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Rainbow Serpent

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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The Rainbow Serpent is a huge python-like creature. [2] However, the color of the creature tends to vary - some say that this creature is celestial blue, others say that it is multicolored, and others say it had yellow and red stripes down its body.1 The variations in color is due to the fact that there are many different areas that have the rainbow serpent as a part of their mythology - Australia, Congo, Dahomey, Haiti, Melanesia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Polynesia. [2]

Different references claim that this serpent lives in different areas, but in all of these references they claim that this creature lives in water: deep pools, lakes, or billabongs. [3] Still, during the drier seasons, this creature is said to sleep in the mud, but in the wet seasons it is said to rise and fly, and therefore people could see it, shining in the air.1 As a matter of fact, the Australian mythology points out that the Rainbow Serpent, much like the Chinese dragon Yu, carved deep riverbeds and gullies when they traveled across the Earth. [1]

Again like Chinese dragons, the Rainbow Serpent was said to be kind toward humans and to enjoy the finer things in life, like jewelry and pearls. [3] However, if disturbed at the wrong time (the dry seasons), the Rainbow Snake may cause flooding and death. [1] Still, this creature did not like blood. [3]

Stories of the Rainbow Serpent

In Australian myth... it was said that the rainbow serpent was a greedy creature, which held all the waters and vegetation of the world because the humans did not need it. Although many tried to persuade or slay the dragon in order to obtain the vegetation and water, it was to no avail. So, a shaman transformed himself into a beautiful creature and flew around the rainbow snake, thus distracting it. Then, the Rainbow Serpent was slain and the vegetation and waters of the world were released. There are many different names for the rainbow serpent. Read more about the Rainbow Serpent within Australian myth. [3]

In Dahomey myth... the Rainbow Serpent, called Aido Hwedo, was the first being into the world, and this creature helped to create the universe by transferring Mawu, the supreme god, through the cosmos. This creature also created the mountains and was also an Ouroboros. Mawu ordered Aido Hwedo to coil beneath the world to support it. It is said that, when the sea runs out of iron for the dragon, Aido Hwedo will eat its own tail, and thus the world will fall into the water. [3]

In Congo's myth... this creature is seen as an evil creature who remained in rivers and lakes and whose reflections were commonly seen in waterfalls. [3]

Alternative Names of the Rainbow Serpent

The following are some alternative names for the Rainbow Serpent. [3]

  • Aido Hwedo - Dahomey
  • Bobi-Bobi
  • Da - Fon people of Dahomey
  • Degei - Fiji
  • Dhakhan - Kabi Native Australian people
  • Kaleru/Galeru - Kimberley region
  • Julunggul
  • Karia
  • Kunmanggur
  • Langal
  • Mindi
  • Muit
  • Ngalbjod
  • Oshumare - Yoruba people (Nigeria)
  • Taipan
  • Ungur
  • Wanambi - Western Desert region of Australia
  • Woinunggur
  • Wollunqua
  • Wollunquain - Warramunga people
  • Wonambi
  • Worombi
  • Worombi
  • Wulungu
  • Yero
  • Yulunggu
  • Yurlungur - Great Father

Concluding Notes

The Rainbow Serpent by some is said to have a dual nature; one of both creation and destruction. Other mythologies used this dragon as a symbol for rebirth. [3] Why is this particular creature in so many different mythologies? Perhaps it is because the mythology spread; but this is doubtful, as the areas are at different sides of the world. It is most probably due to the mystery of the rainbow itself, which could have spurred on the need for such a myth. [1]

Although this creature bears different names, the basic symbolism behind this creature remains the same: one of a dual nature. Many different religions have at least one creature with a dual nature, and for these mythologies the Rainbow Serpent is just that.

Much like Chinese dragons, the Rainbow Serpent was often seen as a good being that provided for humans. However, they, again much like Chinese dragons, were said to cause mass destruction if provoked to do so. This led many to see this creature as something to love and fear. The connection between the Rainbow Serpent and Chinese dragons is still unknown. [1]


  1. Nigg (Dragons) 36
  2. Rose (Dragons) 305
  3. Rose (Dragons) 306