The meaning of snakes and dragons across world cultures on religious buildings and in their iconography.

Stijn van den Hoven – August 2021


It took me a while to decipher why there are two snakes on the Egyptian sun disk or why snakes in general played such a role in ancient cultures. Its only a part of the overall picture, together with the bird and the pyramid/tree of life/cosmic mountain symbolism, they all work together. I touch the bird briefly also here. It shows, if you have a keen eye, that there are definitely symbolic astronomical representations between the ancient cultures. Even though its currently accepted they developed “by themselves” “with no cultural contact” I dispute that assumption and try to prove via used iconography and astronomical symbolism to prove my point.

The snake, shedding its skin, was an eternal life symbol, like the evergreen pine/tree of life. I had to look at other cultures across the globe and the relation of these snakes to astronomy, but I think I finally cracked it and figured out their meaning across cultures worldwide

I believe they are representations of the paths of the sun and moon and the lunar nodes. Rahu and Ketu, the causes of the ecliptic of the sun and the moon, which, for a star/moon and solar observing culture would make perfect sense to give this high importance. .

It proves without a doubt, that there was cultural exchange in antiquity as similar concepts of dragons swallowing the sun and the moon where incorporated in their cultures. From Egypt to India, China and South America.

To say ancient cultures developed as stand alone cultures with no cultural exchange is completely ludicrous if one starts paying better attention to the expressions of their buildings, art and symbolism. So are the ancient aliens theories. Answers to expressions of meso american art like King Pakals tomblid, the Aztec calender stone and Chitzen Itza’s snake design is found in astronomy. The “form” of art is undeniably different, the symbolic language is not when compared to other cultures. The use of the turtle, or world tree with snakes and bird on top are seen in more cultures. Not just because “birds sit in trees.”

Although other researchers have pointed out “similarities” like the snake balustrades on temples in Asia and Meso America, they failed to answer why, or thought the answers were in the micro cosmos of the body in the form of the Ida and Pingala.

Kundalini,Ida, Pingala

Personally I don’t agree to that interpretation and I think the reason of such art and expressions is instead astronomical. Perhaps they are both and both Macro and Micro cosmos is as above as below., the left side and the right side of the body was also used to attributed to female and male side of the body respectively (moon/sun)

Those snakes and dragons

In my opinion, there is a reason why we see dragons on churches, Makaras on budhist temples roofs, snake on balustrades, snakes on temples.

The reason for the dragons or snakes on temples and in art across cultures worldwide is the concept of symbolically portraying the paths of the sun and the moon and the lunar and solar eclipses, Rahu and Ketu, in the concept of the dragon/snake monster swallowing the sun and moon on eclipses.

Stijn van den Hoven – August 2021



The Churning of the Milky Ocean depicted on a relief panel at El Tajin, Mexico.
The drawing above by Daniela Epstein is of a ball court relief panel from El Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico, associated with Building 4. Ballcourt scene. Note the entwined serpents in circle form.

To see the Kurma world turtle on El Tajin relief with its snakes as pointed out by Bibhu Dev Misra in this 2016 article is indeed no coincidence. He wrote his article on an earlier article of Carl de Borhegyi: Stipulating this is a representation of the indian mount Meru. In it this unique image taken at the museum of anthropology.

As can be seen the turtles and the serpents/dragons of the sky played a major part in the iconography of the word religions, for a good reason, as they used the same metaphores for religious buildings and temples. Namely, Pillar of heaven, primordial mountain, snakes, turtles, world trees and sometimes the torch (pillar with sun on top) from Greece onwards. The club of Orion and its tip since that was the spring constellation.

File:The Ball Court, Maya-Toltec, Chichen Itza, Stone Ring Goal  (8337547873).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
These serpents are also seen on the ballhoop at Chitzen Itza. No, it was not because they liked snakes.

Instead of focusing on the turtle, I focused instead on the dual snake/dragons symbolism seen usually on top (or around Mount Meru) or on the single snake expression Vasuki although Vasuki does have a sister Manasa, which again points to Rahu and Ketu. Noteworthy that the “man in the snake” only also depicts one celestial snake and not two, However through the Meso American world they are usualy depicted in pairs for the two lunar nodes respectively.

Dragon of the Stone - Alchemical Dragon illustration explained | Closet of  Mysteries
The most iconic of these illustrations from the Theatrum chemicum Britannicum is the two headed dragon facing the sun and moon.  It comes from page 212 at the end of the chapter called Liber Patris Sapientiae.

An interesting point to make is that the above manuscript Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum and the image of the two dragons was first published in 1652. It is an extensively annotated compilation of English alchemical literature selected by Elias Ashmole. However. Its not alchemy. Its astronomy and depicting the lunar nodes dragons swallowing the sun and moon respectively in an almost identical composition to the El Tajin Relief. However El Tajin was not discovered or documented as to be visited by Europeans until 1785. The city also died around 1200BC long before any European set foot.

Quote: “El Tajín is a pre-Columbian archeological site in southern Mexico and is one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic era of Mesoamerica. A part of the Classic Veracruz culture, El Tajín flourished from 600 to 1200 CE and during this time numerous temples, palaces, ballcourts, and pyramids were built. From the time the city fell, in 1230, to 1785, no European seems to have known of its existence, until a government inspector chanced upon the Pyramid of the Niches.”

So where did this expression come from? What is the origin of these celestial “dragons”?

Ancient Egypt and Sumeria

Serpopard cylinder seal from Sumeria.

Or was the concept Egyptian. Who influenced who?

Serpopards on tablet found in Egypt.

I have allways said the other side of the Narmer tablet is Orion. The whole Narmer tablet is an astronomical tablet. Its the pose and the bulls on top that give this away. The sandalbearer is the star Sirius. This relation has also been pointed out here by another researcher:

Like the snakes and dragons the serpopards on the other side was allways a mystery. I now suspect the serpopards morphed into the later dragons of the sky. The two snakes/dragons, also seen on top of the chinese Bixi stele is indeed no different to the cultural expressions seen across the pond or anywhere else in the world.

Even the Hatshepsut temple in Dendera has the snake balustrades, topped by the Horus falcon for the sun, the winged sun disk. Being burried in a pyramid as the symbol of the primordial mountain, in Egypt or Meso America, or in the actual mountains itself in the valley of the kings is much of a muchness.

The two snakes and the sky/sun have allways been linked since antiquity. Wadjet and Nekbeth, the two sisters or Hero Twins, all names for the two disks in the sky and their celestial paths.

The Horus and snake symbolism seen in Egypt and the winged sundisk, to the later eagles carrying the caduceus at baalbek in the form of Jupiter and also, Or Garuda with his snakes and also, Viracocha carrying his snakes. The Roman/Zeus eagle, Nazi eagle or American eagle all refer to the same.

Winged sundisk and snakes.

These “relations” are hard to “proof” from an academic standpoint as archeologist and anthropologists are looking for similar language, similar art or at the expressions of forms of such art to conclude they are the same culture or were culturally influenced by one other. Of course they were not the “same culture” But they are not looking at shared concepts that are depicted in different ways. Because they don’t understand the reasons for temples or ancient astronomical concepts in the first place as an archeologist or anthropologist. For them, its just “decorative snakes on a temple” or “coincidence”. They don’t understand the underlying concepts responsible for these expressions across the globe and label them as “separate cultures” yet their very core shows they shared similar astronomical concepts that had to be exchanged between them somehow. Its easy to say that Egyptian civilization and Sumerian civilization influenced each other, but if one looks closely, one can see these concepts travelled to Asia and created temples there. And from Asia they travelled across the pacific to the Meso American cultures via sea. There is no other explanation to the shared iconography seen across continents.

Handrail Snake Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from Dreamstime
4 Photos of Sun entering the Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat

An event, also seen on Meso American buildings.

The hidden secrets of Dzibilchaltún – The Yucatan Times

Then we have Chitzin Itza with its 360 steps and cardinal alignments, o and they slapped on a pair of snakes. So if the snake played such an important part on Angkor Wat, why would these snakes be “just decorative” in Chitzin Itza or any other temple. They are not. They are astronomical concepts that are shared across the globe, expressed in each cultures own unique way but still very much related to one other. The orbital paths of the sun and the moon, intertwining as they cross across the universe creating the two points of intersection, the lunar nodes.

Chichen Itza 3.jpg

Temples, gods and religion across the globe in different cultures are earthly expressions of astronomical concepts of of the universe, snakes in the form of the lunar nodes and the rotating skies itself. There is a clear link to the stars and to the the heavens in all these buildings. Their gods on the mountain the constellations and planets.

One must place the priests in their feather dress on top to complete the image of the world tree, pillar of heaven or cosmic astronomical mountain. The human element “complete the design” of the building.

Itzamna - Wikipedia
Itzam-Yeh Head dress
The world tree (pillar of heaven) deducted to a pyramid. The snakes are crucial in its design as is the bird on top. (Big Dipper)

Other researchers before have pointed out the interesting similarities between Sumerian and the Mayan world tree but failed to provide enough context to make this accepted by academics. They are certainly there. The concepts are the same. Its not because they liked trees so much. Its astronomical allegories, the tree of life, pillar of heaven, mount Meru is all the same.

Sumerian world tree

The bird and the two snakes or, god figure with two snakes (as the big dipper is the pivot of the sky) has made it across cultures in many variants. All pointing to a shared belief system and basic iconography.

More recently a new figure was found in Nazca showing the Bicephalous snake as well. More in my other article of the snake devouring man.

New Nazca lines showing mystery 'humanoids' and two-headed snakes found in  Peru - Daily Star

One can truly appreciate the Mayan art, by looking at the Jupiter eagle of Baalbek holding in its claws the early form of the Caduceus. Its depicting exactly the same thing. Just the Greeks and Romans called the center of the sky Zeus/Jupiter, the Mayans Itzam-Yeh. But the basic symbolism is shared. The assumption that the Mayas developed completely independently with no previous contact or cultural exchange to the cultures in the Mediterranean is definitely loosing ground fast. The art and its specific astronomical meaning, shows for it.

Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia

Angkor Wat's modern history reclaimed from French colonialists, and the  cultural politics of Unesco | South China Morning Post

Snakes play a vital role in the design of Angkor Wat. They are not “decorative”. The whole building is a 3d representation of the astronomical concept of the churning of the milky ocean, in more modern language, the rotation of the milyway, or universe.

Displayed in Mount Meru with its 5 peaks, with the demons and gods pulling the snake Vasuki around it. This is well known, acknowledged and documented.

Okar Research: Mount Mandara & The Ocean of Milk

Which iconography was the very basis for the snake bridges at the Angkor Wat temple complex. The temple itself being mount Meru.

Few would notice Gaudi’s turtle and pillar symbolism in the Sagrada Familia or for that matter the Turtle seen in the earlier ElTajin Relief. I did write another article on the turtle and pillar symbolism which can be found here:

Barcelona Photoblog: Turtle Holding Pillar at Sagrada Familia
Turtle with world pillar at the Sagrada Familia Church Barcelona
Angkor Thom Bridge | The History Hub
The snake bridges of Angkor Wat

No one would deny the solar alignment aspect of Angkor Wat either, with its perfect alignment of the sun to its top tower on the spring/autumn equinox. The other two towers the summer and solstice respectively as discussed in one of my previous articles where I go deeper in on the symbolism of mount Meru throughout history:

Capturing the cosmos on earth

Churches temples mosques are, Like Angkor Wat, modern interpretations of the cosmos, mount Meru. Noteworthy to say here that the word for pyramid is Mr.

A tree of life is no different them a cross or a Mayan tree with celestial snakes or even a Jewish stylized Menorah as I pointed out in this earlier article:

The Gargoyle dragons on churches are there for a reason.

Why was it popular to put Gargoyles on church cathedrals in the Middle  Ages? - Quora
Gargoyle dragon

The Makaras on asian temple roofs

Makara Wall Art | Fine Art America

or the dragons on early stave churches as well.

File:Stave church Lom, dragon heads.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Like all the snakes on the temple of the feathered serpent in Teotihucaan. Together with the rain sky god Taloc.

File:Teotihuacan, Citadel, Temple of the Feathered Serpent (20686669345).jpg

All these different cultures expressed the same shared concepts. At first the two dragons or dragon could be attributed to Draco and Hydra, yet it would not explain the intertwining aspects. That only can be the paths of the sun and the moon and the “dragon in the sky” that swallows the sun and moon.

These same snakes can be found on Asian temples that are placed on the stairs just like some mayan temples.

An Exploration of Prambanan Temple, A Hindu Jewel on Java Island - Ze  Wandering Frogs | Rock temple, Temple, Borobudur

All these different cultures expressed the same shared concepts and even placed them on the same spots at times as ballustrades. At first I suspected  the two dragons or dragon could be attributed to Draco and Hydra, yet it would not explain the intertwining aspects seen in the caduceus and ballhoops. That only can be the paths of the sun and the moon and the “dragon in the sky” that swallows the sun and moon.

The snake is found today still in the Vatican. Even though the snake is a symbol of the devil in this religion, the Paul VI audience hall is designed as a giant snake. The universe shedding its skin and man being in “the belly of the beast” . The pope sitting on a throne, in front of a tree of life modern expression. Like the Mayan temples and priest on top, the core symbolism is still the same.

Paul VI Audience Hall. Oddly, there are no crucifixes or crosses present  anywhere in the hall or in the architecture. - Album on Img… | Vatican, Pope,  Architecture

A temple, is basically, a man attempt to capture the universe/creation/time itself on earth and worship it using different shared metaphors or allegories.

The snakes or dragons have been asociated to the skies since ages. We are in the belly of the beast so to say, a small part of creation. This celestial dragon swallows the sun or the moon at times, due to the celestial orbits. As the Asian temples display Kirtimukha or the monster of time that “eats itself” its just another metaphor for ever changing creation and the universe itself. With its two Makaras in its mouth, its very much the same as the Aztec sun disk with the central figure, tongue sticking out, devouring the two snakes / Makaras. As I pointed out in my Makara paper the Aztec sundisk “snakes” are more Makaras, with two front legs and upward pointed snout. Very specific Asian iconography, that can not easily be attributed to “coincidence”.

Xiuhcoatl - Wikipedia
XIuhCoatl. Pay attention to the morphology. Two legs, curled up snout.
Makara, as pointed out in my Makara paper, this is the same creature. A composite animal, so to come up with the same characteristics as the XiuhCoatl is hard to attribute to sheer coincedence. Especialy in its relation to the Kirthimuka, that is seen often devouring two makaras.
Hindu God: Kirtimukha (Face of Glory)
82 Borobudur ideas | borobudur, borobudur temple, central java
Boro Bodur Doorway with Kirtimukha on top devoruing two snakes / makaras

This used iconography is very similar to the Aztec Sun disk if one can see the two makaras on it and the central figure with its tongue sticking out. On itself it could be coincidence, but the composition and relations to time are the same.

Dec. 17, 1790: Accurate Calendar Requires Sacrifice, You Dig? | WIRED
Aztec Calender, the central universe, the two snakes/dragons/makaras and them swallowing the Hero twins in the eclipses of the sun and the moon.
If one understands the symbolism of the two snakes, one would not deny or question that these cultures were culturally related or at least influenced by each other.

The use of the Ouroboros, snake of time that bites its own tail, is attributed to ancient Egypt, where the Ouroboros was depicted for the first known time.

However, its not a single Ouroboros. Often only the head of the image is depicted as I deliberately did here above.

In fact it are the two snakes / Dragons Which is the main topic of this article. This would trace the use of this iconography at least back to Egypt and the 14th century BC. Where in that time, they were already aware of the celestial paths of the sun and the moon and depicted them as snakes.

Pin on King Tut

The first known appearance of the ouroboros motif is in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld depicted on the second gilded shrine of Tutankhamun. It dates from the 14th century BC. I wondered a while on the bird. It seems to be a raven or a white vulture, the beak seems straight, its definitely not Horus.

I suspect its the first depiction of “the bird with two snakes” the precursor to the later Jupiter eagle at Baalbek.

In that context and also in placement on the overall composition I have the feeling its the big dipper. The later odin had two ravens. Also in Mayan art the Itzam-Yeh bird on top of the tree is the big dipper in relation to the two snakes forming the celestial paths or ecliptic. Here it seems the path of the sun and the moon with big dipper in the center. Thus a celestial diagram. Further inspection of the object is needed to possibly prove this.

It would be very interesting, as that would place the “eagle of zeus/jupiter” and “Itzam-Yeh” in similar context and symbolism to this shrine although depicted differently. The two snakes are of major importance, in many cultures.

The statue in front of Harvard Library

Although the turtle was fairly easy to link to ancient beliefs, being the world turtle and also the constellation of Orion in some cultures (spring), the snakes/dragons on top took me a while to fully understand. Going towards Asia, through the Makara version of the serpopard, they became more “single creature like” and hence the fictional dragon image was born.

Harvard Bixi - Wikipedia

Bixi turtle at Harvard University in front of the library

The turtle was obviously visible on the El-Tajin relief. In Hindu Mythology an avatar of Vishnu carrying the world mountain or celestial pillar, later transgormed in the Bixi stele. The two snakes on tempels or dragons on top of the pillar (or around Mount Meru), was more difficult to decipher. But, with 360 steps on the Chitzen Itza pyramid the answer had to be found in the celestial spheres.

The two dragons of China and the Makara balustrades in India as highlighted in a paper I wrote, are visible on the Aztec sun disk. Two of them, each with a hero twins head in their mouth, makes perfect sense for the two dragons in the sky swallowing the sun and the moon respectively in eclipses. The hero twins were the classical opposites, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. Night and Day, Moon and Sun, Dark and light, being swallowed by the dragon in an eclipse. In my opinion, that is what your looking at when looking at the Aztec sun disk with the Makaras on the side. The central figure is the universe /time itself, Kirthimukha.

The knowledge of the celestial paths of the sun and the moon and the lunar nodes was thus depicted across cultures and displayed in “snakes swallowing the sun and moon” twin. A symbolic language that carried across the pacific and the reason why there are snakes on Mayan temples balustrades as seen in Asia. These are Rahu and Ketu, the lunar nodes and two “dragons in the sky”. Hence it becomes obvious that this knowledge travelled across all the ancient cultures and that they did not all came up with the same iconography by default.

A more modern version is found in the Tarot of a “green lion (monster) swallowing the sun”

Alchemy: The Green Lion Devouring The Sun | Alchemic symbols, Alchemy art,  Alchemy symbols
The green lion devouring the sun. Eclipses.

One can say a pyramid is the easiest way to build a tall building, but to say cultures with no relations,

Some say “A pyramid is the easiest way to build a tall building, hence that is why we see pyramids across the globe.”

A correct statement to an extend. But then to say cultures with no relations, come up with similar symbolism of two snakes/dragons in the sky, or them swallowing the sun and moon by coincidence would be wishful thinking, one needs to understand at what they are looking at.

To me also Chitzen Itza is an astronomical book in stone, like the Aztec sun disk or Pakals tomb lid with its world tree, that in its branches also carries the two snakes. The two snakes on the balustrade were noted by others as “similarities” yet failed to understand or explain their true meaning in the correct context of Rahu and Ketu and its importance to a 360 step sun temple as the two snakes where symbolically responsible for eclipses.

These cultural expressions might not be in the same artform or design language as other cultures to compare with and hence thus “seemingly unrelated” but if one looks closer, they surely express the same knowledge and concepts astronomy. Of world turtles and celestial snakes swallowing the sun and moon respectively. They used the same metaphors as for example in India, China or other places in Asia. One can conjecture, it goes back as far as the Egyptian winged sun disk with its two snakes. It was seen in the Caduceus, which is basically the same design language as a winged solar disk with entwined snakes. (As is an eagle carrying snakes in its talons or Horus bird sitting on top of a snake on the temple of Hatshepsut.)

Caduceus | Definition of Caduceus by Merriam-Webster
Crosier - Wikipedia

and still seen in modern times in some bishops staffs with two snakes or in Indian art.

Temple Connect Official on Twitter: "🕉️Happy #NagaChaturthi 2018  👉Auspicious day to observe Naga Puja 👉Few celebrate in Sravana Masam &  few in Kartika Masam 👉Devotees pray Sanke Gods for well-being, longevity &

It is also seen in the symbolism of Fuxi and Nuwa, intertwined in symbolism of square and compass. The sign of freemasons. Not only building tools, but symbols of eternal creation and by moving of the planets and stars again time itself captured in an icon.

Square and compass logo from freemasons.

The celestital paths or “snakes” with the lunar nodes Rahu and Ketu, combined with sun and moon in a male and female form of opposites is what drove these expressions of art. It was

What are the best house locations for Rahu and Ketu nodes, for spiritual  growth and material growth? - Quora
Rahu and Ketu

Looking closer at images of the green lion and Fuxi and Nuwa, one clearly sees time, stars and constellations and the sun and moon in them.

Nuwa and Fuxi in Chinese Mythology – ALL THINGS CHINESE

The above image of Fuxi and Nuwa is basicly the same as this celestial diagram. Later expressions of the same concept is seen in the two celestial dragons chasing the flaming pearl. (Eclipse symbolism) If one can read the astronomical symbolic language, this is no different then the image of the gate of Tiwanaku even though they are depicted completed different. Its the underlying concept that is the same.

The 2 Lunar Nodes in Astrology and Their Roles - Horoscopius
The lunar nodes and the path of the sun and moon in relation to earth.

This celestial diagram is captured in stone in temples and “god iconography” worldwide. The snakes on temples are not “decorative” or “they just liked snakes”. The two paths the two snakes or dragons. On eclipses “the cosmic snake/dragon” swallows the sun and the moon. This concept was shared amongst cultures that according to the current understanding of things were “unrelated and developed separately”.

Yet if one understands what is depicted from an astronomical perspective, its undeniable that the underlying concepts of such expressions are the same across the globe, even though the expressions vary immensely there is a golden thread in it. From the world tree of life, to bird for skygod, the turtle for the world turtle/earth and the usage of the two snakes for the celestial paths of the sun and moon respectively.

Mississippian (Cahokia) Hero Twins emerging from a crack in the back of a raccoon-faced horned serpent redrawn from an engraved whelk shell by artist Herb Roe.
This is not a man emerging from a snake, but the sun or moon swallowed by “the ecliptic snake”.

The anthropologist or archeologist looks at identical art or identical language. By not finding it they conclude there are no relations. However, they must learn an astronomical language of used metaphores and symbolism and they will find all the relations they need.

Alien Explorations: Pakal Votan Tomb Lid: The Serpent Bar
The ecleptic snakes in King Pakals Tomblid, the sun and moon on either side on top.
383 Mayan Stelae Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock
The snakes are in the hands of the figure as well, pinting left right sort of on his shoulders, not unlike the Makaras on the shoulders of Budha statues
Gate of the Sun - Wikipedia
“Sungate” at Tiwanaku. In his hands the two ecliptic snakes, or lunar nodes. One snake head down, other snake heads up, the celestial paths. Viracocha is an early orbital celestial diagram.


The answer to the relations of world cultures and their diffusion is not to be found in finding Sumerian clay tablets or Egyptian writing in Meso America. But there are clear recognizable concepts of the world tree and the ecliptic snakes to be found in these cultures that is a “proof of knowing the concept”

For a culture where astronomy played a keyrole, the snakes played a role as they were the “monster that swallowed the sun and the moon” or the lunar nodes. This snake symbolism in relation to the lunar nodes, made its way from Egypt or Sumer to China and eventually became depicted and intertwined (pun intended) as “the hero twins” and snakes on Meso American temples and in their ballcourts. Not because the all liked snakes.


They are the celestial paths of the sun and the moon. An expression of time and the universe itself. Like a snake sheds its skin, a symbol for eternal life like the tree of life, the evergreen pine / Christmas tree full of stars and planets with its polestar on top. Creation and nature keeps regenerating new life, feeding on itself like Kirtimukha.

Whoever designed “The never ending story” book cover was spot on in symbolism and title.

Book vs. Flick: The Neverending Story
Almost entire Northern hemisphere to experience Solar Eclipse – North East  Business Mirror
Solar Eclipse
Lunar eclipse or blood moon

Stijn van den Hoven – August 2021

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