In the gloomy rites of of the Diasia, the Olympian Zeus, as Zeus Meilichios god of wealth, has been imposed upon a chthonic snake-deity who is propitiated by holocausts of pigs and by a ritual of purgation (Harrison, Prol.
2 Here one will note the prevalence of the ideas of " mother earth," and also the association in higher religions of chthonic powers with the serpent, so, e.g.
The Minoan goddess is sometimes seen in her chthonic form with serpents, sometimes in a more celestial aspect with doves, at times with lions.
The goddess sometimes appears with doves, as uranic, at others with snakes, as chthonic. In the ritual fetishes, often of miniature form, played a great part: all sorts of plants and animals were sacred: sacrifice (not burnt, and human very doubtful), dedication of all sorts of offerings and simulacra, invocation, &c., were practised.
The assignment of genii to buildings and gates is connected with an important class of sacrifices; in order to provide a tutelary spirit, or to appease chthonic deities, it was often the custom to sacrifice a human being or an animal at the foundation of a building; sometimes we find a similar guardian provided for the frontier of a country or of a tribe.
In 493 B.C., at a time of serious famine, they ordered the building of a temple to the Greek triad Demeter, Dionysus and Persephone, who were identified with the old Roman divinities Ceres, Liber and Libera: Apollo must have come with or before the books themselves, though his temple was not built till 433 B.C.: Mercury followed, the representative of `Epµns 'E,uuroXaaos, Asclepius was brought from Epidaurus to the Tiber island in 293 B.C., and Dis and Proserpina, with their strange chthonic associations and night ritual, probably from Tarentum in 249 B.C. With new deities came new modes of worship: the graecus ritus, in which, contrary to Roman usage, the worshipper's head was unveiled, and the lectisternium, an elaborate form of the "banquet of the gods."
A rationalistic explanation might be found in the connexion between the chthonic serpent and subterranean sources of wealth.3 Moreover, the serpent is often associated with metallurgy, and to serpent deities have been ascribed the working of metals, gem-cutting and indeed culture in general.
They were the guardianspirits of men and families, and stories are told of the way in which human life depended upon the safety of the reptile.'2 As a chthonic animal the serpent has often been regarded as an embodiment of the soul of the dead.
Among the Nayars of Malabar, the family-serpent is capable of almost unlimited powers for good or evil; it is part of the household property, but does not seem to be connected with ancestral cults.'4 In Greece, however, " the dead man became a chthonic daemon, potent for good or evil; his natural symbol as such, often figured on tombs, was the snake."
Apart from the more obvious characteristics of the serpent likely to impress all observant minds (§ 1), its essentially chthonic character shows itself markedly when it is associated with the treasures and healing herbs of the earth, the produce of the soil, the source of springs - and thence of all water - and the dust unto which all men return.'