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The Serpents of Creation
By David Talbott

The following text is excerpted from a chapter of Thunderbolt of the Gods, by David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill.

ENVISIONING THE ANCIENT SKY

Were it possible for you, the reader, to stand alongside our early ancestors, to witness the events that provoked the age of myth-making, you would see celestial dramas on a scale virtually inconceivable today. You would see an electric sky filled with luminous clouds, threads of light, and undulating rivers of fire. And you would see great spheres joined in a cosmic performance—events seemingly too vast, too improbable for anything but a dream. Observe this celestial theater, and your first thought will be, "This could not have happened!"Yet allow events to unfold, and that first response will give way to a contradiction—a sense of the eerily familiar: "Where have I seen this before?"

Our answer is that you HAVE seen these events before—through their universal reflection in art and storytelling. These reflections are, in fact, the core images of the ancient world, recorded on papyrus and stone, mirrored in the sacred symbols of the great religions, reenacted in mystery plays, and embodied in monumental construction on every habitable continent. Once recognized, the images leap out from every page of world mythology.

SERPENTS IN THE SKY

The pervasive role of cosmic "serpents" in world mythology is a mystery often mentioned in historical and astronomical studies, but never satisfactorily explained. Frequently adorned with feathers or wings, sprouting long-flowing hair, or breathing fire, these monsters rank among the most enigmatic and outrageous cultural icons, invariably eluding the grasp of the researchers attempting to explain them. Yet around the world, these biologically absurd serpents reveal numerous features in common—the clearest indication that the monsters DO have an explanation. But when investigators, exploring every possibility they can imagine, still find no answer, it becomes increasingly likely that the truth is simply "off the map"—outside the limits of current thinking. The boundaries of perception have excluded a memory so powerful that it influenced every ancient culture. From the infancy of civilization through all prior epochs of human history, world-altering serpents were claimed to have once moved in the heavens.

In most great mysteries, recurring patterns are the key to discovery. Is it significant, for example, that wherever the theme of Doomsday or celestial chaos occurs, a great serpent or dragon (mythic alter ego of the serpent) presides over the disaster? The connection is as old as the earliest civilizations. In ancient Egypt, the serpent Apep, whom the Greeks called Apophis, was the arch-enemy of the creator and of celestial order. His plotting against the supreme god Ra produced an earthshaking tempest in the heavens, and numerous Egyptian rites commemorated the victory of Ra over Apep, whose hideous forms and terrible roar haunted the Egyptians throughout their history. At the temple of Ra in Heliopolis the priests ritually trod underfoot images of Apep to represent his defeat at the hands of Ra. At the temple of Edfu, a long series of reliefs depict the warrior Horus and his followers vanquishing Apep or his counterpart Set, cutting to pieces the monster's companions, the "fiends of darkness."

Comparative investigation confirms that every well-documented culture possessed its own names and images of the serpent or dragon of chaos—the monster whom the Babylonians called Tiamat, the Greeks knew as Typhon or Python, and the Hindus called Vritra or Ahi. In Australia it was the Bunyip-monster, sometimes identified as the "Rainbow Serpent," that once decimated the earth. And in North America remarkably similar stories were told of the "Great Horned Serpent."

Hundreds of mythic counterparts to these serpents or dragons could be named as well. But what useful information do such monsters offer the modern world? Their contribution lies in a collective memory too consistent to be denied, including agreement on numerous, highly improbable details.

These monsters also provide a bridge connecting mythology to the tangible world of plasma physics. Until very recently historical researchers have had no reason to think of PLASMA when considering the mysteries of the cosmic serpent. Yet, as we shall attempt to demonstrate, everything known about the serpent-archetype finds a corollary in the recently documented behavior of electric plasma. And from this new vantage point, ancient reverence and fear take on astonishing clarity.

THE COSMIC SERPENT IN CREATION MYTHOLOGY

Though serpent images pervade world mythology, few investigators have realized that the diverse—and always preposterous—mythic claims about serpents are the echoes of a universal story. The first chapters of the story trace to the beginnings of human memory, prior to the rise of the great civilizations. Before there was an "evil" monster—a serpent or dragon of chaos—there was a serpent that called forth no moral judgment at all. The myths describe it as prodigious and awe-inspiring, even frightful in its countenance, but its appearance occurred before disaster. In fact, the serpent of chaos is but the alter ego of the serpent of LIFE, a creature well represented around the world. Chinese serpents and dragon are frequent bearers of the life elements. The Mexican "feathered serpent" was the giver of life. For the ancient Egyptians, the Uraeus serpent was the soul or "life" of the creator himself. The Chaldean word for "serpent" meant also "life." And while the Arabic word for "serpent" is el-hayyah, the word for "life" is el-hayat. Thus, El-Hay, one of the common Arabic names for the creator (betraying an archaic but unrecognized relationship to the cosmic serpent), means "the giver of life," or the "principle of life itself."

To find the original meaning of the serpent-image in world mythology we must consider a mythic theme that is profoundly misunderstood today—the story of "creation." It is in the ancient accounts of creation that we find the cosmic serpent in both its life-giving and destructive aspects. But if scholars do not recognize the "serpent of creation," the reason is that a misperception of vast historic consequence is shared today by orthodox religious teachers and secular experts alike. All have failed to see the true meaning of the creation theme, whose origins predate most modern religious traditions by thousands of years.

The first creation stories did NOT answer the question—"How did we get here?" These accounts did not speak of the origin of our earth, the appearance of the distant stars, or the birth of human beings. In fact, the creation myth was not "speculation" at all. The described events WERE NOT IMAGINED. They were WITNESSED by human beings on earth and then INTERPRETED IMAGINATIVELY. That distinction will prove to be of sweeping significance.

It is not an accident that archaic "creator" gods appear as visible powers. They are seen and they are heard, a fact still evident in the biblical narrative, with its many references to the frightful countenance of Yahweh surrounded by cosmic waters. "The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook." "The pillars of heaven shook and were astounded at his roar." Such language is, of course, quite abundant in the biblical texts, though the modern reader naturally assumes that all references to the sights and sounds of the creation are metaphorical.

We see the commotion and upheaval of creation in one religious tradition after another. The oldest and most comprehensive Greek account, Hesiod's THEOGONY ("the Origin of the Gods"), tells of earth-disturbing catastrophe, including the famous attack of the serpent Typhon, when the world teetered on the edge of complete destruction. The birth of the gods in the more archaic Babylonian creation epic, ENUMA ELISH, is accompanied by frightful noise and tumult, as the serpent Tiamat rebelled against the gods, and chaos overtook the world. The Egyptian PYRAMID TEXTS recall the terrifying occasion of the great god's birth: "Hearts were pervaded with fear, hearts were pervaded with terror when I was born in the abyss." The theme is repeated in the oldest Hindu texts, the RIG VEDA, in connection with the birth of Indra, most famous for his defeat of the world-threatening serpent Vritra: "...When thou first wast born, o Indra, thou struckest terror into all the people." Yet in popular imagination, the birth of the gods could have nothing to do with human terror, because human beings had not been "created" yet.

What, then, was the true subject of the original creation myth? It told how gods and goddesses, monsters and heroes ruled the world for a time and then went away. The story described how these powers fashioned a prodigious dwelling in the heavens, the celebrated home of the gods. It also recounted how this dwelling was overwhelmed in a great uprising or revolt led by a monstrous serpent or chaos-power, as celestial armies fought over the fate of the world, the conflagration ending in the defeat of the monster, the vanquishing of the rebel. And finally, the story told how the gods eventually retreated from the world or were translated into distant stars or planets.

We offer a radically new perspective on the creation theme. With the rise of the first civilizations, ALL commemorative activity pointed back to the events of "creation" and to nothing else. For this striking fact, no scholarly rationalization will suffice, and the answer can only lie in intensely experienced events—events of sufficient magnitude to account for both the global pattern and the extraordinary power over human imagination. The point was duly emphasized by professor Irving Wolfe in a recently published compendium of catastrophist inquiry—

"Nature produces Culture and the natural cataclysms which our ancestors have collectively experienced have influenced and shaped the cultural artifacts created afterwards. To put it simply, cultures are what they have gone through. The past determines the present, and the cosmic past exerts the greatest influence. A culture, if properly interpreted, therefore becomes a mirror of what preceded it."

It is in the recurrent details that we find the most compelling clues. At the core of the creation story is the activity of a cosmic serpent or dragon, whose biography embraces the mythic age of the gods from start to finish. The serpent's masks are many, and often the creature will present itself in unfamiliar garb, only to reappear in its serpentine aspect. But the creature has a story to tell and it is only necessary that we trace the theme back to the beginning, when the serpent first appears as a CONSTRUCTIVE power in the events of creation.

It is a well-established fact that the great creator-gods of antiquity possessed serpentine features or serpent companions, and the two notions often merge. What we shall ask the reader to consider is a new possibility—that these serpentine associations answer to things once seen in the heavens.

In Egyptian sources the creator Atum received his visible "form" from the serpent Neheb Kau, arising from the cosmic waters. The name means "Provider of Attributes": the serpent's coils were the god's own external form or body. "I was encircled in my coils," the god declares, "one who made a place for himself in the midst of his coils." Muslim legends recall a brilliant serpent around the throne of the creator Allah: "Then Allah surrounded it by a serpent ... this serpent wound itself around the throne." Much the same image occurs in Hebrew traditions: "And a silver dragon was on the machinery of the throne." "... And a silver serpent bore the wheel of the throne." The Orphic creator Chronos held in his hands a snake which formed a ring by holding its tail in its mouth. The Hindu great god Vishnu rested upon the coils of a serpent Ananta, floating on the cosmic waters.

Australian aboriginal myths celebrate the Rainbow Serpent, Aido Hwedo, said to have "assisted" in the creation. Natives of the African Sahara say that God utilized the body of the serpent Minia in the creation. In numerous Polynesian traditions, the "creator" appears as a serpent or the "Great Serpent." The male and female aspects of the Chinese creator were depicted as two human beings—Fu Xi and NÃ* Wa—with entwining serpentine bodies. And throughout the Americas, from Alaska to Peru, native traditions portrayed various creator gods as "the Great Serpent" or insisted that the creator possessed serpentine attributes.

It is not enough to simply observe that the "serpent of creation" is a primitive or irrational idea. The mystery arises from the fact that the archetype is preposterous—simply inconceivable under any assumption that the biological snake must account for the creature's prominence in world mythology. No snake on earth will inspire the notion of a primeval "creator"! Hence, the remarkable fact that EVERY culture honored the "serpent of creation" demands an explanation far more direct than any appeal to primitive "speculation" or make believe.

Moreover, both the life-supporting and destructive aspects of the serpent require investigation, for enigmatically they stand side by side as the two great polarities of creation mythology—on the one hand, the vehicle of an exemplary cosmic order; on the other hand, the agent of primeval chaos. In fact the two cannot be separated, for a vast reservoir of evidence makes clear that the chaos serpent was, in fact, nothing else than the terrible aspect of the life-giving serpent. But how did such an outrageous polarity take hold around the world? As the parent of catastrophe, the serpent became the symbol of collective fear—the Doomsday anxiety—hanging like a cloud over the ancient cultures. It was within the context of this cultural memory that priests and poets and philosopher strove for moral clarity, separating the monster into distinctive personalities, a host of alter egos appearing as the serpent's good and evil aspects.

Though the different forms of the mythic serpent can easily mask its origins, certain conclusions follow inescapably from a cross-cultural inquiry into the origins of the serpent theme. As suggested above, when human memory repeatedly converges on highly specific but "preposterous" claims, onecan be certain that the convergence is not accidental: Serpent mythology arose from a common human experience. Though this conclusion is logically inescapable, it is neither recognized nor acknowledged by mainstream historians of ancient myth and religion. While specialists propose countless "explanations" for the different regional variations, we are really dealing with a single mystery here, but one having wide-ranging textures and subplots.

Moreover, to simply observe the cosmic serpent's effect on cultures the world over is to realize that the cause was far more catastrophic and fundamentally disturbing than anything surmised in traditional treatments of the theme.

THE "LIVING" POWERS OF HEAVEN

The cosmic serpent was an ancient and powerful symbol of things once seen in the heavens but no longer present: that is the hypothesis we intend to support with evidence from wide ranging fields of study. The serpent was a metaphor filled with meaning, and it must be counted among the most "logical" and appropriate metaphors in the ancient world. Moreover, this metaphor points directly to electrical phenomena that can no longer be ignored. The serpent's every nuance is a feature of PLASMA DISCHARGE. Without the plasma formations, the mythic serpent is an effect without a cause. But if such structures once enchanted ancient observers the world over, the serpent metaphor is redeemed: it will explain what has been left unexplained through all of human history.

Since the forms of plasma discharge are now well documented, the question is susceptible to rigorous investigation, detail by detail. Plasma science invites us to compare the "serpent of creation" to known plasma structures, including the violently evolving Peratt Instabilities (discussed in Chapter II). In following this comparison, we must proceed from general to specific observations. We propose a vantage point outside all of modern theory. We are challenging the accepted history of the solar system and all commonly held ideas about the origins of human thought in prehistoric and early historic times.

Planets and moons were once seen in the sky close to the earth. Between these bodies stretched heaven-spanning plasma formations, giving rise to distinctive, evolving structure—the exclusive subject of the worldwide creation legends. The fact that the filamentary, spiraling, twisting, undulating aspects of these plasma configurations were identified as serpentine is fundamentally reasonable under this hypothesis. And thus we shall welcome all appropriate tests, while urging scholarly and scientific review of possibilities never before considered.

Certain patterns of ancient belief are so common that scholars rarely pause to wonder about the cause. How did it happen, for example, that every ancient tribe on our planet came to see celestial bodies as living entities? Is there something inherent in the appearance of the Sun or Moon, or in the character of distant stars, to support the notion that celestial bodies are alive? Is it the daily or seasonal cycle of the Sun, perhaps, or the phases of the Moon? Is it the movement of the stars across the sky? Celestial bodies now seen from Earth offer very little to suggest animated and intelligent powers—and even less do they suggest a cosmic serpent, or help to explain the serpent's violent or raging aspect in worldwide traditions.

Perhaps it is too easy to suppose that universal beliefs need no explanation. If we encounter a primitive idea everywhere, we assume it to be a perfectly "natural" mistake of pre-rational minds. In fact, precisely such a claim was made by the student of comparative myth and religion, T. W. Doane, in the nineteenth century: "When a marvelous occurrence is said to have happened everywhere, we may feel sure that it never happened anywhere." By such reasoning, the theorist allows himself to sidestep the obvious challenge: why did every race make the same irrational mistake?

An animated, living entity possesses self-organizing, regenerative, and procreative abilities. As a rule, inert matter does not mimic living organisms. But as we earlier observed, plasma behavior is a notable exception. Irving Langmuir borrowed the name "plasma" from physiology (blood plasma) because, in the presence of electric fields, this state of matter takes on life-like attributes.

The analogy is quite fitting. The Greek plasma is akin to plassein, "to form, to mold," a concept that is also fundamental to creation mythology. Electric plasma produces distinctive structure, and our contention will be that the plasma configurations of ancient times implied the presence of animated and intelligent powers in the heavens. To primitive observers, these powers certainly seemed alive—they acquired shape, moved with apparent intent, grew to prodigious size, changed shape, and "intelligently" organized their surroundings, even reproduced secondary versions of themselves. These life-like powers emitted unearthly sounds, "spoke" to ancient witnesses in unknown tongues, and produced celestial harmonies or "music of the spheres." In the more energetic and unstable phases, monsters in the sky shrieked and bellowed and roared. They displayed undulating tails or tentacles, their throats breathed fire, and they raged about the sky with long-flowing "manes" or flaming "hair." In their presence the earth shook, lightning blazed in the heavens, and great tempests nearly overwhelmed the world.

In remarkable agreement with the "animated" qualities of electric plasma, the mythic serpent typically reveals two complementary ideas.The monster undergoes metamorphosis—as when a "serpent" becomes a "lion"—and it incessantly appears as a hybrid form, a composite of two or more animal types, such as a lion headed serpent. That this remarkable pattern occurs universally is surely significant, and the pattern is observed among the earliest civilizations.

The "contradictory" language is telling. It implies that one-dimensional symbolism could not capture the range of the experience, the sights and sounds of the earth-disturbing occurrences. Clues are plentiful, however. Why, for example, did ancient symbolists so frequently combine serpent and leonine features in a single monster? We see this juxtaposition in the Greek Chimera, with the head of a lion and a tail in the form of a serpent. The Chinese "lion" has the countenance of a dragon, while the Chinese "dragon" possesses a distinctively leonine mane. The Egyptian goddess Tefnut appears as the Uraeus serpent, but in her terrible aspect becomes a giant lion head, with "smoking mane." The Mesopotamian dragon Labbu was a snake, but its name means "lion". The Sumerian goddess Inanna was the "lioness" of heaven, but in her rage became a fire-spitting serpent or dragon devastating the land. In Orphic theology, the god Phanes was born from an egg as a winged snake, though he grew the head of lion. "Snake of the Lion" was the name of a Mixtec creator god. The connection also shows up in the formulations of the early languages. The Hebrew nahash, "serpent," is cognate with Akkadian neshu "lion," and Ethiopic arwe, "serpent," is cognate with Hebrew aryeh, ari, "lion."

Accordingly, it can be shown that the metamorphosing and hybrid forms of the cosmic serpent include all of the phases of plasma discharging listed in Chapter II (pages 27-32). Each of the cited discharging phases lends a distinguishing attribute to the cosmic serpent in the creation myth—

* Plasma FILAMENTATION gave the serpent its "hair" and "beard."

* The plasma CORKSCREW produced the undulating body of the serpent.

* The two filaments of the plasma ROPE produced the entwining serpent-twins.

* The plasma STRING OF PEARLS was the serpent's treasure, represented by gems or beads on a string.

* And the plasma SPIRAL was the winding tail of the serpent.

These structures are, of course, abundantly present in the global symbolism of the serpent, but there is a great deal more. Certain plasma forms such as the "horns" and the "wings" of the plasma column (phases of the violently evolving Peratt Instability) lack any obvious connection to "serpentine" attributes. Yet these forms repeatedly appear as features of the cosmic serpent, confirming that the inspiration did not come from any characteristic of a terrestrial snake. To reinforce this point we list below some of the more prominent features of the serpent or dragon in the universal tradition, all of them appearing to mock natural experience.

THE SERPENT-DRAGON HAS A BEARD.

The Greek Typhon was bearded, and even the universal sovereign Zeus was said to have taken the form of a "bearded serpent." Numerous Egyptian serpent-powers displayed flowing beards. The Chinese dragon typically displays long whiskers and tufted beards. So also the Maya "Great Bearded dragon," the Maya serpent god Itzamna, the Aztec bearded dragon Xiuhcoatl, and the most famous Aztec serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, with his "long-flowing beard."

THE SERPENT-DRAGON HAS LONG-FLOWING HAIR.

The hair of the monster, typically long and disheveled, is among its most distinctive attributes. In ceremonial reenactments, this "hair" may be represented by paper streamers or by other artificial means capturing the effusion of luminous hair-like filaments. Of the serpent Typhon, Apollodorus writes, "unkempt hair streamed on the wind from his head and cheeks." In the Egyptian language, word roots meaning "serpent" typically overlap with words meaning "hair." Set, the "Egyptian Typhon," is called also Thebeh, from theb, "lock of hair," and the COFFIN TEXTS celebrate the "bright hair of Set" or the "tuft of hair" on the tail of Set. The name of the serpent Nebet means 'lock of hair.' The serpent aspect of Atum, the original sovereign of the sky, is Seshem, while the root sesh also means "hair" or "lock of hair." A serpent Tcha was also said to have issued from Atum's alter ego, Ra; one meaning of the word is "hair." The name of the serpent Nesh, 'terrifier', cannot be separated from nesh, "raised hair". Similarly the Chinese and numerous Oriental variation of the dragon are commonly presented with streaming hair. The Maya "sky serpent" displays along the length of its body the sacred lock of hair, the Caban-curl. Inca chroniclers tell of the horned rattlesnake-god that descended from the sky, its body "hairy, with a tail of gold."

THE SERPENT-DRAGON IS WINGED OR FEATHERED.

The mystery was stated by Robert Briffault more than 75 years ago. "Snakes have the power to put forth wings and to become converted into flying dragons." That preposterous idea is global. Indeed, the winged or feathered serpent is so familiar that we are easily desensitized to the enigma. Apollodorus says of the serpent Typhon that "his body was all feathered." The "feathered serpent" was particularly well known in the Americas. Quetzalcoatl's name means "feathered serpent." The great serpents and dragons of Mesopotamia possess wings or wear feathers. In her terrible aspect, the Sumerian goddess Inanna became a "winged dragon": "Propelled on your own wings you peck away at the land. With a roaring storm you roar; with thunder you continually thunder." Upon their death Egyptian kings expected to meet the winged serpent of heaven, a serpent frequently depicted in Egyptian books of the afterworld. Chinese chroniclers recalled the "winged serpent" associated with immortality. Even the natives of San Cristoval, near the Solomon Islands, revered the "winged serpent" Hatuibwari.

THE SERPENT-DRAGON DISPLAYS HORNS

A few of the many examples would include the Mesopotamian horned serpent Basmu, child of Tiamat, the Greek horned serpent Ladon, killed by Heracles in his twelfth labor, the "great horned serpent," "long-horned serpent," "great water serpent," or "Horned Alligator" remembered across North America, and the Australian horned Rainbow Serpent. Like so many Native American versions of the Horned Serpent, the Chinese Dragon, with its reptilian head and serpentine, scaly neck wears the horns of a stag. Cerastes, the horned serpent of medieval European tradition, was also called "Hornworm." British folklore speaks of the "Horned Worm" (derived from the Norse word for "dragon"), which can be compared to the Kraken, a huge horned sea monster occurring in the folk tales of Norway and northern Scandinavia. Monoceros Marinus, a monstrous fish-like being with a gigantic horn, appears in German and Austrian legend. The famous cosmic dragon Mushussu of Babylonian myth, had the head and tail of a serpent, but with horns projecting from its head. Inhabitants of West Malaysia remember the reptilian dragon Tioman, formerly the daughter of a famous king, "with horns on her head and a vast swirling tail."

THE SERPENT-DRAGON IS A TWIN-FORM

Though this theme has far too many nuances to be adequately presented in a single paragraph, the twin aspect of the serpent will prove of great significance, pointing directly to celestial phenomena no longer seen in the heaven. The dragon Typhon's trunk is two entwined serpent-tails, and the same is either stated or implied in connection with other Greek monsters and giants.

DUSTY PLASMA: THE PRIMARY MATERIAL OF CREATION

Data from plasma science suggest that the cosmic medium in which the anciently-recorded formations appeared was a "dusty plasma." In the interplanetary space through which Earth formerly moved, dissociated electrons and positively charged ions combined with neutral gases and dust particles, all subject to electrical forces. In such a plasma, the dust particles have a strong tendency to capture electrons and become negatively charged, adding features to plasma configurations that would not otherwise be present. The particles will tend to space themselves at equal distances from each other within discrete regions of a plasma configuration, and this gathered dust can produce light reflecting characteristics that would not occur in a dust-free discharge formation.

One must also keep in mind that the analogy in space for the microscopic "dust" of laboratory plasma experiments could well have included fields of sand, gravel, ice, or rock.

Additionally, it bears emphasizing that the formation of the heaven-spanning configurations requires the presence of charged bodies in the vicinity of Earth, the anodes and cathodes in discharge sequences. Based on a comprehensive survey of ancient testimony, cross-referenced with data from space, we contend that electrical discharges occurred between celestial bodies moving in close congregation. This electrical arcing cast huge volumes of material into surrounding space, ranging in size from microscopic particles to asteroid-sized rocks. It was this material within the dusty plasma that gave the celestial configurations their appearance of solidity in relatively stable phases, including light-reflecting characteristics that could only emphasize the three-dimensional look of the configurations.

When seen from this perspective, the many mysteries of the serpent become aspects of one mystery: "What was the serpent of creation"? Plasma science suggests that the creature signified both the RAW MATERIAL of celestial construction and its evolving FORM. The serpent was constituted by the medium—a dusty, electric plasma—and its metamorphosing form could only be the evolving, visible STRUCTURE resulting from the electrical interaction of charged bodies across a plasma. As to this identity, ancient sources offer a huge reservoir of support.

Virtually all creation mythology speaks of an irreducible RAW MATERIAL used to fashion the cosmic dwelling, the habitation of the gods. Such mythic "elements" as water, wind, or fire typically provide this universal substance, though ancient sources repeatedly bring the "elements" together in ways that may seem to obscure any concrete meaning. From ancient Egypt to Mesoamerica, for example, water and fire frequently appear together as a "sea of flame" or "fire water." But if we are on the right track, the original subject of the myths DID look like water and fire. Nor should it surprise us that the sky worshippers saw in this elementary material the luminous soul-substance of the gods, their living essence. It ANIMATED the heavens. It was both the gods' own creative outflow and the medium in which they lived. And it was the raw "stuff" of creation. We see this meaning, for example, in the early Egyptian language of the pautti (using Budge's transliteration), the "primeval matter" fashioned into the dwelling of the gods. It was the soul-material of the gods themselves, exploding from the creator Atum or Ra to form a fiery, watery mass. Thousands of years later, the alchemists named it the prima materia, the universal substance from which all else originated. Mythic images of this raw material—the wind-blown waters of heaven, the luminous breath of the gods, the flaming aether—simply drew upon the different ways of seeing the celestial medium we recognize as dusty plasma. And not surprisingly, the cosmic serpent is entirely bound up with this stuff of creation. It is at once the carrier and the form of the "soul-substance." In its root identity the serpent is elemental. It is water. It is wind. It is fire.

Surely the most common "element" in creation mythology is water, since every well-documented culture depicted its creator gods immersed within a watery abyss or floating upon a primordial sea. That electrified dusty plasma could create this appearance of cosmic "waters" is certain. And the inherent tendency of electric plasma to form spiraling and filamentary configurations cannot be ignored when considering either the serpentine aspect of the creator gods or the cosmic serpent's own embodiment of the primordial waters. Additionally, from this unique vantage point, it is easy to recognize the serpent of creation as the prototype of the mythic "sea-serpent" or dragon arising from watery depths to threaten the creation—a theme of universal distribution.

The same can be said of the serpent's identity as wind or life-breath. Serpents and dragons are the celestial soul-essence, the living "breath" of the gods, as exemplified by the serpentine pneuma of the Greeks, the World Soul or divine life-breath, organizing and animating the heavens. Egyptian texts identify the Uraeus-serpent, the out-breathing of the gods, as the soul of Ra, whose activity produced the tangible, external form of Ra in the heavens. Indeed the "souls" of numerous ancient gods appear in the form of a serpent. The heart-soul of the Aztec Quetzalcoatl rose in the sky as a fiery serpent. In the Egyptian Coffin Texts, the deceased travels the sky "by means of this soul of the horned serpent." And one culture after another declared that, in its violent aspect, the cosmic serpent was the "stormwind," appearing as a tornado or whirlwind assaulting the land of the gods.

Consider also the serpent's elemental identity as fire. Throughout the ancient world serpent and flame are inseparably linked archetypes, despite the outrageous incongruity of the idea. The cosmic serpent's venom, blood, breath, or spittle is most frequently depicted as fire. Fire flew from the monster Typhon. The Greek Chimera, Typhon's own progeny, was a composite of serpent, goat, and lion destroying the land with its fiery breath. The Egyptian Uraeus-serpent spit fire, appearing in the sky as "the Great Flame," destroying the enemies of Ra. In Chinese imagery, "a strange fire plays about the body of the dragon." The Aztec Xiuhcoatl was a dragon of fire, this "fire-serpent" being depicted in ritual re-enactments by a fire-breathing mask. The serpent or dragon form of the Sumerian Inanna spewed fire: "Like a dragon you have deposited venom on the land...Raining the fanned fire down upon the nation ..." Of the biblical dragon, Job declares, "Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke ... His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth."

Taken as a whole, the evidence demands a sweeping shift in perception. The dramas of the myth-making epoch were extraordinary, and they are not occurring today. Hence, they are not familiar to us. But the analogies utilized by the myth-makers ARE familiar, and these analogies constitute the primary language of world mythology. To simply recognize this fact is to see that a combination of analogies (such as the hybrid or metamorphosing leonine and serpentine monsters) will often point to the same phenomenon, each symbol adding vital nuances that would be less apparent, or not apparent at all, without the others. Together with more archaic and more literal drawings of things seen in the heavens—all pointing to an alien sky—the symbolic language of myth is a storehouse of information, encouraging rigorous cross-cultural comparison.

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