“The serpent was chosen as the head of the reptilian family. Serpent worship in some form has permeated nearly all parts of the earth. The serpent mounds of the American Indian; the carved stone snakes of Central and South America; the hooded cobras of India; Python, the great snake of the Greeks; the sacred serpents of the Druids; … the mystic serpent of Orpheus; the snakes at the oracle of Delphi twining themselves around the tripod upon which the Pythian priestess sat, the tripod itself being in the form of twisted serpents. … All these bear witness to the universal veneration in which the snake was held. In the ancient Mysteries the serpent-entwined staff was the symbol of the physician. The serpent-wound staff of Hermes the emblem of the medical profession. Among nearly all these ancient peoples the serpent was accepted as the symbol of wisdom or salvation. The antipathy which Christianity feels towards the snake is based upon the little-understood allegory of the Garden of Eden.
“The serpent is true to the principle of wisdom, for it tempts man to the knowledge of himself. Therefore, the knowledge of self resulted from man’s disobedience to the Demiurgus, Jehovah. How the serpent came to be in the garden of the Lord after God had declared that all creatures which he had made during the six days of creation were good has not been satisfactorily answered by the interpreters of Scripture. The tree that grows in the garden is the spinal fire; the knowledge of the use of that fire is the gist of the great serpent.” ~Manly P Hall
Serpent and Snake
It is true that serpents or snakes are found in a surprisingly large number of symbols used by ancient mystery schools, medical schools, and schools of philosophy. I don’t think it is accurate to say that until Christianity made them symbols of evil that snakes and serpents were always good. Even in ancient times, there were both good and bad serpents.
One of the best known of these ancient snake symbols is Ouroboros. This symbol originated in ancient Egypt and is a symbol of Alchemy. Before the symbol was adopted by Alchemists, it was considered a symbol for renewal or the cyclical nature of life. It shows a snake biting its own tail forming a circle. The earliest copy of it is found in a shrine at the tomb of Tutankhamen. In this case, it is said to represent the beginning and end of time, which is a curious idea. Apparently, the ancient Egyptians knew that time was not permanent but part of the illusion of the physical universe.
In ancient Greece, where much was copied from their friends in Egypt, the symbol of Asclepius, the physician who was considered the god of healing, used as his symbol a staff with a snake wrapped around it.
As Hall notes, many other ancient civilizations had snake symbols in various places that showed the serpent (or snake) as a beneficial thing. But that changed with Christianity.
Evil Serpent or Snake
It is curious, I think, that Christianity is credited with making the snake a symbol of evil, yet that is based on a tale in the Bible that is in the Old Testament and predates Christianity. Specifically, it is the serpent that tempts Adam and Eve to do evil, which is to say, disobey God. But Hall says they have it all wrong.
In Hall’s opinion, the restrictions on eating from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” was a rule of the false god, the Demiurge as he is known in Gnosticism. So by this logic, Adam and Eve were not doing evil at all. This interpretation, however, does not explain why they got bounced out of Paradise, home of the real God, and send to the realm of matter where the Demiurge reigns. Why would violators of the Demiurge’s rules be sent to his realm for the violation? It makes no sense to me, so I can’t agree with Hall on this point.
It is common practice for demons, devils, servants of the Demiurge, to make themselves appear as something good such as an angel or a saint. It is logical then they one would appear as a serpent to trick Adam and Eve if it knew that Adam and Eve considered the serpent a beneficial symbol. SO I think the allegorical tale recorded in the Bible is reasonably accurate. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a symbol of materialism. It is a symbolic name for the material sun. Looking at it gave Adam and Eve knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge is generally considered a good thing, but it isn’t always. Some years ago, many were quite angry with a writer who published a book giving people instructions on how to make homemade bombs. That is an example of evil knowledge and it is something the real God didn’t want Adam and Eve to have. Once they had knowledge of evil in their minds, they were automatically forced out of Heaven where only good can exist. They were not chased out by angels except as having those angels represent the natural forces created by God that automatically control his realm and keep it good and clean, free of evil. So this is one case where the demon disguised as a snake was truly evil.