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The Serpent Raises it's Head in Georgia

Serpent Raises it's Head in Georgia

A recently found artifact in Northern Georgia is a testament to the importance of religious art in the spiritual lives of the areas ancient ndigenous residents. Sculpted in Georgia Conglomerate, the exquisite 7.8 pound piece shows that the sculptor exercised great care in it's execution. When asked how long it would take to complete, noted Chicago wildlife sculptor Walter Arnold shares that “if he stuck with it”, it could have been completed in 1 ½ weeks, but added it would depend upon the hardness of the conglomerate. Two curious features that leaves one to ponder their purpose or significance, are the are exacting bilateral symmetrical cuts on the fangs and the protruding funnel
shaped non-snake like tongue.
Being found submerged in a remote small stream by a member of the Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation, an area avocational organization, there is no contextual information that can provide when it may have been made or by whom. It is however emblematic of serpent veneration practiced by Indigenous groups throughout much of North America that extends back to at least the Hopewell
Period (200 BCE-500CE) and likely even further back in time.

The serpent's metaphysical importance is indicated not only by the quantity of artifacts found in North America, but its depiction on well crafted exotic copper, mica and shell hand held artifacts. Others were carved or painted on rocks, cliff faces, and most dramatically. as large serpentine shaped stone and earthen effigies scattered thru out eastern North America. Equally diverse, are its naturalistic, stylized, abstract and anthropomorphic forms which varied over time and by cultural group.

More recently in history during the Mississippian Period (ca. 1200-1650 CE), it was known as the Horned Serpent displaying horns, rattles, sometimes wings, which are trademarks of the art and oral history of the regions Yuchi, Muskogee Creek, Cherokee, and other groups located generally in Eastern North America.1 This description however differs from that of the artifact, suggesting it is from an earlier time. Also, while the coiled body implies a snake, the shape of the head suggests something else.

Unlike in North American where the serpent and the other principal deity, a bird, are separately portrayed; in Mesoamerica the duo was conflated into a feathered serpent character whose name varied overtime and by cultural group. As in North America, the serpents origin extends far into Mesoamerican history appearing in Olmec iconography (ca.1400-400BCE).

1 Powers, Susan C. , Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents and Winged Beings, University Press, 2004
In comparing the artifact with Kukulkán and Quetzalcohuăl, one can see stylistic similarities of the tongue and head shape. Aside from archaeological and other evidence indicating mobility between the two regions, it is reasonable to speculate there could be commonalities of theology. A current analogy is the comparison of the Western and Eastern Christian church. Though their cross shaped icons differ
slightly, the two sects are are separated only by theological nuances.
Kukulkan, Image: Jose Miguel Almeyda
Kukulkan, Image: Jose Miguel Almeyda
Quetzalcoatl, Image:britanica.com
Quetzalcoatl, Image:britanica.com
Iconography Irony
It is doubtful if the members of the Christian church near where the artifact was found, have given thought their religion has commonalities with the areas ancient residents, but they also have a winged serpent in their religion's history.

Around 600 BCE, the Seraphim enters the written record in the Torah of then developing Judaism, of which parts are later included in the Christian Old Testament. Some scholars argue that the Seraph tradition precedes the written record to perhaps to about 1000 BCE or before.

The singular Seraph is derived from the Hebrew verb שָָׂׂרָָף (sarap) which literally means “to burn”. The masculine noun derivative has various figurative descriptions, such as “fiery serpent”2 and “flying dragon” 3 indicating a composite serpent-avian creature. And in Christianity, it holds the highest ranking in the angel hierarchy. Another principal angelic being of importance introduced at this time is the Cherub. Like the Seraph, its physical attributes vary, however it is best known in the later Medieval depiction as a baby face with little wings. In the Second Book of Enoch (2nd century BCE) the phoenix, who is reborn from the ashes of its predecessor, and the chalkydri, a “water serpent” or “copper serpent” depending on translation, are introduced and equated with the Seraphim and Cherubim.

As mentioned earlier, the Seraph has an origin earlier than it being recorded. This, in context with the following sentence, leads to clues relating to it's geographic and temporal origin.
“The paucity of references to Christianity in the first century is due chiefly to the fact that Christianity appeared to the men of the times as merely a very small Oriental religion, struggling for recognition, and contending with many others coming from the same region.”

2 KJV translation of Strong's H8314
3 Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon
4 Ayers, Joesph Cullen, Ph.D. ,A Source Book for Ancient Church History (1913)
Though the Seraph was mentioned a limited amount of times in Jewish texts, it belies the prolific presence of the serpent in Eastern Hemisphere mythologies. At that time, and for thousands of years before, the region between the Mediterranean and the Pacific Ocean was a culturally diverse region with many mythologies featuring snake and bird deities. This, with little doubt, was the result of trade routes coursing thru the region, which were avenues of not only
commerce, migration and conquest, but the exchange of philosophical and scientific thought. Interestingly it is the latter, specifically geometry, that is instrumental in isolating a likely origin for the Judeo-Christian Seraph.
Sacred Geometry
The earliest extant written record of the use of geometry as a basis for religious symbols is found in four Vedic Age (c.1500-c. 500 BCE) Śulbasūtras texts of the Indo-Aryan people who migrated eastward into the northern Indian Subcontinent from present day Iran. Some ethno-mathematicians suspect the texts are based upon previous knowledge and were derived from another earlier source.
Though not specifically addressing religious symbology, the earlier in history Egyptian Rhind Papyrus (2000-1800 BCE) sets forth geometric principals relating to construction and
surveying. One could argue however that the pyramids and Ankh cross are religious symbols,
especially the later which is the likely basis for the cross of the early Coptic Christian church.
Regardless, the canons in the proto-Hindu texts provide detailed instructions for the construction of thirteen animal and geometric shaped fire altars. Each shape was for a specific heavenly request and was to be destroyed afterwards. The multi-layered altars were built with various shaped bricks which were positioned using the “rope and stake” method.5
Uraeus, Early Egyptian deity often
depicted as a Cobra
There are two altar shapes that are strikingly overt in showing parallels with Christianity. The isosceles triangle altar was “for those with many foes”. In Christianity its counterpart. which appears in many variations, is known as the “Shield of the Trinity” depicting the paradox of the Holy Trinity.

The other, are two Falcon shape fire altars whose purpose are “for those desiring heaven”. For the Vedics, this ritual represented purification by fire. It's parallel in Judeo-Christian literature can be seen in Isaiah 6:6, “Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin forgiven”.
Shield of the Holy Trinity
Vedic falcon fire altar

5    Huffman, Cynthia J. & Thuong, Scott V. , Ancient Indian Rope Geometry in the Classroom-Fire Altars of Ancient India, Convergence (October 2015)
For reasons unknown, there was not a serpent altar shape. While speculative, it maybe simply the result of the King Cobra based Naga being established prior to the introduction of the Vedic altar ritual to the region. Regardless, the snake is an extensively covered subject in the vast collection of ancient Hindu literature, with a variety of attributes, including its role in sacrifice, fire altars, grandiose rituals, and
association with fertility and immortality.
Naga depictions, “serpent” in Sanskrit, with geometric graphics. Image:atlanteangardens.blogspot.com, Graphics: Author
Other Intertwining Aspects
First, is the dichotomy of complex geometric formulas that can produce a 'deer in the headlight” stupor for the non-mathematician, but yet were executed with a simple stake and a rope used to create a circle. While this is a gross oversimplification of the altar construction process, the point is, from overlapping two or more circles, other geometric shapes are created. Many of these shapes continue in use today in
the symbology and architecture of Christianity and other major world religions along with secular use.
Contrary to what is commonly accepted, Pythagoras and other Greek philosophers and mathematicians of the 5th century BCE, likely learned of geometry from the Vedics and perhaps Egypt. In addition to the theorem attributed to Pythagoras, the geometry related Fibonacci number sequence named after a 12th century Italian mathematician, also has an origin in Indian mathematics some 2,000 years earlier.

It is noteworthy that Pythagoras is credited as the founder of Pythagoreanism, a school of thought based upon mathematics and mysticism. Later during the 1st century CE, it was rebranded as Neopythagoreanism which introduced monotheism and other philosophical concepts that influenced then developing Christianity, and was one of the many groups mentioned earlier that were proselytizing
their philosophies throughout the Roman Empire.

Evidence indicates early Christians had also made the trip to India. In 193 CE, Pantaenus, an influential Christian philosopher from Alexandria, discovered after his arrival that St. Bartholomew had been there earlier preaching of the coming of Christ and also finding a copy of the Hebrew Gospel of St. Matthew.6 But following the trail of the serpent and geometric symbolism does not stop here, but extends further
back in time in the Far East for unknown millennia, leaving the origins of both uncertain.
Rock Eagle, GA.
Image:Rock Eagle 4-H Center
Triangular Mound,
Glenford Earthworks, OH.
Image: Ohio Valley Archeology,
Inc
Serpent Mound, OH.
Image: Ohio Historical Society
Such examples leads to a host of questions relating to why and how are such hemispheric parallels possible. With the exception of the most ardent who argue that universal symbols and knowledge in North America were independently developed, it seems common sense to conclude that at some point in history, everyone was operating from the same playbook. If so, it is not unreasonable to envision a universal religion once existed addressing ancient mans fear of enemies, death and a desire for a fulfilling earthly life followed by an afterlife. A more intriguing related question to ponder is who, sometime in mans ancient past, introduced the concept there was life after death?
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”.
The wisdom of Solomon seems prophetic, for if we closely examine the self-congratulatory accomplishments and failings of 21st century man, we are merely a continuation of genetics and knowledge passed along thru countless generations, and in many respects we are all connected to the past in ways seldom considered or clearly understood. It is likely the only thing separating the artist of the sculpture and us, is time.

Jon R Haskell 2017 ©

6  Parker, John (Translator) , Dionysius the Areopagite, Works (1897), pg. 9
7  Brown, Clifford T. & Witschey, Walter R.T., The fractal geometry of ancient Maya settlement, 2003
Additional Resources

Cotterell, Arthur and Storm, Rachel, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Mythology, Sterling Publishing, (2014)

Enciso, Jorge, Designs from Pre-Columbian Mexico, Dover Publications, (1971)

Goodman, Fredrick, Magic Symbols, Brian Trodd Publishing House Limited, (1989)

Seidenberg, Abraham, The Ritual Origin of Geometry, Archive for History of Exact Science, Vol. 1, No. 5, pp. 488-527, (1962)

Wirth, Diane E., Parallels: Mesoamerican and Ancient Middle Eastern Traditions, Stonecliff Publishing, (2003)
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