The snake, perhaps the most complex and varied of all animals in its symbolism, often appears in iconography and legend as a protector. The Hindu story of the creator god Vishnu resting on a giant snake’s coils is reminiscent of earlier myths of a world snake coiled supportively round the Earth.
A cobra with seven hoods is shown guarding the Buddha, and the Naga (snake) cults common to the great Indian religions have left many snake or snake-human carvings on the walls of temples.
Snakes entwine the caduceus, a decorative rod that was used as a herald’s badge of office in the Greco-Roman world. It was thought to have magical power to protect its bearer from being molested in the course of his duties. The caduceus was sometimes topped with wings to symbolize that it was sacred to Hermes (Mercury), messenger of the gods in classical mythology.