Serpent-Worship, and Other Essays, with a Chapter on Totemism
is a collection of essays written by C. Staniland Wake and originally published in 1888. The book is a pioneering work in the field of comparative religion, exploring the prevalence of serpent worship and totemism in various cultures around the world. This introduction will provide an overview of the book’s major themes and discuss its significance in the history of religious studies.
The first essay in the book, “Serpent-Worship,” examines the prevalence of serpent worship in ancient and modern religions. Wake argues that the serpent was an object of veneration in many ancient cultures, including those of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in the religions of the Aztecs, Hindus, and Chinese. Wake also explores the symbolism of the serpent, which he sees as representing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. He suggests that the snake’s ability to shed its skin and emerge renewed is a powerful symbol of regeneration and renewal.
The second essay, “Tree-Worship,” examines the significance of trees in various religions. Wake notes that trees have been objects of veneration in many cultures, including the Norse, the Greeks, and the Celts. He argues that the tree’s ability to survive for centuries and its connection to the earth make it a potent symbol of life and fertility. Wake also notes that in some cultures, such as that of the Scandinavians, the tree was seen as a kind of world tree that connected the earthly and spiritual realms.
The third essay, “Phallicism,” explores the significance of phallic symbols in religion. Wake argues that phallic symbols have been used in many cultures as a way of representing male power and fertility. He notes that the phallus has been venerated in many cultures, including those of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Wake also discusses the significance of the lingam, a phallic symbol that is venerated in Hinduism.
The fourth essay, “The Cult of the Dead,” examines the importance of ancestor worship in various cultures. Wake argues that the belief in an afterlife and the veneration of ancestors is a nearly universal human practice. He notes that ancestor worship has been a feature of many cultures, including those of the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Romans. Wake also explores the symbolism of death and rebirth, arguing that the belief in life after death is a powerful symbol of renewal and regeneration.
The final essay in the book, “Totemism,” explores the significance of totemic symbols in various cultures. Wake argues that totemism is a widespread religious practice, in which animals or other natural objects are seen as sacred or symbolic. He notes that totemism has been a feature of many indigenous cultures, including those of North America, Australia, and Africa. Wake also explores the symbolism of totemic animals, arguing that they represent important qualities or virtues.
One of the key themes that runs through the book is the universality of religious practices and symbols. Wake argues that many of the practices and symbols found in various cultures are not arbitrary, but are instead deeply rooted in the human psyche. He suggests that the human mind is naturally drawn to certain symbols and ideas, and that these symbols and ideas are reflected in religious practices around the world.
Another important theme in the book is the idea of symbolism and interpretation. Wake argues that many of the religious practices and symbols he explores are rich in symbolism and meaning, and that they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. He suggests that the meanings of religious symbols are often layered and complex, and that they can be understood in different ways by different people.