The Sanskrit word Naga means ‘One who slithers on the ground,’ or alternately, ‘one without legs.’ Naga also means ‘serpent’, but there are other Sanskrit terms for serpents (Sampa, for example) and Naga, while sometimes meaning only ‘snake’, most often refers to an animistic entity appearing as a snake, a human or a hybrid of the two. A Naga often appears in the form of a semi-divine king cobra. While not a full god/goddess, a Naga is part animal spirit (serpent lower half), part human (upper half) and part divinity. It is mentioned in the Puranas (Hindu holy books) that this makes them wholly unique in the spiritual universe of Tantra/Hinduism. They can mate with humans and bear demigod/human children. Many royal lines in Asia—for example in Myanmar—trace themselves to such unions. The Naga are divine protectors, but may also be demonic, poisonous tormentors. They can bring gifts, healing, and protection from snakes, or they can bring death and terror. In this way, they are much like humans! Let me add a note here, as I will use the term Naga, as it is used in India: to represent both singular and plural. That is, one Naga and many Naga. I will also use the term Naga to refer to both male and female serpent spirits, though the female of Naga is also seen as Nagi or Nagini when focusing on a particular Naga that is feminine. Think of both men and women referred to generically as ‘people.’ Also, being demigods, the mythic sexuality of Naga is as variable as the grammar used. So when we refer to Kundalini, a term familiar to most of you, it is often referred to the as the ‘Goddess Kundalini’ or ‘Shri Kundalini’ but you will see here Kundalini referred to as Maha Naga or ‘great Naga.’ While I realize this may be a bit confusing, remember that we are entering the shadow world of mythology and magickal descriptions, so bear with me. Such snake and serpent spirits are ubiquitous in ancient animist and pantheist religious traditions worldwide. In the Western Esoteric Traditions we have the Greek serpent-spirit called Agathodaimon, the guardian spirit for each person. Neriads were half serpent beings in rivers and lakes (much like Nagas) and the Genius Loci or spirit of a place was often depicted as a serpent. The Delphic oracle relied on a serpent intermediary, the primal Titan Python, and the oracular priestess was called the ‘pythoness.’ In Greece the Great Mother— under many names such as Gaia, Rhea and so on—was venerated in the form of or through a serpent intermediary. Chnoubis, the lion-headed serpent, was not only a mainstay image in Gnostic and pre-Gnostic Hermetic traditions, but has become a crucial image in such Western magickal orders as the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), representing, again, the Guardian Spirit among other things. In the ancient world, there literally existed thousands of snake or serpent spirits venerated in many places under many names. A number of popular books and videos show the cross-cultural profusion of the serpent-spirit archetype. In most of the animist or pantheist/Pagan cultural traditions, these serpent-demigods are positive beings manifesting as spiritual guardians, reflections of the inner Self or specific spirits of places and nature, and almost always associated with springs, rivers lakes and oceans as well as the deep chthonian world below. So common are serpent spirits or gods, that in my travels to nearly thirty countries I have yet to visit one where they were not prevalent. One marked shift in mankind’s view of the serpent-spirit came with monotheist religions that sought to demonize the earlier, far older, nature religions and traditions. Thus the serpent ‘devil’ in the Tree of Life in Genesis, tempting Adam and Eve with the ‘sin’ of knowledge! This serpent in the tree is a common and positive motif in older spiritual traditions, including Naga myths, but in the Bible it transfigured into something sinister and evil. In Islam the serpent became a symbol of Iblis (Satan), as it is in Christianity. Yet in Buddhism, not only are the Naga venerated and honored, but the Buddha himself is called MahaNaga! Buddhism has always been more accepting of prior myths and deities, and the serpent spirits are a prime example. There exist so many parallels in positive (or, at least, ambivalent) views of nature-serpent spirits one could argue an historical connection among snake-spirits all over the world, including those called ‘Nagas’ in Southwest Asia, or Nat/Nag in Southeast Asia. I’ve encountered them in China as Dragon spirits, in Japan as the ‘white snake’ spirit living in a lake, in Korea as guardian serpent spirits, and variants all throughout Southern Asia. In Australia, the White Serpent Spirit, Rainbow Serpent and Black Serpent Spirit are key archetypes in Aboriginal dreamtime mythology. There is something deep and powerful here. As an historian, in addition to being an eclectic ritualist, I can not say with certainty that Nagas are the source of much of this global mythology. But I can say that the interchanges among prehistoric tribes and people is proving to be far more pervasive and occurred far earlier than most thought possible even a few years ago. Finding Buddhas in Viking graves and Sumerian seals at Harappan sites is just not unusual anymore. If the Naga concept, which has prehistoric origins, followed the linguistic infusion of Indo-European language aspects throughout much of the world, then this would help in explaining the mythic infusion of the concept. So we can argue the archetypal nature of serpent spirits or the mythic narrative that says ‘Naga gnosis’ spread outward from a central ancient source throughout greater Asia. In the end it doesn’t matter because syncretism, cultural spread, modern interpretations and global mythic interface obscure the actual trail. Are Serpent Nature Spirits archetypes or prehistorically transmitted interconnected beliefs? As I am here dealing primarily with understanding the current reality of the Naga mythos as well as the magickal pragmatics of dealing with these forces called ‘Naga,’ it is an interesting question but hardly matters. In the mythic cosmos, all things are flexible. The great primal Naga Sesha (or Anata) is said to encircle the world much as Surtur, the Norse primal serpent God does. Both are associated with a Tree of Life along with a deep connection to the under earth/water realm connected by waters that flow above and below. The association between springs, rivers and serpents is obvious once one has viewed a river from on high. The emergence of a
serpent from its hole and a spring from the ground is also a somewhat obvious mythic interface. We can look further into the natural symbolism of flowing waters in nature and look at the currents in the ocean, the patterns of erosion, the running of rain down a stone wall. It is no surprise that Naga in the pre-Hindu and Hindu mythologies are always associated with rivers, springs, lakes and rain. In this manner they are also associated with fertility and the underworld, as most of the fresh water on the planet flows through invisible water tables and channels under the earth. It is also interesting to note that ‘Ley lines’ (also called ‘Dragon Lines’!) are found to coincide with underground rivers. Dragons are, of course, another form of Naga. Add to this the obvious phallic symbolism invoked by a serpent. Some have noted that the fact that serpents emerge from an egg, unlike mammals, is also a strong symbolic image with great power. In fact, the egg circled by a serpent is a holy symbol in Hermeticism and a number of crosscultural religious traditions. The association of fertility, crops, water for livestock, and wealth also appear natural connections for early humans to make. So we find the Naga associated with forms of wealth and fertility both metaphorically as well as in concrete forms like the physical wealth of gems and precious metals found deep underground, or wealth in the form of conception of children by women ritually circling a Naga Shrine. This is a common sight in India. Of course, some serpents are poisonous and their bites can be fatal. Many sources claim that the connection between Naga and water is due to the annual monsoons and floods in Asia during late summer. At this time the serpent burrows are flooded and snakes often enter human abodes seeking shelter. One can definitively say this is rarely a good mix! Thus Naga are said to be fickle, moody and sometimes prone to violence and quick to take offense. They can kill or curse as easily as they bring fertility, wealth and healing. Much depends on how you ritually approach them. It is interesting that the Serpent Goddess often considered the Mother of Naga is Manasa Devi, and one of her primary attributes is to protect or heal from snakebite. The big Naga festivals, by the way, also occur around the beginning of the monsoon times.
NAGA MAGICK. The Wisdom of the Serpent Lords
by Denny Sargent.