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The Serpent and the Lady of the Lake

March 15th, 2006

The Serpent and the Lady of the Lake

Philip Gardiner

Is there a mystery here to be unraveled? Is there a serpent code being held by the Grail myths? Can we uncover this code by taking a look at the Lady of Lake? The answer is yes to all these questions, for held within the folds of the coiled snake we shall discover the truth of the origin of the Arthurian tales and the strange watery Lady who was to give Arthur his sword.

There are various names attributed to the ‘Lady of the Lake;’ Nimue and Vivienne are the two most used, but most pertinent to us here is ‘White Serpent.’ Nimue is probably Mneme or Mnemosyne, who is one of the Muses or ‘water nymphs’ from Roman and Greek mythology and who gave out weapons - just as the Lady of the Lake did. Vivienne in all likelihood comes from Vi-Vianna or Co-Vianna the ‘water goddess’ or Coventina of Celtic origin (‘Coventina’s Well’ also had a skull offering discovered which is important in the worship of snakes and wisdom [1].)


These water deities are strongly related to the story of serpent worship, and united with the tale of the sword or weaponry; it introduces the duality of peace and war so well known in the serpent myths. The sword pierces and strikes and involves contemporaneously, the image of the serpent upon the blade via the unique metallurgy employed. This wonderful metallurgy of the Middle Ages and beyond reveals to us in actual artifacts that the serpent itself was fashioned into the blade as part of the process. This of course relates to the fact that Arthur's sword was said to be a fiery serpent in the Dream of Rhonabwy. When Arthur’s sword is drawn it was said that two flames of fire burst out of the jaws of the two serpents, and so wonderful was the sword that it was hard for anyone to gaze at it. It is necessary for Arthur to maintain ownership of the sword, whether it is the sword from the stone or Excalibur, as it ensures his victory and his life. The infamous Arthurian writer, Malory, indicates the brightness of the sword and its fiery aspect, writing: “but it was so bright in his enemy’s eyes, that it gave light like thirty torches.” But the sword in the stone does not last long and the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his Excalibur, and also a serpent scabbard, which ensures eternal life. Malory states quite clearly “for whiles ye have the scabbard upon you, ye shall never lose no blood, be ye never so sore wounded; therefore keep well the scabbard always with you.” It is only when Arthur’s half sister Morgan le Fay steals the scabbard and replaces it that Arthur becomes susceptible to the deadly blows of Mordred. The once prized sword is then returned to the water, the home of the Lady of the Lake ­ the serpent spirit.


There is a remarkable resemblance between the tales of Arthur’s sword and an unsuspecting Chinese legend. A hero from the 6th century BC named Wu Tzu-hsu threw his sword into a river “It shot forth like a spirit-glow, sparkling brightly as it thrice sank and thrice came to the surface with a great gush and then hovered above the water. The god of the river . . . heard the swords roar . . . he rolled in the waters in a great and frothing frenzy . . . Dragons raced along the waves and leaped out of the water. The river god held the sword in his hand and, frightened, told Wu Tzu-hsu to take it back.” (Mair 1983, 141 and 286.) This story related in the 8th century AD simply cannot differ from Malory’s tale of the sword. In China there were tales of great swords such as Dragon Spring and others still that leap into the waters surrounded by dragons, which churn up the water. Wu Tzu-hsu’s sword is also called Dragon Spring.  [2]

And this Dragon Spring carries us back again to the water nymphs who were seen universally as controlling the essential essence of life via their relationship with the healing waters, springs and lakes. Coventina was worshipped widely and it is highly likely that the Arthurian Morgan Le Fay is associated with her, as her name implies water nymph. There are also elements, which introduce her into the ‘Triple Goddess’ of the Celtic religion and therefore relating her to Bridgid. She was a great goddess of healing; linked strongly with water nymphs ­ and in relation to the sword she was also a great smith.


She also owned an apple orchard, which relates nicely to Avalon, the isle of apples. Her day is called Imbolc ­ around the 2nd February ­ but it is also known as Oimelc, Candlemas and in the USA as ‘Groundhog Day.’ This special event in the American calendar involves of course the mass killing of snakes, and relates to the tale of Bridgid’s snake, which comes out of the mound from which it had been hibernating.

At Oimelc it is said that the singers cry, “The day of Bride, the birthday of spring, The serpent emerges from the knoll.” And in winter, Scottish folk poems still speak of the serpent that dwells in the hillside.

As the ‘Lady of the Lake’ forged Arthur’s sword, so too the various parts of these ancient goddesses simply must have been collated together in the form of this Arthurian water goddess ­ a new deity forged.

These goddesses, all basically the same, are also related to Sibyl or the Sibillia who presides over witches; and in the Ukraine one of the names for ‘witch’ actually means ‘snake,’ and in Russia it was believed that witches had snake tails. This sheds more light on the idea that witches mixed their famous brews and elixirs in their cauldrons, very much like the cauldron such as the one discovered at Gundestrup. For if it is true what we uncovered in The Serpent Grail, then this brew was serpent venom and blood. 

Sibillia has the ‘power over life’ and touches baskets and bottles with her wand to restore them afresh. Sibillia taught magical arts in her serpent grotto where shape-shifting fairies reminiscent of the naginis (female serpents) of India emerge and dance around. These fairies are said to turn into snakes each Saturday. Anyone who wished to enter this Sybil Cave must love snakes or suffer the consequences. Sibillia is also seen in the Life of Robin Goodfellow (similar to Robin Hood and which means "bright or shining hood") as Sib, who speaks for the fairies. She says that they live in “some great hill, and from thence we do lend money to any poore man or woman that hath need.” In the 15th century, Perceforest has her as the ‘Lady of the Lake.’

In Scottish myth one of these fairies lived inside a tree and often appeared holding a limpet shell containing the ‘milk of wisdom’ which was called the “copan Moire” or “Cup of Mary” in her hands ­ an obvious allusion to the ‘life-giving’ element and wisdom of these snake, shape-shifters remembered in legend.

There are many other tales, which link these European snake shape-shifters to the Nagas of India and we would just like to break off for a moment to take a look at these peculiar deities.

Naga is a Sanskrit term meaning literally Serpent (especially cobra) but it also holds the meanings ­ a tree; a mountain; the sun; the number seven; wisdom and initiate ­ all symbols and emblems we will become familiar with in the worship of the serpent. They are said to reside in Patala, however this has a meaning similar to antipodes, the same name given by the ancients to the America’s. It is a similar term to the Mexican Nagals, the medicine (healers) and sorcerers who always kept a god in the shape of a serpent. In Burma they are Nats or serpent gods. Esoterically Naga is a term for wise men. There is a folk tradition that Nagas washed Gautama (Buddha) at his birth ­ the wise men visiting the deity on Earth and cleansing the enlightened one. They are also said to have guarded him and the relics of his body after his death.

According to H. P. Blavatsky in Theosophical Glossary, the Naga were descended from Rishi Kasyapa who had twelve wives (therefore he is the sun), by whom he had numerous Nagas (serpents) and was the father of all animals. Rishi Kasyapa can therefore be none other than a progenitor of the Green Man, and this explains the reasons for the appearance of the snake in images of the Green Man and Horned God, such as the Gundestrup Cauldron. 

There is also a theory that the Nagas descended from the Scythic race and when the Brahmins invaded India they found a race of wise men, half gods, half demons (snakes). These men were said to be teachers of other nations and themselves instructed the Hindu’s and Brahmans.

In the Bhagavata Purana there is a description of the Bila-svarga or the regions of the Nagas said to be subterranean. Some of the names associated with this place relate remarkably to the Mesoamerican and South American terms such as Tlaloc. “My dear king, beneath this earth are seven other planets [seven is important in Atlantean myths ­ seven islands!], known as Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rstala and Patala… the residents are known as Daityas, Danavas and Nagas . . . brilliantly decorated cities . . . wonderful houses, walls, gates, assembly houses, temples, yards and temple compounds . . . The houses for the leaders of these planets are constructed with the most valuable jewels, and are always crowded with the living entities known as Nagas and Asuras . . . Many great serpents reside there with gems on their hoods, and the effulgence of these gems dissipates the darkness in all directions. Since the residents of these planets drink and bathe in juices and elixirs made from wonderful herbs, they are freed from all anxieties and physical diseases. They have no experience of gray hair, wrinkles or invalidity.” (Bhagavata Purana)

There is currently a lot of debate about the original inhabitants of India ­ whether Aryan or Naga, but the fact remains, whether the Nagas were Aryans or not, they were an ancient inhabitant. The very fact that they were mentioned in the ancient Rig Vedas shows this to be true. They also intermarried with the Royal families, hence the popular myths of serpent kings.

"Then come the Naaga, the Siren serpents, whose worship has been so important a factor in the folklore, superstition, and poetry of India from the earliest times down to-day. Cobras in their ordinary shape, they lived, like mermen and mermaids, more beneath the water, in a great luxury and wealth, more especially of germ, and sometimes, as we shall see, the name is used of the Dryads, the tree-spirits, equally wealthy and powerful. They could at will and often did, adopt the human form and though terrible if angered, were kindly and mild by nature. Not mentioned either in the Veda or in the pre-Buddhist Upanishads, the myth seems to be a strange jumble of beliefs, not altogether pleasant, about a strangely gifted race of actual men; combined with notions derived from previously existing theories of tree worship, and serpent worship, and river worship. But the history of the idea has still to be written. The Naagas are represented on the ancient bas-reliefs as men or women either with cobra’s hoods rising behind their heads or with serpentine forms from their waist downwards."  Rhys Davies, Buddhist India, p.223.

These tree deities were Nagas anyway as Rhys Davies continues on page 223 "The tree-deities were called Naagas, and were able at will, like the Naagas, to assume the human form and in one story the spirit of a Nunyan tree who reduced the merchants to ashes is called a Naaga-raja, the tree itself is a dwelling place of Naaga. It seems that they also left behind myths of healing as a story in the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Asiatic Society demonstrates. When there was an epidemic among the children, it seems the only answer was to bring them to a snake skin which was hung on a pole and allow them to touch it ­ reminding us of the idea of the Brazen Serpent of Moses, which was upon a pole and for the healing of the “children” of Israel. This may explain why it is that the tree-gods are not specially and separately mentioned in the Maha Samaya list of deities who are there said by the poet to have come to pay reverence to the Buddha."

The history of the Nagas that we do have, textually beginning around the 7th century BC is an amazing history of ups and downs. It parallels the rise and fall of the serpent worshipped by the Semites, with the Brazen Serpent being raised in the wilderness and then broken up in the temple. Like Melusine and Sibillia, Tante Arie also loved to plunge into cool pools in her caverns of Milandre where she changed into a vouivre or serpent; bringing to mind the concept that the shape-shifting Nagas of India which were said to reside in the underwater realms. Surely these ladies of ancient lore are folk memories of serpent worshipping leaders from the past - and a positively feminine one at that. The Nagas were also said to have jewels in their foreheads, like many other serpents from legend. As if knowing this, the vouivre too wears a jewel in the middle of her forehead. The Nagas are also said to protect great treasure, so too do the ladies of European lore.

We know that the Scythians were great worshippers of the serpent from many sources ­ as in the bracelets found, which the women wore as symbols of fertility. The Scythians were intimately linked with the Naga, serpent worshippers of India via trade and war. They came to Europe via several means ­ one of them as hired hands of the Romans, and in this way crept into the Arthurian legend. Herodotus tells us of an account of the Scythian snake goddess who was mistress of the land where the Dniepr flowed into the Black Sea. This Scythian serpent goddess was also a cave dweller.

The xana serpent goddesses of Asturias even had a sacred and valuable chalice stolen by a human, only to eventually deposit the famed cup in a Church - thus taking the sacred cup from the serpent and giving it to Christianity. These xana’s kept their treasures in a “serpent cave” immersed in pools, remarkably like the Patala of the Nagas.

In Wales the serpents were said to emerge and congregate on Midsummer’s Eve to blow into the Serpent Stones / Eggs or Glain Neidr which is reminiscent of Pliny’s tale of this activity amongst the Gauls. The snakes are said to create eggs or alternatively ‘new life.’ In Wales these serpent stones were said to be coloured pebbles, which gave ‘second sight’ and healing.

Midsummer’s Eve was the night when the serpents would role themselves into hissing balls and create the glain egg, also known as ‘snake stone’ or ‘Druid’s egg.’ In Welsh myth even Merlin himself went in search of them.

Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania also points to the association between the Scythian and the Arthurian tales: “The Nart sagas [repositories of Scythian traditions] contain parallels with Arthurian legend so numerous and so uncannily close that it is impossible they are unrelated.”

Interestingly, remains of these Scythians have been found on the Silk Road to China. Remains here of Caucasians dates back even before that and at present stand somewhere in the region of 3,000 years BC, with female Shaman being buried in full regalia, tattoos of spirals and zig zags and long finger nails. This in itself shows the widespread travel of these Scythians or those like them and the transport of ideas, possible many thousands of years ago. In China of course, we find the serpents or dragons as friendly creatures who become the ancestors of the very Emperor's themselves and seep into Chinese alchemy as symbols of the Elixir.

So, in summing up, what do we have? We have serpent deities, across the world, living in underwater kingdoms, making great weapons and guarding wondrous treasures. We have etymology linking them to the Lady of the Lake and we have Arthurian links and Grail connections through the mighty warrior race of the Scythians. In short, we have here, the truth of the Lady herself and the origin of the Grail mythos is yet again to be found within the tale of the snake. History, it seems, needs re-appraising.


1       See The Serpent Grail by Philip Gardiner with Gary Osborn, Watkins, 2005.

2       See http://www.phil.fah-designs.com/gardinerosborn/articles/article_8.html for more information about the serpent sword or visit


By Phillip Gardiner
Philip Gardiner is a best selling author of The Shining Ones, The Serpent Grail and Gnosis: The Secret of Solomon’s Temple Revealed.  He can be seen on TV, heard on radio and has written for hundreds of magazines around the world. His website is

Philip is a radio presenter, speaker, does tours through www.powerplaces.com and writes articles for many magazines including Nexus, Paranoia, Dark Wisdom, Caduceus, Aquarius, Mystic Pop and many more. Philip has a degree in Strategic Marketing, 9 diploma's ranging from holistic medicine to etymology and is hosting the Philip Gardiner's Forbidden Knowledge Conference UK in July 2006, England. The authors websites are www.philipgardiner.net, www.serpentgrail.com, www.theshiningones.com



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