggle are explicit in the Bibliotheca: realizing that he could not defeat the Hydra in this way, Heracles called on his nephew Iolaus for help. His nephew then came upon the idea (possibly inspired by Athena) of using a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterized the open stumps.

Seeing that Heracles was winning the struggle, Hera sent a giant crab to distract him. He crushed it under his mighty foot. The Hydra’s one immortal head was cut off with a golden sword given to Heracles by Athena. Heracles placed the head—still alive and writhing—under a great rock on the sacred way between Lerna and Elaius, and dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s poisonous blood. Thus his second task was complete.

The alternate version of this myth is that after cutting off one head he then dipped his sword in its neck and used its venom to burn each head so it could not grow back. Hera, upset that Heracles had slain the beast she raised to kill him, placed it in the dark blue vault of the sky as the constellation Hydra. She then turned the crab into the constellation Cancer (“The Crab”).

Heracles would later use arrows dipped in the Hydra’s poisonous blood to kill other foes during his remaining labors, such as Stymphalian Birds and the giant Geryon.

Greek and Roman writers related that Hera placed the Hydra and crab as constellations in the night sky after Heracles had slew them. When the sun is in the sign of Cancer, the constellation Hydra has its head nearby. In fact, both constellations derived from the earlier Babylonian signs: Bashmu (“The Venomous Snake”) and Alluttu (“The Crayfish”).


Cancer is the fourth astrological sign in the Zodiac, originating from the constellation of Cancer. It spans 90° and 120° celestial longitude. Cancer a northern sign and its opposite is southern sign is Capricorn. Cancer is said to be the house of Neptune and the exaltation of Jupiter.

Under the tropical zodiac, the Sun transits this area between approximately June 21 and July 23, and under the sidereal zodiac, the Sun transits this area between approximately July 16 and August 15.

Cancer was the location of the Sun’s most northerly position in the sky (the summer solstice) in ancient times, though this position now occurs in Taurus due to the precession of the equinoxes, around June 21. This is also the time that the Sun is directly overhead at 23.5°N, a parallel now known as the Tropic of Cancer.

In astrology, Cancer is the cardinal sign of the Water trigon, which is made up of Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio. The Water Trigon is one of four elemental trigons, fire, earth, air, and water. When a trigon is influential, it affects changes on earth.

Cancer is said to have been the place for the Akkadian Sun of the South, perhaps from its position at the summer solstice in very remote antiquity. But afterwards it was associated with the fourth month Duzu (June–July in the modern western calendar), and was known as the Northern Gate of Sun.

In ancient times, Cancer was known as the “dark sign” because of the obscured visibility of its constellation in the night sky. It is considered a negative sign, whose domicile, or ruling planet, is the Moon. The Indian language Sanskrit shares a common ancestor with Greek, and the Sanskrit name of Cancer is Karka and Karkata. Vedic astrology the sign is named Karka and its Lord is Moon.

In Babylonia the constellation was known as MUL.AL.LUL, a name which can refer to both a crab and a snapping turtle. There also appears to be a strong connection between the Babylonian constellation and ideas of death and a passage to the underworld.

This may be the origin of these ideas in later Greek myths associated with Hercules and the Hydra. Some scholars have suggested that Karkinos was a late addition to the myth of Hercules in order to make the Twelve Labors correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Though some depictions of Cancer feature a lobster, the sign is most often represented by the crab, based on the Karkinos, a giant crab that harassed Heracles during his fight with the Hydra. Heracles was able to kill the crab by smashing its shell with his foot. As a reward for its efforts serving her, Hera placed the crab in the sky and it became Cancer. The Indian language Sanskrit shares a common ancestor with Greek, and the Sanskrit name of Cancer is Karka and Karkata.


The modern symbol for Cancer represents the pincers of a crab, but Cancer has been represented as many types of creatures, usually those living in the water, and always those with an exoskeleton. In the Egyptian records of about 2000 BC it was described as Scarabaeus (Scarab), the sacred emblem of immortality.

Scarabs were popular amulets and impression seals in Ancient Egypt. For reasons that are not clear amulets in the form of scarab beetles had become enormously popular in Ancient Egypt by the early Middle Kingdom (approx. 2000 BCE).

They remained popular for the rest of the pharaonic period and beyond. During that long period the function of scarabs repeatedly changed. From the middle Bronze Age, other ancient peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East imported scarabs from Egypt and also produced scarabs in Egyptian or local styles, especially in the Levant.

They are connected to the religious significance of the Egyptian god Khepri or ḫprj, derived from Egyptian language verb ḫpr, meaning “develop”, “come into being”, or “create”.

Young dung beetles, having been laid as eggs within the dung ball, emerge from it fully formed. Therefore, Khepri also represented creation and rebirth, and he was specifically connected with the rising sun and the mythical creation of the world.

The god was connected with the scarab beetle (ḫprr in Egyptian), because the scarab rolls balls of dung across the ground, an act that the Egyptians saw as a symbol of the forces that move the sun across the sky. Khepri was thus a solar deity. The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.

There was no cult devoted to Khepri, and he was largely subordinate to the greater sun god Ra. Often, Khepri and another solar deity, Atum, were seen as aspects of Ra: Khepri was the morning sun, Ra was the midday sun, and Atum was the sun in the evening.

Khepri was principally depicted as a scarab beetle, though in some tomb paintings and funerary papyri he is represented as a human male with a scarab as a head. He is also depicted as a scarab in a solar barque held aloft by Nun. The scarab amulets that the Egyptians used as jewelry and as seals represent Khepri.

The Labbu Myth

The Labbu Myth or possibly Kalbu Myth, depending on the reading of the first character in the antagonist’s name, which is always written as KAL may be read as Lab, Kal, Rib and Tan, is an ancient Mesopotamian creation epic with its origin no later than the Old Babylonian period.

It is a folktale also known as or “The Slaying of Labbu” possibly of the Diyala region as the later version seems to feature the god Tišpak as its protagonist and may be an allegory representing his replacement of the chthonic serpent-god Ninazu at the top of the pantheon of the city of Ešnunna.

It was possibly a precursor of the Enûma Eliš, where Labbu, meaning “Raging One” or “lion”, was the prototype of Tiamat and of the Canaanite tale of Baal fighting Yamm. In the earlier version Nergal is playing this part.

Extant in two very fragmentary copies, an Old Babylonian and a later Assyrian one from the Library of Ashurbanipal, which have no complete surviving lines, the Labbu Myth relates the tale of a possibly leonine certainly serpentine monster, a fifty-league long Bašmu (Ba.Aš.Ma) or sixty-league long Mušḫuššu (MUŠ-ḪUŠ), depending on the version and reconstruction of the text.

The opening of the Old Babylonian version recalls that of Gilgamesh. The vast dimensions of Labbu are described. The sea, tāmtu has given birth to the dragon. The fragmentary line “He raises his tail…” identified him for Neil Forsyth as a precursor of a later Adversary, the dragon of Revelation 12:4, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.

In the later version, Labbu is created by the god Enlil who “drew [a picture of] the dragon in the sky”, to wipe out humanity whose raucous noise has been disturbing this deity’s sleep, a recurring motif in Babylonian creation epics. Whether this refers to the Milky Way or a comet is not clear.

The pantheon of Babylonian gods are terrified by this apparition and appeal to the moon god Sîn or fertility goddess Aruru who conscripts Tišpak/Nergal to counter this threat and “exercise kingship”, presumably over Ešnunna, as its reward.

Tišpak/Nergal raises objections to tangling with the serpent but, after a gap in the narrative, a god whose name is abraded provides guidance on military strategy. A storm erupts and the victor, who may or may not be Tišpak or Nergal, in accordance with the advice given, fires an arrow to slay the beast.

The epic fragments are not part of a cosmogony, as the cities of men already exist. The myth’s function as a justification of Tishpak’s accession as king, “as a consequence of his ‘liberation’ of the nation, sanctioned by the decision of a divine council.”


Nergal seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.

He has also been called “the king of sunset”. Over time Nergal developed from a war god to a god of the underworld. In the mythology, this occurred when Enlil and Ninlil gave him the underworld.

In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person. In some texts the god Ninazu is the son of Nergal and Allatu/Ereshkigal.

A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninurta (slayer of Asag and wielder of Sharur, an enchanted mace) and Nergal. Nergal has epithets such as the “raging king,” the “furious one,” and the like.


Tishpak was a warrior god possibly identical with the Hurrian god Teshup, who is depicted holding a triple thunderbolt and a weapon, usually an axe (often double-headed) or mace.

Taru was the name of a similar Hattic Storm God, whose mythology and worship as a primary deity continued and evolved through descendant Luwian and Hittite cultures. In these two, Taru was known as Tarhun / Tarhunt- / Tarhuwant- / Tarhunta, names derived from the Anatolian root *tarh”to defeat, conquer”.

The sacred bull common throughout Anatolia was his signature animal, represented by his horned crown or by his steeds Seri and Hurri, who drew his chariot or carried him on their backs.

Teshub reappears in the post-Hurrian cultural successor kingdom of Urartu as Tesheba, one of their chief gods; in Urartian art he is depicted standing on a bull. In Assyro-Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.


Ninazu was the patron deity of the city of Eshnunna until he was superseded by Tispak. His sanctuaries were the E-sikul and E-kurma. Unlike his close relative Nergal, he was generally benevolent. In the text Enki and Ninhursag he was described as the consort of Ninsutu, one of the eight deities born to relieve the illness of Enki.

In some texts the god Ninazu is the son of Nergal and Allatu/Ereshkigal. Ninazu was a god of the underworld, and of healing. He was the son of Enlil and Ninlil or, in alternative traditions, of Ereshkigal and Gugalana, the first husband of Ereshkigal.

He was the father of Ningiszida, a Mesopotamian deity of vegetation and the underworld, sometimes depicted as a serpent with a human head. Ningishzida is sometimes the son of Ninazu and Ningiridda, even though the myth Ningishzida’s journey to the netherworld suggests he is the son of Ereshkigal.


Ningishzida (nin-g̃iš-zid-da) is a Mesopotamian deity of vegetation and the underworld. Thorkild Jacobsen translates Ningishzida as Sumerian for “lord of the good tree”.

In Mesopotamian mythology Ningishzida, is sometimes depicted as a serpent with horns. In other depictions, he is shown as human but is accompanied by bashmu, horned serpents. Ningishzida shares the epithet Ušumgallu or Ushumgallu (“great serpent / dragon”), with several other Mesopotamian gods.

In Sumerian mythology, he appears in Adapa’s myth as one of the two guardians of Anu’s celestial palace, alongside Dumuzi, also known as Tammuz, the ancient Mesopotamian god of shepherds, who was also the primary consort of the goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar).

Following an inscription found at Lagash, he was the son of Anu, the heavens. His wife is Azimua, one of the eight deities born to relieve the illness of Enki, and also Geshtinanna, the ancient Sumerian goddess of agriculture, fertility, and dream interpretation, the so-called “heavenly grape-vine”. Geshtinanna is the sister of Dumuzid.

His sister is Amashilama, who dies to join him in the Underworld. She tells him that “the day that dawns for you will also dawn for me; the day you see, I shall also see”, referring to the fact that day in the world above is night in the Underworld.

However, in some texts Ningishzida is said to be female, which means “Nin” would then refer to Lady, which is mostly how the word is used by the Sumerians. He or she was one of the ancestors of Gilgamesh.

The Horned Serpent

The Horned Serpent appear in European and Near Eastern mythology. The ram-horned serpent is a well-attested cult image of north-west Europe before and during the Roman period. It appears three times on the Gundestrup cauldron, and in Romano-Celtic Gaul was closely associated with the horned or antlered god Cernunnos, in whose company it is regularly depicted.

This pairing is found as early as the fourth century BC in Northern Italy, where a huge antlered figure with torcs and a serpent was carved on the rocks in Val Camonica. A bronze image at Étang-sur-Arroux and a stone sculpture at Sommerécourt depict Cernunnos’ body encircled by two horned snakes that feed from bowls of fruit and corn-mash in the god’s lap.

Also at Sommerécourt is a sculpture of a goddess holding a cornucopia and a pomegranate, with a horned serpent eating from a bowl of food. At Yzeures-sur-Creuse a carved youth has a ram-horned snake twined around his legs, with its head at his stomach.

At Cirencester, Gloucestershire, Cernunnos’ legs are two snakes which rear up on each side of his head and are eating fruit or corn. According to Miranda Green, the snakes reflect the peaceful nature of the god, associated with nature and fruitfulness, and perhaps accentuate his association with regeneration.

Other deities occasionally accompanied by ram-horned serpents include “Celtic Mars” and “Celtic Mercury”. The horned snake, and also conventional snakes, appear together with the solar wheel, apparently as attributes of the sun or sky god.

The description of Unktehi or Unktena is, however, more similar to that of a Lindorm in Northern Europe, especially in Southern Scandinavia, and most of all as described in folklore in Eastern Denmark and southern Sweden. There, too, it is a water creature of huge dimensions, while in Southern Sweden it is a huge snake, the sight of which was deadly. This latter characteristic is reminiscent of the basilisk.

The death of vegetation

The death of vegetation is associated with the travel to the underworld of Ningishzida. Anzili or Enzili was a Hittite goddess. Her name is sometimes written with the Sumerogram IŠTAR or the compounde IŠTAR-li. Along with the goddess Zukki, Anzili was involved in rituals to aid childbirth.

Anzili and Zukki are among the many Hittite deities, whose temporary disappearance is the topic of myth (compare Telipinu, the Sun goddess of Arinna, Inara, the kurša-hunting bag, Ḫannaḫanna, the Gulšeš, and various weather gods, including the weather god of Kuliwišna).

The standard pattern is that the deity disappears as a result of their anger and they have to be molified in order to bring them back. In the case of Anzili and Zukki, the goddesses are so angry that they put their shoes on the wrong feet – left on right and right on left – and they put their clothes on back to front, so that their cloak pins are on the back. Then they both departed from mankind. The back-to-front clothes of the goddesses might be understood as a symbol of the symbolic destruction of the cosmic order which results from the goddesses’ departure.

Telipinu (“Exalted Son”) was a Hittite god who most likely served as a patron of farming, though he has also been suggested to have been a storm god or an embodiment of crops. He was a son of the weather god Teššub and the solar goddess Arinniti according to their mythology.

The Telipinu Myth is an ancient Hittite myth about Telipinu, whose disappearance causes all fertility to fail, both plant and animal. In order to stop the havoc and devastation, the gods seek Telipinu but fail to find him. After Telepinu disappeared, his father, the Storm-god Tarhunt (also called Teshub), complained to Ḫannaḫanna (from Hittite ḫanna- “grandmother”), a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the Sumerian goddess Inanna.

Hannahannah sent a bee to find him; when the bee did, stinging Telipinu and smearing wax on him, the god grew angry and began to wreak destruction on the world. She also recommended to the Tarhunt that he should pay the Sea-god the bride-price for the Sea-god’s daughter, so she can wed Telipinu.

Finally, Kamrušepa, goddess of magic, calmed Telipinu by giving his anger to the Doorkeeper of the Underworld. In other references it is a mortal priest who prays for all of Telipinu’s anger to be sent to bronze containers in the underworld, from which nothing escapes.

Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hebat and her brother is Sarruma.

After the dragon Illuyanka wins an encounter with the storm god, the latter asks Inara to give a feast, most probably the Purulli festival, a Hattian spring festival, held at Nerik, dedicated to the earth goddess Hannahanna, who is married to a new king.

Inara decides to use the feast to lure and defeat Illuyanka, who was her father’s archenemy. The dragon and his family gorge themselves on the fare at the feast, becoming quite drunk, which allows Hupasiyas to tie a rope around them. Inara’s father can then kill Illuyanka, thereby preserving creation.

The central ritual of the Puruli festival is dedicated to the destruction of the dragon Illuyanka by the storm god Teshub. The corresponding Assyrian festival is the Akitu of the Enuma Elish. Also compared are the Canaanite Poem of Baal and Psalms 93 and 29.

The mother goddess Hannahanna promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara enlists the aid of a mortal named Hupasiyas of Zigaratta by becoming his lover. Inara built a house on a cliff and gave it to Hupasiyas.

She left one day with instructions that he was not to look out the window, as he might see his family. But he looked and the sight of his family made him beg to be allowed to return home. It is not known what happened next, but there is speculation that Inara killed Hupasiyas for disobeying her, or for hubris, or that he was allowed to return to his family.

Inara then disappears. When Ḫannaḫanna was informed of this by the Storm-god’s bee, she apparently began a search with the help of her female attendant. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahanna with a bee.

After her anger is banished to the Dark Earth, she returns rejoicing, and mothers care once again for their kin. Another means of banishing her anger was through burning brushwood and allowing the vapor to enter her body. Either in this or another text she appears to consult with the Sun god and the War god, but much of the text is missing.

Apparently, like Demeter, Ḫannaḫanna disappears for a while in a fit of anger and while she is gone, cattle and sheep are stifled and mothers, both human and animal take no account of their children. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, also called Kore (“the maiden”), in Greek myth.


In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and is the queen of the underworld. Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable majestic princess of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. In Roman mythology, she is called Proserpina, and her mother, Ceres and her father Jupiter.

Persephone was married to Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest; hence, she is also associated with spring as well as the fertility of vegetation. Similar myths appear in the Orient, in the cults of male gods like Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.

Persephone as a vegetation goddess and her mother Demeter were the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries, which promised the initiated a more enjoyable prospect after death. In some versions, Persephone is the mother of Zeus’s sons Dionysus, Iacchus, or Zagreus, and the little-attested Melinoe. The origins of her cult are uncertain, but it was based on very old agrarian cults of agricultural communities.

In Classical Greek art, Persephone is invariably portrayed robed, often carrying a sheaf of grain. She may appear as a mystical divinity with a sceptre and a little box, but she was mostly represented in the process of being carried off by Hades.

To her alone were dedicated the mysteries celebrated at Athens in the month of Anthesterion, the eighth month of the Attic calendar, corresponding to the lunar term around February and March. Probably from Anthestḗria, an Attic and Ionian festival held around this time in honor of Dionysus, the dead, and the coming spring, named for the flowers used to decorate homes, drinking vessels, and children.

The existence of so many different forms of her name shows how difficult it was for the Greeks to pronounce the word in their own language and suggests that the name may have a Pre-Greek origin. Persephatta is considered to mean “female thresher of grain”.

The first constituent of the name originates in Proto-Greek “perso-” (related to Sanskrit “parṣa-“), “sheaf of grain” and the second constituent of the name originates in Proto-Indo European *-gʷn-t-ih, from the root *gʷʰen- “to strike”. An alternative etymology is from pherein phonon, “to bring (or cause) death”.

The epithets of Persephone reveal her double function as chthonic and vegetation goddess. The surnames given to her by the poets refer to her character as Queen of the lower world and the dead, or her symbolic meaning of the power that shoots forth and withdraws into the earth.

Her common name as a vegetation goddess is Kore, and in Arcadia she was worshipped under the title Despoina, “the mistress”, a very old chthonic divinity. Plutarch identifies her with spring and Cicero calls her the seed of the fruits of the fields. In the Eleusinian mysteries, her return is the symbol of immortality and hence she was frequently represented on sarcophagi.

In the mystical theories of the Orphics and the Platonists, Kore is described as the all-pervading goddess of nature who both produces and destroys everything, and she is therefore mentioned along or identified with other mystic divinities such as Isis, Rhea, Ge, Hestia, Pandora, Artemis, and Hecate.


Bašmu or Bashmu (cuneiform: MUŠ.ŠÀ.TÙR or MUŠ.ŠÀ.TUR, lit. “Venomous Snake”) was an ancient Mesopotamian mythological creature, a horned snake with two forelegs and wings. It was also the Akkadian name of the Babylonian constellation (MUL.DINGIR.MUŠ) equivalent to the Greek Hydra.

The Sumerian terms ušum (portrayed with feet) and muš-šà-tùr (“birth goddess snake”, portrayed without feet) may represent differing iconographic types or different demons.

It is first attested by a 22nd-century BC cylinder inscription at Gudea. Mythology In the Angim, or “Ninurta’s return to Nippur”, it was identified as one of the 11 “warriors” (ur-sag) defeated by Ninurta.

Bašmu was created in the sea and was “sixty double-miles long”, according to a fragmentary Assyrian myth which recounts that it devoured fish, birds, wild asses, and men, securing the disapproval of the gods who sent Nergal or Palil (“snake charmer”) to vanquish it.

It was one of the 11 monsters created by Tiamat in the Enuma Elish creation myth. It had “six mouths, seven tongues and seven …-s on its belly”.


Ušumgallu or Ushumgallu (Sumerian: ušum.gal, “Great Dragon”) was one of the three horned snakes in Akkadian mythology, along with the Bašmu and Mušmaḫḫū. Usually described as a lion-dragon demon, it has been somewhat speculatively identified with the four-legged, winged dragon of the late 3rd millennium BC.

Its name became a royal and divine epithet, for example: ušumgal kališ parakkī, “unrivaled ruler of all the sanctuaries”. Marduk is called “the ušumgallu-dragon of the great heavens”.

The late neo-Assyrian text “Myth of the Seven Sages” recalls: “The fourth (of the seven apkallu’s, “sages”, is) Lu-Nanna, (only) two-thirds Apkallu, who drove the ušumgallu-dragon from É-ninkarnunna, the temple of Ištar of Šulgi.” Aššur-nāṣir-apli II placed golden icons of ušumgallu at the pedestal of Ninurta.

The Seven-headed Serpent (from Sumerian muš-saĝ-7: snake with seven heads) was hung on the “shining cross-beam” of Ninurta’s chariot. The Dragon (Sumerian: Ušum or Ushum), who also was one of the warriors slain by Ninurta, was hung on the seat of his chariot according to the ancient source.


Mušmaḫḫū (Sumerian MUŠ.MAḪ, Akkadian muš-ma-ḫu; meaning “Exalted/distinguished Serpent”) was an ancient Mesopotamian mythological hybrid of serpent, lion and bird. He is one of the three horned snakes, with his companions, Bašmu and Ušumgallu, with whom he may have shared a common mythological origin.

He is sometimes identified with the seven-headed serpent slain by Ninurta in the mythology of the Sumerian period. In Angim or “Ninurta’s return to Nippur”, the storm god describes one of his weapons as “the seven-mouthed muš-mah serpent”, reminiscent of the Greek myth of Heracles and the seven headed Lernaean Hydra he slew in the second of his Twelve labours.

An engraved shell of the Early Dynastic period shows Ninurta slaying the seven-headed mušmaḫḫū. In the Epic of Creation, Enûma Eliš, Tiāmat gives birth (alādu) to mythical serpents, described as mušmaḫḫū, “with sharp teeth, merciless fangs, instead of blood she filled their bodies with venom”. Tiamat is said to have “clothed the raging lion-dragons with fearsomeness”.


The god Nabû, the ancient Mesopotamian patron god of literacy, the rational arts, scribes and wisdom, was worshipped by the Babylonians and the Assyrians, and gained prominence among the Babylonians in the 1st millennium BC when he was identified as the son of the god Marduk. He was described as “he who tramples the lion-dragon” in the hymn to Nabû.

Nabu wore a horned cap, and stood with his hands clasped in the ancient gesture of priesthood. He rode on a winged dragon known as Mušḫuššu that originally belonged to his father Marduk. Due to his role as an oracle, Nabu was associated with the Mesopotamian moon god Sin.

In Babylonian astrology, Nabu was identified with the planet Mercury.  In Hellenistic times Nabu was identified and sometimes syncretized, with the Greek god Apollo. As the god of literacy and wisdom, Nabu was linked by the Romans with Mercury, and by the Egyptians with Thoth.

Nabu was known as Nisaba (Sumerian: NAGA; later ŠE.NAGA), also known by the epithet Nanibgal (Sumerian:  AN.NAGA; later AN.ŠE.NAGA), the Sumerian goddess of writing, learning, and the harvest, in the Sumerian pantheon. In the Babylonian period, she was replaced by the god Nabu, who took over her functions. In some instances, Nisaba was his instructor or wife before he replaced her.


Nāga is the Sanskrit and Pali word for a deity or class of entity or being taking the form of a very great snake, specifically the king cobra, found in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A female nāga is a nāgin” or nāgini”.

In Sanskrit, a nāgá is a cobra, the Indian cobra (Naja naja). A synonym for nāgá is phaṇin. There are several words for “snake” in general, and one of the very commonly used ones is sarpá. Sometimes the word nāgá is also used generically to mean “snake”. The word is cognate with English ‘snake’, Germanic: *snēk-a-, Proto-IE: *(s)nēg-o-.

The mythological serpent race that took form as cobras often can be found in Hindu iconography. The nāgas are described as the powerful, splendid, wonderful and proud semidivine race that can assume their physical form either as human, partial human-serpent or the whole serpent.

Their domain is in the enchanted underworld, the underground realm filled with gems, gold and other earthly treasures called Naga-loka or Patala-loka. They are also often associated with bodies of waters — including rivers, lakes, seas, and wells — and are guardians of treasure.

Their power and venom made them potentially dangerous to humans. However, they often took beneficial protagonist role in Hindu mythology, such as in Samudra manthan mythology, Vasuki, a nāgarāja who abides on Shiva’s neck, became the churning rope for churning of the Ocean of Milk. Their eternal mortal enemies are the Garudas, the legendary semidivine birdlike-deity.


Ḫaldi (also known as Khaldi) was one of the three chief deities of Urartu. His shrine was at Ardini (likely from Armenian Artin, meaning “sun rising” or to “awake”), in Akkadian known as Muṣaṣir, meaning “Exit of the Serpent/Snake”, an ancient city of Urartu.

The other two chief deities were Theispas, the Urartian weather-god, notably the god of storms and thunder, of Kumenu, and the solar god Shivini of Tushpa, who is equal to Utu in Sumerian, Shiva in Hinduism, Mithra in Mithraism, Ra in Egypt and Artinis by the Armenians.

Khaldi was portrayed as a man with or without wings, standing on a lion. Some sources claim that the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation, Hayk, is derived from Ḫaldi. Arubani, the Urartian’s goddess of fertility and art, was the wife of Khaldi.

Khaldi was a warrior god to whom the kings of Urartu would pray for victories in battle. The temples dedicated to Khaldi were adorned with weapons such as swords, spears, bows and arrows, and shields hung from the walls and were sometimes known as ‘the house of weapons’.

The location of Ardini is not known with certainty, although there are a number of hypotheses in the Zagros south of Lake Urmia. It was attested in Assyrian sources of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. It was acquired by the Urartian King Ishpuini ca. 800 BC. The temple, built in 825 BC, was an important temple in the holy city of Urartu.

The name Musasir in Akkadian means exit of the serpent/snake. MUŠ is the Sumerian term for “serpent”. The form mušḫuššu is the Akkadian nominative of the Sumerian MUŠ.ḪUS (“reddish snake”, sometimes also translated as “fierce snake” or “splendor serpent”).

The mušḫuššu is a creature depicted on the reconstructed Ishtar Gate of the city of Babylon, dating to the 6th century BC. It was a mythological hybrid, a scaly dragon with hind legs resembling the talons of an eagle, feline forelegs, a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snake-like tongue, and a crest.

It was the sacred animal of Marduk and his son Nabu during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It was taken over by Marduk from Tishpak, an Akkadian god who replaced the god Ninazu as the tutelary deity of the city of Eshnunna, an ancient Sumerian and later Akkadian city and city-state in central Mesopotamia c. 3000-1700 BC.

Serpent (symbolism)

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