Sunday, 28 June 2020

Bactrian snakes and dragons

Among many seals found in ancient 2nd millennium BC Bactria, the ones depicting snakes and dragons are the most prevalent...


To the point where Nadezhda Dubova from the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Science states in "Sarianidi Victor. Myths of ancient Bactria and Margiana on its seals and amulets" that "...nowhere in the whole system of Ancient Near Eastern art had serpents played such an important role as in Bactria...". You can see the actual seals and seal impressions in the  "Sarianidi Victor. Myths of ancient Bactria and Margiana on its seals and amulets (tables and text)"... 

What is amazing is that visual depiction of snakes and dragons in Bactrian art closely corresponds to the Slavic snake and dragon mythology...This is very interesting indeed...I will show you what I mean on couple of examples...

Bactrians depicted dragons as snakes with wings...Slavic legend says that "all snakes once had wings, and flew in the sky, but god took their wings away"...


In Slavic languages the word "zmaj" (dragon) is a masculine version of the word "zmija" (snake). Slavs believed that dragons are just old snakes...

In Slavic mythology snake is a solar animal. Snakes come to our world when the sun comes to our world from the underworld, at the beginning of the spring and they depart our world with the sun at the end of autumn...


In Slavic mythology, snakes are  directly linked to sun's heat...Slavs believed that the snakes "feed of the sun's heat" and this is why we have winter, because snakes "suck all the heat out of the sun during spring, summer and autumn"... You can read more about this in my post "Enemy of the sun"...

Bactrian seal of the sun god (see the wavy lines depicting heat coming out of his body). Sumerians depicted their sun god in the same way. Bactrian sun god is holding two snakes because the sunny part of the year is the period between the appearance and disappearance of snakes...


On this seal the sun god has heat (sun rays) only coming out of one of his shoulders while he has the snake behind the other, basically directly equating the sun's heat and snake...


I wonder if this head is just bushy haired or is this a lion's mane? Lion being another symbol of the sun's heat, as the hottest period of the year in the northern hemisphere is in Leo...

And here the sun god instead of holding two snakes in his hands, has snakes instead of hands (and a fashionable snake belt)


I believe this seal also depicts the sun god even though there are no sun rays coming out of his body. He is still holding two snakes, but now there are also two birds, flying in opposite directions...Why?

Why? Sunny part of the year, the domain of the sun god, is the time between arrival and departure of the migratory birds...Slavic word for summer and for solar year is "leto", possibly derived from "let" (flight) of migratory birds... You can read more about this in my post "Leto"...  


And here is another seal with only snakes and birds flying in opposite directions


Here we again see the sun god, holding two snakes. 


He again doesn't have sun rays coming out of his body, but is wearing bull horns, because summer, the season when the sun is most powerful, when the sun is "sitting on its throne" 🙂 starts in Taurus (Bull)  and is symbolised by a Bull...

 

By the way the reason why summer starts in Taurus is because the end of April, beginning of may is the calving season for Wild Eurasian cattle (Aurochs). You can read more about this in my post "Ram and bull"

And believe or not here is a Bactrian seal with a sun god, with bull horns, snake hands depicted above a calf...



One thing characteristic for Slavic mythology is that because snakes are solar animals which "suck sun's heat", and "dragons are just old snakes", Slavic dragons are of a fire breathing variety...Just like snakes represent sun's heat, dragons represent sun's destructive heat...


Rain swallowing, drought causing dragon is a common theme in Slavic folklore...And when a hero kills such a dragon by cutting his head(s) off (the only way to kill a dragon by the way), "rivers (of fertility) flow from each of his necks"...

These dragons in Slavic mythology lived in lakes...


Which is why people prayed to them walking around the lakes...And which is why people sacrificed to them by throwing sacrifices into the lake...Including blood sacrifices...You can read more about this in my post "Dragon who stole rain"...   

Speaking of sacrifices, the dragon from Slavic mythology likes one sacrifice more than any other: young girls...And there are many legends which talk about girls being sacrificed to "the dragon who lived in a lake"...Sounds familiar?

But, there are also South Slavic legends about people sacrificing young girls to the monster living in a lake, where the monster was not a dragon, but a bull...


In Serbia, two legends about the same lake, identify the monster as both dragon and bull...You can read more about this in my post "Water bull"... 

Why? Well, as I said, in Slavic mythology, dragon represents the destructive heat of the sun. Sun's heat is most destructive during the summer, the season symbolised by a Bull...Hence the equating of bulls and dragons in South Slavic mythology....

So to end this article, here is my favourite Bactrian seal (so far 🙂) It depicts a snake with two heads: a dragon head pointing to the left and a bull head pointing to the right...Symbolically equating dragon and bull and at the same equating both with the sun's heat, symbolised by a snake body...


How cool is this? 🙂

And now the question which is on everyone's mind, but no one dares to ask:

Why can Slavic folk mythology, collected from illiterate peasants in the 19th and 20th century in Europe, so perfectly explain Bactrian mythological symbolism from 4000 years ago?

As one of my favourite singers, Amy Winehouse so eloquently put it in her song "Me and Mr Jones": "What kind of fuckery is this?"

18 comments:

  1. i am reminded of pasupati images from the proto-indian cultures at mohenjo-daro... (as well as, of course, the famous seated male figure on the gundstrup cauldron.) bactrian belief systems influenced both hindu and zoroastrian ritual through its soma/haoma rites, and i would not be surprised to find further commonalities. it's fascinating how folklore and language preserve ancient heritage of thought and practice. slavic mythology and tradition may well be the strongest repository of knowledge about PIE beliefs that we have. certainly, an illuminating lens through which to view our past, especially when overlain upon other global folklore.

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  2. Slavs inherited the substratum that many shared and out of it grew variations of the same thing. This particular snake symbolism is present in numerous cultures that have Proto-Indo-European roots and Slavic lore is merely one of them where little modifications seem to have been done throughout centuries, and for this reason, many ideas have retained their original essence and rawness while the form has been only somewhat changed. In Slavic folklore, snakes that live at the bottom of lakes (or any kind of bottom) are associated principally with the water element, which is very clearly an archaic Indo-European mythologem (as demonstrated by Ivanov and Toporov). I wasn't aware that there were examples in South Slavic folklore where the snake and the bull were interchangeable, however, it doesn't seem surprising at all since this association exists in the Greek cult of Dionysus - where Dionysus, as the dying god most often associated with the bull - goes through the same metaphysical drama as the mythological snake of the bottom that is fated to be killed by the solar heroes or gods.

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    1. You are completely missing the point...Snake is solar animal, is not killed by solar heroes or gods and is associated with water because it is the symbol of sun's heat which causes draught...This may have been once global Eurasian and North African symbol, but was for some reason only preserved in Slavic folklore...And this is the key to understanding snake symbolism...Any mythology which is treating snake as a chthonic and not solar symbol has forgotten the original meaning of this symbol...

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    2. I'm afraid Russian, Balto-Slavic, Serbian and Croatian scholarly ethnological and literary research says otherwise. Cite me a proper study which offers proofs that snakes are not chthonic in Slavic lore. It is the dragon that symbolizes sun's destructive heat and the dry, scorching airy heights whereas snakes are its nemesis and are principally associated with water and underground, illustrating indefinite phenomena, something murky and formless that yet needs to come to pass. In Greece alike, snakes were chthonic as stand-alone symbols until they are assimilated and subjugated by solar deities such as Apollo or Athena or Hermes, where they acquire solar characteristics through such deities - in which case they become epichthonic like in the case of Hermes.

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    3. I am not surprised at all that "scholarly ethnological and literary research says otherwise"...Because they just copied what other's said before them about Greek, Roman...and other mythologies...In Slavic folklore, dragon is an old snake...There is no way they can be associated with different aspects of nature...Have look at this http://oldeuropeanculture.blogspot.com/2020/01/enemy-of-sun.html

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    4. @Anonymous
      Just let to become clear about something what blogger already said and some people apparently didn't get right. While in English language we have words "dragon" and "snake", in Serbian we have "zmaj" and "zmija". In Serbian language (which is not the case in English) exists a grammar rule that EVERY single noun MUST have its GENDER. So Serbian word for "snake" is "zmija" and word "zmija" has feminine gender, while word for "dragon", which is "zmaj" has masculine gender. And, since, these two words have the same root ang both creatures have similar characteristics, yes, we can conclude that these are words for same creature or creatures that are relative to each other. And since they are relative (or same) and snakes indeed are creatures which most part of the years live when there is a sunshine (since they are coldblooded creatures) we can say that snake also represent Suns heat or more precisely eater of Suns heat. But also there are believes that "zmaj" arises from 40 years old snake that nobody ever saw. Slavic mythology is pretty complex and "zmaj"-s doesn't represent just suns heat or are always in aspect of some type of serpent neither they are always good or bad. The same is with "zmija"-s as well. In Slavic mythology they ("zmija"-s) are chthonic creatures but not always and not all of them and all of the time. Correct term for "zmija"-s in Slavic mythology would be - ambivalent creatures. And how complex and in the same time beautiful Slavic mythology is, we can see in fact that there is a third creature relative to these two and it's most famous name is "ala". And "ala" arises form 100 years old snake and that (rather than "zmija") would be more opposite creature to "zmaj" so "ala" would be kinda "bad guy" in this story. All that is a direct consequence of snakes ("zmija"-s) being ambivalent creatures in Slavic mythology - from one ambivalent creature you get two opposite confronted creatures. PS: remember that in Balkan Slavs believes "zmija" is the most angry (or aggressive or mad) at end of the Summer and special magical significance comes from that snake that somebody kill between 28th of August and 21st of September.

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    5. They didn't copy any erroneous research: they looked at their own archaic folk materials and in them found a clear distinction between ala/lamia/полоз/pozoj on one side, and dragon/zmey/змей/zmaj on the other. Ala, through its characteristics and role in these tales, is explicitly chthonic, inimical to the solar principle, unequivocally associated with water through so many examples in ritual songs, and corresponds metaphysically to the snake of the Proto-Indo-European millieau). In Croatian legends, eating and assimilating the flesh of such monsters that live underground/underwater cools one down, showing its wet and cold properties. This are the very examples from the folk material, not even their scholarly interpretations.

      Dragon, on the other side has all the properties of the solar eagle/hawk/thunderer deities that belong to the Proto-Indo-European heritage. Snake doesn't naturally fly, it's what crawls, what's at the bottom of the axis of the world, of what is metaphysically unconscious, indefinite, dark, watery, murky and still not touched by the light of the conscious, creation or solar principle. Once it climbs up, and occasionally grows wings during the rise, it's an usurper of the cosmic balance and a threat to the sun - but even then, with wings, it's inimical to the solar principle and is not to be confused with the dragon - occasional poems do mix the two terms up.

      In South Slavic lore, dragon and snake are opposite ends of the same axis and as such are carriers of the opposite elements - because axis itself is dual! They are tightly closed and inseparable but painfully different at the same time. If you look at Greek or pre-Iranian representations of the world axis, you'd find that famous image of the (sometimes winged) snake (its most famous modification being Kērū́keion), where snake has both supernal and chthonic properties - Hermes, after all, is such deity and is believed to derive from a pre-Olympian snake-god. So, in Greek myths, you could say snake can appear solar and chthonic AT THE SAME TIME, but never exclusively solar. This snake symbolizes the macrocosmic world axis, which further symbolizes the microcosmic creative impulse in man himself or libido, which alternates between its unmanifest and manifest stages, or in other words, unconscious (chthonic, wet) or conscious (solar) functions. In Slavic folklore, solar functions are much more likely to be represented by winged animals, whereas whatever crawls (lizards or snakes) will always belong to the watery plane. To say both snake and dragons are solar is to do the same absurd thing that Christianity does: exclude completely the chthonic aspect of life and its nourishing properties!

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    6. I will give one short, easy to understand answer here. For elaboration see my previous posts about snakes and dragons and my future posts about eagle and snake, and about snake as a solar calendar marker.

      Snake is a solar symbol. Because it is always where the sun is: in our world when sun is in our world (spring, summer, autumn), and in the underworld when sun is in the underworld (winter)...Se relationship with Jarilo...
      Snake feeds on sun's heat eventually starting to breath fire and turning into a dragon...
      Snake is seen as chthonic symbol because it follows sun to the underworld (in Europe) where winter is the dead part of the year...Snake is seen as chthonic in Levant and Arabia because it is a solar animal, and there the Sun is seen as the good of death and summer as the dead part of year...
      Snake and dragon are associated with water because they are sun's heat, and it is the sun's heat that "steels the waters" "traps the waters" which then thunder god releases by killing the solar snake, dragon (sun's heat)...Kadmus also has to do the same, when he needed water "guarded by a serpent"...
      Ala is imported character in Slavic mythology. The word is Iranian and literally means dragon...
      Apollo was originally associated with thunder and lightning, here far shooter...He was in the earliest times known as the "Thunder god of the armies" to the Ahayawa...Hence he kills the Python, solar snake, like any proper thunder god does...Hermes is also associated with thunder and lightning. He is the "messenger of Zeus" after all...He also invented "the fire stick" the means to make fire. Fire, which was originally only made by Sun god (sun's heat) and Thunder god (through thunder and lightning, the "voice", or "messenger" of the Thunder gods)...The two entangled snakes represent the time when snakes start mating in Europe and West Asia, which is the time when summer starts but also when thunderstorm season starts...So the entwined snakes are both the symbol of sun and the symbol of thunder and lightning...Both things which can produce fire...Hence two snakes on the "magic stick of Hermes" the trickstering bastard :)

      I think this is enough for now...

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    7. One more thing. Sun's heat can be both positive and negative...Hence snakes as both positive and negative...

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    8. "Snake is a solar symbol. Because it is always where the sun is: in our world when sun is in our world (spring, summer, autumn), and in the underworld when sun is in the underworld (winter)...Se relationship with Jarilo..."

      That's the zodiac. If you said that Cancer, Pisces and Scorpion are solar in this context, you'd be correct - despite their watery and chthonic attributes. Scorpio doesn't mean winter, it means sun deep and low in the winter, in its chthonic aspect. However, the VERTICAL axis that has the snake placed at the bottom and eagle/dragon at the top is not the HORIZONTAL axis of the zodiac. This conception of the zodiac and sun travelling both on the surface and through the underground is present in the modified form of Agni's twelve helpers and keepers of the sun, which can be traced in Serbian folk songs, owing to its Indo-European background. Jarylo can be connected to Agni here - when on surface, he is the solar sun, when in the underworld, he is the chthonic sun. But this is Jarilo, the passing of time through 12 months, not Veles! Veles is the snake of the vertical axis, the one doing the abduction and holding waters back. It's not Jarylo, the sun and heat in all of its aspects, hot or weak, that steals the waters. It's Veles. Jarylo is the one who moves through the year - like sun moves through the zodiac - symbolizing the passing of time. On the other side, Veles and Perun are two points of the axis that remain fixed, one at the top, one at the bottom, while Jarylo moves between them, connecting them.

      "It is the sun's heat that "steels the waters" "traps the waters" which then thunder god releases by killing the solar snake."

      The Indo-European concept of water that is trapped and held back in the underworld corresponds to the abduction of Jarylo. The water that is held back - or the maiden that is abducted or Jarylo who is kidnapped at birth - are of solar character - chthonic solar or supernal solar. The one who does the abducting is Veles - the chthonic snake, the winter, the underworld, the unconscious - representing the weakening of solar and conscious power.

      Jarylo (the sun, the vitality) is abducted and taken to the underworld at New Year's Eve - celebrated either in winter or March according to old conception of time - when the sun's heat is still low. The festivals celebrating his return and release from the underworld are celebrated a bit later in May with the coming of spring. So, how in the world is the sun's heat stealing the waters (Vedic water = Slavic Jarylo) and causing the drought in March only for them to be released when the sun's heat is even stronger in May (when Jarylo returns from the underground)?

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    9. If you are talking about the vertical axes, what is on top of the world tree? Eagle, the symbol of Perun, rain...So the opposite to it is???

      "The one who does the abducting is Veles - the chthonic snake, the winter, the underworld" This makes absolutely no sense, if Perun is the one who releases the water...Perun is rain...
      "...how in the world is the sun's heat stealing the waters..." Do you know what the drought is? Drought causes skies and wells to dry out...

      Seriously you need to use your common sense a bit, think about agriculture and what it needs, because this is all about agriculture, and stop thinking about subconscious...

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    10. Oh and one other thing. This predates Indo-Europeans. This is the first farmer thing...Which is why we find this all over Eurasia and North Africa from Neolithic onwards...Slavs just preserved it...Like so many other ancient things that were forgotten by other people...

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  3. "Seriously you need to use your common sense a bit, think about agriculture and what it needs, because this is all about agriculture, and stop thinking about subconscious..."

    It's actually hilarious how Slavs with such amazing wealth of shamanistic symbolism stayed stuck at interpreting their mythology at a primitive level, only in terms of agriculture and vegetational processes. Even vedic interpretation, from which a lot of Slavic material originated from, equated mythological events with psychic processes a few millennia ago. I'd recommend that you look into the works of Walter F. Otto, Karl Kerenyi or Carl Jung, and see that your mythology is much, much more than mere reflection agricultural processes. Like any system with magical, shamanistic ideas, this one mirrors the interior reality as well - aka psyche. But hey, we Slavs always lacked clear, common sense and critical approach that it's no wonder we are still massively stuck at that "agricultural" level of thought.

    "Do you know what the drought is? Drought causes skies and wells to dry out..."

    I'll repeat again: why would there be a drought in March in relation to the sun's heat only for waters to be released when the sun's heat is even stronger? No sense.

    "If you are talking about the vertical axes, what is on top of the world tree? Eagle, the symbol of Perun, rain...So the opposite to it is???"
    Perun is a god with explicit DRY and fiery attributes in so many reconstructed folk songs. Raw examples are everywhere. Rain is what he releases from Veles. It rains AFTER he hits Veles with fiery thunders. It's a reaction born out of his conflict with Veles. No conflict with Veles, no water released from Veles.

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    1. "Even vedic interpretation, from which a lot of Slavic material originated from" are you for real? I am telling you this is found everywhere, from the beginning of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent...This is at the core of the agricultural sky father earth mother producing life cult. Look at Levant, Middle East, India, Central Asia, North Africa...All the same symbolism matching exactly the climatic situation in each region...These were calendar markings of the first farmers, before there was a calendar...Indoeuropeans and the people who created vedas (we don't know who they were) inherited this from the first farmers...Slavs preserved it in it's raw form because they are uber traditional, at least South Slavs are...

      "...Slavs...stayed stuck at interpreting their mythology at a primitive level, only in terms of agriculture and vegetational processes..." You have no idea what's important to peasants...They don't give a crap about subconscious. They care about their crops which keep them alive...I am sorry to shatter your highbrow outlook on life, but most people in the history of the world didn't give a crap about it either...Except for idle philosophers who had the luxury of thinking about things like these and priests who created religions to obscure the original things people prayed to, sky and earth, and create gods that they can talk to in your name and get money for it...

      "...why would there be a drought in March..." Who is talking about March? Perun (Elijah) is celebrated in the Balkans at the end of July, beginning of August, the hottest part of the year, when the earth stops heating and starts cooling, but also the time of the most frequent thunderstorms...

      "Perun is a god with explicit DRY and fiery attributes..." :) Perun is god of rain...He brings rain...He has no dry attributes...Fire, yes, because lightning was the original source of fire...

      "No conflict with Veles, no water released from Veles" Exactly...It is the interplay between sun and storms which creates the fertile climate. Otherwise you would live in a desert...This is why the oldest religions only have sky gods, both sun and storm...

      I am seriously tired of this...You keep repeating things your read without thinking about them...I am no going to post any more of your comments or reply to them...

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  4. After reading your discussion I think to confusion comes from the term solar and chtonic, as they seem the opposite of each other. Maybe it would be better to call dragons/serpents celestial (skygod) animals and not solar animals. That would explain the link to both water and fire. Like you self said:

    " think about agriculture and what it needs, because this is all about agriculture"
    "Perun is god of rain...He brings rain...He has no dry attributes...Fire, yes, because lightning was the original source of fire..."

    "It is the interplay between sun and storms which creates the fertile climate. Otherwise you would live in a desert...This is why the oldest religions only have sky gods, both sun and storm..."

    How I understood it:
    Agriculture: For plants to grow they need both heat and light (sun/fire in the sky) and water (rain/water from the sky). Both the sun and rain comes from the sky (air/). So sky god were the upper beings, symbolised by thunderstorms because they combine all elements (lightning/ heat/ in form of lightning, wind? and rain/water). Solar and rain deities are aspects/parts of the sky god, but not the main thing.

    Drought: too much sun, not enough rain
    (destructive) floods: not enough sun, too much rain.

    If dragons are linked with the most powerfull form of the skygod, they can be both linked to drought/sun and floods/water and which is why you need them to be happy and in caves because as long as they are underground they don't do harm.

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    1. :) Exactly...There is no conflict...It is a perceived conflict...Which is why, Perun and Veles are one and the same...Have a look at this https://oldeuropeanculture.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-power-of-thunder-giant.html

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    2. I just realised something. The link with dragons as the powerfull form of the skygod would be the strongest if floods and the most powerfull sun come at the same time. Indian monsoon season is between June and august, so rain season equals the summer.

      And this is what about the Indus river (https://www.britannica.com/place/Indus-River/Hydrology):

      "The principal rivers of the Indus River system are snow-fed. Their flow varies greatly at different times of the year:

      the discharge is at a minimum during the winter months (December to February), there is a rise of water in spring and early summer (March to June),
      and floods occur in the rainy season (July to September). Occasionally, there are devastating flash floods.

      The Indus and its tributaries receive all their waters in the hilly upper parts of their catchments. Therefore, their flow is at a maximum where they emerge out of the foothills, and little surface flow is added in the plains, where evaporation and seepage considerably reduce the flow volume. On the other hand, some water is added by seepage in the period after the monsoon months.

      In the main stream of the Indus, the water level is at its lowest from mid-December to mid-February. After that the river starts rising, slowly at first and then more rapidly at the end of March. The high-water level usually occurs between mid-July and mid-August. The river then falls rapidly until the beginning of October, when the water level subsides more gradually."

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    3. Funny you say that http://oldeuropeanculture.blogspot.com/2020/02/musth.html But the situation is the same in Europe and Anatolia...Thunderstorm season and the hottest part of the year overlap...

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