Serpent Men

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Mayan interpretation of a serpent-man shedding his skin.

Serpent Men are a fictional race created by Robert E. Howard for his King Kull tales. They first appeared in "The Shadow Kingdom," published in Weird Tales in August of 1929.

They were later adapted for the Marvel Comics Conan comics by Roy Thomas and Marie Severin. Their first Marvel Universe appearance was in Kull the Conqueror vol.1 #2 (September, 1971). They were also used in the 1992 Conan the Adventurer animated series. They were also adapted into H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos by writers like Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith.

Origin and society

Aeons-old "Serpent" figures unearthed in Iraq

In Robert E. Howard's King Kull stories, the serpent people worship a god known as the Great Serpent. Later writers would identify the Great Serpent with the Great Old One Yig and with the Stygian serpent god Set from Howard's Conan stories.

The Serpent Men were created untold aeons ago by the Great Serpent. At some point the Serpent Men group split, with one group becoming the Man-Serpents- these creatures, unlike their kin and predecessors, have the bodies of giant serpents and the heads of human beings, with smaller snakes for hair like Medusa. A Man-Serpent is the titular being in the Conan story "The God in the Bowl". Man-Serpents have hypnotic gazes and lethally venomous bites, as well as terrible crushing strength.

The seat of the First Empire of the serpent people, during the Paleozoic era, was Valusia. Valusia is a fictional country in the Kull stories of Robert E. Howard, located on the west coast of the main continent of Thuria. The empire was based on sorcery and alchemy, but collapsed with the rise of the dinosaurs about 225 million years ago during the Triassic era. The Serpent Men originally ruled over humans in Valusia but were defeated and almost wiped out in humanity's battle for survival against the "elder things" that predated them. Over time, humans dominated Valusia and the Serpent Men became a legend. The Serpent Men, one of the few surviving "elder things", infiltrated human society and ruled from behind the scenes for a time but were again discovered, defeated and cast out in a secret war. However, they later repeated this tactic but added the front of a Snake Cult religion, which gained power and influence within Valusia while they also used their abilities of disguise to murder and replace each reigning monarch. Their power is eventually broken by King Kull, formerly an Atlantean barbarian who had recently conquered Valusia, and the Pict Brule the Spear-Slayer, whose society was aware of the Serpent Men's infiltration.

After the destruction of Valusia, the serpent men escaped to Yoth, a cavern beneath K'n-yan in North America (ironically, the Pictish Isles of the Kull stories). They built subterranean cities, of which only ruins remain in the modern age. Explorers from K'n-yan visited Yoth frequently to learn more of the serpent men's scientific lore. Their next downfall came when they brought idols of Tsathoggua from N'kai and abandoned their patron deity Yig to worship their new god. As retribution Yig placed his curse upon them, forcing his few remaining worshipers to flee to caverns beneath Mount Voormithadreth.

Cursed by Yig, some serpent men degenerated into more and more bestial forms, eventually becoming mere giant snakes. Some sources claim that the worms of the earth were degenerate serpent men, while other stories describe the "worms" as descended from humans.

Appearance and abilities

Serpent Men are humanoids with scaled skin and snake-like heads. They possess magical abilities, the most common of which is the use of illusion to disguise themselves as a human. In some stories, the ghost of someone killed by a Serpent Man becomes the Serpent Man's slave. Due to the shape of their mouths, Serpent Men cannot utter the phrase "Ka nama kaa lajerama." Howard's character Kull uses the phrase as a shibboleth in the story The Shadow Kingdom.

Earlier Serpent Men

Robert E. Howard was not the first to write about prehistoric serpent people. Another pulp writer, Abraham Merritt, created a similar pre-human serpentine race surviving from the Mesozoic era in his story "The Face in the Abyss" which first appeared in a 1923 issue of Argosy magazine. A sequel, "The Snake Mother," also appeared in Argosy in 1930 and both were collected in a book-length version in 1931. In this story line, the last surviving Serpent-Woman is an ally of the human protagonists.

Cthulhu Mythos

Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith adapted the race for inclusion in the Cthulhu Mythos, inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Nameless City", which refers to an Arabian city built by a pre-human reptilian race. Lovecraft's story "The Haunter of the Dark" explicitly mentions the "serpent men of Valusia" as being one-time possessors of the Shining Trapezohedron. However, the Cthulhu Mythos were already connected to the works of Robert E. Howard (a contemporary and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft as well as a direct contributor to the Mythos itself). In this case, the Serpent Men were created for the very first Kull story, the character of Kull later made an appearance in a Bran Mak Morn story, Kings of the Night, while in another such story, Worms of the Earth, Bran Mak Morn explicitly refers to Cthulhu and R'lyeh. Many Conan stories by Howard are also part of the Mythos.


Conan

The fictional settings of King Kull and Robert E. Howard's other creation, Conan the Barbarian, are linked through Howards essay The Hyborian Age. This states that Valusia, and its Thurian Age, existed in some time before Conan's Hyborian Age (the land was reshaped in between the story cycles by an undefined cataclysm). The Serpent Men did not, however, appear in any Conan story written by Robert E. Howard himself.

In 1971, the Serpent Men appeared in a comic book adaptation of the King Kull stories, published by Marvel Comics. Since then they have been imported into the Conan comics, as well as other adaptations and Conan pastiches. The Serpent Men were the main antagonists, personified by the wizard "Wrath-Amon", in the animated series Conan the Adventurer. This retained the Serpent Men's ability to infiltrate human society in disguise (in the cartoon, this disguise failed in the presence of meteoric "star metal", contact with which also sent a Serpent Man back to "the Abyss").


The Spider

In the Spider short story "Fear Itself" (published in The Spider Chronicles by Moonstone in 2007) by Joel Frieman and C.J. Henderson, an occult expert named Guicet enlists the Spider's aid in defeating a group of Serpent Men who acquire a duplicate of the Cobra Crown from Conan the Buccaneer. In The Phantom Chronicles, worshippers of Set appear, but no Serpent Men.


He-Man's Snake Men

Persistent but unverified claims suggest that the He-Man franchise was originally intended as a Conan toy line. If this is true, the equivalent to the Serpent Men in that franchise would be the Snake Men.

As with Howard's work, the Snake Men come from the distant past and fought against the character He-Ro/Lord Grayskull (who would be equivalent to Howard's character Kull). As with the Conan the Adventurer animated series, the Snake Men were banished to another dimension in the past and were attempting to return to power in the present.


Reptilian Quadrupeds

In "The Mound (fiction)" by H.P. Lovecraft and Zelia Bishop, the inhabitants of the red-litten subterranean world of Yoth are described as quadrupedal reptiles that seemed to be the debased remnants of a much greater, technologically-advanced reptilian race predating even the ancient People of K'n-yan; there seemed to be little doubt that these beings were older than humanity but still related, and the reptilians were easily blended with mammalian and "inferior" racial stock of the People of K'n-yan, to produce an intelligent slave class and quasi-animal horrors serving as dogs, horses, and cattle for the population of K'n-yan. Within the age of modern man, these quadrupeds appear to have degenerated to animalism, but in an earlier age they were accomplished architects, scientists, engineers, inventors, and philosophers; the reptilian civilization appears to have gone strongly until they found their way into the lightless and shadowed gulfs of N'kai, where they discovered devotion to Tsathoggua, and shortly afterward their own doom on contact with the monstrous Shoggoths.


Mahars

Mahars gather for a sacrifice in At the Earth's Core (1976 film)...

The all-powerful Mahars of Pellucidar are great reptiles, some six or eight feet in length, with long narrow heads and great round eyes. Their beak-like mouths are lined with sharp, white fangs, and the backs of their huge, lizard bodies are serrated into bony ridges from their necks to the end of their long tails. Their feet are equipped with three webbed toes, while from the fore feet membranous wings, which are attached to their bodies just in front of the hind legs, protrude at an angle of 45 degrees toward the rear, ending in sharp points several feet above their bodies....

"...For countless millions of years these reptiles have been progressing. Possibly it is the sixth sense which I am sure they possess that has given them an advantage over the other and more frightfully armed of their fellows; but this we may never know. They look upon us as we look upon the beasts of our fields, and I learn from their written records that other races of Mahars feed upon men—they keep them in great droves, as we keep cattle. They breed them most carefully, and when they are quite fat, they kill and eat them."

- Edgar Rice Burroughs, At the Earth's Core (fiction)

The Mahars are a sapient race of flying reptile people which lack the ability to hear. They are the supreme rulers of the Earth's inner world of Pellucidar, and known to enslave the native human races of that inner world. The ape-like Sagoths are their loyal servants, and the non-sapient dragon-like pterosaurs known as Thipdars are domesticated by them, being used as pets and guard animals.

Mahars are a highly intelligent, scientific scholarly races with a talent for genetics, engineering, and architecture.

The entire Mahar race is female. As they have discovered a formula that allowed them to reproduce without males, this allowed the extermination of their male population. Mahars are great swimmers as well as fliers, and often dive deeply in order to feed on fish and reptiles. For some reason, they consider it a taboo to feed on mammalian meat, but many Mahar cultists practice this as an occult ritual, feasting on freshly killed human slaves. Despite living in a world of perpetual noonday, they have eyes well suited for seeing in darkness. The entire race lacks the ability to hear, or to even comprehend the idea of sound. Instead, they communicate through some strange means which is just as incomprehensible to humans as sound is to them. Abner Perry, a voyager to Pellucidar who made a study of the creatures while in captivity, has denied that this form of communication should be labelled as "telepathy", since it isn't useful over long distances and doesn't allow them to communicate with other species; they have instead developed a gesture-based language to speak with their Sagoth servants. Perry speculates that the Mahars are able to project and detect information over a fourth dimension, using a sixth sense unique to them, and that forms the basis of their language. Although they may not be regarded as telepaths in the traditional sense, they at least have some influence over the human mind, being able to hypnotize victims into a zombie-like state in which they might be consumed without resistance.

Mahars first appear in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Hollow Earth/Earth's Core novels.


Sleestaks and Altrusians

A band of Sleestaks creeps through the inner world of the Land of the Lost (1974 franchise)

TO DO -

Sleestaks are the slow-moving savage lizard people from the Land of the Lost (1974 franchise).

The very similar Altrusians are a reptilian advanced civilization living in an alternate timeline of what at first seems like a "Hollow Earth" but later proves to be a small, artificial "pocket universe"; through their super-science, the Altrusians foresee their downfall and de-evolution into savage Sleestaks, and are working to avert this disaster; over time, the Altrusians find evidence that the Sleestaks may be a precursor race that will evolve into Altrusians, confusing their efforts; the truth seems to be that the Sleestaks may represent both the savage past and the degenerate future of the Altrusian civilization at the same time....

The Land of the Lost (1974 franchise) was apparently partly inspired by Robert E. Howard (compare the Sleestaks and Altrusians both to R.E. Howard's serpent people of Valusia, and to his various Frazetta Man savage precursors to and degenerate inheritors of pre-historic advanced human civilizations in Hyperborea, such as the Atlanteans, in that Howard's vision of savage races evolving to civilization alongside civilized neighbors devolving into savagery in cycles resembles the apparent origin and doom of the Altrusians, who were once Sleestaks, and are doomed do fall and become Sleestaks again in cycles....)


Silurians

Silurians from Doctor Who

Silurians (AKA Earth Reptiles, Eocenes, Psionosauropodomorpha, Homo Reptilicus, Homo reptilia and Reptilia sapiens) are a technologically advanced race from Doctor Who, native to Earth and predating mammalian (including human) life-forms, alongside their aquatic cousins the Sea Devils.

The long-lived and widespread Silurian race had over time developed numerous subspecies evolved subtly for different environments and varying widely in appearance by such features as skin tone, facial structure and shape, crests and/or spikes, number and appearance of eyes, the ability to spit poison, etc. These differences contribute to a very complex and subtle caste system that determines the role, position, and authority that individual Silurians hold within their society, though the specifics are perhaps far too esoteric for many humans to follow the nuances. Silurians hatch from eggs. Developed from predatory ancestry, Silurians are quicker and strong than humans in short bursts, and taller and lighter than humans. There have been isolated reports throughout the Doctor Who literature and long-lived television series of hybrids between Silurians and their aquatic Sea Devil cousins, as well as hybrids between Silurians and humans, though these hybrids tend to be sterile and feeble compared to purebred examples of any of these races; the more successful examples include a hybrid population which has inspired stories of the "Fair Folk".

Silurians, parallel to Serpent People, flourished in antediluvian Earth, but were driven into the Hollow Earth to hibernate by some prehistoric catastrophe, where small populations of survivors have remained awake, living a troglodytic existence a few steps ahead of their own extinction far into the modern era, and into the future, where they have increasingly come into conflict with humans. Time and attrition are slowly killing off the hibernating Silurian population, but the Silurians still believe that there will come a time when conditions on Earth's surface will become favorable for their race to awaken, climb to the surface, and reclaim it as their own once again.

Some Silurians possess a "third eye", presumably equivalent in nature and function to the supposed occult description of the human "pineal eye": presumably a hold-over from an ancient descent from the Astral Plane giving these Silurians not just a wider range of vision, but also some slight psychic power: telepathy, mind control, a weak form of telekinesis, the capacity for thought transfer, etc.

Silurians are a generally peaceful race, having long ago outlawed war except in self-defense; Silurians seem to find disconcerting the ease with which humans go to war, and the degree to which the violence and destruction of human wars can escalate. Silurians are apparently capable of feeling profound (if alien to humans) emotions, but are reportedly incapable of expressing them even to each other, but especially to humans, and are incapable of physically crying; in addition, Silurian art, music, and literature as humans understand it is all but non-existent, largely because their telepathic abilities tends to render such efforts unnecessarily complicated and difficult in comparison; Silurians seem to find the human ability to share emotions verbally or visually, and to communicate through artificial means such as writing and pictures, alien and unsettling. Silurian art, poetry, and similar expression tends instead to take the form of mathematics, optical illusions, and telepathic tricks and games that would be hard to explain in human terms.

Silurian relations with humans have varied over time; apparently, Silurians helped develop humans through tampering with mammal genetics to produce a large, slow, fast-breeding mammal for use as a food source, leaving humans with an instinctive fear and hatred of Silurians. When humans later evolved into more sentient, independent, dangerous, and feral creatures after the Silurians were driven underground, the Silurians learned to keep a healthy distance between the two races, varying between ignoring and avoiding humans, to unsuccessful attempts at genocide to cleanse humans from Earth's surface. In modern times, human expansion has brought the races more frequently into contact and conflict, driving both difficult relations, as well as the beginnings of efforts at communication and cooperation between the two races; only time can tell whether a lasting truce can be forged between man and Silurian, let alone peace and understanding. For now, the relationship between the two races is strained, at best, with both sides of the secret conflict capable of inflicting monstrous atrocities and unspeakable horrors on the other.

Some Silurians are also accomplished Dreamers, using specially-developed candles and incenses to enhance their ability to experience lucid dreams and enter the Dreamlands.

Modern Silurian technology includes advanced genetic manipulation, feats of biological and medical engineering, the use and construction of advanced airships and antigravity and other devices and vehicles for transportation and construction or exploration and communication purposes, the generation and use of force fields and rays for various purposes including interaction with dinosaurs and later mammals on Earth's surface, the generation of a form of "free energy", and a means for producing food without resorting to agriculture. For aesthetic reasons Silurians prefer not to rely on technology any more than absolutely necessary, and some older and rarely-used Silurian technologies are in danger of being lost and forgotten.

At the time of the catastrophe that drove them underground, a small population of Silurians built an object called "The Silurian Ark", a space station onto which a select few Silurians and a population of their dinosaur livestock, pets, and work animals along with a great forest of of prehistoric plant life were were transplanted to survive the cataclysm for a time before returning to Earth; the Ark has never returned, and may still exist intact somewhere in space, its population evolving and re-engineering itself over the aeons, and might perhaps return one day to Earth, bringing with it whatever life forms have evolved from the Silurian and Dinosaur and other antediluvian stock over the millions of years that the Ark has waited in the darkness of space to return.



Reptilians

The immortal, shape-shifting, demonic Serpent Man "Asmodeus" from Spectre (1977 film)

In the Delta Green RPG setting and in UFOlogy, Serpent Folk might be associated with "Reptilian" Aliens of UFO mythology, which by some accounts can apparently trace their storytelling ancestry back through Richard Sharpe Shaver to Robert E. Howard's and/or A. Merritt's serpent men, though it's just as likely that both modern UFO mythology and pulp science fiction authors were alike inspired by a mix of the pseudoscience of the early 20th century combined with the subsequent and related wild speculations of Theosophy regarding the lost continents of Mu and Lemuria.

With an appearance akin to that of earthly reptiles, the Reptilians are highly advanced entities but viewed as being of a negative, hostile or dangerous disposition, since they regard humans as a totally inferior race, and as a food livestock: they are carnivorous in regard to humans. The area of the galaxy most densely populated with Reptilian sub-races located in the vast Orion system, as well as the systems in Rigel and Capella, though their forefathers appear to have come to our universe from another separate universe or reality system at some unknown point in antiquity. The Reptilians themselves are not really clear on when they got here, teaching humans and their own masses that they were here in this universe first, holding the title and rights to the earth as their outpost from a time before humans, and as such they are heirs to the earth and its surroundings, and should be considered exalted gods over their human subjects and property, with special rights over human government, education, autonomy, genetics, and even dreams and memories. The Reptilians claim to have conquered many star systems over which they maintain similar "rights", where they also claim to have genetically altered and otherwise manipulated many of the life forms they have encountered as a matter of routine, even creating and perfecting the earliest primate forms of human life itself from out of protoplasmic chaos, though admitting that their work was tampered with by dozens of other alien races to produce the modern "debased" and "inferior" form that human life has taken (while also claiming the "right" to "repair" and "correct" the damage through further manipulation of humans through monstrous breeding programs, genetic manipulation, surgical and mutating energy procedures, as well as through brainwashing and re-education, psycho-social re-engineering, instinctual/behavioral/personality reprogramming, and mystic/spiritual works and ministry.)

The Reptilians have little regard for history or truth, maintaining that reality is what they make of it, accepting the deceptions of their rulers without question as being works of magick capable of altering the universe into new, "higher" parallel time/space dimensions beneficial to the interests of their species; little of what a Reptilian says can be trusted, and everything they say has been manipulated in favor of their own interests at the listener's expense. The philosophical mindset of the majority of Reptilians is toward subjugation, manipulation, and enslavement of weaker beings, and this belief system is promoted at birth in the Reptilian races, wherein after giving birth the offspring are abandoned to fend for themselves. If they survive they are cared for by an elite class that uses these children for games of combat and other such amusements.

The Reptilians are credited with scientific and magickal advancements that seem nearly miraculous to human witnesses, including incredible scientific achievements and the mastery of Mythos magick, and especially a talent for convincingly disguising themselves as humans, albeit with rubbery faces. They also appear to be masters of genetic manipulation, as well as the manipulation of human minds through the use of ray technologies, magick, and manipulation of dreams and spirituality via the Astral Plane; Reptilians have thus become firmly embedded in human governments and militaries, through which they can directly manipulate their subjects through physical and social force, as well as in entertainment and religious and spiritual structures and organizations through which they can manipulate their victim's very beliefs and perceptions of reality. The Reptilians have thus held positions of terrible power and influence over humanity through elaborate and ancient cults operating virtually uninterrupted since the dawn of human civilization. Through these infiltrations, the Reptilians do not act alone - they have allegedly worked out terrible and treacherous bargains with Grey Aliens and depraved Human Cultists in governments, religious structures, and magickal lodges who serve the Reptilians to achieve mutual goals against the human population of Earth.

UFO conspiracy theories maintain that a hollow, guided comet or asteroid, filled with an invasion force of millions of hibernating Reptilians, approaches earth from their home in the Orion system, which they have abandoned after exhausting that system of resources and poisoning it with their addiction to dark works of science, alchemy and magick which have allowed unspeakable horrors to infest the system, and left the Astral Plane surrounding the system in a state of toxic ruin. The arrival of this comet in the solar system has been repeatedly rescheduled for centuries, last slated for 2012, with delays caused by the unpredictable nature of the "conjunction" of the Orion System with ours that would allow the comet to make the "jump" to our world when "the stars are right", due in part to corresponding failures of the Reptilians' human collaborators in completing the magickal workings required to complete the conjunction.


Scrags

Anatomy of a Scrag wizard from Quake

In Quake, a Scrag wizard or Shade is a kind of grotesquely mutated, floating humanoid creature resembling a white serpent with a humanoid torso, a head which merges indistinctly with its shoulders, and vestigial arms reduced to clawed stumps and legs devolved into a serpentine tail, their skin is translucent and rubbery, resembling that of a slug or snail, while their yellowed eyes burn with rage and horror at the cruel fate of their long-lived existence. These revolting horrors are said to be the result of mystical and biological experimentation by Shub-Niggurath. As such, they are ubiquitous throughout Shub-Niggurath's realms.

Scrags are masters of evil magic, and most scrags are capable of a languid, graceful levitation, often possess the power to project of small yellowish green globs of life-draining magical energy at their opponents, and are frequently skilled in the monstrous arts of necromancy and monstrous transformations of living flesh. Some Scrags commanded positions of power during the Quake Wars, while others seem to have served Shub-Niggurath in a support capacity comparable to specialists and spies.

Scrags are a hideously ancient and wise race, possessing cunning beyond the lofty standard set by the other monsters in Quake; they are stealthy creatures which hide in the shadows high above the ground in their bizarre, secret Library-city of Sheol in the Inner World, said to be a place of darkness beneath the earth to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from life and from light. Thanks to their powers of levitation, teleportation, and invisibility, Scrags typically remain unseen by those unfortunate visitors who find their way to Sheol, the Scrag cultists silently watching from above until they choose to give themselves away with the sibilant warnings of their sentries to their fellows of the presence of unwanted guests, or the hissed Aklo curses of the magical spells they have been known to cast upon intrusive meddlers in their secret world.


Historic Serpent Cults and Mythology

The Theosophists alluded to the Exalted "Naacal" - or Nagas - as a serpent-like ruling class on the island of Lemuria before the dawn of humanity, possibly originating from Venus, acting as a guiding hand for humanity by leading occult lodges and teaching the ways of civilization, mysticism, and magic to humans.

Serpent Cults (see Cult of Yig) are a wide-spread phenomenon across the world, being perhaps a primordial part of human culture. In addition to the Nagas of Theosophy (which are, perhaps, derived from the East Asian Naga myth of an exalted, serpentine elite class that ruled the world in ancient times, influenced by Mayan serpent cult elements), serpent cults have appeared throughout African, pre-Columbian North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia, where some of the more common themes seem to be that the Serpent People came to Earth from a "heavenly water", the stars, the Hollow Earth, or from the deathly abysses or Dreamlands of the Astral Plane; bringing civilization, forbidden knowledge, technological advancement, spiritual enlightenment, and knowledge of magick with them to give to man; leading, guiding, or ruling primordial human/proto-human civilization from positions of exalted (and possibly malevolent or abusive) power; holding some antagonistic relationship with the elements of weather and natural disaster such as the power to command them and eventually being destroyed by them; enjoying eternal (or extremely long) lives and shape-shifting powers represented by or accompanied by the ability to shed their old skins; interbreeding with their subjects to produce an elite and hybrid ruling class that would fill the ranks of kings and queens and other rules of all kinds throughout human history; and represented with liminal symbology representing an ability to cross with relative ease between the worlds of the living and the world of the dead (the mystic Other Side or a literal Underworld).


See also

A rogue Dreamer has turned his dream form into a Serpent Man in Dreamscape (1984 film)....

Appearances

Fiction

Reference works

Role-playing games

External links