First of all, we have to deal with this whole snake thing. For me, that’s like taking medicine before your vegetables. If you hate history, you’re going to hate this article. I’m not talking local history, or American history, but I’m talking Ancient World history.
You see, snakes have been there from the very get go. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, mankind has seen the pesky serpent as a pivotal figure in Human History, since the very beginning. It is not fair to blame this lowly creature for all the world’s ills, and we must remember that the “Evil One” had merely taken the form of a serpent. He could have appeared as a bunny rabbit. But that would have been too irresistible. No, Evil had to be personified by something creepy, crawly, cold blooded, and carnivorous, EVEN CANNIBALISTIC! . God’s Permissive Will allowed Satan the Evil One, the former “Son of the Morning”, to morph into an earthly snake, to take his best shot. Then the Bible makes a prophesy, easy to believe, that from that time on, there would be enmity between the human and the snake. That’s OK by me. I never felt bad once for killing a poisonous snake.
As I stated before, I hate snakes. Here again, childhood conditioning re-enforced this enmity. My father, somewhat of a rebel, loved snakes of all kinds. He was a Depression era Crocodile Hunter. His mother once had to cut his leg and suck poisonous venom out to save him from a serious snakebite. All during my childhood, he had snakes in boxes, bags and cages, brought home from one of his adventures, and he and my older brother kept them in the house of course. I’m talking a big black Cottonmouth Water Moccasin, a Copperhead, and even a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. My mother had put her foot down about the rattler, and it was kept in our rabbit hutch in the barn. I grew up with daytime fantasies and sweaty nightmares about snakes crawling up into my covers and… You can imagine the rest. My most favorite and scary TV show ever was the episode on the Rifleman, where the rattlesnake crawls up into the sleeping bag with the Rifleman. He lived through it, but I had no rifle like that.
But not all of our thoughts about snakes need be those of fear and hate. Moses, when asking God for proof to show his authenticity, was instructed to throw his staff on the ground, where it would be miraculously turned into a snake. Later, he was instructed to fashion a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, as a public antidote for a snakebite epidemic, and all snakebite victims had to do was look upon it to be healed. In this case, Christians admit that the saving snake on the pole became a prophetic example of Jesus Christ, and his healing power upon the cross. The Minoans, the Gauls, and the Scythians all considered snakes to be messengers of, and even protectors from the supernatural world. We have all seen the ancient symbol for medicine, eons old, of two snakes wrapped around a pole. In fact snakes or serpents have been associated with healing, miracles, and knowledge for as long as humans have written down their ideas. Jesus instructed his followers to be as wise and serpents and harmless as doves. So my dad was some kind of free thinking American wizard I guess, and I was a shallow, pessimistic snake-hater. Still, I never got bit by one either.
So fast-forward a couple of thousand years, and we find Benjamin Franklin, publishing some political propaganda. And what does he use to illustrate the original Thirteen Colonies? He drew a snake, the one you see above, chopped into about 8 pieces. Significantly, he combined most of the “provinces” of New England into one, the head of his American snake. He was trying to rally the various independent States to combine their efforts for military protection. The illustration was quite blunt; JOIN, OR DIE. This was the poster child for the concept we all have repeated, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
But the snake thing did not end there. In fact, it can be argued quite convincingly that the snake, considered by most to be an Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, was the United States’ first national symbol. Franklin later offered the Wild Turkey as an alternate, but everyone agreed at that point he just did not get it. But Franklin’s popular Timber Rattler had appeal for another reason. Many of America’s leaders and elites were members of an organization Ben Franklin himself had been initiated into in France, and helped to introduce to America, the Order of Freemasonry. And the 25th degree of the Masonic Order is still known as the “Knight of the Brazen Serpent.” Every serious Mason in America in those days would have been more than familiar with the symbolism of this rite. And in this rite, the bronze serpent is considered a revered, primeval, active force in the universe. The incorporation of the serpent into the Judeo-Christian tradition only made it more powerful. It was a discreet form of symbolism, easily understood by the initiates, and may explain why the French, their brethren in Freemasonry, were so helpful in our fight for independence. They were after all “Knights of the Brazen Serpent.”
Even Santa Anna, another member of Freemasonry, is supposed to have used membership in this ancient Order to gain not only mercy from his Masonic brother Sam Houston, but amazing protection and delivery to safety. It is probably no accident that the flag of Mexico also had a rattlesnake prominently displayed in the mouth of the Mexican Eagle. The snake was even venerated by the Aztecs, who built their capital city upon finding a prophesied vision of an eagle on a cactus eating a rattlesnake. This snake thing never seems to end, and almost gives me the creeps!
Anyway, when Ben Franklin drew and published the above sketch, he said several things. We are individual states, each with his own name and sovereign government, yet brethren who belong to something larger. At the moment we are not united as such. We will be infinitely more successful as united states than otherwise. New England is our head, our brain trust so to speak. She must be protected at all costs. (kill the head, kill the body) Together, we can own and protect the eastern coast of America.
It wasn’t long before a new flag emerged, known today as the Gadsden flag, featuring Franklin’s snake, now united, with the words Don’t Tread on Me. This was the first flag of the Revolutionary War. And to be fair, the first flag of our Republic. The Stars and Stripes were not designed until later, when the ladies and girlie-men of the country protested such a nasty symbol being the mascot of our new country. That would be the one that today is seen waving at the Tea Party gatherings all around the Country.
So that’s the short version of the snake thing, and why it is becoming an American Icon, once again. Many Americans see a parallel between the outrages of the British Government in the 1700’s to the tax policies of our government today. This flag was a flag of resolve, of uncompromising reform, of popular revolution. Today we have the ballot to speak our minds with instead of bullets.
Perhaps it is time to pick up the age old serpent once again. The snake on the flag says it is time to get locked and loaded, and let’s not take crap from anybody about it.