1920s-era cigarette trading card art and text:
In primeval days the Serpent deeply appealed to
man's imagination, and owing to its length of life
was used as the emblem for wisdom and eternity. It
was a household god in ancient Rome, and sacred to
their god of medicine. The Romans believed that the
Serpent renewed its youth by casting its skin, and it
became the symbol for long life and vitality. In India
the Serpent symbolizes the infinite duration of time
and wisdom. Serpent rings were worn to ensure
health, strength, and long life. The rings were also
believed to posess great protective and enduring
virtues. The Serpent was a mark of royalty in Egypt,
and worn as a headdess or Ureaeus.
The provenience of the item shown on this card is not given in the text, but it appears to be a Roman bronze arm band in the form of a coiled, naturalistic serpent.
Snake rings and snake bracelets are still made to this day, but aside from the use of the rattlesnake image in America, the serpent is relatively rare as a modern folkloric "lucky" symbol or charm. It does carry weighty and ages-old religious and mythological connotations, however. In addition to the examples listed above, the serpent is found in the religious symbolism and worship of American Indian, Asian, African, and Afro-Caribbean cultures.
Marija Gimbutas identifies the Snake Goddess of Old Europe as among the earliest forms of divinity, and the Great Goddess of Crete was often depicted holding snakes in her hands. In some Protestant Christian sects of the Southern United States, snake handling is still an important form of worship.
The snake is a fertility icon in Southeast Asia, the creator-god Damballah in Africa, and a companion to the god Shiva in India. In Judaism and Christianity, the snake in the Garden of Eden is seen as a type of the Devil or "adversary" of human beings, but in old European fairy tales, it is a "white snake" that enables humans to understand the speech of animals.
Serpents are particularly important in Meso-American religious tradition. Carlos "Froggy" May reminds us that the most famous Meso-American serpents are Quetzalcoatl (Aztec) and Kukulcan (Mayan). According to May, "The Feathered Serpent name specifically means 'Quetzal feathered.' The Quetzal is a bird with very long, green tail feathers, much sought after for headdresses of high priests and kings. Quetzal hence also means precious; a term used for an adored loved one. In Maya, Kukulcan means, by pun and cognate, feathered serpent, or precious sky, or sacred knowledge."
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