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What Is A Naga?


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!

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 exists as 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 or 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 of this.

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I have yet to find a single culture that does not honor serpent or dragon spirits in some way, except in a few areas where they do not exist. Yet even cultures like Nepal, which have no indigenous serpents, honor Naga spirits and Northwest Indians, often having little or no contact with serpents, still honor the 'double headed serpent' Sisiutl as a powerful magickal ally.

*****

This book focuses primarily on magickal pragmatics rooted in historical and mythological research in conjunction with on-going meditative practice (Naga Sadhana). I spent as much time invoking, communing with and manifesting Naga wisdom as I did in research, taking notes and composing. I am attempting to reconstruct a magickal tradition or narrative so adepts today may either learn extensively about the Naga and their historical and mythological aspects or work, as they will, directly with these amazing beings in ritual or meditation practice.

Om Puuh Svaha!

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