“Nagamushi (Snake) Tsuba”
Since ancient times the serpent has been an object of awe, inspiring worship in many religious sects and imbued with great supernatural powers. For example, white snakes were said to be reincarnations of Shinto gods and are considered auspicious as messengers of the gods. The truest form of the snake was the attendant and messenger of the goddess “Benten”. When Buddhism reached Japan from China in the 6th century, the Shinto religion already worshipped a snake deity called “Orochi” which became merged with the Buddhist guardian deity Ryu, a dragon-like serpent who controlled the clouds, rain and water. The images of the snake and the dragon are much intertwined.
In many of the world’s cultures the snake inspires loathing and fear, probably due to its silent presence and ability to shed its skin. The shedding of skin must also have contributed to its reputation of being able to transform into human shape, such tales abounding in Japanese folklore. A person might also choose to come back into the world in the form of a serpent in order to exact revenge and impose justice, in which case his image is heroic rather than evil. The subject of a snake entwined around a skull appears quite frequently in art and may refer to this belief in souls reappearing as serpents. A snake in an old house should be left in peace as it is considered to be a guardian spirit.