|minoan snake goddess (from http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/world-snake-day-snakes-religion)|
Snake medicine has reared its head for me a little recently. In my postings on Mercury/Hermes lately I mentioned the very potent symbol of the caduceus wand, and I've spoken there or elsewhere on my blog (probably several times) of the bad press the snake or serpent, one symbol of the Goddess and also of wisdom in the Old Ways, has received under Christianity and the patriarchy.
There's the shedding skins thing, too. Then there's kundalini, and the fact that the Buddha is portrayed sometimes with a cobra rising above his head: sign of the initiate, one who has transmuted the grosser aspects of being into the transcendent function, thereby opening the crown centre of realisation, or enlightenment.
In symbolic systems of thought, specifically in relation to shamanic practice, if an animal Other 'appears' to you three times, it's worth taking notice (I should say that clearly this doesn't count with domesticated animals whose viewing will be commonplace!).
A friend has just spoken to me of her experience with 'snakes in the grass'.
Another friend last week told me a Hindu story about dealing with anger:
One of the gods called Snake to account for biting some people. 'This is not OK,' said the god. Snake slithered away, crestfallen.
Shortly after, some people beat snake to within an inch of his life (etc). Snake simply lay there writhing, letting it happen. After, he dragged his broken and bruised body slowly and painfully back to the god. 'Now look at what's happened,' said Snake, 'when you told me not to bite.'
'But I didn't tell you not to hiss,' exclaimed the god.
As someone who struggles with anger, my own and others, this was extremely helpful to me. I hate conflict, hate hurting others (and also took when I was in my late teens a Buddhist precept on trying my best not to hit out at others), and will almost always take the route of giving someone the benefit rather than lashing out, if I can. Fairness is extremely important to me. (Also I want to be able to look back and be proud of how I handled certain situations, too – and then there's the issue of karma!)
Sometimes this has been misguided and naive: it's left me too wide open (as I am beginning to realise there is such a thing as being too wide open), landed me in hot water because I don't stand up for myself when I should, and can become a doormat, bruised and battered without retaliating (if that's not mixing my metaphors too much). Sometimes, because I tend to swallow and say nothing, others don't realise the hurt they've caused me – and of course my own resentment builds, which isn't helpful to either them or me.
It takes an awful lot to get me to red-hot anger (usually because I don't recognise my own anger), and I don't relish arriving there as I have a very sharp tongue; luckily, probably, it's only emerged a couple of times in my life. I also, fortunately, have some very good friends who are open and self-aware enough as to look at their own shit rather than simply hitting out, knowing that I'm doing the same; this is so useful because it provides a safe and trusting environment in which to explore difficult issues. In any difficult exchange, I will always examine my part in it; it seems the only compassionate and wise response. I so value people who will do the same. Sometimes, of course, I get it wrong; too often, that's unfortunately in the other's favour in cases where, for instance, my instinct tells me something and I over-ride it with rationalisations. But all this is how we learn, isn't it; and hopefully we don't cause too much harm en route – though I accept that sometimes we all will, too, and we so need to then forgive both self and others. We're all in this together.
Another little revelation for me, coming from a Buddhist monk lately, was a teaching on forgiving. 'But we don't have to forget,' he said. That took me aback. Surely that was also the wise kind thing to do? But the more I thought about it the more I realised what he meant: that forgetting the causes means that we fall over and over into the same trap. Forgiving means stopping beating ourselves and others up and letting go of the grudges; not forgetting means avoiding putting oneself into the same situation over and over; rather, learning and moving on.
So, as you might have gathered from a few posts lately, I'm learning to hiss; belatedly, perhaps, but better than never. It's also about self-respect.
So, given the 'appearance' of Snake three times in a week or two (I'm including my Mercury blogpost snakes), I thought I'd remind myself of its symbolic qualities.
In the native/first nation American Medicine Cards of Jamie Sams and David Carson, card number 6 is Snake. Here's the opening, in case it's of interest for anyone else out there:
Snake medicine people are very rare. Their initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy, reproduction, and ascension (or immortality).
(The keynotes are to transmute all poisons, shed the skins of the past, and honour the change in progress.)