The presence of the snake in our human story is pivotal. Recently, I have had several encounters with snakes within local eco-fields that alert me to these beautiful and formidable creatures calling humans back into a right relationship with the Great Mother, Earth Herself. Before I tell you a story about these encounters, I want to set a context so my narrative is not just hanging out there in sound-byte land.
At the turn of the 2lst Century, we took a group of students to Knossos on Crete, the seat of the ancient Minoan culture. The roots of the Minoan people who honored the Divine Feminine reach back 128,000 years, and their artistic creations emerged about 7000 years ago. Our journey took us to the Knossos Palace, and soon one piece of art leapt out at me and would not let go—a stunning depiction of a bare-breasted woman holding a snake in each hand. Judith Yost, my spouse, wears a facsimile around her neck from time-to-time to remind us of the powerful medicine the snake brought to a civilization where the feminine was out front, supported by the divine masculine.
In contrast to the Minoan embrace of the power of snake spirits is the repression of the sublime snake in the Eden narratives. The evidence of carbon dating indicates that the earliest account of Biblical Eden would be about 3500 years ago,three millennia after the Minoans. By this time, the sky gods had taken over what would become Western Civilization. As you well know, the snake became the purveyor of temptation and evil in our current paradigm, so we–influenced as most of us are by the Eden story—carry a repulsion to reptiles. This attitude toward snakes as enemies has become the symptom of how far humans have drifted from our core connection with Nature.
A few weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker in my hometown that read: Texas Women Kill Their Own Snakes. The woman at the wheel was reclaiming her power as a woman, but, alas, had been infected by Eden. Like a virus the mainstream cultural meme tells us that The only good snake is a dead snake. Notice how close that is to the governmental policy of extinguishing North American indigenous people: The only good Indian is a dead Indian.
With these two influences in mind, I invite you into the story of the day.
A Snake Spirit Medicine Story
Just as the sun dips toward the Western horizon and long shadows cast across a magnificent Southern Pine Forest meadow, I relax into a folding chair at our annual Earth Dance. We are celebrating our 21st annual dance that honors Mother Earth at Deer Dancer Ranch, a decades long restoration project of the Earthtribe with landholders Jack and Allison Jensen.
We have just completed a preparatory sweat lodge, inipi, and I am feeling relaxed, almost noodle like. Off to my right and across the meadow, I hear several voices tinged with fear,”Come quick! There is a large snake over by Mark’s tent.” Grabbing my new snake tong, a 72” catcher stick, I run toward the voices. Given that people tend to get overly excited when a snake is on the scene, I am not expecting to see anything more than a small garter snake or, at the most, a copperhead. Already I can hear one of our Earthtribers singing a snake song I learned from my mentor, Bear Heart, some 30 years ago and passed on to our tribe. I, too, begin singing, and It calms me.
And I need calming because, like most people schooled in Western Civilization, I have a sub-self inside that recoils in fear at the thought of a snake. On the other hand I have years of experience with my brother snakes as part of my training with Bear Heart who taught me to vibrate the reptilian stem of my brain in synch with the snake. The front part of the brain(prefrontal) and the mammalian mid-brain(amygdala) tie into useful information about snake handling, but it is the part of the triune brain that adjoins and is contiguous to the spinal cord that really helps. It is not so much that I am not afraid as I have learned to put the fear aside and shift to a primordial tuning. My fear leads me to respect and then to connection.
As I arrive, I see a large canebreak rattlesnake whose Latin name crotalus horridus speaks to its potency.Peraps the largest of North American rattlesnakes, they are heavy bodied and can grow to over six feet. Sometimes called timber rattlesnakes in the Northeastern forests, they grow larger along the gulf coast and in the Southern Pine Forest typical of the ranch where we camp. Later estimates suggest this one was nearing six feet, though I wasn’t thinking in terms of measurement. It is worthy of the name canebreak and also horridus.
Mark, an Earth Dancer who also is preparing for a vision quest in the Spring, had been cleaning his dish after his late afternoon meal when a friend, Matthew, sauntered up and called his attention to the snake just a few feet from where he sat. The large reptile raised its head and looked inside the tent and then began a slow slide around the west wall where it was when I arrived. Matthew was leading the singing while several others stood by, shall we say, speechless but not song-less.
Fascinated, I counted eleven rattles on a solid black tail, almost velvet in appearance. Black chevrons and dots stood out against a dark gray background, and I noticed a pale, pink strip down his back. I say his because I know that males tend to live in the thick forest while their female counterparts hang out around rocky outcroppings or streams. One large, black dot stands out with an x in the middle. As our brother snake slides gracefully around the tent, I see that he reaches for the end of the far corner of the tent while his tail his still on the front of the tent. Back to the measurement question: I am aware that human gender plays a role in length estimates.
Out on the red path-like road, I place the tongs on the narrow place on our snake’s neck where I usually connect. In the past I had my trusty homemade stick that actually was an old rake. Previously, I stretched the teeth of the rake apart so that I could lay the narrow place gently on the neck and allow the snake to stretch its body up the handle. Now, I tried with my new equipment. However, this canebreak soon let me know that he didn’t like my new tongs because there was too much pressure. He rattled but didn’t coil, so I shifted my connecting point to mid-body.
This not so subtle message from the snake of rattling is an expression of the mother tongue within the eco-field. Eleven rattles are such that campers ¼ mile away could hear clearly. I am not what you would call a snake-handler with weekly experience, but I have had considerable spiritual and ecological experience so that I know the intricacies of the rattle message. (What I am describing here is not a suggested spiritual practice without the presence of a mentor who understand snakes.)
I proceed. My aim is to take him at least 5 acres away, if not more. My experience tells me that the 5 acre rule taught me by my mentors gives this type of rattlesnake a new hunting area. This information is crucial because with 30-40 campers who have varying experience with eco-field awareness safety of both snake and humans is paramount.
The weight of his snake is such that I can’t carry him longer than 50 yards without resting by allowing him time on the ground. He tells me that he doesn’t like to be lifted up. Duh. Snakes don’t fly; they love the ground. Our 5 acre pilgrimage stretches my strength and endurance as I go slowly with two singers continuing to assure the snake and the campers that we are mutually respectful.
As we move past a pond where there is plenty of food for our new friend, I release my connection. He pauses for a moment. Am I imagining an eye-to-eye connection? Making him mammal-like? Off he goes.
In returning to my camping area, I sit and continue a mother tongue conversation with our spirit snake. I am touched profoundly by many aspects of the experience. Not once did he coil or strike at me. The ever-present danger and the deeply felt connection intertwined to form an umbilical cord between us and those present.
“We are apex predators,” I say to him, “We can kill each other. Yet, there is no need for that ;there has been enough needless killing within our planet today. We can friend each other.”
“Look for me in your dreams.”
He seems to say.
Here I am a week after the above narrative. Every night and many times during the day my brother snake appears to me. Pieces of the story emerge in conversations. Most of the time the story seems to enliven. On one occasion brother snake told me not to say more because the listener was not respectful or, maybe more accurately, not interested.
Next week I will be on my way to Teotihuacan. The ancient Toltecs built the pyramids to depict both the solar system and the body of a snake. In that healing process the Toltec pathway takes us into the body of the snake at one end of the complex and leads us through a week’s meditation. At the far end of the snake in the main avenue, we emerge at the pyramid of the Moon. Such an emergence is fitting. The snake leads us back to the Minoans, back to the Sacred Feminine, back to the Great Mother. The spirit snake initiates us humans time-after-time and underlines the good news of our day.
We can return to Mother Nature. We only need go deeper than Eden. We know the Moon embraces us. We know we cannot go to the sky and transcendence without the powerful guidance of the going through the snake and its transformative power. Snake dreams and visions need not be nightmares but rather meaningful messages leading us to our deeper selves.