I love snakes. Mind you, I wouldn’t like one as a roommate. I hear they’re hard to house-break, although I once knew pet boa named Raymond who lived happily with his Human.
But when I found this snakeskin in the flower bed this morning, I got really excited. Surprises in the woods or the garden (except fire-ants) are part of the wonder of nature. And, from my expert friends, I hear that this guy was likely a rat snake or a king. Both are experts at keeping rodents away.
There’s another reason that snakes appeal to me. I listen deeply to dreams, and animal symbology is a rich part of that. Snake Medicine (as the Native Americans call it) speaks to transmutation. New life. The shedding of skin. And, especially during this pandemic crisis, I’m ready to shed some skin!
Snake is the subject of controversy in the Judeo-Christian world. Snake was the original tempter of Eve, who then tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit that got them both kicked out of Eden. That’s a bad thing–or not, depending on whether your understanding is based on blind innocence or free exploration. And who needed God’s grace while living happily in the garden? Free will is a gift and a promise.
But I’m not a theologian–just a curious person, noticing poesis in the world I inhabit. And, as I said, Snake Medicine is a curious thing. Indigenous religion revered the Snake.
Snake is a symbol of transformation and healing. Snake-handling (a much maligned practice among fundamentalists) actually originated in initiation ceremonies. The initiate learned to absorb poisons after being bitten several times. If the person survived, he’d be able to transmute poisons in the physical and spiritual world, and be gifted as a healer. (If he didn’t, game over–but that’s another story.)
In ancient Greece, the snake was also a symbol of healing. Ancient Greek medicine required visits to healing temples, which involved another form of initiation. An elaborate ritual of cleansing and sensual delights greeted the patient. A good laugh or cry delivered by an enactment of an ancient Greek play was followed by a soothing bath. Newly cleansed, the seeker would be invited to eat and to sleep. The priest of the temple would ask, “What do you seek?” Then during sleep, a healing dream would be given.
And the snakes? They’d crawl freely around the temple as companions in the process of healing.
Now, except for the snake part, I like this approach. Much more pleasant than labwork and tedious appointments. But the symbol of two snakes intertwined on a staff is still the symbol of modern medicine.
I love stories, and it is fun and enlightening to notice signs and symbols. And the snake-skin this morning was a particular gift. I’m reminded that life is a cycle–the shedding of old skin that no longer serves us. The chance to see mistakes we have made as real sources of insight and deepened compassion for ourselves and others.
And in a pandemic? I want a rough skin that will serve to protect me, then to slough it off when it’s not needed.
We’re all struggling. We’re healing. We’re losing and we’re gaining. We’re grieving.
And learning to shed skin.
What associations do you have with snakes?
Are there other animals that draw you or hold your imagination?
Do you notice your dreams and find meaning in them?
When you encounter an image that has negative associations, are you frightened or curious or both? (Jungian theory and practice holds that negative images are “shadow” symbols, rich in meaning when we explore them.)
In what ways to you shed skin and learn from your mistakes?
Etta doesn’t care much about symbols or meaning. She’s just curious about snakes–especially this one. She thinks it looks kinda like her..