The Great Horned Serpent was powerful and magical in Native American mythology.

Drowning, Poisoning, and the Dark Underworld. Meet the King of all Snakes, the wise Great Horned Serpent in Native American Cosmology

(Read the article on one page)

Since longer than history can recall, the western mind has been locked in a pattern of dualistic thinking. In the course of our experiences, the world is defined by a series of opposites, which invade every avenue of perception. This is expressed by the collective in every aspect of western society, from our conceptions of our own psyche—which we divide into conscious and unconscious—to the political arena where we split into two supposedly-opposite groups competing for the control of national policies. Dualistic thinking is perhaps nowhere more ingrained and apparent than in the western concept of the divide between the material realm and the realm of the supernatural. Although we observe many faiths and traditions, and fancy ourselves sophisticated, westerners can sometimes harbor a permanent barrier or wall between the collective phenomena that we detect with our senses—the “material world”—and any concepts existing outside of those senses that require the power of belief, which are collectively assigned to the “spiritual” or “supernatural” world.

Knowledge of the Cosmos

This separation of the seen and unseen realms is utterly foreign to the cosmological view of the peoples known collectively as Native Americans and their distant ancestors. Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands region of the United States and Canada live in what may be called an inhabited universe.

Going back to at least the Late Archaic period (3000-1000 BC), the artifacts and artistry of ancient Americans from southern Ontario to the Gulf Coast depict a layered cosmos consisting of an Upper World, a Middle World, and an Underworld. The Upper World is the domain of the Thunderers, or Thunderbirds, and also the location of the ‘road of the dead’ or ‘river of stars’ (the Milky Way Galaxy), which the deceased must travel upon death to reach the realm of the dead.

A Menomini woven bag showing the Thunderers.

A Menomini woven bag showing the Thunderers. ( Public Domain )

Appeal to the Great Spirit. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin, 1909.

Appeal to the Great Spirit. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin, 1909. ( Public Domain )

This celestial realm is ruled by a being known to the Ojibwa as Gicimanitou (or Gitchi Manitou) —the “Great Spirit”. The Middle World is the earth and its environs, where man lives and interacts with plants, animals, soil, water, etc—usually conceived of as an “earth disk” or “great island”. In many creation stories the earth island is situated on the back of a Great Turtle, the whole being known as “Turtle Island”.

Iroquois man sitting on a turtle, in reference to the Great Turtle that carries the Earth in Iroquois mythology. By the sculpture workshop of Brest, France naval arsenal.

Iroquois man sitting on a turtle, in reference to the Great Turtle that carries the Earth in Iroquois mythology. By the sculpture workshop of Brest, France naval arsenal. (Rama/ CC BY-SA 2.0 fr )

The Underworld is beneath the Earth Disk, and consists of a watery abode of aquatic beasts or serpent beings and their master or boss—the Water Manitou (“Water Spirit”)—who is usually depicted as either the “Great Horned Serpent” or “Underwater Panther”. Algonkians know this Underworld ruler as Mishebeshu.

The Great Spirit rules over the celestial realm

The Great Spirit rules over the celestial realm ( Public Domain )

Dance and Mystery Plays

A central Axis Mundi—a world tree or holy mountain—unites the three primary realms of the Woodland Cosmos. The Axis Mundi provides a means of travel between the realms for shamanic practitioners as well as the souls of the dead. Its existence also allows the denizens of the Upper World and Underworld to pass into the Middle World of earth. In Early and Middle Woodland times (1000 BC—450 AD), conical burial mounds in which the dead were interred to facilitate their journey to other realms represented the Axis Mundi as Holy Mountain. Platform mounds which may have been used as stages for the performance of mystery plays (which preserved creation stories and cosmological themes) also represented this concept.


Like this Preview and want to read on? You can! JOIN US THERE  with easy, instant access  ) and see what you’re missing!! All Premium articles, ebooks, webinars, discounts and more, are available in full, with immediate access.

For the price of a cup of coffee, you get this and all the other great benefits at Ancient Origins Premium. And - each time you support AO Premium, you support independent thought and writing.

Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer  are investigative historians and avocational archaeologists. They study many subjects including depth psychology, Biblical mysteries, political science, and comparative mythology.  They’re also authors of the forthcoming book, Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America (2017). Learn more at their website:

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

The Green Man Legend
An enigma spanning thousands of years, the Green Man is a symbol of mysterious origin and history. Permeating various religious faiths and cultures, the Green Man has survived countless...

Ancient Technology

Grinding stone, Dendera Temple, Egypt.
Most people know of the great construction achievements of the dynastic Egyptians such as the pyramids and temples of the Giza Plateau area as well as the Sphinx. Many books and videos show depictions of vast work forces hewing blocks of stone in the hot desert sun and carefully setting them into place.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article