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The Serpent Path

May 30, 2018

The Serpent Path is one of the oldest cults on Earth. It predates all the solar cults of antiquity that later evolved into religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A quick look at pagan and shamanistic cultures around the world reveals synchronistic examples of serpentine reverence. Anthropology reveals the Minoan snake goddess, nagas in Asian mythology, the Yezidis of the Middle East, Kukulkan of Mesoamerica and the Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal Australia. This is a mere scraping of the barrel. Examples of snake worship exist in the primordial depths of history around the world. These examples illustrate the importance of this earthbound reptile and its sacred role in the mythology and magical practices indigenous to early culture and civilizations. It was precisely the Serpent Path which church authorities persecuted in religious text and later through sinister efforts at ethnic cleansing. Though repeated efforts to eradicate serpent worship proved ghastly and cruel, this tradition still breathes, forming the roots of modern witchcraft. In fact, it is precisely these solar cults that by labeling the serpent worshippers evil, can claim the invention of the term witchcraft. Witchcraft can be seen as an antagonistic and pejorative term, opposed to the masculine solar cults which later developed a social system (patriarchy) to undermine all other spiritual paths. However, we embrace the term witchcraft, knowing full well that our spiritual roots resound a more ancient tradition, though a broken one. The stories were changed to reflect solar values, but a scratch below the surface reveals the truth. As Abrahamic religion spread out of the Fertile Crescent and into Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, missionaries and mercenaries continued to encounter serpent worship in the animistic cultures they conquered.

Thanks to global colonization, the final manifestation of the patriarchy, many indigenous cultures are dying out, permanently erased from the Earth. The extinction of indigenous languages is a daily phenomenon, as elders die without progeny to step into new roles of tribal leadership. The lure of modern, technological culture is too alluring for tribal youth. They abandon their ancestry to chase the gleam of consumerism and modern decay. But who are we to judge? How many of us are even capable or willing to return to tribal lifestyle? We were conditioned to hate and fear snakes. We were taught of their evil nature. We lost our way. Snakes, however, are hard to kill. They are quick and possess the ability to strike with a venomous bite.  Snakes are sinuous and lithe. They wind through the ether of our dreams, leading us into the crumbling labyrinth of our primal past. The importance of snakes as entities of reverence will never leave us. Even in the midst of conditioning by patriarchal society, serpent mystique is only a footstep away.

A closer look at Biblical reference to snakes, reveals the ploy of Christian writers. In the book of Genesis, the serpent “tempts” Eve by offering fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The key word here is ‘knowledge.’ Wisdom is one of the gifts of the serpent. As an initiator into the serpent mysteries, it is through choice that we enter. We are given two choices: to eat or to refuse. For an ecclesiastical writer, it was too easy to frame the serpent from Genesis as an adversary to Yahweh. Taint the ancient wisdom with the dualism of good and evil, and thus convince indigenous cultures they have been deceived. In the wake of the ensuing violence, rape and conquest, defeated tribes surrendered to the allegory of their beloved serpent crushed beneath the heel of the victors. We know the vanquishers write the history books, and the Bible is the example par excellence of this sad truth. How much knowledge, both written and oratory was lost in the raging fires of purge?

But even in spite of the campaign of invasion and subjugation, the serpent appears throughout the Bible in the staff of Moses and the magic of Solomon. Even as the Roman Catholic Church was in its stage of formation, the Gnostic movement, specifically the Ophite sect, sought to harmonize serpent and solar elements in texts found in the Nag Hammadi library. These scriptures were obviously censored, as our only copies of these works were finally rediscovered in the last hundred years.

So what does this mean for modern witches? We must remember. Regardless of our culture, heritage or past, we must sing the songs and tell the stories that have been lost. We must tell our children. This is not merely buying a tarot deck or lighting a chime candle. It is deeper than that. We must restore our history and culture, not as items to be placed in a museum, but as living proof of our place in the world. We must consciously innovate the magic we’ve been given, with respect to unbroken indigenous lineages which do not need further appropriation. We may learn much from the elder wisdom, but we must never corrupt it with ignorance or superiority. That would only show that we’ve learned nothing from history. At the same time, we must not make ourselves harmless or apologize for our beliefs. Patriarchal religion is adept at crushing opposition. The persecution of witchcraft still resounds in their holy scriptures. Hate is not the message I’m promoting here, I am suggesting a stance of assertiveness. Not allowing the rhetoric to defeat you. Not conceding to scrutiny or attempting to appease the oppressor. Having informed answers for the curious and storytelling amongst our kin. In the words of Jim Morrison, “ride the snake, to the ancient lake.” That is homework enough for us all. In my next post, look for ways to reclaim snake energy in your own practice. Until next time!

Author: Samuel McCabe is a visual artist, educator, operative magician and Tarot reader at Ritualcravt. He has ten years experience with ceremonial magick in group and solitary settings. He is currently researching the origins of magick through grimoires, mythology and anthropology. Samuel teaches using a project-based approach that inspires creativity and independence in his students. You can follow and connect more with Samuel via Instagram @thepeacockgrimoire