Horned Serpent, Feathered Serpent

Horned serpent deities figure in the mythology of most Native American and Meso-American peoples. Most of these horned and/or feathered serpents are associated with rain and thunder, or waterways.


Some, like the Cherokee horned serpent Utkena, or the Australian aborigine monster, bunyip, are malevolent beings or monsters who devour their enemies.



Others, like the the Choktaw deity Sint holo, are givers of inspiration, promethian spirits who introduce agriculture, language, and other gifts of knowledge to mankind. The Tewa deity Avanyu is the feathered sky serpent of the Pueblos (Zuni, Kolowisi, and Hopi, Paluluka), a rain and lightning deity who is believed to have given birth to the waterways, and whose voice is thunder.


Algonquin pictographs commonly depict a horned, feathered serpent known as Mishipizheu. Similar icons are scattered across North america.



Moundville, Alabama

The best known feathered serpent of the New world is, of course, the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, (Mayan Kukulkan, Incan Urcaguey) who was exiled by the gods for his gifts of knowledge to the Aztec people.


The horned serpent is not restricted to the Americas- some version of this creature can be found on every continent. There are literally hundreds of “cosmic serpents” peppered throughout world mythology, whose origin and meaning are never satisfactorily explained. There is the Celtic, ram-horned serpent associated withThe forerunner to the biblical serpent was Ningiszida- in Sumerian texts, this horned serpent guarded the tree of life and the gateway to the underworld. Wadjet, the winged serpent of Egypt, protected the Pharoahs and controlled the waters of the nile.



For more on serpent symbolism, see: The Secret language of symbols: The Egg and the serpent


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June 30, 2016 at 9:25 pm


Tigirl April 29, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Quick question: where did you get the image of the serpent with legs? (It’s the image directly under Utkena) This is the first web-usage of the image that I can find, and no other places make any mention of it having legs.
I’m asking because I’m looking for an example of a Horned Serpent to use as a drawing reference, and I love this image, but I also want to maintain accuracy.

Jennifer May 20, 2016 at 10:11 pm

Hello- as this was about a decade ago, I am not certain, but I believe a Dover sourcebook. I am not convinced those are legs, though- I think they are just spikes or rays?

SheSays November 14, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Funny how both this site & Wikipedia don’t ask the $10k question here – just what the heck is the Hand of Fatima (originally Tanit) doing in Native American iconography? Seems the Moundbuilders in Alabama did some serious seafaring trade in their time – whatever time that actually was.

Sittiaislude April 27, 2011 at 4:04 am

What is the reference for the interpretation of the meaning of Quetzalqoatl. I did a really superficial and “reliable” research (wikipedia) on it and I didn’t find anything about giving gift of knowledge to people. That sounds more like the Christian serpent. I just would like to know, because your interpretation sounds fascinating.

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