The Difference Between Snakes and Serpents




Rod of Asclepius
Rod of Asclepius

While preparing another article about women and snakes, I was going to make a connection to the Biblical story of Eve and the serpent.

Then I noticed something odd: in more than 2300 articles using more than 2,064,876 words, I never once wrote the word serpent. And this despite more than a few articles referencing Adam and Eve.

As for the words snake and snakes, since 2006 those were written more than 64 times in all my posts. I believe I did this without realizing it because I am a devout atheist. That is to say, there is a profound religious and mythical difference to me between the word snake and the word serpent. I believe in snakes, I do not believe in serpents.

A snake is simply a member of the reptile family. A serpent, on the other hand, is an ancient and archetypal symbol of the Great Mother Goddess, of eternal life and renewal, of good and evil. One can be bitten by a snake but not by a serpent. One can be tempted by a serpent but not by a snake.

The serpent is not always evil as in the Genesis story. In many religions the serpent is a benevolent creature. This is true of many things in nature, the same thing may be good or bad. It is no accident that the symbol of medicine is a coiled serpent around a staff, the rod of Asclepius. The term pharmakon from which we get the modern word pharmacy meant both "medicine" and "poison" in ancient Greek. Vaccines are often compounded from precisely the same thing that caused the illness.

My take on the Adam and Eve story is that the serpent did a good thing: he took us away from a zombie existence of knowing nothing to the real world where we use reason and knowledge to subdue the Earth. In the past 10,000 years we have become like the gods, setting our feet upon another celestial body. In a billion billion more years we will take dominion over the Universe.

We will live in planets of our own making, enjoying the light and energy from suns of our own fabrication long after the Sun that God gave us has twinkled out of existence.



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